WEEK FOUR: Jarring the Box: David Lynch as Mind-Altering Drug

Eckleburg Workshops - Magic Realism Workshop

For centuries, writers from Shakespeare to Poe to Burroughs to Wallace and so forth have used alcohol and illegal drugs to alter consciousness for the unfettered exploration of reality in new and “unreal” ways. But you don’t need drugs to do this. We have David Lynch!

Writing Assignment

Experimental film can be great sources of inspiration for magical realist narratives. David Lynch’s short films are some of the best. The jarring nature of the above short film helps to momentarily jog the convention out of you, allow you to think outside the box and form a new reality for your burgeoning narrative. Consider “The Alphabet” as a tool. Please follow the below steps as given. They might feel very strange but stick with it:

  1. Watch “The Alphabet” again, if you’ve already watched it. Don’t try to “understand” it. Simply watch it in all its jarring and weird aesthetic. Again, don’t try to make sense of it. If you try to understand it, you’ll likely attempt to put it in your learned “conventional” box and this will diminish its mind-altering effects. Just let your mind feel jumbled. If you are of legal age and like to have a cocktail, glass of wine, beer, go ahead and have a drink before watching it. 
  2. Now, think on a mindless activity you were forced to learn for your own good and that of society, such as learning your alphabet. As a child, you likely learned the alphabet song. You repeated it over and over until it was something you could never forget. You could vomit alphabets, regurgitate it in your sleep, bleed alphabets and dream alphabets. What other conventional necessity did you learn that became so essential to your state of being that it is fluid like blood and air. Be emotionally honest with yourself as you consider this convention. What parts of this convention are helpful? What parts do you resent? For instance, you likely learned to drive, and now maybe that learned convention you loved so much at the time has become an hour and a half commute to work and home from work. Every day. Ugh. 
  3. Next, watch “The Alphabet” again. While you watch, hold this moment of necessary and resented convention lightly in your mind. Allow a juxtaposition to form within the landscape of the short film, either in whole or part. As you do this, consider the different “landscapes” or “chapters”: (a) the girl in the bed, (b) the face with sunglasses, (c) the progressive alphabet schematic, (d) the ping pong ball, (e) the room with bleeding head, (f) the nose-chin. As you do this, do not worry about whether or not anything makes sense or connects perfectly. If a connection happens, get writing! If a connection does not pop out at you, no worries. Follow the next step.
  4. Go back to the short film and choose one of the strange sections as focus, whichever one of the “landscapes” is most interesting to you in some way.
  5. Make a list of attributes. For instance, if you choose the nose-chin, describe the nose-chin, list what you see. There are no right or wrong answers here. Simply make a list of the image, the details, the strangeness.
  6. Now, imagine that strange image from Lynch’s short film magically plays on the wall of your living room, dining room, kitchen, bedroom… You’ve just returned home from work after participating in that long drive home, after brushing your teeth for the millionth time, after using the bathroom or calling your mother or any number of relentless conventional practices you learned as a child or young adult and continue to exercise. You see this strange image on your wall. What do you do? Write this in first person. You are the first person protagonist dealing with this strange occurrence after such a familiar and resented practice. How might these two relate? Diverge? What does this mean to your protagonist?

* Do not stress if your narrative feels jumbled in the first draft. Just go with it. Use the second and third drafts to sculpt and begin to make sense. It’s okay for early drafts to feel out of control. This “out of control” attribute in our early drafts is an excellent place to be for innovative writers.


Below, briefly describe how this mind-altering writing exercise feels? Is it uncomfortable? Does it bring up some things you’ve not before considered? 

WEEK THREE: Shooting Your Point of View Gun

Eckleburg Workshops - Magic Realism Workshop


Unfortunately, we do not have a point of view gun. Our best tool for creating and using narrative point of view is manipulating the “reader’s share,” or what Eric Kandel identifies in The Age of Insight as the element the reader brings to the experience of reading your work. Your job as the writer is to explore and identify which point of view will make your reader deduce meaning in the most effective and efficient way. In magic realism, it can mean using a familiar object or vehicle to create an extraordinary perspective, often for two characters to form deeper conflict and connectivity.

Third person will often allow more objectivity, and therefore, the reader will have more room to consider and explore the characters and scenarios; however, first person can offer opportunities for such close in experience that readers are drawn in with the up close and personal effect. Second person can be tricky. Readers don’t necessarily like to be “told” what to think or what their positions should be within the context of a story; however, you can use and manipulate this reader’s instinct in order to “challenge” your reader and make him or her consider him or herself within the context of your narrative. In this instance, make sure to remember that some of your readers may purposely buck this manipulation. You can use this to your advantage as a storyteller. Write to both the reader who will willingly accept your narrative and magic realism while writing to the reader who will rebel mindfully against them.

