Fantasy Writers

Fantasy Magic?

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  • #105341
    Noodle-Mum
    @noodle-mum

    Hi guys ^_^ I know a lot of fantasy genre books have magic in them, and I wanted to know what all of your thoughts were on how you handle that subject in your fantasy books? 🙂 Do you have a magic system, and if so, how did you create it and make it realistic? What’s the thought process there? If you don’t have magic but use something different to replace that aspect of the Fantasy type genre, how did you do it?

    I know this can be a touchy subject among us Christians, which is why I was curious and decided to ask! 🙂

    #105345
    E. Grace
    @emgc

    Really the only ‘magical’ elements I’ve included in my fantasy novel is what my characters consider ‘technology’. I haven’t fully fleshed out this system yet, but the main idea of it is is that it is a ‘magic’ that can be attained through scientific means (if that makes sense). It’s a natural part of their world, not supernatural…

    I haven’t done all the research on magic systems that I would like to and I realize I probably should if I want to get this right so I’d love to hear from everyone else as well. XD

    "True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less." - C. S. Lewis

    #105348
    DeepRun
    @deeprun

    @noodle-mum

    That’s an interesting question.  In what I’m writing currently, I’m trying to keep the magic to minimum for a more subtle effect. I’ve no issues with magic as a tool. I prefer it as an element to adds complications rather than to provide solutions.  I think it’s more exciting to try to find a “normal” solution to a “supernatural” problem. Nothing against the books were flames spurt out of people’s hands, but it seems an easy fix.

    @emgc

    That’s an interesting concept!

    You do not have a soul. You have a body.
    You are a soul. - C.S. Lewis

    #105417
    R.M. Archer
    @r-m-archer

    Almost all of my magic systems are portrayed as natural parts of the world, so they’re more “scientific” to their world, but still considered “magic” because they’d be supernatural to our world. (The one exception to the rule is portrayed as evil, as it would be in our world.) Most of my systems involve powers that are passed down genetically, but the exact nature and mechanics of said powers differ by system, and I have one system that’s sort of a mix of genetics and a symbiotic relationship between a semi-sentient(?) organism and humans.

    In general, my view on magic is that if it’s a natural part of the world there’s nothing wrong with it; it’s a fictional world, so there’s no reason it has to adhere to the same natural laws as our world, so abilities that would only come from supernatural powers in our world don’t have to come from supernatural powers in that world. And the origin is what creates the moral implications, so those automatically also shift in a fictional world with different natural laws, and the moral implications understood by the people in your world can be molded as you wish (in the case of naturally-occurring abilities/powers/etc.; magic that has a similar origin to magic in our world should always be considered evil).

    As far as making magic believable… I don’t have any specific tools I use for that (aside from a minimal “what can it do and what’s the price for using it?”). I just kind of make it up and play with it until it sounds good to me, lol.

    Fantasy/dystopian/sci-fi author. Mythology nerd. ENFP. Singer.

    #105418
    Daeus Lamb
    @daeus-lamb

    On my currently inactive YouTube channel (Daeus’ Fantasy Opinions), I posted a video about magic systems…I think I was arguing there were only a few basic components every magic system is based on. Those can be helpful. I also like to use Sanderson’s three laws.

    😀
    👕👍
    👖 🐢🐢🐢🐢🐢

    #105425
    A.N. Parker
    @bigideaskc

      Hi guys ^_^ I know a lot of fantasy genre books have magic in them, and I wanted to know what all of your thoughts were on how you handle that subject in your fantasy books? 🙂 Do you have a magic system, and if so, how did you create it and make it realistic? What’s the thought process there? If you don’t have magic but use something different to replace that aspect of the Fantasy type genre, how did you do it?

      @noodle-mum Hey there! Great question. ^-^ I don’t really write magic much in this particular book, but there is a fairy-like race called Angorai that use natural elements that can seem a bit like magic. To them, it’s not magic. It’s just regular healing and such.

