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Getting in Touch with the Inner Magician

Photo from Flickr Creative Common by ビッグアップジャパン

I’m a writer who (almost always) writes about practical, down-to-earth things. The stuff of everyday life. Mysteries grounded in the real world. A wrongful arrest. A stolen dog. Love stories. Falling in. Falling out. Trials and tribulations therein. The human condition. Etc.

So, when I recently typed “THE END” on my latest WIP (a mystery novel about—wait for it—a woman who turns to solving neighbors’ mysteries to resolve her real-life problems) with no idea whatsoever what I wanted to write next, and the very next day I had a new idea for a new story, it was serendipity—magic itself.

But here’s the part I wasn’t prepared for. This new story that came to me in a flash, while walking toward my daily 10,000 steps, is definitely not based in reality. This story is straight-up fantasy. Okay, that’s not right. It involves a clash between the real world and a made-up world.

A Brand-New World

Which brings me to PROBLEM 1. This story will involve world-building. This is the first hurdle. How can I write about [INSERT TOP SECRET IDEA HERE*] when I’ve never “built a world”? The closest I’ve come is writing historial fiction. This world I will need to write is fantastical, and I will (not necessarily) have anything to go on but (maybe) fairytales.

Leading to PROBLEM 2. I love researching as I write. But with a fantasy world, who’s to tell me except myself what is and isn’t “real”? What does and doesn’t belong in the story? Will I miss the real-life research?

From there, I immediately leap to PROBLEM 3. How can I—a writer who’s never written or thought in fantasy—know how to write a story or a world like this? I’m afraid I won’t be able to describe what I see in my mind. If I write about a dog, you see a dog in your mind’s eye. But if I write about a group of Plagoria jangaleria, each no bigger than your index finger, what do you see? This worries me. You all know what I mean when I say worry. Same with sadness or love. But if I say I’m wavregging? Huh? And if I write about inanimate objects’ emotions, like a black hole’s feelings as it implodes?

I wish I could think like one of my fantasy-writing friends who once told me, when I was struggling over a (very-human) scene involving a truck waiting for someone, that she would not wonder about what was happening in the waiting truck or with the waiting human, but about what was happening in the woods beyond the truck.

What story is going on there?

It makes me wonder how I came up with this particular idea. The short answer is I don’t know. I can look at random thoughts and conversations I’ve had in the last month that could have introduced the idea, but nothing concrete. I do know that at the very moment I thought of this idea, I was thinking a very specific tangible thought about my husband’s running route and how it might take him near the river, but that has no clear relationship to [INSERT TOP SECRET IDEA HERE*]. From this article in Stylist [1], I learned “…some authors can indeed pinpoint the exact moment when they were struck by a particular idea or character,” while others may take years to develop an idea.

Where the Magic Happens

Regardless of why I question, I do question. Yet, I am obsessed. I’ve written several pages of notes and have begun to research and shape the fantasy. I hesitate to use the word love (yet), but I do feel infatuated, impassioned as I have about no story in a long time. But I also feel a little panic, and when I do, I take a deep breath and remind myself to think magically.

MAGICAL WAY OF THINKING 1. Look for the similarities not the differences. Writing fantasy may not be that much different than writing reality when I get down to writing. It’s still about writing the movie in my mind. What difference does it make if the person (or creature) has green hair or black? Or if there’s a creature at all? Or if the setting is on Earth, in the air, underwater, or underground? The important thing, as always, is to capture the scenes and feelings evoked.

MAGICAL WAY OF THINKING 2. Give it a chance. Let the writing flow. Write (or plot) whatever comes to mind and write the story of my heart. Embrace a challenging endeavor to at least fulfill curiosity and interest. Embrace the passion.

MAGICAL WAY OF THINKING 3. Regardless of fantasy or reality, it’s all about mining real-life insecurities and fears and imbuing them into the story. I once read that the reason fantasy is so popular right now is that we need an escape from the terrifying reality surrounding us; we can deal with imaginary terrors much more easily than real terrors. Spoiler and irony: in my case the fantasy world characters deal better with problems than the characters in the “real world.”

So, I’ll let myself escape to my fantasy world. I’m going to let it wash over and through me and let my inner magician out. I’m going to do what any of us as writers need to do—acknowledge the fear and push the doubts away. I’ll do my best to write freely and without judgment about things I have only imagined, and when I get scared I’ll remind myself that in this very real way this fantasy is just like a “real life” story: real-life stories, too, can create these fears and doubts.

Because most of my writing problems and inhibitions and fears (and I’m guessing many or all of yours) are caused by my real-life negativity, which perhaps—just like the story I’m writing—can be resolved by magical thinking.

Have you ever been struck with an idea that seemed implausible for you to take on? What are your self-imposed fears and inhibitions and/or preconceived notions about your writing? Please share! (And any advice about writing fantasy would be very appreciated!)

* If you’re wondering why I’m referring to my idea as [INSERT TOP SECRET IDEA HERE], it’s because recently I talked to a wise editor about why I was having trouble feeling passionate about my writing. S/he reminded me of something I used to do long ago: not speak of my projects until they are ready to be made public. This one is most decidedly not. I’m trying to preserve the secret and thus the passion for the idea.

About Julia Munroe Martin [2]

Julia Munroe Martin [3] (@jmunroemartin [4]) is a writer and blogger who lives in an old house in southern coastal Maine. Julia's other passion is photography, and if she's not writing at the dining room table or a local coffeeshop, you'll likely find her on the beach or dock taking photos. Julia writes The Empty Nest Can Be Murder mystery series as J. M. Maison.