One of the things I love about writing conferences is that moment in the hotel lounge or bar–roughly around 11:37 pm–when the mood shifts and you’re suddenly in a Cary Grant movie surrounded by a room full of witty, charming, and fabulous people.
While some might call this “being drunk,” I prefer to think of it as a kind of magic. It’s the magic of a gang of half-flustered, slightly edgy introverts suddenly finding home–realizing we’re safe amongst our tribe. Most of the jet-lagged agents and editors have gone to bed and we realize we can stop being so damn “on” and just be. Guards are let down, quips are quothed, and lifelong (or at least, night-long) friendships are forged.
Let’s face it, we writers can be a somewhat awkward people. Many of us got picked on, ignored, left out, or otherwise socially estranged in our childhoods and were thus driven to take refuge in the iridescent words and imaginary worlds of our favorite stories. For me, a lot of those stories involved magic. Myths, fairy tales, and fantasy dominated my reading lists and I reveled in their sorceries.
At the same time, though, I felt I was missing something. It wasn’t so much that the real world was insufficiently magical, but rather that we were insufficiently aware of how to work the magic. The stories that thrilled me most were those that told of lands where magic had been lost and was just being rediscovered. I took those less as fiction than as prophecy.
And then I grew up a little.
Some years ago, perhaps inspired by Arthur C. Clarke’s quote about sufficiently advanced technologies being indistinguishable from magic or by my good friend Todd Fahnestock’s own youthful hope to bring magic back into the world, I grew back down.
I got to thinking that magic wouldn’t seem particularly magical to the people living in the worlds of our storybooks. Or at least it would seem no more supernatural to them than iPads or airplanes or other technological marvels seem to us. If something is demonstrated in the world–if it has a presence in the natural–it is no longer supernatural, it is simply a quirk of reality.
Magic would just be a thing that certain gifted people could do. Neat, perhaps–dangerous, maybe–but mundane. Of the world–not apart from it.
That got me thinking about whether there were any other real world magics (beyond technology) available to be harnessed by those of us who aren’t scientists, engineers, or programmers.
I considered athleticism. Just as fictional mages and wizards had to practice for years to physically perfect their arts, modern athletes and dancers and acrobats in our world do the same, turning their bodies into fabulous specimens capable of seemingly superhuman feats.
Now–let’s face it–we writers can be a somewhat uncoordinated people. I play flag football, tennis, and racquetball. I swing dance, swim, bike, and work out regularly. I’ve even run a marathon (albeit very, very slowly), but compared to a true athlete, I feel like I’ve got the physical talent of a marginally robust pudding. What Peyton Manning does on a football field or Baryshnikov does on a stage drops my jaw just as quickly as the work of a Gandalf or a Potter would drop the jaws of the gawkers in their worlds.
So, yes, to me at least it seems there’s magic to be found in technology and in feats of physicality. But what about us writers? What magic can we wield?
The obvious answer–of course–is the writing itself. We have the power to create whole worlds after all. We can whisk the awkward and uncoordinated to havens of acceptance and glory and imagination. We can inspire change and progress and creativity. We can salve wounded souls and succor broken hearts.
Exceeding the powers of most storybook spells and incantations, our world’s words have birthed religions and movements and governments and empires. Indeed, few things have done as much to transform the world as certain well told tales or cleverly crafted speeches. Think MLK’s Dream speech, or the Gospels, or the Bhagavad Gita, or perhaps (from a darker angle) Hitler’s Mein Kampf or Machiavelli’s Prince.
So yeah…pretty big magic happening here.
That said, this answer’s a bit too pat for me. It puts the focus only on the climactic scene–the final magical flourish–while ignoring the magical means.
What most inspired me in my teen-age reading was never the big finale where the great powers clashed and good triumphed over evil.
No, it was something much smaller and more intimate than that.
It was when the hero first discovered a curious ability and learned to control something in the world that once seemed uncontrollable.
It was the moment of transformation when the protagonist became something more than a socially awkward physical approximation of a marginally robust pudding.
It was the way the hero’s careful efforts over time helped turn a gift into a talent and a talent into a true force.
Over the next several entries, I want to delve into some real world magic I’ve come across. You may not consider any of it all that magical, but I hope you’ll at least find the tools and tricks and little spells I describe useful to you in your writing careers. After all–we are a tribe, aren’t we? And tribes should share our learning. I’m excited to share this with you and learn what you have to share in return!
Next post: Magical Beginnings.
A List of Upcoming Topics (to be linked as soon as they’re available):