The Magic of Writing Fiction

Mar 22, 2018
magic in fiction

You've got to love William Blake. 

'A Woman clothed with the sun, & the moon under her feet, and / upon her head a crown of twelve stars; and behold a great red dragon also.'

Blake has taken this from Revelations 12 but I love the way he cuts and splices the phrases and uses them as the springboard for his art which is so often fantastical and revelatory.

I want to something to you about MAGIC. I know for some of you, you're as wary of this as if it's maths. That somehow bad breath and costumes are involved.

When it comes to 'magic', there's a broad church, but what I mean by it in the Classic Course, applies also to those of you on the Ninety Day Novel; transformation.

All great books serve up transformation on a silver plate, nice and succulent. He was a bit of a dullard, now he's pure evil. She was a drip, now she's working for NASA. Transformation is what a novel is all about. It's the moment in which the hero's flaw is seized in the cosmic spinning wheel, and he's spat outside of himself to take a look at the old skin and put on fresh new shiny jim-jams.

Every book offers us this hope; that we can change. David Lurie recognizes kinship with the dog in 'Disgrace' by JM Coetzee and is transformed into a person who understands his place in the universe. That is what happens in a novel at its most fundamental.

You can create change by whatever means necessary in both forms; good or bad luck, events and circumstances, brute force, divine intervention or some dirty old hocus pocus. Magic was a means to explain inexplicable change. But do not think of magic as wizardry, for that is merely one of its guises.

Change is served up on a gold plate in a Classic, it offers a more dramatic change hence magic lends a hand. Transformation is the sole axis of the story wheel of fairy tale, so it could use a little magic to get downhill in seconds. In the long form, a little magic gets it airborne. But there's a spectrum. In 'The Secret Garden' by Frances Hodgson Burnett all the elements of a Classic are there, and no secondary world necessary. (So please don't start cloaking up and sawing women in half or gelding hybrid mule/parrots.)

William Blake had a paintbrush for a wand but his subject was humanity, and through the fantastic he laid our mortal condition bare, showing us our dreams unbodied so we could think with our hearts for a moment.

You have a pen for a wand, but your subject is humankind in its nakedness too. You will be laying your subject matter bare. Think of what you put on, and what you take off. Heap things heavily on the shoulders of your hero, but think too what will remain under the burden of the experience, what's the grit, or the stone in the middle of the peach.

The purpose of the transformation as an experience in your work is to give the hero - us - a moment in which we feel beloved on this earth. That is all you're striving for, and it's everything.

'And suddenly everything became clear to him.' As Chekhov said.

Everything will become clear to you, dear writer, the day you sign up for our novel writing course. 


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