Month: April 2014

30 facets of antagonists

Okay, so we’ve discussed protagonists and supporting characters. But what about the antagonist? In a way, they are the second most important character, because the story is about them standing in opposition with the protagonist. Or are they the main character in a different story?

1. The protagonist and antagonist are two sides of the same coin

Basically, the protagonist is the antagonist for our baddie. Each of them want the opposite of the other, and have their own goals and motives. I suppose you could say that the antagonist thinks that he is the hero in his own story, but we don’t normally hear his tale. Both are passive and active; the protagonist is passive as the antagonist hurtles obstacles their way, and the antagonist is passive if/when the protagonist overcomes him. Take Iago in Othello for instance; his motivations are to get revenge on Othello for passing him over for promotion in favour of Cassio and wishes that Othello had chosen him instead. So, he stages an affair which creates conflict between Othello, Desdemona and Cassio. By the same token , Othello is considered to be the protagonist, because the entire story revolves around him. He thinks it is Cassio who stands in opposition to him since he thinks Desdemona favours him. He fails to realise until the end that it’s actually Iago who is behind all of this. Which brings us on to…

2. False antagonists

We’ve all heard of the false protagonist. But a false antagonist? If a false protagonist is someone who we think is the main character, but actually isn’t, then a false antagonist is a wrongly accused aggravator. A very good example of this would be Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, where we think The Beast is the antagonist because he is preventing Beauty from seeing her father. However, when Gaston rallies an angry mob to kill Beast, we learn he is the true antagonist.

3. What’s the difference between an antagonist and a nemesis?

An antagonist, who is often a villain, is usually a rival, enemy, opponent of barrier who/which the protagonist must face/overcome. A nemesis, however, is more often concerned with fate or revenge, and cannot be defeated. An antagonist might be a personified concept such as Death, since everyone is going to die and there is no way we can avoid it. Whereas someone like a bullying schoolteacher, who we will eventually overcome by them or us leaving the school.

4. Who might be an antagonist?

An antagonist could be anyone; the dog, a next door neighbour, an angel, a family member or even a lover. If you think about people in real life, smr have more obviously ‘antagonistic’ tendencies than others; a psychopath, a school bully, a strict teacher etc.

5. Because they are parallel, each should have equal strengths and weaknesses

Okay, one should triumph over the other. However, this is not a case of one being stronger or better than the other when conflict is resolved. Instead, it is about the protagonist meeting their match in wit, intelligence etc. so that conflict can persist throughout the story.

6. The villain lecture

This is a form of Infodumping which involves the antagonist essentially telling either the audience or the protagonist their evil scheme. In pop fiction, it involves the antagonist trapping the hero, usually torturing him, saying “mwahaha!” a lot (revealing his elaborate plan, way to stop him and weaknesses in the process).

William Shakespeare, however,  does this quite successfully in Othello; in his soliloquies , Iago tells the audience his plans to ruin Cassio and Othello. However, it is done in stages and involves Iago musing aloud, rather than pinning Othello down and revealing everything.

7. The henchmen and minions

These can either be like supporting characters to the antagonist, or they can serve as a particular type of secondary antagonist. They could just carry out their boss’s plans (think Gru’s minions). or their might be a narrative thread – particularly in a TV show – that follows their story (Jesssie and James from Pokemon).

8. The secondary antagonist

Like the deutoragonist, these are the second most important antagonist in the story. The difference between secondary antagonists and minions is that they might not be associated with the main antagonist, and could have their own agenda. They might also be the true antagonist, and the main one was merely a decoy.

9. The foil vs the antagonist

In it’s broadest sense of the term, a foil contrasts with another character. The term can also apply to a subplot within a story.

10. Two halves of the same whole

The protagonist and antagonist mirror each other. They are like Yin and Yang: they must work together and one cannot live without the other. Because the antagonist opposes the protagonist, they are the opposite of each other.

12. They don’t need to be bad or evil

The antagonist wants the opposite of what the protagonist wants. If the protagonist wants rationality, the antagonist wants desire, for example.

13. Antagonists need to be smart

Okay, the antagonist needs to have a plan or some ideas about how they will counter the protagonist. Or, they could at least make clever moves without a plan. Point is, if the antagonist was foiled or went ahead with his plan too early, what’s the point in the audience reading on?

14. The protagonist and antagonist can be very similar

Despite being total opposites, the antagonist may share a lot of characteristics with the protagonist (especially if this is a ‘man vs self’ story). They may have similar personalities, interests or behaviours – they may be pursuing the same thing even if they want to do different things with it.

15. Evil for the sake of being evil doesn’t work

Nobody is evil without reason. First, nobody is born evil (hence why The Omen has a rubbish protagonist and plot). For quite another, even if there is no obvious motivation or cause, there is still a reason. Imagine you are a Criminologist; why would the antagonist do these bad things? Are they selfish? Vain? Mentally unstable? Bullied as a child? Generally aggressive?

