Magic: Writing The System and Doing it Right

Merry Christmas, everyone! As the holidays are here, I did not post anything last week so I could spend time with my loved ones. But now I am back in the saddle. Since this is the month of holiday magic, I decided to talk about actual magic.

Almost every writer has had to deal with magical systems in their writings. From a fantasy world well beyond Earth, to wizards co-existing with humanity, the magic used in fantasy stories are what puts the stories into their genre. Making the system make sense, however, is another story.

Let’s take one of the most famous fantasy books as an example. Harry Potter. The book contains three different forms of magic:

  • Spells cast by wizards using wands to complete tasks
  • Flora and fauna, naturally infused with magic. Wizards use the plants for potions, and they do not have natural magic abilities like the fauna
  • Natural magics harnessed at times of need, I.e, Lily saving Harry from Voldemort with an ancient spell she didn’t cast

To the untrained eye, these styles of magic seem well organized. The owner of that eye would be mistaken. Rowling presented her fans with three different forms of magic that contradict each other on numerous occasions. Yes, you can use multiple forns of magic (I’ll get to that later) but they must not contradict the other.

When you decide to create a magic system, the first thing you need to figure out is who controls the magic. This may seem like a feeble step, but it’s one of the most important aspects of magic systems. Unless you want everything to have magical abilities, you need to specify who can use magic. It could be a certain race of people, or something no one can control.

After you decide who controls the magic, you need to set the boundaries. Magic should not be a ‘get out of jail free’ card for the most skilled Mage in the land. Know what magic cannot do. Know what it can do, with disastrous consequences. And know what it can do with the simplest of ease. Remember, this is not the limits of your magical character. This is the limit of all magic. In the words of Han Solo, That’s not how the Force works!

Next, for my most favorite part in the whole wide world-

How is magic activated.

I hate this part. I’d rather talk about what magic can do then how it is used. Yet it is critical to how the world operates to know how to use magic. You can’t say it just ‘appeared’. In the words of Wirt from ‘Over the Garden Wall’, No, no, that’s dumb. While you can always try to create some brand new, original way of using magic, you could use these tried and true methods:

  • Dance: Used in the tv shows Avatar, this style is using movements and dance to harness your magic. This style can be used for exotic magical settings, graceful warriors harnessing beauty and passion. Just remember, this style has been associated with the world of Avatar. Make sure to own this style if you decide to use it before Avatar fans come breathing down your neck.
  • Spells: An age old classic, used in Harry Potter, Merlin, Lord of the Rings, and many other tales. Spell casting is the most traditional way of harnessing magic, with the spoken word and a flick of the wand. For a traditional magic wizard story, this may be the style for you. If you choose this, you’ll need go distinguish your magic from other people. Another spell casting book could become lost forever.
  • Internal: I know what I said. You can’t say magic just appears. Yet that is what this style focuses on. This style can be extremely tricky. Not talking about internal magic can make your system seem like a Mary Sue system, where everything is easy. But, if used correctly, internal magic can be a huge payoff. There are a couple different forms of internal magic. One is the magic of flora and fauna. Natural magic imbedded into the DNA of living organisms to give them certain magical skills. These skills are similar to a lion retracting it’s claws. It’s just natural instinct. It’s great for non-human species. The other form is based on mana, the magical energy featured in many fiction works. Your magic controlling people could use their own stores of manna to create effects. This could be used for physical, emotional, and mental injuries due to overuse of mana stores. It could also be a base for other styles, like spells, to hang off of.
  • Potions: This relates to the naturally magical flora and fauna from the last style. If a group were to use these creatures, they could become a group of potion making wizards. You get a cauldron, put the right ingrediants in, and cilia! Magic. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe this form is used in the anime Fullmetal Alchemist. It is closely related to alchemy, expect for its use of organic ingredients.
  • Alchemy: Alchemy is like potion making, expect it used non-organic ingredients, like gold, fire, water, or other elements. This is like potion making, just a different style. No matter which one you do, figure out its usability in daily life.
  • Glyphs: Glyph casting is creating glyphs that have certain magical effects. One glyph might create fire, one might control dogs. It is like spell casting, but with symbols instead of words.
  • Sentient Magic: Inspired by the mighty Force, this is a system where the magic of the world is sentient. Those who use magic are simply liked by magic. If asked, magic will help out. Similar to internal magic. Remember, sometimes, magic may not be willing to help.

Those are just a few examples of harnessing magic.

With that figured out, we move onto integration. Magic will have some affect on your society, so you need to figure out what. How does magic effect the world ecologically? Socially? Politically? Mentally? Emotionally? Physically? How that works is up to you.

