Magical Thinking

What is magical thinking? And how can you use it in your fiction?

How to illustrate superstitious thinking in your fiction

Magical thinking is the belief that events are connected to each other even though there is no plausible link between them, except for some curious and inexplicable supernatural phenomenon.

Although most theorists think that magical thinking is irrational, the belief that one’s thoughts by themselves can produce effects in the outside world… or that a thought on its own can somehow correspond to something (usually bad) that happens, is a powerful and compelling assumption that most of us have, at some point in our lives, succumbed to.

Knock on wood

For example, if you’ve ever said, “I don’t want to tempt fate” or you have casually flicked a coin into a “wishing well” or you used a euphemism for death to avoid conjuring it, or you “knocked on wood” after making a favorable prediction, then you are guilty (like all of us) of magical thinking

Lines like “I don’t want to tempt fate” and “touch wood” are mystical phrases that we use all the time in everyday life.

magical thinking

I think we’re drawn to magical thinking because — deep down — we’re still four years old, and we hold-onto that nicer time in our life when we utilized make-believe & fantasy to help us understand very tricky and complicated things: so we still believe in magic because it helps us understand problems that we can’t deal with or grasp easily — for example, we believe in the magic of special places (like churches, old stones or graveyards), we believe in the magic of special people (like priests, fortune-tellers, mentalists, or aromatherapists,) we believe in the magic of coincidences (thinking about somebody and then they call us on the phone or they turn a corner) and we believe in the magic of serendipity (solving problems by so-called lateral thinking)  and the magic of good fortune (if you blow on a dice, it will roll the number you wished for.)  It seems that we wander through this world with our kindergarten mind still open to magical thinking… we explore with the willingness of a child.

Magical Wish fulfillment

If you want to introduce an element of magical thinking into your writing, I suggest that you blur the boundaries between magic, science, and religion in your story. If you are describing something technical, give your technical object a dash of sentience, if you are describing something magical in your story, make it sound sound plausibly mechanical, and if you are describing something that’s spiritual in your story, make it sound pragmatic and tangible. Once the boundaries are properly blurred, you will find that anything can happen in your plot and, actually, the blurred lines will become your plot-drivers.

When using elements of magical thinking in your fiction, try to describe a character’s sense of joy when his/her magical thinking comes true, and their sense of loss when it does not. Also, do your best to describe a person’s everyday struggles with life and how they deal with challenges by using magical thinking. Also consider and explore the argument that if a person believes in something strongly enough, then that thing will happen.

Also, try using lots of

  • Symbolism
  • Imagery 
  • Ingenious metaphors

Good luck with your magical thinking. Please let me know how your fiction project goes. Share your thoughts on twitter @neilmach

Neil Mach is author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.

What you can do better in 2021

How to see the bigger picture as an author. Six exercises to help you supercharge your writing

You already know better, but can you do better? That’s the question for the New Year.

The clean slate that January provides allows an author some mindspace to put all the knowledge into practice. But how will you do it?  I suggest you join the dots…

A dot connection puzzle is a group of numbered dots on a page that magically becomes a recognizable object once lines are drawn between the empty spaces. A join-the-dottist (a puzzle solver like yourself) will reveal a complex image and get a sense of satisfaction once an accurate image is revealed, because they’ll know it’s been rendered through effort.

Join the dottist

Here are six exercises you can practice that will help you connect the dots. However, keep in mind that these exercises will not (necessarily) improve the quality of what you write or improve your language skills (or even your basic penmanship), but will enhance your novelistic skills because they help you join-the-dots in your mental approach. These exercises allow you to see the bigger picture in your work. These exercises will help you write what you feel. And that’s stuff is only found deep down inside… which is why you have to work at it. Ultimately, these efforts will supercharge your writing: because a talented writer is an emotional writer.