16. What if there is no antagonist?

Perhaps there is no main antagonist in your story. In Nights at the Circus, there is no one antagonist in the story even though there are men like Mr Rosencreutz and the Grand Duke who appear to want to ‘cage’ Fevvers. It’s quite rare for a story not to have an antagonist, but it can work.

17. If your antagonist is not a human

18. arch-enemy vs antagonist

An an archenemy will be an enemy the protagonist keeps meeting on a regular basis, and the two will be rivals. Whereas the antagonist usually only needs to be defeated once, and will be the main obstacle to the protagonist. Let’s take Pokemon for instance; Gary is Ash’s rival, and Giovanni is the antagonist.

19. Minor antagonists and henchmen

These are different to secondary antagonists. Minions and henchmen help the primary antagonist and serve as… well, his minions and henchmen. A minor antagonist can be a cameo character, or one who doesn’t appear very often but has a one defining trait for humour.  The minor antagonist could just be generally disliked

20. Lawful, neutral and chaotic


The Lawful antagonist is like Eris

That is, they create chaos and discordance. Eris was the goddess of chaos in Greek myth and her opposite was Harmonia (the goddess of harmony). Out of her comes her 13 children – sorrow, battle, manslaughter, toil, forgetfulness, famine, disputes, folly, lies, lawlesness, quarrel, murder, and false oathes. Therefore, your antagonist will create a lot of these problems similar to the ones Eris gives birth to. Joking aside, it seems there are a lot of women who are attributed with either the fall of man or evil – Pandora, Eve, Eris and Lilith to name a few (even if it is more common to have a male antagonist). Point is, it doesn’t matter whether your character is male, female or whatever, they cause trouble whether it’s intentional or not.

21. Even if there is no antagonist, there will be conflict

Everyone has problems, oppositions and conflicts. And, you have two choices as an author (or character); either resolve the problem or be defeated by it. We’ll see a lot of character change; how it makes them think, feel, dream, eat and behave.

22. The antagonist destructs

The protagonist must fix and the antagonist must break. Creation and destruction. If the hero tries to save the castle, the villain blows it up.

23. A few of the best…

1. Bertha Mason

Mr. Rochester’s insane wife locked away, she is the thing preventing him and Jane getting married and being together. It is assumed that she is of Creole heritage and that Adele is her daughter. She is a good antagonist because she is a victim of insanity and racism.

2.Frankenstein’s Monster

Intelligent, superhuman and lonely, The Creature is a very interesting case. He was abandoned by his creator, and left to fend for himself in the wilderness. He wants nothing more than human company or a family. He even goes so far as to hide behind the household of the DeLacey family, learning French from them. But, as his kind acts are increasingly rejected or that he is faced with prejudice, he starts to live up to the rotten, sinister label society gives him by murdering people.

3. Milton’s Lucifer

The Archangel who caused a rebellion against God on Heaven, he is banished to Hell for all eternity. Now he is the ruler of Hell, and Paradise Lost tells the story of his fall. He is a good antagonist because people can relate to his pride and ambitions.

4. Doctor Donally

The strange witchdoctor with a forked beard of red and purple, he is considered a shaman and a magician in the Barbarian tribe (who seem to resemble Celts or Vikings). He tattooed Jewel’s back with biblical images, as well as educating him, and wishes to being forth a new version of Christianity. It is assumed that he was a Professor, only we never find out of what profession – several guesses are made, including Music and Literature.

5. Loki

Thor’s rival in the Marvel’s Avengers series, he is Thor’s adoptive brother. Misunderstood, intelligent and sarcastic, for the first few films he seeks vengeance on Thor because he thought he had been passed over to be the king of Asguard. However, in Thor: The Dark World, he shows a more noble side by teaming up with Thor, and helping him defeat their common enemy.

24. And a few of the worst…

1. Dracula

Evil for the sake of being evil. The traditional eccentric aristocrat who lives by himself (save for his three brides). He wants to enslave humanity and drink everyone’s blood. Love the novel, hate the enemy.

2. The Joker

He’s just a highly sarcastic, clown-like man who’s disfigured under the most ridiculous circumstances. He’s insane, sadistic and has no apparent reason for being in the Batman comics.

3. Alec d’Urberville

One of the most arrogant men in literature of all time. He can’t take a hint that Tess doesn’t feel the same way for him, so he rapes her.

4. Maleficent

Really, Disney? The original “wicked fairy” was annoyed because she wasn’t invited to the princess’s christening. Whereas Maleficient is deliberately left out because she was already sinister and corrupt.

5. The Wicked Witch of the West

She’s just a stereotypical witch; bad-tempered, warty, with a cauldron and cackling. Although she’s upset about her sister being killed, she doesn’t seem to care that much and is more concerned with the Ruby Slippers (originally the Silver Shoes in the novel).

