Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Believe in Magic

"Don't ever get too old to believe in magic!" My senior year high school English teacher issued this warning to our class more years ago than I care to claim. This wasn't an ordinary English class, but a seminar class, in which we did a great deal of reading from different types of literature and attempting various styles of creative writing. In that class I learned there is more than one kind of magic. His advice has proved excellent through the years.

There would be something sad about a society where there was no Santa Claus, no leprechauns with their pots of gold, no four-leaf clovers, and no sudden delightful surprises. There's a level of innocence restored to adults as they remember the delights of such childhood fantasies as evidenced by their eagerness to pass on these magical experiences to our children. I applaud writers who can create this kind of magic for children and all adults who remember the magic of wonder.

That teacher referred to another kind of magic as well, the kind we sometimes call the "aha moment", or that moment of epiphany when all the pieces fall into place and we "get it." I've read a number of novels lately that contain no epiphany. By the time the climax of the story should be reached, the tale falls flat, there is no surprise, no dots to connect. The clues were too obvious; they practically slapped me in the face--or there were no clues. This type of story is boring. One such story left me wanting to shout, "clever, trendy dialog is NOT a substitute for a real story." Another contained great action, but it went nowhere; there was no climactic moment. Books in series often fall into this trap. Each book is the same story; if I've read one, I've read them all. Even romance novels, mysteries, and suspense where the reader knows in advance the outcome, the lovers will commit to love each other forever, the mystery will be solved, and the clever protagonist will somehow outwit the evil forces, still need that magical moment when the reader can say, "Wow I didn't expect that" or "I had a hunch that was going to happen." Readers need that moment of triumph, that touch of awe, that climactic "Oh, yeah!"

Knowing a story needs a bit of magic doesn't always equate with writing an excellent epiphany. A good writer sprinkles a story liberally with clues and false clues. Care needs to be taken with false clues, or red herrings, to ensure they fit into the story and don't just become loose ends. Few people like clues that are practically underlined in red, but we also feel cheated when the solution pops out of the woodwork without any clues. A friend of mine who writes mystery suspense for the general market once dissected a mystery written by one of her favorite authors to see how many clues the author planted. My friend filled a whole page with clues, then admitted that only one or two aroused her suspicions until that magical moment two lines before the protagonist boldly revealed the villain.

I'm a bookaholic and I believe in magic. I read a lot of books, twenty-one so far this year, and I always look for the magic. Oh not fairies and magic wands, though those are kind of nice sometimes too, but I keep hoping with each book I pick up that it will be the one that carries me away to that magical spot that makes my heart beat faster, rewards the sleuthing side of my brain, and has me saying, "I'm glad I got to read that."

And here's another bit of advice from another former high school teacher of mine: "It's alright to build castles in the air, unless we try to live in one."

1 comment:

Elizabeth Morgan said...

I think magic is something we always need to believe in!