The fantastical wonders of magic
Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Last week, I talked about creating your military and war-making. Today, I’m going to be talking about magic. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an expert in this subject as I typically avoid it in my own work, but I will do my best to give you as concise a direction I can for when you plan how you want to put magic into your world.
The first thing that you want to establish is who can and can’t use magic, why, and how. Let's talk about where magic comes from to start: does it come from the gods to bestow upon their people? From nature? Is it a learned skill or one that you’re born with?
The reason it’s important to establish this is so there are no surprises...or there are. We’ve all read the story about the surprise magic user who will save the world, so if it’s established early on what, who, and how, your reader will be—excitedly we hope—surprised when a character doesn’t follow the mold.
School is for losers
First of all, let’s not be dude-bros about this. Everyone has to learn how to harness a craft, whether they’re born with it or not—prodigy or not. No one likes a Mary Sue/Marty Stu.
Let’s talk about the kinds of schools that you can have. We’re all familiar with Hogwarts, whether you’ve read the books or not, because Harry Potter is so prevalent in our culture. This is one example of the kinds of schools you can have, where everyone learns a bit of everything until they start to get a little more specialized in their later years at school. This is the one I personally would recommend, but it’s not the only kind.
There are two schools that are very often seen in fantasy novels: Private tutoring and guild masters/master-apprentice tutelage. The first is especially prominent if the characters in question are nobility. You can find this kind of student-teacher relationship in founder B. C. Marine’s A Seer’s Daughter. For master-apprentice teaching, you can see examples all throughout history, especially when it comes to architecture and painting. However, if you want to see it in a piece of fiction, you can check out another of B. C. Marine’s work, “Seeing Through Him.”
One of the other kinds of schools that you can have is like a trade school for magic, where you learn to do only one thing until you’ve mastered it. This is much like the guild masters but on a larger scale. Is this effective for people who want to have specialized magic users who only have one thing they’ve mastered, like healing? Sure. But what if someone comes along who knows how to do battle magic and attacks a hospital, and there are very few people who can help? It can be an interesting story, for sure, but you’re going to make your characters needless suffer for their ineptitude.
Rules are meant to be broken
But are they? Everything has its limits. Power is not infinite, no matter how much we want it to be. One thing you’ll need to establish right off the bat is what kind of rules there are going to be for your world of magic. Does magic follow the laws of nature? Can people cross the veil or wander the Elysium Fields in the Underworld to bring people back to life? Is that a big no-no because the cost of power is too much and could kill the caster?
Are there going to be any moral rules, like there were in Harry Potter? Would there be any consequences to taking over someone’s mind to, say, go rob a bank and give you all the funds you could ever wanted? Will there be any sort of magical council that handles its magic users when they commit a crime? An Azkaban where the most evil of evil are sent, perhaps?
You might be thinking, “But I don’t want to limit the magic users!” That’s cool, but think of magic the same way you would the law in your town. The person who has the only car in the city wouldn’t be allowed to just speed through town and endanger all the people in it—and potentially kill someone by not knowing exactly how to control it—so why would you let a magic user run rampant through society with no consequence?
No good deed goes unpunished
What does this mean exactly? It means that nothing comes without cost. So, in your rules of magic, what is the cost of using it? I’ll use David Eddings as an example this time. When Garion is learning how to use his magic under the tutelage of Belgarath the Sorcerer, magic uses a massive amount of energy. When Garion tries to move a boulder, he ends up sinking into the ground because of Newton’s Third Law of Motion: a force always acts in an equal and opposite reaction. The reason why Garion sinks into the ground is because the boulder was pushing back with force equalling the amount he was using.
I’ll give another example from The Belgariad. In the books, magic follows the laws of nature, specifically the first law of thermodynamics: energy can neither be created nor destroyed. The magic users in Eddings’ world pull not only energy from themselves, but the world around them in order to use their magic. So, if a magic users channels too much of their own energy to create a spell, they can die.
I can do it, and so can you for the low, low price of $9.99!
We’ve all been sold a thing or two at 2:00 a.m. when we’re sleep deprived and watching As Seen on TV advertisements, maybe a little high on cough medicine because we’ve been sick for two weeks and accidentally took the daytime pills instead of the nighttime pills. No? Just me? Well, either way, it leads me into my next point:
If there are people who can’t conjure magic on their own, can they use technology made by magic users to suit their own needs? I’ll give an example. If someone doesn’t want to dig a garden bed to plant their vegetables, is there an enchanted hoe—go ahead and giggle, I did—that will do the work for them? There are other options for this as well; if someone needs a healing spell or a curse, can they buy one to use on their own?
Behold, the dragon!
Next step in creating your magical world is deciding on whether or not you’re going to have magical creatures within it and how they interact with your people. Will you have dragons that are beholden to whomever conquers them? Unicorns that have made an alliance with the wizards so that they can hide from people and not worry about being harrassed?
No matter what magical animals you choose, you will need to know how the interact with not only with the world, but with the people.
It’s a miracle!
Lastly, I want to briefly talk briefly about how magic works with whatever religion you have in your world.
Traditionally, magic is seen as a heretical act. But will it be in your world? There are plenty of reasons why it would be heretical: it’s an unknown, only God should have power, man can only do evil with such power, etc. etc. But, that doesn’t mean that it has to be. There are plenty of religions that are aided by the use of magic, and you can even make your own religion that centers around magic, depending on what kind of story you’re telling—Earth versus Not-Earth—where it’s revered and loved, and it’s a blessing to those around.
Next week, I’ll be talking about Education.
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