      Grammar Geek | Steampunk Enthusiast | Published Author | Winged Warrior | Avatar by The Fledgling Artist

      #105438
      Sink
      @sarah-inkdragon

      I kind of tend to follow @deeprun’s approach to magic – while I absolutely love a good story with a tasteful and fantastical magic system, I also love when magic doesn’t serves as the “deus ex machina” of every conflict. If ordinary old people(granted, smart people) could discover that light has velocity , or could look at a problem and derive the quadratic equation centuries ago, I think in a fantasy world the same thing can happen. Just because something doesn’t exactly follow the laws of physics that explain our own world doesn’t mean it can’t be beaten by a common or even mundane thing. (Newton theorized gravity from a falling apple. How more mundane can you get? Doppler discovered the effect so aptly named after himself to explain the colors of binary stars. A mundane thing used for a very non-mundane outcome.)

      Long story short – while magic is fantastic, it must be used in small doses so the reader doesn’t become desensitized to it and also so it doesn’t feel like the “magic card” is being pulled out every time the MC’s hand is in trouble. Count your cards, and strive to win, not to gamble.

      As for the actual writing of magic in fantasy – frankly, I love it. In this world, magic is obviously not something to be tampered with. (Probably because it’s not magic.) We were not told by our Creator to command the seas or to raise fire from nothingness. In fantasy, however, that is not always the case. Then you might separate magic into two different categories – the ordained and the un-ordained. “Ordained” magic is your typical “good” magic – something that doesn’t have it’s roots in evil, but in good. “Un-ordained” magic is the exact opposite – magic that is drawn from an evil source. There’s a big differentiation to be made when writing both types, and if you don’t make it you’re bound to confuse not only yourself but you readers as well.

      I think both can be incorporated in Christian fantasy, if done well. Typically when I write magic, I use the “ordained” model but instead of adding in a “black magic” alternative, I use the perversion of the ordained magic to add in what I consider a stronger theme – a good tool used for evil. Having ‘white magic’ and ‘black magic’ can be effective in some circumstances, but only when done well. It’s also just less enjoyable and slightly less complex, in my opinion. Having a clearly defined good/bad side is useful, but must be done well or can come off as very cliche. The perversion of ordained magic is slightly more to my liking because it adds in the human element – sin nature, and the fact that even if God gives us something amazing and good, we can still ruin it.

      Un-ordained magic is slightly different, but can be used in the same way. I like to use it in more dystopian-like fantasy worlds, or dystopians that don’t appear to be dystopian. It’s very interesting to have an un-ordained magic system that isn’t viewed as un-ordained by the characters, and then explore exactly why it is un-ordained and have the character work through that themselves.

      Overall, magic is cool. But only if used right.

      *vader vibes*

      #105439
      R.M. Archer
      @r-m-archer

      @sarah-inkdragon “Ordained” and “un-ordained” is good terminology for it.

      Fantasy/dystopian/sci-fi author. Mythology nerd. ENFP. Singer.

      #105447
      Taylor Clogston
      @taylorclogston

      @sarah-inkdragon That’s some really interesting terminology.

      @noodle-mum Like Daeus said, Sanderson’s Three Laws are an essential resource, if only because everyone else will have them in mind when discussing magic.

      Hardness

      We describe magic in a given system as being on a scale from “soft” to “hard.” Generally, the harder the magic, the better an idea the reader has of how the magic works and how it specifically can be used at any given time. Ideally, very hard magic systems are rational and scientific, and at least pretend to obey the rules of thermodynamics. If you throw a fireball, that energy must come from somewhere. Sanderson has a reputation for great hard magic systems. He bases core concepts of his books on the idea that you should know at any given moment what a character is capable of doing with their magic. When people break the rules, it’s often a mystery for the protagonists as well as for the reader, and a large part of the plot revolved around figuring out why they rules were broken–or rather, why they appeared to be broken. Usually, the answer was staring a careful reader right in the face the whole time.

      Because of this, Sanderson can use magic as a core part of his stories’ scene-by-scene conflict. Two magical characters can fight each other, and you have about as much an idea of their relative capabilities as though they each were fighting in a more mundane way. It works pretty well for him. If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend you read at least the first three Mistborn books, in which the magic system involves ingesting different kinds of metal and “burning” them to receive temporary, specific, fairly limited abilities in exchange.

      Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia use much softer magic. In LotR, magic is simply a spiritual extension of a given, spiritually existent creature’s ability… Sometimes. Hobbits are good at sneaking, and that’s magic. They don’t consider it magic, because it’s just a part of who they are. Galadriel famously says “For this is what your folk would call magic, I believe: though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy. But this, if you will, is the magic of Galadriel. Did you not say that you wished to see Elf-magic?”

