I’ve been kicking around a few story ideas and what I’ve noticed is that they don’t all neatly fit into one genre, but there are some commonalities in some of them. I’ve never really written fantasy, haven’t read much in that genre since I was a lot younger, so I did a bit of digging around to see how other authors handle magic.
One such article I came across was by Michael Alwill over on Fantasy-Hive. If I said it was thorough, I’d be doing it a injustice. It covers setting aa story seed; how abundant magic is in your world; who can use it; how it is deployed, etc.
Drop by the Fantasy-Hive for much more fantasy related goodness!
A Guide To Writing Magic Systems – Michael Alwill
If you were to grab a stranger off the street and ask them what magic was, well… first they’d probably mention someone like Penn and Teller, but once you clarified and said you meant magic in fiction, you’d very likely hear at least a few of these words: spell, wizard, fireball, enchantment, wand, curse, potion, witch, fairy, monster, illusion, spirit, warlock, charm, amulet, sorcerer…
You get the point. For Western audiences, the general idea of magic descends from a mixture of European myth, medieval literature, and high fantasy, as popularized in the 20th century by writers like Tolkien. This version of magic was further cemented in people’s minds due to the unbelievable success of the gaming industry over the last 50 years. From Dungeons & Dragons to videogaming to collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering, audiences have been exposed to more magic than ever before, frequently with a well-defined, regimented system attached to it to facilitate the need gaming has for rules and progression mechanics.
This popularization and systematization of magic has had two major influences on audiences:
- They increasingly expect Sanderson’s First Law to hold, that “an author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic”. The deus ex machina doesn’t get much mileage when it comes to magic nowadays.
- The classic, Euro-myth/Medieval-Lit version of magic has become trope-ified and stale, requiring creators to put larger and larger twists on it to avoid being redundant.