Magical Realism, High Concept, and Other Confusing Literary Terms (2023)

Deciphering some “publishing speak” phrases to help your writing succeed

Magical Realism, High Concept, and Other Confusing Literary Terms (1)

Writing, like most occupations, has a language of its own. Terms like “inciting incident” and “hero’s journey” are part of learning what it takes to make a story work.

Marketing our work, however, involves a completely different set of ideas — many of which are anathema to a writer’s sensibilities. If we write in isolation, it doesn’t matter whether our writing is considered “genre-bending” or “own voices” or “pop fiction”. These terms only have meaning when we are trying to describe our work to others.

The majority of descriptive labeling is driven by publishers, who want to know how to categorize our content. Like any business, it is important for publishers to know which demographic groups to pitch their products to. It does no one any good to try to sell dog training books to cat lovers, or social security texts to new mothers. Demographic groups are not, of course, as rigid as they may be drawn and there are plenty of examples where members of one group cross over into another.

Demographics are important in figuring out where to allocate advertising dollars, and how to craft ads to appeal to different groups of customers. Publishers use various descriptive terms mainly to help literary agents, so that when the agent brings an author’s work to the negotiating table she can quickly tell the acquiring editors “I’ve got a manuscript here that is not strictly fantasy, but not strictly romance or western either” (i.e. genre-bending).

(Video) Magical Realism In 6 Minutes: Literary Fantasy or Fantastic Literature? 📚

These terms only have meaning when we are trying to describe our work to others.

Here are some commonly misunderstood literary terms.

  • High concept versus low concept. A low concept story is one in which the plot is very basic and common enough to be considered an archetype. For example, two people meet and fall in love is a generic plotline that needs no further explanation. Everyone gets it immediately. A high concept story, on the other hand, has a more complicated plot that may have elements of the basic theme, but then puts a major kink in it. Let’s look at some examples:

Girl on a Train: a woman witnesses a murder (low concept)

Gone Girl: a woman frames her husband for her own murder (high concept)

Dork Diaries: adventures of a boy in school (low concept)

Harry Potter: adventures of a boy in a wizarding school (high concept)

In high-concept stories, the idea carries the book. In low-concept stories, the writing carries the book.

Don’t take this to mean that the writing isn’t important in high-concept work, because it is. More to the point, the writing is critical in low-concept work because the plotline is mundane. We don’t love Jane Eyre because the book is full of twists and thrills, we love Jane Eyre because of Charlotte Bronte’s writing.

(Video) What Is Magical Realism?

  • Magical realism versus fantasy. Magical realism is one of those terms that everyone thinks they understand but they really don’t. Here’s what is crucial to understanding how magical realism is different from fantasy.

Magical realism means that the elements of magic and the supernatural take place in our ordinary, everyday world. If the world of the story isn’t our world, then the story is fantasy.

Some definitions of magical realism state that as long as the characters take the magical elements for granted — even if their world is a “make-believe” world — then the work is still magical realism. This isn’t correct.

Harry Potter=Fantasy. The wizarding world is not our world. In Harry’s world, people who can’t do magic are “muggles”, and are depicted as hapless dolts. The muggles don’t accept magic as a natural part of the world, but instead, fear and mistrust it. Wizards live in an alternate plane of reality. Harry’s daily concerns involve mastering his powers, parsing evil, and fulfilling his destiny.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer=Magical Realism. Although the things Buffy herself deals with are fantastical and she is a superpowered being, her world is our world. Her friends have no powers — with the exception of Willow, who learned her magic rather than being born with it. Buffy goes to an ordinary high school, not a special “slayer school”, and her daily concerns are those of typical teens: dating, fitting in, parent relationships.

Star Wars=Fantasy (a galaxy far, far away). None of the characters are from Earth, though they are (presumably) human. The only familiar things in this story are the themes (freedom, love, survival).

Star Trek=Magical Realism/Science Fiction. Star Fleet headquarters is on good old planet Earth; our Earth, just in the future. The “magic” comes in the ideas of space travel, human harmony, and universal friendship.

The Dragon Riders of Pern, The Earthsea Trilogy, and The Lord of the Rings are all fantasy, as is A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones.

The Poisonwood Bible, The Secret History of Witches, and anything by Stephen King are magical realism.