      And then there are actual spells and songs that do a practical thing, some of which might just be Gandalf the mad scientist trying to look cool in front of the dwarfs with burning pine cones and whatnot. And then there’s the expenditure and extension of will to protect or dominate or curse another creature, which is largely what Morgoth and Sauron did.

      Tolkien’s “weakness” is in not caring much about dramatic internal logic. Without entire books’ worth of rationalization, there is little reason most of the overarching plot couldn’t have been solved with magic as it exists in LotR. Of course, that wouldn’t have been nearly dramatic enough. When @deeprun points out that magic can fall into the trap of being an easy fix and solution to a problem, I fully agree. One of the biggest pitfalls I see in amateur fantasy writers is being all excited in their pet magic system and then failing to create a situation in which that magic aids the drama instead of hindering it. If the protag can shoot fire from her hands, she needs to find herself in very few serious places where shooting fire from her hands is in fact the solution to her problems.

      I feel like Lewis uses his magic better from a dramatic standpoint. Narnia is filled with all manner of curses and artifacts and rituals, but their capability almost always works against the protagonists or else is just not something which solves all of the scene by scene dramatic tension. Usually, big magical set pieces like the silver chair or the stone table exist as a fantastical allegory for some real world spiritual point. When the protags have magic, it rarely solves all their problems. Usually, you learn of a magical element very close to the scene in which it’s important, it serves as a source of conflict for that scene, and then we hear little about it afterward.

      You can also prevent your characters from overcoming all their conflicts with magic by making them incompetent =P The Force in the original Star Wars trilogy works to an extent because Luke is a terrible Jedi. He has the skill at the peak of his power to barely rescue his friend at the beginning of Return of the Jedi, but he lacked the power to properly dominate his friend’s captor.

      If you’re writing hard magic, it’s probably because your audience is interested in rational magic and wants to see fantastical powers used in creative ways throughout your story. Sanderson’s books in general, the Inheritance cycle by Christopher Paolini, and the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss (very, very R-rated) are the best examples of hard magic in modern fantasy. I don’t read much soft magic, but I bet either Daeus or @karthmin could point you in the right direction. I’ve really been enjoying The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany recently, but it’s not exactly an example of how people are doing it today.

      Spirituality

      As you know, the spiritual aspect of magic trips up many Christians. The Bible warns us that God hates sorcery and that it is as deserving of the death penalty as is dishonoring parents. Take that as you will.

      Magic in the Bible is strongly tied with the idea of communion with spiritual beings other than God, to foretell the future (which betrays lack of faith in God) or for personal gain.

      From the 70s to the 90s, the New Age movement was popular in the US, and many Christian books were written from the perspective of Biblical-style spiritual warfare in the modern age—Frank E. Peretti kind of made a career off it, starting with the (in my opinion) enjoyable This Present Darkness. That book, and others like it, can give an idea of the lingering idea contemporary Christian culture among the older generations still holds against magic in general.

      I of the opinion (probably hilariously arrogantly) that people are smart enough to realize they’re reading a fictional book and that I’m not in danger of losing my soul because I wrote a story in which people throw fire from their hands.

      If you choose, as I did, to write a story in which the magic can seem questionable from a bird’s eye view (I may have already written a book in which people commune with spirits to gain power), you have to ask what your conscience feels about it. If you personally feel uneasy about magic in fantasy at all (I know people who believe Narnia to be a book about demon worship and the power of dark magic, so nothing is out of the question) then you probably shouldn’t write about it. If, at the opposite end of the scale, your main character offers her soul to Asmodeus in exchange for the ability to dominate the minds of others, and moreover this is treated as very legal and very cool by the context, narrator, and tone of the story, then you might want to ask God to give you a love for what is good and right in the world =P

      What I Use

      I really enjoy “everybody gets one” magic/power/tech/etc. systems, most famously in Hirohiko Araki’s JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure series, in which everyone has a specifically defined and limited power, and the scene by scene conflict usually involves these powers interacting in very creative ways. Usually. There’s a lot of handwaving that goes on.

      One of my spy-fi WiPs uses a similar system, in which irradiated orchids express certain crazy genes which unlock ridiculous human potential when they’re eaten. It’s pretty silly. I’m having a lot of fun writing it.