25. Create a Frankenstein antagonist

That is, take various different parts from other great antagonists and piece them together to make a monstrous hybrid! most characters are blended from various different people – except maybe minor ones – and the antagonist is no exception.

26. Don’t cross the line!

Nothing too drastic that’ll drive the audience away. We’re talking anything irrational, insane, overly tabbo or anything like that i.e. machine gunning dolphins, extreme S & M etc.

27. Yin and Yang

Each works in harmony with the other and one cannot exist without the other (well, maybe at the end when the antagonist has their ultimate defeat). Fire and water, black and white and so on.

28. What are their flaws and bad bits?

Are they ugly? Untidy? Rude? Badly dressed? liars? Stupid? What is it them that annoys the audience and/or protagonist? This is the probanly one of the easiest factors when creating the antagonist, since we’re encouraged to dislike them.

29. What are their merits and virtues?

Perhaps slightly harder. Do they have a loving family? A soft spot? A good-looking face? A charming voice? Intelligent/witty? If the antagonist is actually attractive, we’ll hate to love them, and this makes them more complex as characters.

30. Finally, will they be defeated or will they triumph?

You may have won the battle but I will win the war! This can go either one of three ways. The first route is for the antagonist can win all the way through but finally lose at the end. The second is for them to lose all the way through but have victory at the end. And finally, there can be equal wins and loses.

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Reading to Write

A month ago, I did some work at a primary school. My job was to help 8-9 year old children with their reading and literacy skills. I believe some of the advice I was given to help them is applicable to us. How can we get better at writing if we don’t read? It’s rather like grammar; if we read writing that has good grammar, we tend to copy its style. The same applies to fiction. If we observe how other people’s fiction is written, we can know the difference between good and bad style. Here, I have adapted some of the key points from the handbook I was given for adults:

1. Higher order reading skills

This is thinking about the story beyond the narrative; rather, thinking about characters, real life situations and social context. Knowing why you have an opinion is a good place to start, and you should ask “why?”. These can be developed by reading articles in newspapers and magazines, reading reviews or going onto somewhere like Goodreads.

2. Comprehension

This is making sure you have understood what is happening in the book or poem. Do you know what happens in the story? Could you summarise a chapter in a paragraph? Are there any quotes which might he useful? Perhaps read an edition to with a glossary or footnotes, especially if it is academic, and think if you need to do the same. If you need to when reading, or writing, you might want to consult a dictionary for the meaning of a word.

3. Plot, or “story mountains”

Ah yes, the classic illustration to demonstrate how a plot works. We have rising, falling and building action. However, it might be worth keeping in mind that a writer’s version of the story mountain might differ to the reader’s, in terms of structure and terms. For instance, a writer might have: part 1, chapters 1-22 are the exposition. Whereas a reader might think “the moment where Lisa falls down the hole is the main conflict”.

4. Bloom’s Taxonomy


This diagram is, in part, an illustration of the book comprehensionImagine you’re in a book club or seminar, asking the members questions about the book. There are several categories, illustrated in the flower design, that indicate the parts of reading, such as knowledge and evaluation, which put your skills to the test.

Quoth The Wordsmith

663092_26111643 You’ll often hear that in order to write, you need to read. Many prominent authors stick by it and advise aspiring writers to make a practice of always having a piece of literature on the go. It’s good advice, as long as you know that if you are reading to write, you need to look at the writing that you are reading differently. Here’s how I do it:

-Accept and note the areas that you have trouble with, whether they include dialogue, structure, characterization, setting, etc. Know and embrace the fact that you have room to improve.

-Pick a story or a book (or a few!) that really made an impression on you in terms of style, tone, and connection. It should be something that you don’t mind reading again, and that you would give a glowing review.

-Read the story slowly. Take your time. Figure out how that story…

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Why Margaret Atwood is NOT a feminist

Atwood presents us with passive, useless characters who are totally flat or static. Although she has been called a “feminist”, she seems more anti-feminist to me. She has often rejected the label herself, but other writers are convinced she is feminist. Here’s why I think she’s anti-feminist:

“The Edible Woman”

Not only is the title incredibly sexualising as it sees women as food, Marian loses her identity as the novel progresses. First, she becomes passive about getting married, and then compares herself to a steak, sympathising with it. If you thought it couldn’t get any worse, her airhead friend Ainsley deliberately allows Len to take advantage of her and seduce him, because she doesn’t want a husband. Then there is Clara, who is constantly pregnant and a housewife. Are these women either objects or reproducing machines? Once her devouring boyfriend Peter leaves, Duncan polishes off the remains of the cake-woman, meaning Marian has gone from one man devouring her to another. Not only does Marian loathe food, but she is constantly defined by men writing meaning on her. So much for a regaining of identity.