Example: In the above film excerpt from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, some women might laugh out loud, siding with a woman’s perspective. Some men might too. Some  men might roll their eyes and mutter complaints. Consider how this excerpt speaks to each of these reactions and uses them in the overall context of the narrative and humor. Also notice how the scene is essentially mundane. A cavelike room. A gun. The characters each have interesting quirks, sure, but overall, if you did not know you were on an alien planet, beneath a giant robot, you would think they might be in a nearby park cave. The “point of view gun” is essentially the most extraordinary element within the scene. As the characters point the gun at each other, we come to realize back story that has a science fiction feel, but the SF elements are discussed in a very real and believable way. They might as well be talking about a metaphorical “blowing up” of a party that has destroyed relationships. We want to stay solidly in magic realism for this workshop, and so, we want to limit the fantastical/SF elements in our settings. 

Second person and humor, together, can make a very compelling voice. Trillion, the female character in the above Adams’ excerpt, uses a “you” factor, or second person factor, quite literally within the context of the narrative while the narrative voice uses a third person aside to create further context for the scene, explaining the history of the point of view gun. How might you use a “you” factor or multiple points of view in your own work in obvious or subtle ways so to draw your readers in so thoroughly they are able to create meaning from your characters, settings, and scenarios without your characters explicitly telling them what this meaning is or should be. Allowing each reader to make his or her own individual meaning is the art of great storytelling. Read the below short story, “The Nose,” by Gogol. Notice how the point of view creates a rare and interesting angle.


Reading Assignment

“The Nose” by Nikolai Gogol


Writing Assignment

Choose one or two favorite characters you have already written. Now, write these characters into a new story with an extraordinary object–i.e. the point of view gun, a detachable nose, etc. Other than the one extraordinary object, allow your characters to stay relatively familiar, down to earth, real.

Spend time exploring different points of view for your characters. Choosing the perfect point of view will add further depth and landscape within your narrative. For this reason, point of view is not only a modality for narrative voice, it is also a strategic tool for exploring the work both on and off the page.

After you have written your first draft with your chosen point of view, write a second draft with another point of view. Decide which PoV you like best and submit that one story for this week’s workshop. 


Point of View (from Purdue Writing Lab)

You already understand point of view, but for identification purposes, we’ll just list the definition here: Point of view refers to the perspective the author uses to tell the story. Though authors may switch and combine points of view, in traditional fiction there exists three points of view:

  • Third Person: In third person, the author tells the story. But the author decides if the events will be objectively given, or if she can go into the mind of every character; to what degree she can interpret that character; to what degree she can know the past and the future; and how many authorial judgments will be allowed. For example, Chekhov uses Third person limited omniscient in his story, “Vanka.” Chekhov tells us when Vanka is thinking, but he doesn’t go into detail about what Vanka is thinking about. Chekhov lets the action show what Vanka is thinking about. If Chekhov had written the story in third person omniscient, then we would know everything that was on Vanka’s mind, and we would be given a great deal of interpretation about why Vanka acts the way he acts. If Chekhov had chosen to write “Vanka” in Third person objective, we would only get those details that could be outwardly observed. Vanka would not pause to think twice about how he should begin his letter to his grandfather. We might see him lift his pen, and then start writing again, but nothing more.
  • Second Person: Second person is unusual in fiction and is more common in poetry. In second person, the character is not referred to as he or she, or by name, but rather as “you.” If Chekhov had written “Vanka” in second person, it would begin like this: “You, a boy of nine, who had been for three months apprenticed to Alyahin the shoemaker, were sitting up on Christmas Eve.”
  • First Person: Authors use first person when a narrator who is also a character in the story speaks. Baldwin’s story, “Sonny’s Blues,” is written in first person, and begins: “I read about it in the paper, in the subway, on my way to work.” The narrator who speaks is Sonny’s older brother, and he is also the main character in the story.


What has been your favorite point of view in the past–i.e., which point of view have you usually migrated toward? Which points of view will you focus on this week?


WEEK TWO: Identity Shifting: Writing the Platypus

Eckleburg Workshops - Magic Realism Workshop

How does a writer create a character that is the midpoint between realism—the average man or woman in an average workaday life—and fantastical characters such as vampires, werewolves, wizards and witches? Why create these characters that seem to have one foot in reality and one foot in magic? To answer these questions for yourself, first ask why you go to literature. What makes you read?

Many of us read so we can find connection. We are looking to feel less alone, less odd. We are looking to better connect with ourselves. We want the characters we read to be familiar enough we can relate, different enough we can find interest and wonderment. We also want these characters to have quirks, frailties, complications. We can go to a PTA meeting or to the office for “normal” and “perfect.” We go to our literature to connect more deeply and diversely with the “other.” How well do your characters meet this depth and diversity? How much quirk do your characters have?

Read the following excerpt and short short stories. Think about how these characters by circumstance and personality reflect, through their magic realism and quirkiness, the broader aspects of their society. Consider how very real the settings are in these stories.

If you’ve not read Orlando, the novel, you will need to know that Orlando, the protagonist, was a man at the start of the novel. He turned into a woman.