      My published novella, for which I should really put out the second part, takes the magic of the Dungeons and Dragons game and applies a somewhat rational system to it.

      My WiP realitypunk ripoff of Chronicles of Amber simply gives characters authority to alter the world in the regions in which they have authority. People can’t use guns when trespassing onto other people’s land because as soon as the slug leaves their possession, the owner of the land has authority to just delete it. It’s weird. I don’t like it as much. It’s a useful thing to try to trap my head around.

      • This reply was modified 2 months ago by Taylor Clogston. Reason: SE doesn't use header tags >.>

      "...the one with whom he so sought to talk has already interceded for him." -The Master and Margarita

      #105528
      DeepRun
      @deeprun

      @sarah-inkdragon   The examples of Newton and Doppler are wonderful.  It’s always irked me how people from ancient history (or anything older than 1950) are described as unsophisticated or not advanced.  I often wonder what we’ve lost because our ordinary is built upon the hard work of men like Newton and the like.

      @taylorclogston   I think that should be an article for Story Embers.

      I spent today musing about why magic is still such a big draw.  It makes sense  historically, having myths for the unknown.  In the day of iPhone and online gaming worlds, I wouldn’t have expected that.  We basically have the “magic” that a 14th century Bavarian peasant would spin fables about.

      In a writing sense, I wonder what desire these highly detailed magical systems fulfill.  Why does magic resonate with my soul so much?  If it’s not real, why do I want it to be so much?  Then writing well to that.

      You do not have a soul. You have a body.
      You are a soul. - C.S. Lewis

      #105529
      Violet
      @pookiemonster

      Before I say anything i just want to say that I totally agree with @r-m-archer ‘s response.

      I actually struggled with this for a while because I was afraid any magic would feel supernatural. Especially since my Wip’s genre is Historical Urban Fantasy; at least I think it would be, it’s complicated.

      Like @sarah-inkdragon mentioned I have “ordained” magic, which just for now I call Emeomo. To help it not seem supernatural I gave it boat load of limitations and gave it a natural scientific explanation.

      Basically, my “magic system” involves people (and some animals) interacting with an element produced by certain plants and using it to fuel their power. However, only certain people are born with the ability to see/detect that element, and not every user can do the same things with it or to the same degree. Wow, I explained that poorly, I’ll need to work on that. But I seriously did a ton of research and there’s only one part left to fully explain. But of course my readers aren’t going to know all the in’s and out’s, but it helps me to set the rules.

      Just remember to... Trust in God, Stay Safe, and Eat Doughnuts 🍩🍩

      #105545
      Sink
      @sarah-inkdragon

      @deeprun Well, the quadratic equation was originally “derived” in it’s basic form by Euclid, who lived at around 300 B.C.. Meanwhile, I can’t even begin to wrap my head around derivatives even with the wonderful tools we have(calculators, absolutely the best invention ever), in the 21st century. XD In the late 1700’s to early 1800’s, Thomas Young also determined this mathematical relationship between light wavelength and disruption:

      So yeah… just for reference, the angle(theta) is right about 0.0387(…) degrees when d = 1mm, D = 8.3m, and y = right about 10.75mm. This guy calculated a whole 12-digit degrees(or more) without a calculator or anything. XD I think it’s pretty safe to say that people before the 1950’s were pretty darn sophisticated. 😉

      (Not to mention old Egyptian work on the basics of trigonometry!)

      @pookiemonster

      Just for clarification – why don’t you want your magic to seem supernatural? (Or, should it not seem supernatural to the characters?) Technically, anything that doesn’t follow the rules of physics/biology/thermodynamics/chemistry(the last two are really just off-shoots of physics though), is supernatural. In your world, I’d suggest asking the question – is the “magic” common-place and considered “natural world order” to the peoples/nations, or is it considered a special ability/gift/talent that only certain people have access to(or only certain people are exceptionally good at?). If you consider it a more scientifically based system, then try asking these questions to help define it a little more:

      • What can’t you do with magic?
      • Why couldn’t a character be able to use magic?
      • What powers your magic?(Unless you want to break all natural order set up by our world[which isn’t necessarily bad, just harder], magic needs a power source. It could be anything – a stone, a plant, God, etc.)
      • Lastly – is your magic able to be harnessed like a tool by just anyone, or is it specific? (If it’s specific, I’d suggest defining exactly why and who can use it.)

