Magical Realism Short Story Assignment


A short story is just that – short! For our purposes in this unit, the limit will be 750 to 1000 words only. If you doubt this is possible, have a look at this short story by Alice Walker (the author of the best-selling novel ‘The Colour Purple’).

The Flowers, by Alice Walker

Or this, told in just 8 minutes, by the Velvet Underground.

The Gift (story: Lou Reed; narration: John Cale)

Or this, an even more extreme example, by Ernest Hemingway.

We can already see a few important skills on display in Alice Walker’s story. What is important is your ability to use language effectively and with coherence. Aim to keep your story brief but to structure it well and show off your technical ability.

Our aim in this unit is to learn about how a short story is made, and how it works. We will then use this knowledge to write our own stories You will be able to use ideas found in other stories: plotlines, characters, events, locations. You can even take a whole story and write your own version of it, displaying the skills and techniques you have notice in the original. This is not copying; it’s a pastiche! You will also write a rationale explaining what influenced you in putting your story together. During this unit we will read and analyse several short stories demonstrating differing styles and methods of presenting the conflict for the protagonist to overcome.

We will start with a very commercial short story, ‘The Most Dangerous Game’, by Richard Connell. We will then work towards the use of magical realism and symbolism in the story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. You will find all these stories below.

The Short Stories…

The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell

August Heat by W.H.Harvey

Yuki Onna (Snow Lady) by Lafcadio Hearn

The Destructors by Graham Greene

A Woman Seldom Found by William Sansom

Miss Brill by Katherine Mansfield

The Lesson by Toni Cade Bambara

Pounds, Ounces, Meat by Zhu Wen

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Examination Day by Harry Slesar

The Nose by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

The Sniper by Liam O’Flaherty

Rose by Guy de Maupassant

Rain by Nguyen Huy Thiep

A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Analysing the stories

We will learn a little about how to analyse these stories, so that you have the language you need to discuss them as you plan your own story.

This document contains the main points you need to focus on as you read each story.

Short Story Reading Questions

Use this document below to help you with difficult terms and useful questions to ask yourself as you read the stories above.

Elements of Short Stories

Writing your story

Whilst we read these in class and you work on the elements which make up a short story, you must begin to draft some ideas on your own piece of creative writing (see task below).

Here are a few ideas about how to begin, compiled by Ms.Larson.

Short Story Intro

And here are a few more ideas that you can refer to as you write.

Short Story Activity Sheet


Task: Pastiche

A reminder: a pastiche is an imitation of the original, in which you attempt to imitate elements of one of the stories that you have read. This is a pastiche of the Hemingway story above:

Below are some guidelines that may give you some ideas about how a pastiche works in this case.

Pastiche Assignment Instructions


The original story may be one of the above, or one that you have found elsewhere (including the websites below). If you have found your original story elsewhere it must be an electronic copy that you can send to me so that I can compare it with your pastiche version. You need to make it quite clear which story you are using for your pastiche. You will take clearly identifiable elements of this story to use in your own. These elements include some, not all, of the following: genre, setting, mood, plot, characterisation, written style.

The word limit is no less than 700 words, no more than 1000. This is a tough limit; you will have to edit your own carefully, and even ruthlessly, to make sure that you are within this limit, but that is part of a writer’s job!

Watch Veracross for first draft and final draft dates.

There will be a peer editing day, in which you will make a copy of your draft available for anyone else in the group to read and comment on. At the end of this period all drafts will be handed to me via email; they will be returned to you as soon as possible so that you can complete your final draft.

Below are the guidelines for the peer editing.

Pastiche Peer Review Guidelines

When the final draft of your story is finished and handed in, you will also submit a short paragraph in which you will outline the following:

  • What story you have chosen to imitate, and why.
  • What elements of the story you have taken, and where they appear in your own story.
  • What genre of story this is.

This will be assessed using the criteria below. Look carefully at these before you begin.