“The Handmaid’s Tale”

Women are separated into several classes ruled by men in Christian Patriarchal society. Offred, a concubine, is an illiterate slave who serves no other purpose than to get pregnant. Her name means “Of Fred”, symbolising that she has no identity. Even though she begins to read magazines, the only power she has is via The Commander, who is her Master. Even Serena’s Joy, the infertile wife of The Commander, has all power taken away from her and infertility is blamed upon her. Both women are victims and are renamed by The Commander. Offred is a slave and Serena is the trophy wife.

“The Robber Bride”

Zenia is a ghost who manipulates three women and stole their boyfriends whilst she was alive. She seems to abuse sisterhood and undergoes abusive relationships with men and women alike. Like in The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood successfully forms a new kind of misogyny; women mistrusting and hating other women.

“Bodily Harm”

Yet another negativity junkie, Rennie has a sadomasochistic relationship with a man named Jake. He remodels her apartment and eroticises her body, which Rennie passively accepts. Even though Jake is eventually driven away by her accepting nature.

So there we have it. Atwood says she isn’t Feminist and even if the female characters didn’t succeed they could at least have some guts or fire to them.

My top 10 Marxist books

Okay, these might not technically be about Marxism. But, they do talk about society and social class. Therefore, I believe that any literature that concerns class, metanarratives or ideology counts. Okay, here we go:

1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Where religion now rules the world and there are several different classes, women can no longer read. I daresay this is not Feminist literature (more like anti-feminist), but Marxist. The Eyes of God seem to rule over this society and control everything in a dystopian world. Perhaps this is more a novel about religion than women.

2. 1984 by George Orwell

This is what started the Thought Police and Big Brother off. 1984 is about the media ruling people’s lives and being denied the right to Freedom of Speech.

3. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Set in the society After Ford, everyone is cloned and lives in one if five castes; Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta or Epsilon. Fordism is the new religion, babies are conditioned in a Pavlovian fashion to dislike books and flowers (to prevent reading and to use more transport. Bernard and Lenina visit the society of “Savages” who still read the Bible, live in mud huts, marry and give live birth, where we meet John the Savage. John is the bastard child of Linda and the leader of the dystopian society, and he goes to try and change things. Nobody ever gets ill, they take soma in order to remove negative emotions and have sex for pleasure. Perhaps the main concern with this novel is consumerism.

4. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Ah yes, the Victorian workhouses and the unhappiness they caused for children. It is a picaresque novel about the adventures of a young orphan. You probably know the story, but Oliver first runs away to live with the Artful Dodger and Fagin, meeting the whore Nancy in the process. After being convicted of pick pocketing, he is rescued by a rich Upper Class man to live in his mansion, and then lives with him. This a “rags to riches” story similar to the film Annie, where a child from a bad background escapes their social shackles.

5. Heroes and Villains by Angela Carter

After a Nuclear Holocaust, there are three classes of society; Professors, Barbarians and the Out People. The Soldiers fight against the Barbarians to stop them pillaging their village, and the Barbarians resemble Celtic tribes who wear face paint, braid their hair and are very superstitious. As for the Out People, they are mutants who are kept separate over a wall and have poisonous sores. Marianne, a Professor’s daughter, runs away with a Barbarian and discovers their way of life. This novel is largely about Primitive culture in the Dark/Medieval ages, in particular concerning marriage, rape and Marianne’s sheltered life in her steel and concrete tower (think Rapunzel) compared with her boyish nature, making it Feminist literature too.

6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This about Jay Gatsby, a man who lives a wealthy lifestyle by changing his game and being a forgery businessman rather than a member of nobility. The novel explores the social lives of flappers and young men living in the 1920s and how they rebel against traditional values. A novel about money, the American dream and the nouveau riche, it explores the superficial lives of young wealthy people who waste their lives.

7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Widely regarded as a social criticism novel, Jane Eyre is about how Jane goes to Lowood to teach and eventually lives in Thornfield Hall. Whilst Mr Rochester toys with marrying wealthy Blanche Ingram, he cannot marry because his wife Bertha – who was once very rich – is kept in his attic. Jane knows that, whilst she loves Mr Rochester, marrying him would mean that she is secure for once. A novel about masters and servants as well as education, this novel shows how one can escape their circumstances.

8. Fight Club by Chuck Palahnuik

Capitalism runs New York, and it’s consumers are the victims. Joe decides to create an alter ego who takes over at night, creating first Fight Club and then Project Mayhem.

9. Pride and Prejudice em> by Jane Austen

Widely regarded as a novel-of-manners, part of the story illustrates the social norms and expectations for men and women of a certain class.

10. Pygmalion by George Bernard Shore

The play that inspired Educating Rita, the story goes that working-class Eliza Doolittle is taught how to be a lady with elocution lessons and appropriate topics by Colonel Pickering and Higgins. A TV programme named “ladette to lady” has a similar theme running through it.

