Toolbox 25: Magic Realism

This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.


I’ve been looking at Magical Realism and how to write it. It is so much deeper than I realized. For me, it all started when I watched Bright. It was full of elves, orcs, fairies, and magic. I thought the movie was an example of Magical Realism, but I was wrong.

Yes there was magic, But Magical Realism is deeper.

Yes, discrimination was at the core of it, but this movie fell in to the fantasy category because there was too many magical elements and little real-world setting.

One definition of Magic Realism

[It] is a style of fiction that paints a realistic view of the modern world while also adding magical elements. It is sometimes called fabulism, in reference to the conventions of fables, myths, and allegory. “Magical realism”, perhaps the most common term, often refers to fiction and literature in particular,[1]:1–5 with magic or the supernatural presented in an otherwise real-world or mundane setting. It is considered a subgenre of fantasy.

Another definition:

“It’s about the roots of family, it’s about dealing with the history past and what was lost, and it’s a lot more about finding the meaning of history than it is about the elements of the fantastic.”

The essence of Magic Realism:

Magical Realism was originally rooted in Latin America religion, legends and myths. Stories that passed from generation to generation leaving a wonderful sense of family history and the magic of hope. It discussed what couldn’t be openly discussed by an oppressed society. And Mr Gabriel García Márquez was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982 for his efforts.

If you want to try it, you’ll need a world problem that has existed for generations. Set it in the real world—as horrible as that might be—and add one bit of magic that is your inciting incident. Like the subject of capital punishment in the Green Mile. Or the possible destitution of a family after the breadwinner dies in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I’d like to include Hearts in Atlantis which discusses sexual harassment in the work place, but this one may not land under Magical Realism.

Any thoughts? Please share. I’d love to read them.

Gleaned from:

46 responses to “Toolbox 25: Magic Realism

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed Bright and the mix of magic/ fantasy and modern society. It does make it that much more believable.

  2. Fascinating post, I’ve not heard of magical realism before! I imagine most of my writing comes under fantasy because I tend to include too much magic 🙂

  3. I need to watch Bright. I love stories with magical realism. And stories where there is a hidden magical world that coexists with our world.

  4. I’ve heard of Magical Realism before but wasn’t exactly sure what it was. Now I have a better idea. 🙂

  5. I’ve thought about Magical Realism before, but never had the right term to know what to call it! Now I do! I love it because it’s so easy to believe, especially when witnesses to it are in complete and utter awe (such as Tom Hanks in Green Mile).

  6. Thanks for breaking that down. I’ve heard the term before, but never understood what it meant.

  7. I enjoyed Bright and Hearts in Atlantis. Great post. Enjoyed the clarification.

  8. Don’t know that much about magical realism. This was interesting.

  9. I don’t think you need “a world problem that has existed for generations” to write a magic realism story. It could be much more intimate, like women’s fiction, doesn’t have to be a sweeping epic, like Marquez. A perfect example of this kind of magic realism are books by Sarah Addison Allen. They are all about here and now, quiet stories about women finding their happiness (not romance), but with a slight element of magic woven into their mundane lives.

  10. I loved Bright. The characters were really different. I do so much love Magic Realism. That’s what I write 🙂

  11. This is generally a good introduction, and I love the enthusiastic comments! I agree with Olga Godim, and also I don’t agree that the “bit” of magic must be the inciting event. I think the magic can be a response.

  12. Great post. Normally I would say, I don’t write in this genre at all, but I need to stretch so thank you for this description. Also, noting such a greats like Gabriel Garcia Marquez (and others) really brings it home. Hmmm. (I love when people make me consider the possibilities!)

  13. Such an interesting post. Thanks so much.

  14. Intersting post! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  15. A great read–I see a lot of people misuse MR, when they could be saying “wonderlandish” or “whimsical”. I’m glad you put it into words!

  16. It’s tough to know all of the definitions for the genres out there. For one of mine I’m still confused over how it should be classified.

    I’ve never heard of fabulism, but I like how it sounds! 🙂

  17. It took me a while to wrap my mind around magical realism, and I’m still wary of mis-defining it. Your first definition the one I’ve heard the most. That aside from the magic, the story takes place in the real world. Great post, Anna!

  18. Interesting reading. Where would you draw the line between magical realism and urban fantasy, if there is one?

    • Below is from TV Tropes and it should clear up any confusion. 🙂
      -If the existence of vampires doesn’t shock anyone, but the fact that they’re vampires is constantly being pointed out, it’s Urban Fantasy.
      -If a cop’s partner is very pale, very strong, generally acts odd, and come to think of it, he’s never been seen in daylight, but the story focuses primarily on just a Police Procedural or the interpersonal relationships, it’s Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane.
      -If the cop just goes through his life as a cop, but his partner is a vampire whose ID has “vampire” printed next to his eye color, who’s greeted by cheerful children in the street who are more fascinated by his shiny badge than by his teeth, and who casually drinks blood in plain sight out of transfusion packs during coffee breaks, it’s a case of Magic Realism.

  19. Interesting breakdown of the supernatural, subject to, apparently, a lot of speculation. Whatever sub-genre The Ghost and Mrs. Muir falls into, it was one of my all time favorite ghost stories.

  20. Victoria Marie Lees

    The idea of parallel worlds is always intriguing. I think of Harry Potter in this regard, with the Muggle world and the magical world. I remember The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I don’t know the other ones. Time to check them out.

  21. A genre I think I need more of in my life. It’s always been a slippery concept for me, so I appreciate this post a lot. 🙂

  22. Ronel Janse van Vuuren

    The movie “Practical Magic” with Sandra Bullock is my favourite example of Magical Realism 🙂

    Ronel catching up for Oct Author Toolbox day The Pros and Cons of Starting a Company as a Self-Pub Author

If you're new to writing, ask me anything and if you're experienced, feel free to share what you know. Learning something new in the craft is always welcome.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.