If you want fantastic beasts and magic spells in one story, that’s great. There is nothing wrong with that. It can make your world seem that much fuller. When you do, you need to make sure they do not contradict each other. Make them blend together like strawberries and bananas.

Oh boy, that’s a lot of info to dump out. It’s all needed to create an intricate magic system. Remember, the reader only needs to see the tip of the iceberg to know about it. You don’t need to tell the reader everything. They don’t want you to. Use a touch of your own writing magic to satisfy your audience.

What writing magic do you use though? That is for another time. Happy holidays to all, and to all a good night.

Writing Prompt Central: Teleportation

For this week’s prompt, it’s a simple opening line, that can be used in any story you imagine, free of copyright.

I know it’s weird to try and teleport. Humans can’t do that. I was always a weird person, so the thought floated across my mind. Of course, I turned weirder when I succeeded. 

This is a short post, but for a prompt, short posts are always good.

Elf: The Christmas Comedy

In my town, the local middle schools are uniting to create Elf The Musical. With this event coming up, I decided to buy the Elf movie and finally watch the entire thing.

The serious Will Ferrell is transformed into a air headed human raised by elves ever since he snuck into Santa’s bag one Christmas Eve. The beginning of this movie can be extremely painful to watch. In those first minutes, the comedy is crude and Buddy’s go happy behavior takes getting used to. Once the movie gets to the point of Buddy tackling the fake Santa, the comedy begins to pick up and earn it’s high quality status which helps it become a Broadway musical.

Buddy the elf was raised by elves for the thirty years of his life until he finally learns he is human. So he sets out to New York City to find his father, Walter Hobbs. Over the course of the movie, Buddy strains his relationship with his father and meets his adoptive mother Emily and brother Michael, along with the beautiful Jovie. By the end, the group has to get Santa’s sleigh flying and ignites the Christmas Spirit all across New York.

The beginning of the movie dragged me along by my feet, banging my head against plot points that didn’t make much sense. For one thing, how did the baby Buddy escape his crib? He isn’t even a year old. He doesn’t have muscles to push the barrier down. Another plot point that snagged me was how in the world did this man not learn he was human? He didn’t fulfil any of the physical qualities of an elf. You could say that since thirty years old is still a child to elves, Buddy has a child’s mindset. Yet he went through human puberty. This stuff should have affected him!

Beyond those facts, the comedy begins to run beside me as Buddy makes his way to New York and gets involved in some hilarious hijinks. Some jokes were still low quality, for example, Buddy eating candy with spaghetti like a rabid animal. Yet there was actually some very well placed jokes, like starting a dance party in the mail room.

The ending was quite action packed, with gungho Central Park Rangers chasing after Santa’s sleigh. Buddy’s warmth and affection has changed all of New York City for the better.

Even though the happy go lucky Buddy was played by the known serious Will Ferell, he still managed to capture the ideals of Buddy, and the Christmas Spirit with a smile even the Joker would enjoy.

However, the Joker is for another time

Prompt Central #1: Christmas Characters

So I’ve decided to start creating weekly prompt posts every Thursday in order to help people’s creative juices flow. These posts will be exceptionally shorter than normal, as all I will have to say is the prompt of the week.

The first prompt on this blog is about Christmas. To be exact, how your characters act around Christmas. This relates to my most recent post, Why the Little Things Can Truly Shape Your Character. I mentioned Christmas a lot in that post, so I decided to create a Christmas prompt. Now, out of your group of characters, answer these questions.

  • Who decorates the tree?
  • Who hums/softly sings Christmas carols as they walk around?
  • Who screams Christmas carols everywhere they go?
  • Who tells the screamer to stop, they’re embarrassing themselves?
  • Who only wears Christmas sweaters for the entire month?
  • Who celebrates Hanukkah?
  • Who wishes the holidays would be over?
  • Who goes out the shovel the snow?
  • Who goes to play in the snow?
  • Who hates the snow?
  • Who wakes up at midnight on Christmas Day to put presents in the stockings?
  • Who stills believes in Santa?
  • Who ruins the Christmas spirit everywhere they go?
  • Who buys the best presents?
  • Who re-wraps old gifts to give again?
  • Who drives the car for five hours to visit family?
  • Who passes out in the back of the car listening to carols on the radio?
  • Who cooks the big Christmas meal?
  • Who brings Chinese takeout to the meal?

These are just a few Christmas ideas to add to your characters. You can imagine any group of characters doing these activities, from friends to family to even your favorite relationship!

Relationships, however, are for another time.