The case for adverbs

Okay, so I understand that adverbs are a tool and are sometimes used as a quick, lazy way out. However, I did come across one example I didn’t entirely (see?) agree on:

He whispered words of love … my sweet, dear lover, my angel … he purred his contentment, his joy …

This, my dear readers, was posted by The Writer’s Digest. This page was advocating that this sentence added drama to the man whispering to his lover. The sentence originally read “he whispered to her lovingly”. Yes, it adds drama, but is that necessarily a good thing? Surely the writer is going off-track listing all the pet names for said lover? Whereas the original tells, short and sweet, that the couple are being intimate. Plus, calling your lover “my angel” isn’t exactly creative – we’ve heard this before. And what about him ‘purring’ his contentment? Cliched and hammy, much? What really takes the biscuit, though, is adding ‘his joy…’ on the end, to indicate his blissful, dreamy, perfect moment. This is fine if you want to write for Mills & Boon, but not for other publishers. Get on with the action and involve some dialogue! This is actually a bad case of description, where we get the character’s thoughts paraphrased rather the reader seeing for themselves what they are thinking. And yet, the writer of the article claims this sentence is ‘showing not telling’. Then, we go from too little “The house had an empty feeling to it, the air stale with undefined kitchen odors …” to far too much:

“The dark, dreary house had an empty, suspicious feel to it, the thick air stale and sour with undefined, scary kitchen odors” …Do all these adjectives add much at all? An empty house implies something strange and sinister, so do I need “suspicious”? Do I also need “dark, dreary”? An empty house might be these things as well, but I’m not unmindful that a sinister house may also be bright and sunlit

Oh for God’s sake! Reading blatantly obvious comments makes me want to weep sometimes. Any idiot can tell that this piece of prose is heavily peppered with adjectives, but clearly The Writer’s Digest doesn’t seem to realize that we aren’t stupid. Perhaps ‘desolate’ would be a more precise word than ’empty’ and ‘undefined’ could be ‘strange’ or ‘alien’. But let’s meet halfway, and see what that does:

“The house was desolate. The air was thick with sour odours coming from the kitchen.”

There. The revised sentence is not only shorter, but it’s very vivid and concise. We have the right amount of well-chosen adjectives; not only do we know where the odours are coming from, but we know that the mood in this house is eerie and unpleasant.

So what have we learned here?

  1. Sometimes, it’s more about finding the right adjective or verb
  2. Adverbs are spices; dump too much on, and everything is diluted

30 facets of Magical Realism

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Salman Rushdie, Angela Carter and Haruki Murakami are all said to Magical Realist authors. It started off in Latin America, and then moved to the UK and US. Alejandro Carpentier coined the term lo real maravilloso which means ‘the marvellous reality’ in The Kingdom of this World. A lot of these authors can be said to have elements of Postmodernism in their work too. But what separates Magical Realism from fantasy?

1. The fabulous as ordinary

Perhaps one of the key features of this genre is seeing the magical qualities in everyday life. This might be taken literally, such as seeing sprites made out light sitting in trees or perhaps make the jewelled chameleon have real jewels. Other elements may include glass palaces or cities, or any machinery creating magic. It could be anything from a tree which looks like a hand or strange lightning strikes.

2. Juxtaposition

This generally tends to mean taking two unlike things, such as nature and technology, and somehow bringing them to together to be compared and contrasted. We have the fantastic and the ordinary colliding and blurring together; we might see the ordinary in the marvellous and vice versa.

3. Binary oppositions

Again, this is similar to Juxtaposition. These can be thematic, characters, motifs or to do with the plot. Perhaps the most obvious is reality vs the fantastic, but plenty of others will be there too. Binary oppositions are important because we see multiple versions of reality colliding and blurring together.

4. Parallels to history and the non-fictional world

Not all Magical Realist fiction includes this, but there are certainly elements – E.T.A Hoffman in The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, World War Two in Pan’s Labyrinth, Franz Kafka in Kafka on the Shore, or perhaps the novel is set in real places/ ones which parody and/or parallel real places. This could be a political critique, such anti-war, a particular person or social class.

5. Metaphors

Symbolism is important here, things stand for other things. Metaphors are often treated in a realistic way; for instance, the metaphor of a ghost might manifest as a real ghost, and would thus symbolize the past metaphorically haunting or lingering in the present, like in Garcia’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Descriptions such as ‘she was elfin’ allow a transcendant, mystic quality of the person being described. If a mad scientist like Doctor Hoffman was there, would he symbolize desire? Dreams? Magic? War? The emphasis is taken away from the actual Doctor and his desire creations, but to what he, Nebulous Time, and his schloss signify.