If the idea of ​​“doing” writing exercises sounds bothersome, remember that being an accomplished artist takes practice ( a concert pianist will tell you they practice their scales every day). Also, think of writing as a physical undertaking (a workout for your imagination, if you like.) A marathon runner doesn’t run without warm-up exercises, right? And when is there a better time to be strict with yourself than the New Year? Think of these exercises as part of your disciplined approach to writing. Try them all:

Bigger Picture

1: Highlight emotions

Review a chapter (any chapter) that you wrote back in November. Grab a coloured pencil or highlighter, or use some other way to emphasize your words (you’d better print a chapter to do this exercise, although it’s not essential if you want to be kind to trees.) Now highlight every word that you think carries “emotional” weight or has some kind of emotional baggage

I will not help by telling you what emotional means to you (it’s your own private world), but, just a hint, the words you underline will probably be visual, auditory, or kinaesthetic

Done that? Now try to group them into aggressive, passive; positive, negative or uncertain. Too many in one group, but none in another? Ask yourself why that might be

2: Write out a recent dream

Try to “connect” with the feelings you experienced in a recent dream and then see how those feelings translate onto paper. Don’t worry about form, punctuation, or grammar when doing this exercise. Just allow your feelings to flow from an unconscious mind and into blank space

3: Create a pyramid of beliefs

Do you believe in what you write? This exercise will help you understand your core beliefs so you can test your writing for truth and passion. (Note: don’t worry — it’s not narcissistic to “know thyself” better)

So, put down a list of single words that mean something to you, perhaps they might be :  love, family, music, friendship, animals, freedom, spirituality, literature, video games, etc. (find your own… if you don’t know where to look, check your heart, because that’s the last place you left them!) Once you’ve completed your list, draw a pyramid on a piece of paper and put your beliefs (from that list) into the pyramid. Put the beliefs that are most important to you at the bottom (because they are the foundation stones of all your core beliefs) and put the most confusing and/or nebulous beliefs at the top, near the pointy bit. Pin your belief pyramid on your mood board.

4: Write a letter to your imaginary character

When did you last write a letter?  Hopefully, you write letters a few times a year to relatives and friends. Well, now is the time to write a letter to your most recently made up protagonist (you can also try your antagonist, if you want a real challenge!) Tell your fictional character about your New Year plans. Let them know you still appreciate their friendship. Tell them what you like about them. Tell them what you like about yourself. Note: if you think this is a totally worthless exercise, why not polish and edit your letter once it’s ready and post it on your social media? It’s a great way to promote your new book and will keep your readers curious (if not fascinated) by your creative processes.

5: To thine own self be true

Jot down six things you know are true about yourself. They can be good, bad, or entirely unremarkable. The key thing is that they must be true and you must find six. Also, you gotta write them down. That’s because this is a commitment. Put them in a list form (a bulleted list, if you like that kind of thing) and then reflect on them for a while. Next (the fun part) write down six things that are completely false about yourself. Again, these can be good, bad, or totally nondescript. Done that? Put them in a list form too.

Now pick two from the first list and two from the second list and shuffle them and put them in a social media post. Ask your readers which one (yes, one) is true and which one (yes one) is untrue. See what results come back! It may surprise you what others think of you. You can later admit that two were false and two were true (but I’ll leave that to your sense of scruples and fair play ha ha!)

read alound

6: Read aloud the first paragraph of your most recent manuscript

You can skip this exercise if you already read your work aloud. Maybe you narrate a regular podcast (like me) or upload YouTube reviews, or host a radio show, etc. Or you might perform poetry or plays. But if you don’t do any of these things (regularly), you gotta do this exercise…

Go on, read that paragraph out loud. You can yell, you can whisper, or you can put on a silly voice. And yes, you will look stupid in the mirror, but so what? No one is judging (except you!)

What do you learn from reading a paragraph of your work out loud? If you are anything like me, you will probably start to edit and redraft the paragraph right away. Why? Because the muscles in your mouth “see” the sound of words and even the meaning of words differently to how your mind “sees” and reads them. Strange, huh? So you will find that some of your words are not as strong as you might want, some spaces might be in the wrong place, some sentences are twisted around the wrong way, and some ideas do not work at all. Why is that? It’s because reading aloud helps with cadence. Reading aloud helps with rhythm. Reading aloud helps define ideas. Reading aloud brings about comprehension.