(Video) Intro to Magical Realism

  • High fantasy versus low fantasy. Ok, let’s make things really murky now. High fantasy is also called epic fantasy, and is generally taken to mean lengthy (multi-volume) tales with multiple characters and protracted action leading to an ultimate showdown with the antagonist in the story. Examples include those mentioned previously in the “fantasy vs magical realism” description, as well as The Wheel of Time, the Mistborn, and the Inheritance series. Low fantasy, on the other hand, refers to works where fantastical elements are more a part of everyday life. The Twilight Zone TV series was a perfect showcase for low fantasy stories; in fact, show creator Rod Serling’s parameters for story submissions required that the framework be an intrusion of the bizarre into the mundane. Other examples include the Harry Potter books, and works by authors Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, and Cassandra Claire.

There is a different definition, however, when the term is used in role-playing campaigns. High fantasy there refers to how realistic the characters and the setting are. In other words, the more realistic and mundane (i.e. real world) the story is, the higher the fantasy. Using this definition, a game like Disco Elysium would be considered high fantasy, while World of Warcraft would be low fantasy.

The problem with literature is that it’s an art; it’s not as easily quantifiable as a science such as mathematics. Literary terms are squishy and subjective. Genre fiction is more like math, in that you can be hugely successful by following a formula. In fact, it’s preferred. Mixing genres can and does occur, but most genre readers want their stories to proceed in a certain set way.

Paying attention to how publishers use descriptive terms is to your benefit as a writer. Whether you particularly agree or not with how such terms are defined, it is helpful to be able to pitch your book to an agent with a descriptor attached to it. The agent will be more confident in deciding to represent your work, and the publisher will be more willing to buy it and set it before the reading public.

FAQs

What are the literary elements of magical realism? ›

Magical Realism is a genre of fiction which depicts a setting rooted in realism, but which has elements of fantasy. In other words, the world in which the story takes place is almost entirely identical to ours, but one or a few other worldly beings or traits are added to the mix.

What is the other term of magic realism? ›

Fantasy. Prominent English-language fantasy writers have said that "magic realism" is only another name for fantasy fiction.

What is magical realism in literature definition? ›

magic realism, chiefly Latin-American narrative strategy that is characterized by the matter-of-fact inclusion of fantastic or mythical elements into seemingly realistic fiction.

What is magical realism Mcq? ›

It is a genre of literature that adds a realistic view of the world while adding magical or mythical elements.

What is the main focus of magical realism? ›

Magical realism is a genre of literature that depicts the real world as having an undercurrent of magic or fantasy. Magical realism is a part of the realism genre of fiction. Within a work of magical realism, the world is still grounded in the real world, but fantastical elements are considered normal in this world.

What is the purpose of magical realism? ›

The point of magical realism is to actually understand reality better. For the writer, it's an active and creative exploration of a societal aspect. For the reader, the assessment is more passive but, ideally, still brings out deep and often uncomfortable truths about the world.

What is an example of magical realism? ›

Magical Realism Defined

As the name would suggest, magical realism is a combination of realistic fiction with magical moments weaved into it. For example, in the book Beloved by Toni Morrison, the character Sethe is haunted by the spirit of her daughter.

Who first used the term magical realism? ›

The term magical realism was introduced by Franz Roh, a German art critic in 1925. When Roh coined the term he meant it to create an art category that strayed from the strict guidelines of realism, but the term did not name an artistic movement until the 1940s in Latin America and the Caribbean.

What are the 4 elements of magical realism? ›

Hybridity. Magic Realism is all about mixing things up: the fantastic with the mundane, the ordinary with the extraordinary, dream life with waking life, reality and unreality. If you want to be fancy-shmancy about it, you can say that Magic Realism is characterized by hybridity.

Which story is the best example of magical realism? ›

Life of Pi is an example of magical realism, which is a literary genre that contains fantastical elements in an otherwise realistic world.

What is magical realism reading answers? ›

Magical realism is a style of fiction writing in which magical elements are treated as a natural part of the story's environment. While the style is most closely associated with Latin American authors beginning around the 1960s, the term ''magic realism'' was first used by the German art critic Franz Roh in 1925.

What are the three elements of magical realism? ›

3 essential elements of magical realism
  • Real-world setting. ...
  • Supernatural happenings — left unexplained. ...
  • Literary tone (and literary prestige) ...
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (1967) ...
  • Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (1981) ...
  • The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende (1982)
30 May 2019

Where did magical realism originate? ›

The origins of Magic Realism are contemporaneous with Neue Sachlichkeit, the Post-Expressionist movement in Weimar Germany that emerged at the end of World War I. The term Neue Sachlichkeit, German for New Objectivity, was officially coined with an exhibition of the same name in 1924.

