Make the Magic Work: Create a Stronger Magic System

I’m a slow learner sometimes.

Think it’s enough to start with the fireball, add the ley lines to power it, a few grimores to learn it, the occasional magical talisman to power it up… and trust the rest will fit itself neatly into the world on its own? This writing by the seat of your pants approach can work for other writers. It didn’t for me.

Confusion (and revisions) accumulated as I added magical powers, overlapping magic users, magic sources, and tried to weave them throughout my world. The first fantasy world I created as I wrote ended up as the conceptual equivalent to a plate of spaghetti — a hopeless tangle covered in red ink. Second try? Almost the same result.

The third time sorta worked but appeared bland and superficial,  with nothing resembling personal flavor.

The fourth time, I became methodical, logical, a planner. I applied what I learned from classes such as earth sciences, world history, and cultural anthropology. I came up with a multi-faceted approach that looks at a more complete magic system — from the magic source, to the spell casting, to the repercussions across time, space, and lives.

This system contains many ways to look at the causes and effects of magic in a fantasy world. None of these perspectives work in a vacuum. Instead, each serves as a facet to a larger whole — much like a cut gem or a compound lens.

I think one benefit of this approach is that the facets can be explored and revisited in any order as mood, interest, or inspiration strikes.

Another advantage is that facets can be added or removed according to an individual writer’s wishes or needs. Emphasis can be given to whatever facet(s) excite the author.
While still not complete, what I lay out in this series of posts offers a faceted approach to the process of building a magic system.

In the Make the Magic Work: Create a Stronger Magic System series, readers can learn

  • Why a magic source can become more to a world and readers than a justification for fireballs and fairies
  • How to craft a magic system that paves the way for dilemmas and conflicts, large and small
  • How to build variety into magic users, magic sources, and anything that falls between them
  • How a magic system influences many levels of world-building: from city placement to local folklore

Are you ready to cast a spell on your magical world? Create a magic system with many facets. Here are some posts to help you start…
POST 1: WHY WRITERS SHOULD CONSIDER A MAGIC SYSTEM
What’s one way to fill a world with magic that affects character, world, and theme? Magic systems influence backstory, cultural development, and can even become a tool for highlighting issues near and dear to a writer’s heart.

POST 2: CHOOSE YOUR MAGIC SOURCE
Without a magic source, curses and rain dances just won’t work. The power behind these powers might never appear in writing but a writer needs to understand the origins of that power.

POST 3: REFINE YOUR MAGIC SOURCE
Once a writer know the source(s) of magic, she needs to decide how the source acts and can be used. She also can decide how the source affects its environment.

POST 4: CHOOSE RULES FOR MAGIC USE
Many people consider rules restrictive. Instead, I see them as a path to possibilities — not just a tool for organization, not simply a way for readers know what to expect, but also a catalyst for dilemmas and conflicts.

POST 5: SET PRICES FOR MAGIC USE
One category of rule for magic use is the price of that use. When setting the prices, try to think beyond the immediate and the obvious. Add prices to add depth and realism to a world and it’s characters.

POST 6: BUILD CATEGORIES FOR MAGIC AND MAGIC USERS
A writer who recognizes similarities and differences inside a group also understands where a particular person or object fits into the scheme of things — and where he, she, or it might go from there.

POST 7: BALANCE MULTIPLE MAGIC SYSTEMS

POST 8: CREATE THE “TYPICAL” MAGIC USER

POST 9: FIT YOUR MAGIC INTO EVERY CULTURE

POST 10: UNCOVER THE HISTORY OF MAGIC

POST 11: FOCUS THE MYTHOLOGY OF MAGIC

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