Magic Doesn’t Solve Everything

Despite being one of my very favorite sayings (“Why does blah blah blah?” “Magic.”), magic must, unfortunately, make sense.

This means if you are creating a world where magic exists, there has to be rules, and the rules must be consistent and make sense (in the context of your world).

This, Squiders, is called a Magic System.

The good news is aside from the making sense and being consistent thing, your magic system can be pretty much anything.

And you don’t have to explain to your audience how the magic system works and what its rules are. Like a lot of backstory, as long as you know, it’s all good.

So, if you’re working on putting together a magic system for your story/webcomic/video game, what have you, here are some questions you might ask yourself:

  • Who can use magic? Why?
  • Can magic be taught? Is it hereditary?
  • How does magic manifest (for example, is it elemental)?
  • Are there magical beings, and how does their magic differ, if at all?
  • How has technology compensated for the level of magic (for example, a world with high magic probably has low technology, since there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel)?
  • How has magic affected society, culture, politics?
  • What are magic’s limits (what can’t magic do)?
  • What is the source of magical power (tap into mana, etc.)?
  • What are magic’s costs?

This last question is something that’s come up in more recent fantasy. If you look at older fantasy, a lot of times there’s no consequences of using magic, no limits, etc., but in the gritty story era of today, magic has costs. In some cases, the bigger the spell, the more energy it drains, or you may draw life out of nearby creatures, or something along those lines. Magic becomes more interesting when there’s the risk of something going wrong.

Any additional questions you would include in generating a magic system, Squiders? Anything you feel I’ve left out? Any magic systems (yours or ones in the media you consume) that you really like?

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2 responses to this post.

  1. I love the Charter Magic/Free Magic of Garth Nix’s books, Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen. I think it’s the most imaginative and comprehensively set out magical system I’ve ever read 🙂

    Reply

  2. Brandon Sanderson’s first law comes to mind (a witer’s ability to solve a problem with magic is directly proportional to how well the audience understands said magic). This is definitely a topic to keep in mind, when I first tried to invent a fantasy world, I spent weeks coming up with the names, geography, history, species, etc. but the biggest puzzle was the magic system. Even after I had resolved to keep it vague, it was a bit of a pain figuring out how to make everything work consistently.

    Reply

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