Which short story contains an example of magic realism? ›

Beautiful Monsters” by Eric Puchner. This piece from Last Day on Earth by Eric Puchner is a great example of magical realism short stories: humans have become immortal Perennials, but in order to do so, they have to remain children forever.

What tone is most commonly used in magical realist literature? ›

Answer and Explanation: The tone is often very much bland in magical realism, like dry humor. It doesn't really bat an eye. One of the things that makes this genre so strange is that events that are by all calculations not possible will happen in a setting which is entirely of this world, so to speak.

What point of view is magical realism? ›

Omniscient point of view is very popular in literary fiction and magical realism.

What are the main principles of realism? ›

The four propositions of realism are as follows.
  • State-centrism: States are the most important actors.
  • Anarchy: The international system is anarchic. ...
  • Egoism: All states within the system pursue narrow self-interests. ...
  • Power politics: The primary concern of all states is power and security.

What is the setting for magical realism? ›

1. Realistic setting: All magical realism novels take place in a real-world setting that's familiar to the reader. 2. Magical elements: From talking objects to undead characters to telepathy, every magical realism story has fantastical elements that do not occur in our world.

Why is magic important in fantasy? ›

Function. Within a work of fantasy, magic can help to advance the plot, often providing power to heroes or to their opponents. The use of magic frequently manifests itself in a transformation of a character, if not the transformation of the fictional world.

How do you use magical realism in a sentence? ›

Examples of 'magic realism' in a sentence magic realism
  1. His works have also been categorized as magic realism. ...
  2. Her writing separately exhibits realism, surrealism, also magic realism. ...
  3. His writing style has been described as magic realism.

How do you start a magical realism story? ›

The Six Key Steps to Writing the Magical Realism Genre
  1. Read and Research Current Affairs. ...
  2. Learn About Your Own Culture. ...
  3. Pick Your Real-World Setting. ...
  4. Moral, Political, or Social Critique. ...
  5. Incorporate Subtle Magical Elements. ...
  6. Create Complex Characters.
5 Jul 2022

Who is the master of magical realism? ›

Garcia Marquez was one of the prime exponents of magical realism, a genre he described as embodying “myth, magic and other extraordinary phenomena.”

What are 5 characteristics of realism? ›

Realism Characteristics
  • Detail. Detail is that special something, that je ne sais quoi that sets Realism apart from other literary schools. ...
  • Transparent Language. ...
  • Omniscient Narrator. ...
  • Verisimilitude. ...
  • The Novel. ...
  • The Quotidian. ...
  • Character. ...
  • Social Critique.

What are the three types of realism? ›

realist thought can be divided into three branches: human nature realism, state-centric realism and system-centric realism.

What are the five forms of realism? ›

Contents
  • 2.1 Metaphysical realism.
  • 2.2 Naive or direct realism.
  • 2.3 Immanent realism.
  • 2.4 Scientific realism. 2.4.1 Scientific realism in physics.
  • 2.5 Moral realism.
  • 2.6 Aesthetic realism.

What culture is most associated with magical realism? ›

Magical realism is most closely associated with Latin American authors. However, the seeds of the genre's name were planted by German art critic Franz Roh in 1925.

Which author is best known for his use of magical realism? ›

It's often said that the works of Colombian novelist and short-story writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez are quintessential examples of “magic realism”: fiction that integrates elements of fantasy into otherwise realistic settings.

What is the difference between fantasy and magical realism? ›

While magical realism situates readers in a predominantly realistic world, fantasy takes place in an unreal world with unreal characters. J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a popular example of fantasy.

What is realism short answer? ›

realism, in the arts, the accurate, detailed, unembellished depiction of nature or of contemporary life. Realism rejects imaginative idealization in favour of a close observation of outward appearances.

What is realism easy words? ›

Realism is a way of portraying or thinking about reality. The word "realism" is used in many liberal arts in many different ways (such as in music, painting, and philosophy). It usually means trying to be true to reality.

What are the 4 main elements of fantasy? ›

Fantasy literature often includes some of the following characteristics:
  • Magical Forces.
  • World Building.
  • Fantastical Characters.
  • A Dangerous Quest.
  • Mythical Creatures.
30 Jun 2021

What is a magical element in a story? ›

Elements of sorcery, witchcraft and enchantment; fantastical creatures and the supernatural; advanced abilities or powers… Basically, anything with no basis in real-world evidence or logic can be considered 'magic'. This is where you can really set your story apart from others in the genre.

What are two common features of stories written within the magical realism genre? ›

Some common elements of magical realism include everyday characters, real world settings and magical moments. A main element of magical realism is the blending of illusion and reality, and the fluidity of time, where time is not linear.