      The physics of a proper scientifically-based magic system may sound intimidating, but when you lay out the basics of what magic can and can’t do it becomes much less intimidating, and also much easier to analyze and decide what fits your story the best.

      For your ‘element’ I’d also suggest defining whether it’s a material or immaterial element – e.g., is it something like a specific metal/stone/material that can be felt, seen, etc., or is it something immaterial like a “spirit” or “energy” element? That will help a great deal in your magic system’s order.

      Lastly – if this is the only magic system in your world, determine how the perversion of this magic system may work(If it can work. Your magic may only work when it’s doing something “good” – but that might not be the case.). Humans can make just about any good thing bad, so if there is a good side to your magic system, there also needs to be a bad side, and you need to define how that works along with the good side – as well as exactly what makes it bad. You could just leave the magic as-is, and have it merely be used as a tool for either good or bad without changing the actual consistency of the magic system, or you could define magic into more black/white areas(Example: The Dragon Prince. There is one magic system, but a black and white application of that magic system. It has strengths and weaknesses, but one pit you might want to avoid falling into is the “good guy using black magic” – any God-following person can only do so by giving up their sin, not manipulating their wants/sins to supposedly follow God. It’s impossible to make a sinful thing a godly thing. A person “turning” from the bad side to good side might have a period where they have good intentions but “use the wrong magic”, but eventually they will have to face up and turn away from wickedness just like everyone else.).

      *vader vibes*

      #105574
      Taylor Clogston
      @taylorclogston

      @deeprun We might have technomagic that is astounding in its complexity (I can still barely believe printers exist), but it’s commonplace. The average Jo still can’t throw fire from her hands =P I think if something is beyond human capability, people will dream of it. We all want to be more than we are, right? That’s kind of a core part of the Christian worldview.

      As for highly detailed magic in particular, I don’t have a perfect answer. I know that in Western culture, we lust after control, having none and being keenly aware of that state. Maybe feeling that we have a great understanding of a magic system because it’s analogous to our understanding of the real world is like using myths to rationalize an explanation for the natural world in a way we can understand.

      Or maybe it’s just the popularity of fantasy games, traditional and video.

      The litRPG subgenre of the gamerlit genre (if it’s not itself just a subgenre of the single joint scifi/fantasy genre some people firmly believe exists) takes “highly detailed” in a different direction, usually describing magic or ability in pure game terms, often even giving character sheets with stats and values at the end of each chapter. This genre, in which it’s not uncommon to see a character described as casting a spell for 10 energy, hitting, dealing 572 fire damage, and then gaining 16 experience points… all in prose.

      This is, to my eternal depression, a hugely popular genre. I guess I don’t really have an answer which desire this sort of system fills.

      @pookiemonster Are you worried about supernaturality for your own sake, or for your audience’s? Also, I’d love to be a beta reader for that story.

      @sarah-inkdragon I wish I had something meaningful to add or ask =P You’ve got good stuff there.

      "...the one with whom he so sought to talk has already interceded for him." -The Master and Margarita

      #105575
      Sink
      @sarah-inkdragon

      @taylorclogston

      Thanks! I like physics. 😉 And writing. So combine them we must. XD

      *vader vibes*

      #105590
      Violet
      @pookiemonster

      @sarah-inkdragon

      I don’t want my magic system to seem supernatural because that is what those who use the perversion of the ordained magic do. So my magic system its self isn’t supernatural, but those who abuse it add in a supernatural element.

      You asked a lot of great question for creating a magic system, good thing I already have them all answered. I’ve been working on this for a while and I already know how most of my magic system works. I guess I did make it sound like I was still having trouble with it, But I meant that when I first started out I struggled to find a plausible magic system. Currently I’m just in the stage where I’m working out the kinks. 🙂

      One thing I don’t understand is why you said that the magic system should be “common-place and considered “natural world order” OR considered a special ability/gift/talent that only certain people have access to”. Why can’t it be both? Because mine is. My magic system is considered natural because it not only comes from the earth, but has also been used for as far back as anyone can remember and is used to various degrees by different cultures, some depending on it for survival. But it’s also considered a special ability because only some are born with the ability to use the element.

      Just remember to... Trust in God, Stay Safe, and Eat Doughnuts 🍩🍩

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