This will be one of the tasks to be sent to the IBO for moderation.

Pastiche Assessment Criteria

The Short Story Collection

Here, finally, is the collection of your work, published together as an anthology, in no particular order, proof-read and occasionally slightly edited. Relax and enjoy the work of your group!

G10 Short Story Collection 2012

Remember, the best of your stories will be published on the Purple Duck website. Click on the duck to find out more!

Further Reading

If you liked some of these short stories, and like the idea of a story that only lasts a few pages, then go to this website. You will definitely find something you like.

And if you like the idea of stories for free, go to this website. There are enough to keep you out of the library for years!

Finally, please comment below on what you thought of this unit. Try to answer at least some of the following questions:

  • Did you enjoy the stories you read? Which did you particularly enjoy, and why?
  • Did you find analysing the stories easy? Did the documents here on the Wiki help at all?
  • How did you feel about writing your own story?
  • How did it go? What do you think about your product?

Thanks for your comments!


Today we would like to share a wonderfully inspiring Ted Talk by South American writer of magical realism Isabel Allende:

How to Live Passionately No Matter What Your Age

After you have clicked onto above and watched the short Ted Talk why not try out our magical realism creative writing exercise! – from Open Age tutor Mike Loveday…

About Magical Realism:

‘Magic Realism’ or ‘Magical Realism’ is a genre of writing “in which magical, fantastic, or supernatural events take place in an otherwise realistic context.”[1]

  • “It’s a chiefly literary style or genre originating in Latin America that combines fantastic or dreamlike elements with reality.”[2]
  • “The term ‘magical realism’ was first used by the German art critic Frank Roh to describe the unusual realism of primarily American painters such as Ivan Albright, Paul Cadmus, George Tooker and other artists during the 20s. It grew popular in the 20th century with the rise of such writers as Mikhail Bulgakov, Ernst Junger and many Latin American writers, notably Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende.”[3]
  • Notable books containing Magical Realist elements include One Hundred Years of Solitude (Marquez), The House of the Spirits (Allende), Like Water for Chocolate (Laura Esquivel), Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie), and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz)
  • Magical Realist stories “tend to treat reality as completely fluid and have characters who accept this as normal… characters are subjected to strange and bizarre events, but the background remains stubbornly ‘ordinary’. As Julian Birkett notes in his Word Power: A Guide to Creative Writing, ‘The point about magic realism is that the realism is quite as important as the magic.’ ”[4]
  • “When writing a magical realist story, concentrate on keeping it dream-like… a weird kind of logic underlying the strangest events. Settings should seem odd, yet familiar. When magical events occur, they should seem normal. Don’t comment on them. Don’t express surprise. Don’t explain.”[5]

Magical Realism Exercise:

  • Can you think of any unusual gifts or strange curses?
  • Spend 5 minutes brainstorming a short list.
  • The gift/blessing or curse can be positive or negative.
  • It can be about one person or a group of people. What happens to them or the people around them?

Here are some examples:

1) A whole village – one morning all the racist people wake up with green noses

2) Somebody who when their mood changes the weather changes in the local area

3) Someone who changes into an animal i.e an angry person who turns into a snake. A happy person who changes into a fish. Or a sad person who changes into a cat… etc.

f you’d like to share your short stories on our blog please send them to Hester at:

[1] Zoe Fairbairns, Write Short Stories – And Get Them Published, London: Hodder Education, 2011, p.136

[2] Catherine Smith, ‘Myth and Magic’ in Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story (2nd edn.), ed. Vanessa Gebbie, Norfolk: Salt, 2013, p.154

[3] Smith, p.154

[4] Smith, p.154

[5] Fairbairns, p.138

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Hester Jones

At Open Age I am coordinator of Phone Activities for people who are housebound in RBKC and Westminster; which includes Creative Writing, Book Talk and Discussion groups. I am also a link up worker, tutor and facilitator of art, photography & yoga classes.

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