The desire to write
grows with writing

Desiderius Erasmus

Good luck! And I wish you lots of happy writing in 2021

Words: @neilmach 2021 ©

Neil Mach is author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.

Myth and Magic EP 18 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 18 SHOW-NOTES

Folklore and fantasy themes aimed at creative writers: to start writing stories and challenge your brain with exciting ideas, dip into this kit-bag. Learn how fantasy worlds draw on real world history, mythology, and folklore. And there’s weekly news from the world of fantasy fiction too, plus fabulous creatures, studies on folk tales, nature fables and lots more mythical, magical fun.

CLICK HERE for >>> Episode Eighteen: 22M

This week I Discover the origins of Hogmanay. Is New Year about celebrating Elves who sent Trolls back home? Thinking about your own fantasy fiction project : what is your big idea? In this show I will provide you with some thematic suggestions for your own project. Also, find out who Enki was, and why this deity is connected with New Year. Also discover the ancient origins of January.

Happy Hogmanay

Happy Hogmanay

Happy Hob dy naa

Perhaps this ancient festival is all about invoking the hill-men (Icelandic viking “haugmenn” or Anglo-Saxon hoghmen) aka “elves” who are called to banish the trolls and send them into the sea… and after much wassailing, merriment and first-footing… the Scots tend to celebrate New Year’s Day (Ne’er day) with a special steak pie dinner.

In Scotland, the first Monday after New Year’s Day was traditionally known as Hansel Monday, or Handsel Monday. It originates from the old Saxon word which means “to deliver into the hand” … a time for handing-out tokens, gifts and cash to those who have helped during the year. Money received during Handsel Monday is supposed to insure monetary luck all for the rest of the year

Don’t forget on the Twelfth Night (January 5) to chalk your door (or even better, get a stranger to do it) to earn blessings and protection for your house for another year. The letters CMB – perhaps separated by crosses and numerals (that form 2020) – will suffice. CMB are the initials of the three Wise Men (Magi) Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar as well as the initials for a short prayer: Christus mansionem benedicat (Christ bless this house.)

The first day of a month in the Roman calendar was known as the calends, because it signifies another lunar phase. It’s where we get the word “Calender” from. But for a long while, the New Year started on the calends of March! Huh?

January (in Latin, Ianuarius) is named after Janus who is the god of beginnings and transitions in Roman mythology … but the original Roman calendar consisted of just 10 months totalling 304 days. But around 713 BC January and February were added to the year so each annual period contained 354 days (a lunar year.) So, get your head around this if you can, March was originally the first month in the old Roman calendar until Janus (the two-faced God of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, and doorways) gave his name to a new “First Month of the Year.”

January was known as “wolf month” by the Saxons and “oak moon” in Finland (oak moon) tammikuu

Cervulus or Cervula is the name of a Roman festival celebrated on the kalends of January.

In astrology this is the time of Capricorn (the tenth astrological sign in the zodiac). An amateur astrologer once told me that the symbol of the constellation is the “only mythical beast” but that only works if you believe the centaur is non-mythical (perhaps you do, which is why you listen to this podcast) anyway: the Capricorn symbol is a SeaGoat that’s based on Enki – the ancient Sumerian god of water, knowledge, mischief, crafts, and creation (also knwon as EA by the Babylonians.) The God is allegedly Hurrian in origin (the Hurrians were e Bronze Age people who lived in the area we now call Armenia) and the first temple to Enki was built in the area we now know as Southern Iraq more than 6,500 years ago… so Enki is very, very, ancient.

Enki was the keeper of the divine powers called Me, the gifts of civilization and therefore he is often portrayed wearing the horned crown of divinity and he’s considered to be the the master-shaper of all the world, the god of wisdom and the master of all magic. Because Enki came from the water and, in fact, brought everything into being from the water, for astronomers, the constellation is located in an area of sky called the Sea or the Water, that consists of many water-related constellations such as Aquarius, Pisces and Eridanus.

