Writing as Magic

Recently I met Orson Scott Card, and he asked me if I’m still teaching writing classes. I said yes, and I knew that he was teaching, too. Then he said something interesting, he said in essence, “You know, sometimes I feel guilty for trying to teach something that at its heart feels so much akin to magic.

I knew what he meant. When you get a really great novel, one that transports you physically, emotionally, and intellectually into a story, it can indeed feel like magic. And sometimes that magic seems to come so easily, while other times it refuses to come at all.

The first time that I sensed it, I was a child sitting on my mother’s knee as she told me about Jack and the Beanstalk, the old tale of a young man who steals magical items from a giant in the clouds. That story swept me away, and as an adult I realize that it’s a powerful tale still. It doesn’t matter if the character is a boy named Jack stealing a magic goose, or if his name is Prometheus and he is stealing fire from the gods, or if his name is Frodo and he has a ring stolen from Sauron, or if it is Edward Snowden stealing secrets from the US Government. While the item stolen might differ and the thief comes to different ends, the heart of the tale remains the same.

Of course, the art of storytelling has been considered magical in many ancient civilizations. Among the ancient Welsh, a storyteller was called a “Maker” and poets were lauded as if they were only slightly less than gods because their tales brought imaginary worlds to life. Elsewhere in Europe, lively storytellers were accused of being “enchanters” and were thought to be dangerous. Despotic kings feared puppeteers who might use their storytelling skills to turn the people against their leaders. I once read an old book carried by priests in Ireland that was meant to help identify those who engaged in witchcraft, and I found that all of the spells rhymed. Apparently you know evil when you hear it, because it’s doggerel. If as a storyteller you seemed too wise, people worried that you had magical powers, that you were a “wizard” (wise + sage), and therefore ought to be burned along with the witches.

As writers, we struggle to master the magic of writing. I was delighted years ago when a reviewer at Publishers Weekly called me a “wizard of storytelling.” I suspect that all of us have been amazed at stories that came to life, and we want to write them too.

Sometimes when you learn a skill, it seems a minor thing. It’s not until you put a bunch of skills together that we begin to amaze others. For example, you can learn to shuffle cards, to count cards, to palm cards, to deal off the top or bottom of a deck, and how to switch a deck. Each skill is pretty easy, but if you learn to do them all well, you can astonish the crowds who will pay to watch you.

Writing is like that. We learn to bring stories to life by appealing to the various senses of the reader, and arousing the reader’s emotions and guiding their intellect. We learn to use precise words and powerful metaphors to heighten the experience. We learn them and add them into our tales layer by layer, and somehow the whole becomes more powerful than the parts. Those are some of the skills that I’ve been struggling to teach in my Writing Enchanting Prose workshops.

But as writers, we don’t try to carry the readers away and transport them anywhere. Our goal is to deliver them to a precise destination. We struggle to entertain and enthrall, but we also seek to create powerful epiphanies that can transform both our readers’ lives and society as a whole.

Ultimately, when it is done right, the process does feel magical. Indeed, as an author, I think that we should be seeking to create works that surprise even us with their power, fervor, and complexity. Which leads me to this conclusion:

Any story that is told with proper artistry and depth should be indistinguishable from magic.


Writing Enchanting Prose Workshop

Provo, Utah
Provo Courtyard Marriott
March 19-23, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
10 Attendees Total

In this workshop we will work heavily on imbuing your prose with the richness and details that bring a story to life. The goal is to teach you how to fully transport readers as you take them on a journey that captivates their hearts and minds. David Farland will teach you how to totally transport you readers so that they become so immersed in your story, they forget where they are—they forget they are reading at all.

This workshop is similar to the Writing Mastery workshop, but will be more exercise-oriented, with in-class practices. Writing Enchanting Prose is more in-depth than any of David’s past prose workshops.

In this workshop, Dave would like to create an intimate environment where individual students will receive ample time for one-on-one interaction and critiques. Dave will be spending personal time with each student. Because of that, we will be strictly limiting the number of students allowed to attend to 10.

The Dallas workshop is now full, but you can also learn some of the same principles from my workshops below.

Fantasy Writing Workshop

YHA Oxford, Oxfordshire, England
August 22-August 28, 2018

Number of Students: Strictly Limited to 12

Number of Days: 7
$1099  (Lodging, food, and travel are all the student’s responsibility)

Join us for our most magical workshop ever! In this workshop, David Farland will be focusing on writing fantasy—building powerful magic systems, cultures, and worlds, creating fantasy characters, plotting fantasy, and writing powerful prose.

Students will need to bring a laptop, an unfettered imagination, and a strong work ethic. Being half-mad would also be a help.

This workshop will last three days longer than most of Dave’s workshops so that you will be able to focus on writing each day but still have some afternoons free to do some sightseeing. We will spend time visiting nearby sites like Stonehenge, The Eagle and Child Pub (where Tolkien and Lewis met with the Inklings writing group), Warwick Castle, Shakespeare’s home, and we will be within easy striking distance of London.

Advanced Intensive Writing Workshop

St. George, Utah
Ramada Inn
October 22-26, 2018
10 Attendees Maximum
$799 (Room, travel, and meals are separate)

Prepare for National Novel Writing Month right in this workshop exclusively for those who would rather be dead than unread!

Dave is ratcheting up his popular Writing Mastery camp and this will be an advanced workshop where we perform daily writing exercises, give daily critiques, and work to improve our writing craft.

During the workshop, instruction and exercises will cover such topics as:

  • Adding intrigue to your tale
  • Creating tension
  • Using the eight kinds of hooks
  • Using appeals to various senses to hypnotize your reader
  • Weak appeals versus strong appeals versus “failed” appeals
  • The music of writing–assonance, consonance, metaphors, etc.
  • Developing and using both your voice and your character’s voices
  • Advanced descriptive techniques
  • And more!

We will have at least ten assignments over the course of the class, and Dave will review each assignment and offer critiques. We will also invite other writers to offer their own insights.

During lunch and dinners, authors will be able to set up appointments to dine with David in order to talk about specific concerns that they have with their writing, or to plan their careers.

Note to David Farland’s Advanced Intensive Writing Workshop Participants: You must bring a laptop computer with you. If you don’t own one, then borrow, rent, or buy one.

While the goal for this workshop is to allow the writer to have fun, to get inspired, to work in an intellectually rich and emotionally fulfilling environment, this will be David’s most intensive class ever!


Learn more or register here.

MYTHIC: A Quarterly Science Fiction & Fantasy Magazine Kickstarter

My friend Shaun Kilgore, editor of MYTHIC: A Quarterly Science Fiction & Fantasy Magazine has a Kickstarter going on:

Hi, everyone. My name is Shaun Kilgore, editor of MYTHIC: A Quarterly Science Fiction & Fantasy Magazine. I’m the Publisher at Founders House Publishing, a small indie book publishing company that produces MYTHIC.

Inspired by the old pulp magazines of the early to mid-20th century, I started MYTHIC in the summer of 2016. My goal was simple: To offer a new place to showcase unique voices offering new visions in genres that were often pigeon-holed by a few reoccurring themes, setting, characters, and conventions. MYTHIC provided the venue for exploring stories that broke the status quo as well as honoring the best of science fiction and fantasy as whole.”

Learn more and help with the Kickstarter here.

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