Magical Girls, by Jesse Brown (29:47)

IOD-MagicGirlsToday we see that people read stories for the same reason emergency response crews practice city-wide disaster scenarios.

What I gleaned about the story: A collection of high school misfits come together to create an awesome, magic-powered super team to fight for good, like Sailor Moon, but different.

Find this book on Amazon.

WTF #1: Wish fulfilment

Analysis: To be honest, I’m having a problem with the premise that’s unfolding. A high school girl wishes that magic was real, and then, about 10 seconds later, a friend in class wields a magic wand and invites her to join a secret magic club.

Note: A few paragraphs later, it turns out that this isn’t just an abstract case of wishing magic was real. She’s wishing it was real so she and her friends can become some kind of actual Sailor Moon team, which appears to be exactly what is happening. Sigh. It’s feeling very fan-fic.

WTF #2: Deus Ex

Analysis: The author has created a world in which the introverted teens experience plenty of conflict—especially from the mean girl group—but that’s a red herring. There’s another kind of conflict that is required for stories to be engaging, and it’s totally missing here. Characters don’t just require hardships to overcome, they must also struggle to overcome them. And having a friend suddenly exhibit magical powers and then invite you to some kind of magic club is completely struggle-free.

WTF #3: More wish fulfilment 

Analysis: When the protagonist gets home from school, she discovers that in one day, her mom has solved all their financial problems. Now, suddenly, they can afford to send her to college, and mom has also purchased not just one, but two expensive rifles that protag has always wanted. Sure, it’s the last day of high school and these events are not impossible. The problem is that our poor downtrodden teen went to school that morning in abject misery, poor, with no future, and no power. But by the day’s end, she has been granted money, a future, a sense of belonging, and a ticket to some kind of as-yet-unrevealed magical power club without having to do a lick of work to get it. This is a text-book example of wish fulfilment story-telling, and at their heart, such stories are deeply unsatisfying to most readers.

Why? I think it’s because of why we read stories in the first place. At the cognitive level, I believe stories feed our innate hunger for cautionary tales. Hearing stories about how somebody else faced and then overcame danger is like crisis management practice for the subconscious. By cataloguing the responses of the heroes to whatever danger confronted them, our subconscious builds up a collection of potential responses to draw on if we ever face similar danger ourselves. But when the protagonist triumphs due to luck, or some kind of fairy godmother intervention, there’s absolutely nothing for us to learn that can be transferred to any future situations we might face. Ah. There’s a tiger in that tree. I remember when this happened to Little Miss Mayberry, and she just waited for Captain Hicklebottom to come rescue her, so that’s what I’ll do. See? As far as re-usable disaster plans go, those kinds of lucky-solution stories suck.

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Download one of these free short stories, in the format of your choice, and decide for yourself.

The Mayonnaise Murders, by Keith A. Owens (7:04)
Sarah's Spaceship Adventure, by Stan Morris (7:48)

About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is underqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.