In Exit West, Mohsin Hamid uses magical doors to paint a hopeful future for a war-torn world. For this creative assignment, I would like you to write a short story incorporating one fantastical element that speaks to a larger theme.
Here are the elements I will be looking for in your story:
Realism: Start with a character that has experienced something difficult or upsetting. Choose a situation connected to a current or historical event, like Hamid does; an issue that affects or has affected the people of our city, country, or world.
Magic: Create a short story in which the character encounters one magical or otherworldly thing. The character must be fictional, but you may use first-person narration. Again, since the setting should be grounded in the real world, your magical element must function within the context of an otherwise “real” time and place. Watch for these potential pitfalls:
Do not try to create a whole parallel universe here. That’s fantasy/science fiction, not magical realism.
Be careful with time travel. Notice the way Hamid deals with expanding and collapsing time. It is subtle and through the aesthetics of language (a life in one sentence; expansive descriptions to stop time; Saeed’s mother’s death). There is no outright time “travel.” Characters do not inhabit the past or future, except through memory and aspiration.
Theme (this is the tricky part): Work to show the reader what this magic represents for your character, and ultimately, for you. Does it rescue her? Horrify him? What does the character learn as a result of the encounter? Think about how and why Hamid conveys these messages. Look back at the short stories we studied and those characters’ reactions to the magic. What did we learn about them? About the author’s ethos and sensibilities (about global positionality, and more abstract concepts like infinity? How can we emulate these authors’ techniques?
Inspiration: Orwell said that anything worth writing should have a “political purpose.” He meant that the best writing comes from ideas you actually care about. Can you draw inspiration from your own life? Political issues you care about? A pressing personal issue you are dealing with?
Plot questions to consider: When do you want your story to start? Just before the magic? At the moment the character first encounters it? At a later moment, where the character has already had a first encounter with the magic and is coming back for more or is managing or coping with it? Or is the magic in this story just something that exists in the world, and the character expects it; it’s just the reader who’s surprised? Or something else?
3-5 pages. (Consider Hamid’s assertion that you can contain infinity in limited space.)
Times New Roman. 12-point font. Double-spaced. For more information on Magic Realism check on this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_realism
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