Building a Surrealist Story

Salman Rushdie

Lesson time 17:17 min

Salman encourages you to take advantage of surrealism as a device and “let the carpet fly.”

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Topics include: The Real, the Surreal, and the Magical · Introduce Fantasy Early · Case Study: The Satanic Verses · How to Write About Green Men From Mars · Avoid Silliness in the Surreal


[MUSIC PLAYING] SALMAN RUSHDIE: "Lurching back until he knelt with his head once more upright, he found that the tears which had sprung to his eyes had solidified, too. And at that moment, as he brushed diamonds contemptuously from his lashes, he resolved never again to kiss earth for any God or man. The decision, however, made a hole in him. A vacancy in a vital inner chamber, leaving him vulnerable to women and history." [MUSIC PLAYING] There are many ways of telling the truth. You can tell the truth by fantasy, or you can tell the truth by social realism-- my kitchen sink realism. The truth I'm talking about is the truth about human beings. About how we act towards each other, what kind of worlds we build, what crimes do we commit against each other. How do we mistreat each other, and how do we love each other. That's what the novel is trying to do. What we now think of as the realist novel I think was based-- it emerged in a period of time when there wasn't so much of an argument about the nature of reality. In the 18th and 19th centuries, writers writing in England, and America, and France could broadly speaking assume that their vision of the world was shared by their readers. That the idea of what the real world was was something about which there wasn't an argument. There was a kind of consensus about that. Having said that, that realist novel-- that consensus we now can see was based on avoiding certain things. It very often avoided questions like race, it very often diminished the world view of poorer people, or within it-- there were all kinds of things omitted from that consensus. But it was solid, and it allowed people to build these great edifices of realism on it. Now we live in a world in which reality is very, very contested. You know, one man's ceiling is another man's floor. One man's truth is another man's fake news. And there's an argument about reality-- about what is true, what is untrue, what is right, what is wrong. Surrealism is a thing which begins with the premise that we know that this is all make believe. We know that these people don't exist, and these things never happened. And, therefore, there's no reason to confine ourselves to things that would happen in real life. You know, because we're in the world of dreams. We're in the world of imagination. As I say, the thing about surrealism is that it is not an escape from the real. It's another way of describing the real and sometimes can have the effect of being more powerful than that a naturalistic description of the real. It has had more emotional force, if you do it right. Put it like this, if the carpet needs to fly, then let the carpet fly. Maybe that the flying carpet is the best way of getting where you need to go. Magic realism is a form of literature that draws from both the real and the surreal. The reason I slightly object to the term "magic realism," I think it belongs to a certain group of Latin American writers working from ...

About the Instructor

To the delight of readers across the globe, Salman Rushdie’s genre-defying novels have brought surreal and magical realms to life for decades. Now the Booker Prize–winning author teaches you the art and craft of storytelling. Learn how to draw from your own experiences to build vivid worlds, authentic characters, and complex plots. There are extraordinary stories that only you can write—start sharing them.

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Salman Rushdie

Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie teaches you his techniques for crafting believable characters, vivid worlds, and spellbinding stories.

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