Novel writing: More on creating your system of magic

Last week, I wrote about the Rules of Magic. These are pretty simple: Limit magic or give it a cost and stick to the rules. Basically, magic can’t be the answer to everything, and once you set up your system of magic you need to stick with it.

But today I want to go into some of the details of things you might want to consider while you are building your magical system.

Where Magic Comes From

Image of opened magic book with magic lights

Image of opened magic book with magic lights

One of the first steps to creating your system of magic is to decide the source of magic. By knowing this, you can easily set limits for the magic based upon the type of magic. Below I listed a couple of possible sources for magic.

Energy – Magic could be similar to heat, magnetism, electricity or movement. It could be from astral radiation, human emotion or energy fields in the ground. Perhaps your wizard pulls their power from the plants or animals/people around them.

Limitations on this type of magic come easily. We know it takes a lot of energy to move a big rock verses a small one. We can easily imagine it requires more magical energy too. The larger the action, the more magic or magical energy required.

Higher Beings – Perhaps the magic comes from gods or other powerful beings. Then the deity can either perform the magic on the mage’s behalf or perform it through the mage. Perhaps the gods do not have to do what the mage wants or there are several gods and you either prayer to a different one or perhaps only to “your” god. Of course with this you need to set limits on what can be done as you won’t want the divine ones answering every prayer and bringing back loved ones who have perished.

Objects – perhaps the magic comes from holding/wearing a certain item such as a scepter or amulet. Or maybe the exposure to particular spices, plants or another item embeds that person with magic.

Shifts in reality – Maybe your character can move outside reality or somehow bend it to their purpose. Or perhaps they are shifting through a parallel world.

Accessing magic

You have to have more than just a source of the magic. Your spell caster/magician/wizard must have some way to control or wield the magic to accomplish their goal.

Thoughts – Characters use their mind or thoughts to direct spells.

Communication – Whether it is saying magic words or writing them down, spells can be verbal or through some other form of communication, including a prayer to a deity, hand movements or drawing magical symbols.

Recipes/rituals – Maybe in addition to speaking some words, your spell caster/magician/wizard needs to mix up a potion or follow a series of moves.

Objects – Magic may only be accessed through a magical item such as a wand that either channels a wizard’s power, or it could be as simple as wearing a magical amulet that controls/directs the magic.

Explaining Magic to your Readers

Now once you have your magical system devised, you should know everything about it. You know how it works and what limitations it has. But nothing says you need to tell your readers everything. Just like when you create a well-rounded character with his/her own back story, you don’t have to let the readers know everything.

You should, however, give them the basics, or they may be wondering “Why can’t he…”

The easiest way to do this is to have someone who doesn’t know about magic asking questions. A dialogue about magic would be far more interesting than a few paragraphs containing an information dump.

But remember that as you let your reader know about magic you cannot withhold a critical rule/ability of your magic system until it conveniently gets your characters out of a plot jam. This will only annoy your readers and reflect poorly on your writing.

Why use Magic

Now I love magic but if the magic in your story doesn’t do anything to further the plot or characters, it is not worth having in your novel. In the end remember that your story is about characters and not the magic.

Here are four questions to consider before adding magic to your story.

1.) Does your magic affect your character?

2.) Does magic cause conflict?

3.) Would your story be the same without magic?

4.) Would the characters be the same without magic?

And when answering these questions, it isn’t just that magic affects your story but how much. If you can do without magic, it is best to take it out. It has to have a purpose before you include it.

The best systems of magic are those tied to your characters or plot. If you want to really see what your characters are made of, briefly take away their magic and see how they manage.

To learn more about writing about magic, check out my other posts on magic: Rules of Magic, Magic & the Gods, Magical Duels, Innate vs Learned Magic and Believable Magic.

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