Unsuprisingly, really, Capricornus the original SEA-GOAT is also sometimes identified as Pan, the god with a goat’s horns and legs, who saved himself from the monster Typhon by giving himself a fish’s tail and diving into a river. PAN is a Proto-Indo-European god that I have discussed before, but he’s the rustic God of of the wild, shepherds and flocks, and the nature of mountains. As the character Pushan he acts as a PSYCHOPOMP and is the oldest (or most ancient) deity.

So, when you’re wishing your neighbors, colleagues and friends a Happy New Year think again! You are, perhaps, calling on the sleeping hoghmen to protect them from marauding trolls, wishing them a fortunate wolf month” under an Oak Moon or invoking the master-shaper of the world, Lord Enki himself with the Piper at the Gates of Dawn to bring them prosperity.

How to write phantasmagorical fantasy fiction

I’m currently writing my #85k90 novel. That’s 85,000 words in 90 days… and, by the way, I don’t cheat myself… I write a new novel from scratch when I enter this type of challenge. So this will be an entirely different project to my #NaNoWriMo manuscript of 2019.

Over the next ninety days I’ll try to provide you with the first steps you require to make your fantasy fiction a fact… not fantasy. I’ll continue to give you magical and mythical facts and news but I’ll also begin to propose some advice for your own work.

Anyway, I think that it’s time to start to develop a fantasy fiction novel WITH YOU and we have to start somewhere.

What literary element will come first?


You might have some juicy ideas about character and plot… but what about theme? My belief is that this must come first. Oh Scheiße (or a word to that effect) I hear you whimper. Yes, I know it will make your brain hurt… but think about like this. Did Tolkein really start with barefooted, fattish, weed-smokers? Did he even know where his main protagonists would take him? (Academics suggest the LOTR was initially intended to be one volume.) Urm, my guess is that he thought about his theme first.

WHAT’S A THEME? It’s the story’s BIG IDEA

Tolkein’s BIG IDEA might have been something along the lines of: will the meek inherit the earth or will they be tempted by evil along the way?

Likewise, is the The Chronicles of Narnia just about a bunch of kids using a magic wardrobe to visit another world? ( Lewis had been toying with the wardrobe idea for years, anyway.) Or is it a book about a terrible White Witch (probably based on H. Rider Haggard’s She, anyhow) who finds herself at war with a lion-hearted King-God? No, I’m guessing C. S. Lewis started with the theme of redemption… something along the lines of: could guilt (not sin) ever be forgiven?

So I suggest you start with your THEME. Once you have your BIG IDEA firmly rooted in the back of your mind, your characters and (later) your plot will be easier to sketch-out.

Now, I don’t expect it will be easy for you (but it will be a lot easier to work out your THEME before you start to write, believe me) because it is not a tangible thing. Nevertheless, it will (likely) set the tone of your work too. Just make a rough note, a hazy idea will do, to begin with, and then let the haziness ferment in your brain for a while. Once you’ve let the idea sloosh around in your brain for a while, try to write down what’s known as a thematic statement…

Thematic statements might include:

Does love have the power to destroy lives?
Is the world filled with morally grey characters or are there true Good and Evil characters?
What are the the consequences if a person seeks power over love?
Survival of the fittest
Can a person overcome prejudice and fear to bring about justice?
Is a person who runs away from society also running away from themselves?
Notice how these themes tend to be about the universal human condition or universal truths about being a human. Don’t worry if your book is about Dragons, Elves, Aliens or Warthogs… the point is that it WILL BE READ BY HUMANS (one hopes) so it must appeal to their nature.

Don’t worry – your theme doesn’t have to be original (just don’t nick mine, ha ha) REEDSY have a great little quiz you can try, if you’re still grappling with this idea: Why not give it a whirl?

The THEME for MY fantasy fiction novel (the one I’m writing right now with you over the next 90 days) will be : Can a person have two sides to their character or does one side have to die to allow the other side to live? PLEASE DON’T COPY IT!?! Think UP your OWN theme. And try to develop just ONE THEME.

Once you begin writing your first draft, you’ll find your THEME will become rooted in your mind and will help bring out your character’s flaws or will appear in any obstacles she/he/it will have to overcome to reach a conclusion and, depending on your ability, it might also reinforce your motifs. Don’t worry about this right now, the main thing is that you have a Theme to begin with…

Fantasy Fiction News Bronze Age burial mound damage

This week the BBC reported that police in in Monmouthshire, South Wales are investigating reports of “appalling damage” at a Bronze Age burial mound at Llanvaches which dates back 3,000-4,000 years.

