The source of magic energy can say a lot about what is important in a world. This is because magic can be one foundation of a world. Magic sources affect far more than spell-casting — they influence history, culture, mythology, and the magical races of that world.
- NOTE: I often say “source” in this post but this could read as “sources”. I’m a great fan of multiple sources of magic. Those who choose that route can tackle these questions for each source!
I think of a magic source as a natural resource. This helps me imagine how the source works and how it affects other levels of the world. This is true for me whether my magic source is something concrete or abstract.
Concrete sources can be sensed by either ordinary or extraordinary senses; so, they take up space in some sense and you can plot them on a map. Examples of concrete sources can include crystals (the Elfstones in The Original Shannara Trilogy by Terry Brooks), ley lines (the Valdemar universe by Mercedes Lackey), or life force (The Immortals series by Tamora Pierce). Concrete sources usually exist outside the spell caster but this does not have to be the case. I seldom see a single concrete source — but another writer might want one! A world with a single magic crystal as the source of all magic works differently from a world where magic comes from many forests of magic-creating cacti.
Abstract sources might be sensed by intuition or feeling but lack physical shape or form. Examples of abstract sources includes vows to an entity like a deity or demon (the Dragonlance universe created by Tracy and Laura Hickman), a universal force (the Star Wars universe by George Lucas), or knowledge and willpower (The Belgariad by David Eddings). Abstract sources usually exist either everywhere or solely in the mind. Abstract sources can be difficult or impossible to map.
Understand the limits of a source. Is there a finite amount or does the source replenish itself?
- If it is a limited resource… How much is available?
- If it is a renewable resource… At what rate does the source regenerate? Does it need help to refill?
While a boundless pool of power can be a heady possibility, by placing limits on the quantity of available magic, a writer can pave the way for more conflicts, dilemmas, and world-wide crises. Nothing spawns conflict like competition for limited resources. And few crises top the possible disappearance of magic from a world that depends on its use.
So sink your claws into this issue and check out the rest of the posts in this series. Next up is “Refine Your Magic Source” where we look at how magic sources might behave in a world.