When most people hear the words fiction/fantasy, amazing worlds full of bizarre and interesting places come into mind.
One of the most common aspects of these worlds, is their Magic system
When creating a magic system for your world, you will need to ask yourself these questions:
- What does the magic do?
- Who can use it?
- What are the consequences or limits of the magic used?
- Where does it come from? (knowledge, genetics, objects, higher power)
Integration of magic
Your magic should have such a profound effect on your world, that if you removed magic from your world, everything would change. What is its role in society?
Take a list of all the world building elements and ask yourself “How does my magic system interact with this?”
Here are some sample questions:
Economy: What jobs are different that what would be considered normal.
Culture and traditions
Attitudes towards magic and its users
Hard Magic Systems
A hard magic system is one that has clearly defined rules of what a power/ability is, what is can do, and any consequences that will occur when pushed outside of those limitations.
How can this be cleverly be used to problem solve obstacles throughout the series. Hard systems are like a mathematical function:
Magical input and requirements = Magic output and consequences.
Great to help foreshadow what will happen in the end. Easier to help achieve the desired emotional response in the end. Used to solve conflict in logical and believable ways.
Be careful though, too many rules can drive a reader crazy. Most people would rather play a board game while playing, rather than spending an hour going over the rules in excruciating detail.
The same can be said for your hard magic system. Start easy and gradually make your way into complicated territory.
Examples of a hard magic system:
- Avatar The Last Airbender
Soft Magic Systems
This magic system Magic is vague and undefined, allowing characters to do random things without a need to prove why.
This creates a sense of awe and wonder adding to a natural curiosity of the world.
Just because powers are undefined, does not mean they are always unexplained. For example:
Star Wars has Jedi Knights who are born with midi-chlorians, which give them mind powers and the ability to utilize the force.
The movies explains why some characters have greater power than others, but does not go into detail of the difference in capabilities or what abilities they may harness.
When something magical happens, it can easily be summed up as “Oh. They did that because they can use the force.”
Give characters little control over magic they use or make it more unpredictable
Soft magic is not used to solve main conflicts, and
Examples of a soft magic system:
- Harry potter:
- Lord of the Rings
- Game of Thrones
Brandon Sanderson’s laws of magic:
- An authors ability to solve problems with magic in a satisfying way is directly proportional to how well the reader understands that magic.
- Limitations of a magic system are more interesting than its capabilities. What the magic can’t do is more interesting than what is can. Flaws are more interesting than powers
- A brilliant magic system for a book is less often one with a thousand different powers and abilities, and is more often a magic system with relatively few powers that the author has considered in depth.
Growth of a power should always feel organic. You should always show progress when increasing a power. you can do this through a training arc or eluding to something that happened like obtaining a magical artifact or a time skip.
When you jump from your character being able to one thing and then jump to another, it leaves readers confused.
Why are they suddenly more power? This doesn’t make sense. How come they can now do that when they couldn’t before? That would have easily solved the previous problem.
Examples of Limits and Rules
Hunter x Hunter (Hard): Natural ability and growth potential combines with personal affinity for a power and condition put to make it stronger.
Great magic system because it allows specific uses of the power to be way more powerful than they should, but because it is used in a specific way or with specific limitations, it makes it plausible as a viewer, and satisfying to see what the character personally came up with as a constraint.
My book (Hard Magic System): Some characters have a spirit power. If a characters pushes their power past what they should be able to do, it strains them.
When they strain their power, it starts to take over their body.
One character can transform into a dragon of various sizes.
This person used their power too much and now they have red scales coming out of random places of their body and and their nose is starting to morph into a snout.
Unsatisfying Use of Powers
Deus ex machina: A greek term that basically means a higher power will come in and solve the story or save the hero in the end.
Imagine reading an amazing book and the climax is coming up and you can barely contain how excited you are to see how it plays out. Now image that instead, a random magic force comes in a saves the day. The only emotional response you have is disappointment.
Plot armor: Whenever a main protagonists survive against impossible odds time and time again, readers will get bored.
This shows the POV is not held to the same standard as other characters, and takes away from the goals they accomplish. A character that just gained Superman power before winning the olympic 100m dash feels like a copout.
Lazy Writing: Using magic without a purpose makes it dull. Limit the use of magic in a story.
Think outside the box and be creative. Magic is interesting, and thats what your readers want, so don’t resort to cheap tricks or repetitive uses of magic in your story.
Inconsistencies: When choosing your magic system and implementing it, remember what your characters did before and what rules were used.
It breaks a readers trust when rules are conveniently broken or magic is used in a different way without context explaining why.
Information to consider
If you are writing a book series, then you need to realize that you will keep going more in depth with your magic systems.
Soft magic systems don’t always work in the long term. It will probably at some point, move along the spectrum closer to the hard magic system as you delve deeper into your story and its details.
When writing a hard magic system, it is a good idea to start off with very basic concepts that might seem to be more soft magic at first, and then gradually immerse your audience with examples that have rules attached to them. No info dumping.
In either case you need to start basic and gradually get more technical in the specifics of your magic system.
Since this is a guide to writing fiction, and since we love the supernatural, it is important to understand that which is out of the ordinary.
Types of Magic: super powers, aura, wands, supernatural,
Where does your magic come from? within, higher power, learning, objects
Rules to make it interesting: stakes, cost to use
Hard vs. Soft
Click Here for a great resource listing virtually ever power invented