WENTWOOD is the largest ancient woodland in Wales

The BBC say the “Gwent Police Rural Crime Team” have suggested the destruction was caused by off-road vehicles and said immediate prevention measures were being put in place.
The Woodland Trust shared pictures of its Wentwood site, near Newport, on Monday afternoon, where tyre tracks had covered the monument.
And the site manager Rob Davies said that the damage has been “an ongoing problem”
“A feature that is around 3,000-4,000 years old has been damaged within a few minutes,” he added.
“This is a Bronze Age burial mound, a scheduled ancient monument, and the damage caused is therefore a criminal offence.”

Burial mounds (often seen on maps marked as tumulus) were used by late neolithic people in Britain to bury their dead and mainly used between 2200BC and 1100BC . Two Round Barrows are located within Wentwood Forest.

An astronomical alignment at the Gray Hill stone circle near where the Wentwood Forest damage had been caused suggests alignment on the midwinter sunrise, downhill towards the South-east, between two standing stones, named the “First Piper” and the “Second Piper.” A distinctive notch on the horizon adds to the weight of evidence behind the solsticial alignment claim.

Tolkein talks about Barrow-Land when describing his “Middle-earth” and the famous home of of Bilbo Baggins (and Frodo) is a hobbit-burrow dug into the top of The Hill… not dissimilar to a Bronze Age mound.

Next week: Are you a Plotter or a Pantser?


Myth and Magic 3D graphic

Myth and Magic

CLICK HERE to listen to >>> Episode Eighteen of MYTH & MAGIC 22M


Six Reasons Why Indie Authors Fail

Having returned from the helpful & inspiring Writers Conference in Nottingham and the Fifth Self-Publishing Conference in Leicester, I feel it’s my duty to list Six Reasons Why (I think) New Indie Authors Fail:

1: They haven’t adopted a Workaday Mentality

This is about failing to work to deadlines and not setting themselves SMART objectives. There’s nothing wrong with writing for fun, as an amusement, or for leisure. But it won’t make them rich or famous. To become successful they’ll have to remind themselves that it’s a business of work.

2: They haven’t gained the necessary Skill-Set

This is about admitting to themselves that they haven’t gained the knowledge needed for success. They will have to learn that writing is a constantly changing business. So they’ll have to keep their knowledge current. They’ll need to join groups & associations. Get guidance, and read about the experiences of others.

3: They embark on fruitless Flights of Fancy

This is about being led-astray and putting time, money & effort into less important parts of the project. And that’s because they haven’t learnt all that there is to know about their market nor learnt how to work within a limited budget and use precious time efficiently. They should target funds and energy at those areas that are deemed most important to the successful outcome of the project. [This means they’ll need to invest in the right skill-sets, see above and also build supportive relationships, see below]

4: They’re timid about forming New Relationships

This is about failing to understand the notion that their activities will almost always require them to go out and meet people. Real people. They’ll have to be open to the idea of ​​social networking too. And they ought to get into this mindset right way because these days authoring isn’t a “stay-at-home job ” — it’s about “going out and meeting folk.”

5: They’re poor at Teamwork Planning

This is about failing to build a strong team around themselves. They’ll need to get away from the notion that they’re all on their own. [see above] They’ll need to identify who is on their team… then get them working alongside. They ought to start building a team right away, beginning with family & friends, adding any supportive writers, then identifying and sharing with reader-fans, adding professionals to the team, then building themselves an email client list.

6: They lack the Talent

This is about failing to face the possibility that they’ll have to hone their writing skills. They will need to face facts — there’s a constant need to develop, improve and practice the craft of writing … They can do this by attending creative writing workshops, writing groups, classes and /or any other stimulating sessions. When they complete workshops they’ll marvel at the results. So will their readers.

Words: author @neilmach
Currently editing: The Bedevilment of Bertie Lunn. Due September 2017