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Dabbling With Arcane Arts

One thing most fantasy books have in common is magic. However, trying to write it without being cliche can be difficult. Here are 10 questions to help you create your own magic system!

What can it do?

There are infinite possibilities here. In J K Rowling’s “Harry Potter” magic is used in flying, fighting, potions and various other elements including enchanted items and mythical creatures. In Brandon Sanderson’s “Mistborn” magic is used through metals, different metals granting different abilities such as pushing and pulling metal objects, enhanced strength or senses, etc. The list goes on and on. The important thing to remember is how does it fit into your fantasy world? If the aforementioned authors were to trade magic systems for their books, the story would fall apart (though it would be pretty cool to see a character from each end up in the other’s universe). So whatever your magic does make sure it fits into the world you’ve created.

What can’t it do?

One of my favorite things is when magic can’t fix something. Giving your wizard’s the equivalent of “batman’s utility belt” (which I’m also convinced is magic) makes your story bland. If magic can fix every problem, there are no stakes, nothing to put the reader on edge. Remember, high stakes and challenges are the center of every story.

How is it used?

Sticking with Sanderson and Rowling, it is important to note that both rely on an object to preform magic. In “Mistborn” not having access to metal renders an allomancer useless. In “Harry Potter” a wand is used to channel magic. This is also a great way to add limitations to your story and create tension for your protagonist; however, it isn’t essential. “Merlin” is a great example of a wizard who doesn’t need a tool to cast his spells. Whatever you decide on how it's used stick to it, nothing is more frustrating than the rules changing without reason.

Who can use it?

This one is pretty easy. Is it a matter of training or natural ability? Along the same train of thought consider how common magic users are.

How are users viewed?

I’ve noticed more often than not urban fantasy leans towards the secret society magic while traditional fantasy leans towards the high class wizardry. There isn’t anything wrong with these classifications, however if you’re going for different consider changing up these stereotypes.

Role/impact on society?

This one is huge. I’ll even admit to being guilty of glossing over this one, but seriously think about it. Having a well-defined social system makes your world feel real. Figuring out how mages fit into that society will really add punch to your writing.

Internal or external?

Where does the magic come from? Is it something a wizard has to create or something they access? Knowing where your magic comes from can help create interesting plot developments. In my case I learned that my main villain, Darkness Lord Senkaar, wants to control the tides of magic—something that normally isn’t possible.

Can user “run out”? What happens? How is it regenerated?

This can establish stakes and limitations to your magic to make it more real. When your character runs out of mana there should be consequences (i.e. passing out, weakness, death, mental degeneration, not being able to use it for a long time or ever again). Again, having unlimited power is great until it’s boring. It’s like having infinite ammo to a OP weapon. It’s fun for a while, but eventually it gets boring. If your character must have unlimited magic, then give them other drawbacks such as only being able to use it with a harnessing tool, only being able to use it at specific times, or severe physical limitations that their magic can’t fix.

When creating a magic system, the key is to be consistent. As I mentioned earlier, changing the rules without an infallible reason is frustrating for readers. If you need to change the rules, something drastic needs to happen within the plot to validate the change.

Thanks for reading, share your favorite magic system below!

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