6. A day in the life of…

What makes this genre realistic is how they imagine a magical character or place to be, in a plausible way. We need to be able to see this person’s point-of-view and have them fleshed out as people, rather than two-dimensional symbols. What’s it like for Spiderman to have spider powers? Or what’s life like on Middle Earth? If we as authors give a country landmarks, races, geography, culture and gender norms similar to our on, the world of the novel becomes much more plausible. Imagine all the questions you might ask if you were interview the Wicked Queen; how did you learn magic? Why do you hate Snow White? What happened when you finally killed her?

7. A Process Too Complicated To Explain

How does Uri Geller receive strangely accurate visions of drawings? Why is it that you pray to God or a deity and your wish is mysteriously answered? The truth is, that in “rational” times, we believe that because there is no scientific or plausible explanation for something, it’s just our mind playing tricks on us or a distortion of reality. But, what if it’s simply that these processes are just too complicated to explain with science? After all, Geller hardly touches the spoon, holding it between two fingers instead of holding it with both hands like most illusionists, and his spoons have an upward curve rather than a downward one. In Magical Realist fiction, there won’t be much of an explanation being given, and it seems ludicrous. Some people believe that your intuition, or ‘gut feeling’ is using the whole part of one’s brain instead the usual fraction in order to know something or perform telekinesis is why people can bend a spoon.

8. Visions, hallucinations and dreams

Are visions divine or futuristic/occult revelations? Could the dream world be perceived as separate from the waking world? Is this all in our mind? You could draw on concepts such as the astral plane and how Mohammed received divine scrolls from Jibreel. Is history just another biased story? To what extent is reality in the physical world and fantasy in the mind? Is any of this real or surreal? And, what is their purpose for being there? Maybe we haven’t heard all sides of the story yet.

9. Defamiliarization

In the same way that the magical can be realistic, it can also work the other way around. What might seem as ordinary becomes bizarre, spooky or fabulous. The tree branches might look like clawed hands and have horrific faces like in Disney’s Snow White, or demons might be shadow-like. We’ve all seen horror movies and Scooby-Doo with the haunted house and how we don’t know if it’s our mind playing tricks on us or not. Likewise, beauty could be present in nature; we might see clouds which look like angels or flowers might have an ethereal glow.

10. The ordinary as extraordinary, or ‘everyday magic’

Would you know how a TV worked if it wasn’t for science? What about potions seen as a form of chemistry, or how the world was created? Creation myths and old culture used magic as a way of explaining otherwise inexplicable phenomena, such as the stork or Adm and Eve. Or, there is the everyday miracles that might occur, such as being mysteriously saved or surviving from an otherwise fatal influence. Fairly Odd Parents explains that, on Friday 13th, bad things happen because of invisible anti-fairies that can only be seen with special glasses, and the anti-fairy is the exact opposite of an ordinary fairy. I’m not saying this programme is Magical Realism, but it expresses the point in a similar fashion.

11. The difference between Magical Realism and Fantasy

Whereas Fantasy is usually set in another world (or at least contains characters from there), Magical Realism is set on Earth, not Middle Earth. There should be some familiar or familiar-sounding locations in magical Realism, based on real people and places, but shown in a different light. In Fantasy, you create something completely different which has little resemblance to the real world.

12. Seeing the world from several perceptions

We might see native people, various countries and races, shifting perspectives or history re-interpreted. The whole point of Magical Realism is to see the magical or mundane elements already on Earth, and viewpoints will probably conflict or contradict one another. You can still do this with a first person narrative, especially if you have a false protagonist.

13. Parallels with Postmodernism

Asides from this genre appearing in the Postmodern era, there are quite a few traits that Magical Realism shares with Postmodernism. A few of them include: metafiction, collapse of metanarratives, temporal distortion (because of the shift from country to country or from past to present), multiple narrative threads and rejection of the omniscient narrator. Both of them want to retaliate against the conventional, objective style of Realist writers, and also of the idealized, rose-tinted view of Romanticism.

14. Not ‘fiction for the masses’

this isn’t genre fiction. Magical Realism is a serious genre, which often blends into other genres, and is largely concerned with representing the world. If there is magic or some kind of mystical element in the story, it won’t be obvious or pointed out; the reader has to piece the puzzle together on their own. Traditionally, characters and dialogue tell us everything we need to know, but this isn’t this case with Magical Realism. There might be parallels or references to pop culture in the story, but the story will no be presented in the same form or style as pop fiction.

15. Real world setting

This story will not only be set on Earth, but there will be familiar cities and countries, but this doesn’t mean that it has to resemble this country per se. Let’s say this story is set in New York; maybe it’s different 40 years ago or in the future. Or, you could even create a new, fictional town with elements of one or more towns. Your characters will have jobs, clothes, religions, culture and a language.

