Much has been said, in the wake of his death several weeks ago, of Gabriel García Márquez. Even if you’ve not read any of his works, you’re likely familiar with his legacy of magical realism – and if you’re not, the concept is easy to understand: Magical realism tells stories of the world we know, and inserts bits of absurdity, fantasy or impossibility – of magic. As readers, we are drawn in, entranced with a universe so close but just out of reach. And as writers, we are allowed to make sense of a world which often seems incomprehensible.
Rebecca Alber describes the way magical realism reached her creative writing class in a way traditional writing – like The Hobbit – could not: “I had followed the hunch that this mysteriously weird yet touching story would pique the ninth- and tenth-graders’ interests. It did.” She goes on to explain that the short story, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” “served as a mentor text. In their writing, students embraced the literary elements García Márquez used to take his audience on a ride filled with imagery that dripped from all sides of the page.” It makes sense that the genre resonates with teenagers; whether through religion, rebellion, or magical realism, adolescence is all about turning experience into something we can understand or control – or even make better: “one student, Ramon, wrote about a very real situation in his apartment complex where a man would frequently yell at his wife and all the people living in the building felt sorry for the woman and concerned. In his story, Ramon described how the woman discovered she was telepathic and was able to see her husband’s temper floating above his head before he’d lose it. She left him quickly after that, using her telepathic powers as she traveled throughout the country with “Mind Reader for Hire” painted on the side of her van.”
If you choose to inspire your students’ writing through magical realism, take a bit of advice from the master. When asked in an interview with The Paris Review about his use of detail, Márquez responded, “if you say that there are elephants flying in the sky, people are not going to believe you. But if you say that there are four hundred and twenty-five elephants flying in the sky, people will probably believe you… I remember particularly the story about the character who is surrounded by yellow butterflies… when I was writing this, I discovered that if I didn’t say the butterflies were yellow, people would not believe it… That’s how I did it, to make it credible. The problem for every writer is credibility. Anybody can write anything so long as it’s believed.”