While perusing the endless posts of writers seeking help and advice on social media, I’ve run across some who ask, “How can I make magic work in my story?”
Many established authors have broached the subject and invented unique methods, but new writers want to make something fresh.
The real question is: What is a fantasy story without magic? Of the top of my head, I can’t think of any high fantasy stories that don’t include magic of some kind. J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, Robert Jordan, and so many more authors have included magic in their stories.
Each of these authors approaches the use of magic in their own way, and applies their own limits to its use. For example, Harry Potter must have a wand and must know the correct incantation. Stupefy anyone lately?
These limitations, I feel, are very important for an author to include, and would perhaps be the first thing to consider when developing a magic system. Without them, a character runs the risk of becoming a superbeing without challenges, and challenges are what make a story good.
While you are developing your system, consider including a learning curve for beginners, and the opportunity for growth. Remember Willow’s first spell? He accidentally shot himself into a tree. Perhaps you can have a school for magic, or an apprentice system. Regardless of the method you choose, all of your characters should have a starting point, and a place to grow into.
These three things–limitations, learning, and growth–serve as a foundation to your character and their magical growth. Next, you can develop magical structure and techniques, but honestly, these are not important to flesh out unless you feel your reader needs them to understand the first three things.
In my current work-in-progress, for instance, a mage must draw upon their own inner reserve of power, which grows stronger as they practice the art. As the mage uses magic, it drains them, making them feel tired. If they push too hard, the mage will die from the exertion.
It’s a very simple explanation, and I like it that way. This allows me to focus on telling the story. Don’t let your lessons on how magic works interfere with the tale you’re weaving.
I would love to hear your thoughts on how magic works for you. Let me know in the comments below.
~Michael C. Sahd