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.


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