What literary devices are used in realism? ›

Elements of Literary Realism
  • Realistic characters and setting.
  • Comprehensive detail about everyday occurrences.
  • Plausible plot (a story that could happen in your town)
  • Real dialects of the area.
  • Character development important.
  • Importance in depicting social class.

How does magical realism reveal new perspectives of reality? ›

Magical realism is characterized by subtle unreal elements that are present in otherwise ordinary settings and situations. These elements often have a symbolic nature and are used to comment on themes like identity, race, and class. They suggest possible realities that exist beyond what we know or perceive to be true.

What are the 5 literary elements? ›

A story has five basic but important elements. These five components are: the characters, the setting, the plot, the conflict, and the resolution. These essential elements keep the story running smoothly and allow the action to develop in a logical way that the reader can follow.

What are the main elements of realism? ›

realism, in the arts, the accurate, detailed, unembellished depiction of nature or of contemporary life. Realism rejects imaginative idealization in favour of a close observation of outward appearances. As such, realism in its broad sense has comprised many artistic currents in different civilizations.

What are the elements in realism? ›

Realism is characterized by the use of realistic characters over a complicated plot. Elements of Realism include the focus of social issues, struggles of everyday life, truths of everyday life, and focus on mostly middle- and lower-class people.

What are 5 characteristics of magical realism? ›

Hybridity. Magic Realism is all about mixing things up: the fantastic with the mundane, the ordinary with the extraordinary, dream life with waking life, reality and unreality.

What are the 4 types of realism? ›

The four propositions of realism are as follows.
  • State-centrism: States are the most important actors.
  • Anarchy: The international system is anarchic. ...
  • Egoism: All states within the system pursue narrow self-interests. ...
  • Power politics: The primary concern of all states is power and security.

What is an example of magic realism? ›

Magical Realism Defined

As the name would suggest, magical realism is a combination of realistic fiction with magical moments weaved into it. For example, in the book Beloved by Toni Morrison, the character Sethe is haunted by the spirit of her daughter.

What are the 7 element of literature? ›

You can turn the slightest concept into a gripping tale by mastering the seven essential elements of a story — theme, characters, setting, plot, conflict, point of view, and style.

What are the 4 main story elements? ›

The four elements necessary for your story structure are character, plot, setting, and tension. Balancing these elements is the first step to making your creative writing amazing.

What is the most important in realism? ›

For realists, the highest goal is the survival of the state, which explains why states' actions are judged according to the ethics of responsibility rather than by moral principles. The dominance of realism has generated a significant strand of literature criticising its main tenets.

Why is realism important? ›

It indicates those things or events which exist in the world in its own right. It opposes the thing or event which is imaginary or fictitious. It holds the view that knowledge acquired through senses is true and what we observe and perceive through our own senses is real and the true entity of the world.

What is realism simple words? ›

Realism is a way of portraying or thinking about reality. The word "realism" is used in many liberal arts in many different ways (such as in music, painting, and philosophy). It usually means trying to be true to reality.

What are 3 qualities of realism? ›

Realism Art Characteristics:
  • Rejected Romantic ideals.
  • Represented subjects “as they were”
  • Focused on everyday people, settings, and situations.
  • Responded to a new national emphasis on workers.
5 Jun 2022

What are 7 characteristics of realism? ›

Realism Characteristics
  • Detail. Detail is that special something, that je ne sais quoi that sets Realism apart from other literary schools. ...
  • Transparent Language. ...
  • Omniscient Narrator. ...
  • Verisimilitude. ...
  • The Novel. ...
  • The Quotidian. ...
  • Character. ...
  • Social Critique.

Why is realism important in literature? ›

Literary realism is a unique genre that looks at real life people and situations. It even explores real dialects of people. Not only does this work to make an interesting story, but it gives people a look into raw and unfiltered conditions of the time.

Videos

1. Gabriel García Márquez: What To Know About The Master Of Magical Realism & Nobel Prize Winner | TIME
(TIME)
2. Magical Realism More Examples
(Tabletop Teaching LLC)
3. Why should you read "One Hundred Years of Solitude"? - Francisco Díez-Buzo
(TED-Ed)
4. A Lecture on Multicultural Poetry with an Introduction to Magical Realism
(John Pistelli)
5. Disney's Encanto Official Trailer Magic Explained: Is It Magical Realism? + Culture Breakdown
(StoryDive)
6. Intro to Magical Realism Video 1
(Tabletop Teaching LLC)
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