Create a Magic System: Spell Casting

Fire spirit
Fire spirit (Photo credit: christopherselac)

Today’s blog focuses on creating a system for spell casting. Writers usually start with this element of their magic system. They usually – but not always – have a good grasp of how their magic users cast spells. But in creating my own world, I this was one of the last things I decided because I saw the other elements as more important to my social structure, my world history, and my theme. But spell casting is not mere frills, it is the act of changing potential into actuality. It is what most readers focus on as the magic. And it is often what most sticks in their minds. Make it good.

I will refer to the means of converting magic to a product as a
spell. Consider what requirements must be met for a spell to be cast.
Maybe all it takes is a strong need and the ability to use magic. In
most books, magic-using humans are uncommon or even rare, even if
there are other races where this is not the case. Magic users are
either born with the ability or gain it through other means. If you
go with the birth route, decide whether magic ability is active at
birth, if an infant’s potential can be tested. If you decide that
magic ability can be imparted, some options are: a deity, another
human magic user, a magical creature, an artifact.

Magic ability can be instinctive, learned, but usually is a
combination of the two. Giving your magic user the ability to use
magic instinctively makes it easier to accidentally cast spells
(maybe discovering his or her ability in the process). You might want
this trait for a volitile character because strong feelings can take
physical form. In the other extreme is magic that is aquired purely
through learning. This can be through spell books or schools. Schools
provide popular settings for coming-of-age tales as well as sources
of information, help, or starting points for a quest.

Spells usually require resources in the form of energy, tools, and/
or sacrifices. This helps limit the ability of the magic user and
makes things more realistic and opens the door to conflict, crises,
and weaknesses. Usually both magic energy and personal energy are
consumed. Tools may be consumed or reused. Sacrifices are usually
reserved for more potent spells with living sacrifices being more
valuable and human sacrifices being the most powerful – and usually
condemned. But these are only guidelines – not rules. And you are
also free to create both multiple systems of magic and multiple types
of magic users in your world. This is the topic of the next blog.

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