16. Hybridity

This can by combining genres to mingle in with other genres such as speculative, romance, historical, sci-fi or horror. It can also mean the dream world combined with the waking, the rural with the urban, the gothic with paradisiacal. We might even have hybrid characters,such as ethnicity or even having subtle hints of magic themselves.

17. The marvellous

This marvellous is not romanticized, complacent or pleasant, but extraordinary, bizarre, strange and excellent. The marvellous is both familiar and unfamiliar; it might take a familiar form but have unfamiliar qualities, or be in an unfamiliar/familiar place. America, for instance, is a very big continent; we have desert, forest, beach, plains, snow and mountains all within the same land mass.

18. Lack of authorial intrusion

We depart from conventional Realist techniques, and the reader must decide for themselves and make meaning of what is going on; there will be no infodumping or David Copperfield life stories. As the characters learn and encounter new people/places, so the do the readers and everything is new yet familiar.

19. Metafiction

Fiction is just another plane of reality/unreality, traditionally having a fine line dividing these states. Think of The Neverending Story, where the reader becomes a part of the story. Arguably, most fiction is like this, but Magical Realism amplifies this. And, by drawing attention the fiction’s status as fiction, we blur the lines between artificial and real, reality and fantasy.

20. Rejection of the traditional narrative

Like I said, none of this David Copperfield verbosity. We might not have an omniscient narrator, chronological timeline or even conventional characters. Part of Magical Realism is experimentation, so being stereotypical or traditional does not depart from what have already heard.

21. The lashback against the mainstream

Like I said, Magical Realism is not genre fiction; it’s complicated, won’t bend for the reader and won’t be dumbed down (not that all genre fiction is like this, but that’s besides the point). The point is, Magical Realism uses magic as something almost scientific, rather than something trivial or fluffy e.g. ‘magical glittery rainbows in the sky with sunshine and lollipops’.

22. A lack of logic and rationality

These are elements of the traditional Realist narrative. Magical Realism will have symbolism and riddles whilst presenting the audience with rounded characters and an intelligible purpose. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every last thing must be abolished though; science might be represented with motifs of vials and nature might be a symbol of the Tree of Life (however obvious these might seem).

23.Breakdown of boundaries

Well, in some ways. If there is a thread of Science Fiction running through this story, then aliens and strange chemicals appear – or perhaps in magic as being a kind of quantum physics.

24. Myth and legend

Perhaps myth and legend could be given a fantastical yet realistic outlook. Naturally, it needs to retain some kind of magical element – otherwise it simply isn’t Magical Realism. However, the mythical creatures can be modernised to suit the 21st century, even if that isn’t the era you’re writing in. Think of how Marvel’s Avengers imagines the Norse gods as living in outer space, giving them an alien quality (apart from that they seem to live on another planet of course).

25. Primitive elements?

The tribal, pagan and native cultures are often ignored in favour of colonizing, Christian ones. This definition could stretch to mean: carnivals, Native Americans, African Tribespeople, Barbarians, hippies and nomads. Quite often, these people are at the heart of magic, mysticism and myth. Even if we don’t actually meet a tribe of travelling gypsies, we can have indicators that their culture has influenced the ‘main’ one and vice versa.

26. A lack of time and space

Clocks, perhaps representing time, might be replaced with the hours of daylight or the perception of time. Anything which can quantify or measure something is usually unflavoured in Magical Realist fiction, because it constricts the amount of creativity and freedom it can have.

27. Relatable characters

Even if we have Sages and flying dragons, we need them to be realistic. Do your research; just how are you going to make a four-legged reptile plausible to the audience? What would they eat and how might they move? Are there any clues to special talents they might have, along with a reasonable explanation for this? If we have a teenage girl who can read minds then how does the process work?

28. Heightened senses

You know how you meet people in real life who seem to have an extraordinary sense of sight? In literature, this could be extended to an almost magical ability. “What, like ESP?” I hear you shout. No, not quite. Whilst some characters may have supernatural senses actually stated, we as authors must make it seem as though the reader/characters have eyes as sharp as an eagle’s. Put another way, the sense of surroundings is great we may as well be picking up on some kind of psychic energy permeating the place.

29. Interpretive plotline

There is often a strong sense of mystery in Magical Realism; this is the most common theme in various writer’s styles e.g. Salman Rushdie and Angela Carter. Because of this, the story is open to interpretation and can have many different readings. The reader must throw conventional conclusions, closure and well-structured plotlines in the trash, so that their mind is open to subtle magical characters and situations.

30. Inversion

Think of it being like the mirrored world of Alice in Wonderland; things are often turned on their head in favour of the marvellous and bizarre. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Earth will turn upside down like it’s opposite day. Think of carnivals such as the Feast of Fools, where everything is quite loud and gaudy, and mythical creatures and strange people seem to parade everywhere. And as Mikhail Bahktin pointed out, we live in a carnival to some extent.

