There And Draft Again

A Fellowship of Fantasy Writers

Creating Your Fantasy Bible: Building the Magic November 27, 2013

It’s time for the final chapter of the Encyclobibliogrimoire series, and we’re finally going to talk about magic. The very first question is the most important one of all:

Does your story even have magic?

When people think of fantasy, they often think the answer to this question would be an obvious “Yes” but I’m sure we can all agree that it isn’t that cut and dry. If you are writing urban fantasy with werewolves and vampires, it can be a matter of genetics instead of some mystical element passed around like a magical contagion. Magic might not even feature very heavily in your story if it is there. From what I remember of Lord of the Rings, aside from some awesome moves from Gandalf and his staff and the omnipresent magic that is Middle Earth, magic wasn’t heavily present in the character’s journeys. The ring was magic, but Frodo didn’t use magic to get to Mordor. He used the power of his friendship with Sam to get to where he needed to go. And well, Gandalf used it to make sure others didn’t get to where they wanted to go.

Wait..wrong fandom…

The point is, you can have a story where magic is there but not necessarily explained in detail, like LotR, or a story where it is taught at great lengths to the characters, like Harry Potter, or one where the supernatural element is explained with loose science, like Twilight.

No matter what your chosen path of magic, one thing is very important. You need to understand it. Whether you explain it or not, you need to understand the ins and outs of your magical system. You need to know what tools need to be used, what the limitations of the magic itself is, and what effects it has on the wielder. For example, the magic of Harry Potter had its limitations in that it couldn’t bring someone back from the dead and you had to use a wand to wield it. It was a skill that the wizards are born with and honed through school. In Sword of Truth, Additive and Subtractive magic was used. Additive magic changes things by adding to the existing world or multiplying something already there, whereas subtractive would take it away and send it to the Underworld. In The Vampire Diaries, magic can only be wielded by witches born with the power, and often there are complex spells or strings of words in another language that have to be used.

The great thing about magic is that the possibilities are endless, but the hard part of being the writer is nailing down the magic that exists in your world. Here are some important questions to ask yourself about how your magic works:

  • Are there verbal spells involved? If so, what language is used?
  • Is the power passed down from generation to generation, or can anyone wield it?
  • Does everyone have the same amount of magical power? What distinguishes how powerful a character might be?
  • What types of magic are used? Potions? Spells? Wands?
  • What tools does the wielder have to utilize in order to use their magic? Wands or staffs, or simply pointing their hand at the target?
  • What does the magic do to the wielder? Example, if it is an extension of the wielder, it might expend their energy in some way (think Willow on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and how her nose would bleed after a tough spell)
  • Is it ritualistic, or a matter of shooting fire from your finger tips?
  • Are there any Pagan influences, or influences from other cultures that have magic in their lore?
  • How does the wielder learn how to use it?
  • Are there deities involved, or is it elemental? Or simply a power that exists?

Don’t forget that even if you don’t have magic, you have some important questions to ask yourself about how the supernatural element of your story comes into play. If it is genetics, make sure you fully understand that, how each trait is passed down, what happens if a supernatural being has a child with a non-supernatural being, and what happens if other supernatural races mix. Pick your system apart, because the last thing you want is to discover four books in that you have continuity errors and contradictions in the world you’ve built.

That wraps up our Encyclobibliogrimoire series! What else would you add to your Fantasy Bible? Anything I missed? Sound off in the comments! Or if you just want to tell me about your magic and what questions you ask yourself when building your world. I love hearing from you guys!

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2 Responses to “Creating Your Fantasy Bible: Building the Magic”

  1. I *love* reading about new magic systems in fantasy books. Sometimes they’re kind of lame (I love you, Game of Thrones, but what the heck’s going on with your magic???), but ofttimes they’re just wonderful. Harry Potter springs to mind. Dragonlance. The Xanth series, with their unique talent system. That’s actually why I’ve been shying away from writing a fantasy series myself — I have this suspicion that I’m going to either shamelessly steal another magic system, or make my own but it will be terrible and everyone will laugh at it.

  2. Aldrea Alien Says:

    The variances in magic systems are the best. I’ve a couple and have so much fun trying to keep them different.
    My most involved world has one group with various elemental power treating it as a divine gift that everyone in the group has. Yet an inability to master it by puberty means they’ll kill you because an emotionally unstable magic wielder is far too dangerous to be allowed to live (even if they are so much fun to read about).


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