Throughout the sailor’s ordeal, García Márquez touches on themes that would consistently interest him for the rest of his career. In his early short stories, he had already explored the interior life of his characters, probing their dreams and sometimes surreal reveries. Yet these explorations felt anomalous—youthful stabs at insight without any real connection to the plot. In the Velasco series, he felt free to reconstruct his subject’s interior monologues, and for the first time, they were actually integral to the narrative. And when the sailor sees mirages, or converses with imaginary companions, or struggles with the distortions of time, these passages presage the author’s mature fiction.

Here, as he did later on, García Márquez also affirms his belief that narrative plays a significant role in people’s lives. When Velasco finally washes ashore, after ten days in the open sea, a man wearing a straw hat comes upon him, with a donkey and an emaciated dog in tow. García Márquez relates the exchange between the two:

“Help me,” I repeated desperately, worried that the man hadn’t understood me.

“What happened to you?” he asked in a friendly tone of voice.

When I heard him speak I realized that, more than thirst, hunger, and despair, what tormented me most was the need to tell someone what had happened to me.

Countless literary critics have written about how Ernest Hemingway’s prose emerged from his journalism. Scholars have looked for a similar stylistic genealogy in the case of García Márquez. There are, of course, major differences between the two: García Márquez’s language is more complex and poetic. Yet even his inimitable passages of magic realism are influenced by his years as a reporter, says Robert Sims, a professor of Spanish literature at Virginia Commonwealth University and the author of The First García Márquez: A Study of His Journalistic Writing from 1948 to 1955. The most surrealistic events are believable, Sims argues, because they are recounted in an objective, journalistic tone. And García Márquez first mastered this tone—in which magic always pays heed to realism—when he described Velasco’s ordeal. “It’s never melodramatic,” Sims says. “He never lets Velasco get overwrought or maudlin or sink into total despair. García Márquez always cuts it off before it reaches that point. The tone is even and neutral, just like in A Hundred Years of Solitude.”

Nor did he ever forget the reporter’s obligation to hook readers with the very first sentence. Some of García Márquez’s early newspaper leads read like fiction, and point directly to his later work. For example, he wrote a series for El Espectador about a swampy, disease-ridden area of Colombia near the coast, and opened with a lead guaranteed to intrigue any reader: “Several years ago a ghostly, glassy-looking man, with a big stomach as taut as a drum, came to a doctor’s office in the city. He said, ‘Doctor, I have come to have you remove a monkey that was put in my belly.’ ”

The reverse is true as well. In his novels and short stories, he often opens with indelible lines about death, many of which read like dramatic newspaper leads. Here he cuts to the chase and ensnares the reader with an elegant composure:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. (A Hundred Years of Solitude)

On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on. (Chronicle of a Death Foretold)

Since it’s Sunday and it’s stopped raining, I think I’ll take a bouquet of roses to my grave. (Someone Has Been Disarranging These Roses)

When Jose Montiel died, everyone felt avenged except his widow; but it took several hours for everyone to believe that he had indeed died. (Montiel’s Widow)

Senator Onesimo Sanchez had six months and eleven days to go before his death when he found the woman of his life. (Death Constant Beyond Love)

Miles Corwin , a former reporter for the Los Angeles Times, teaches literary journalism at the University of California, Irvine. His novel, Kind of Blue, will be released in November.