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An Ode to Margaret Atwood and Dimitris Melicertes

There are various ways to end a story (and the chances are that the audience have expectations of how they think it will end). When I read Melicertes’s post ‘A Touching Story’, I noticed that he gave the reader an unexpected ending. Plus, in Margaret Atwood’s ‘Happy Endings’, John and Mary go through various endings. Asides from romance being the common theme, both indicate that endings aren’t always fixed.

First, let’s set the scene for a story:

Katherine found a pair of underwear on her bed that didn’t look like hers. She also found a suspicious email which read:

For goodness sake
U can’t be serious
Can’t you see,
K is wrong?

Meet at
Eldon Street.

Ok, so this is quite an obvious example; it’s quite cliched and hammy with blatant references. We’re fairly sure we know what is going on with Katherine’s husband. But imagine if it ended like this:

She confronted her husband, Stephen, about the cryptic email and underwear. He told her that it came in through his spam inbox, and that he’d bought the underwear for her.

‘So what does K stand for then?’

‘K is algebra.’

This is plausible, I suppose. But it’s not the ending we were led to believe, is it? Arguably, the twist in this story might be a surprise and therefore make it more interesting (I’m aware that it’s such as short story that we can’t tell what went on in between). But, generally speaking, it’s usually a good idea to give the reader what they expected. So how many ways could this have ended?

A. Stephen was seeing another woman behind Katherine’s back.

B. Katherine was paranoid.

C. (At a stretch) the whole thing was a dream.

If we had more information, we could possibly have sub-categories. But, I suppose there’s really only two ways this could have ended; Stephen was either guilty or he wasn’t. The moral? Perhaps it’s the middle of the story where we have room for variation?

Until next time,

Why fiction writers are not liars

Okay, so the story didn’t really happen, we get it. We also know that all fiction is fantasy, especially since ‘fantasy’ originally meant/means “imaginary or inside one’s head”. But, characters, settings and events are based upon those in the “real” world. Take Charles Dickens, for instance; he’s a brilliant Realist writer who is famed for his accurate representations of Victorian life in his works, in particular London. Even the the characters aren’t real, they remind us of ones who are, and even though he focuses mainly on bleakness and the working classes, it’s not hard to imagine London being like that. But, he isn’t pretending that this is the real London – he knows it’s just his opinion or perception. He’s not saying he’s right or that this is definitely the only way London was, either. The way I see it, you’re only truly lying if you’re trying to present your false story as something genuine. Put another way, he isn’t recording history or facts, he’s just expressing his opinions and sharing his views. If you and your audience know that none of it really happened and that the characters don’t exist, it’s fine. The only trouble with this, however, is if you’re writing memoirs or a biography/autobiography. Because, your memory might not serve as well as you think, and then you might be lying because you’re claiming all these events are true and happened, right down to the last detail. ( another exception might be the majority of The Bible – such as Adam and Eve in Genesis – but most people know by now that this probably isn’t 100% true.) But as for fiction, we can have what are known as universal truths, as in Jane Austen’s line “it is a truth universally acknowledged….”, which are the same but dressed up in different wrapping paper. Sometimes, the truth is in disguise in fiction; you need to look beyond the plot and dig deeper to the core, the message. Are authors still liars, then?

General updates

Hello my creative clouds!

I’ve been away for a while, but I’m back and currently working on ’30 facets of Magical Realism’ as promised. As you may have noticed, I’ve changed my picture (no, I’m not a Victorian fairy) but it’s still me. Do keep an eye out for upcoming posts, make any suggestions you like and let me know what you think of the creative writing prompts!

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Don’t do this, do that instead.

1. Infodumping

the audience are not idiots;assume that they are smart enough to know what will happen or what you are talking about. Idiot or villain lectures are unnecessary, boring and use seemingly-needless language. A lot of TV dramas do this with montaged scenes in a sequence to remind us what happened.

The alternative: Action-dumping

You are allowed to throw you readers – and characters – in at the deep end with a scenario; it’s often good at the start of the book or chapter, or whatever. Background info should be revealed in clues and through the action, and kept to minimal; we are reading a STORY, not a history book.


2. Dialogue tags

Unless you have 3+ characters talking all at once, in the same room at the same time, there’s really no need for this (if you are in this situation, your ‘conversation’ might sound more like canaries in a cage). Dialogue doesn’t need to be a tennis match, but there’s no need for long pauses, peppered with “he said/she said”.  There should be no more than four characters in a situation like the one I mentioned, because then it’ll turn from a group into a crowd, and the reader cannot concentrate on the main characters.

Try this: a beat

This is where we depart from the conversation to either non-spoken action, description or Interior Monologue. If all we had was dialogue, we’d have no time to process and absorb what’s going on, and the dialogue would exist in a vacuum. Yes, dialogue is important but it’s all about balance.

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