Making Magic Work (in Books)

WritersdontcryMagicdesignMagic has fascinated me ever since reality first smacked me down. Flush with disappointment, I started wondering, like most children, what it would be like to be able to break the rules. What if, instead of a bruised nose and a messy closet, I had found Narnia? What if I could stop time, turn invisible, or make the sun come out on a cloudy day? What if I could fly--instead of fall? 

That’s the kind of wonder and willful belief magic should evoke. Magic should be so solidly thought out, so detailed and consistent, that you could almost believe the author a wizard. It should make you want your own wand—and look for the signs of enchantment in found objects. It should make you concentrate really hard on a couple of twigs wound with grass, willing it to turn into a flower. And it should make you open doors and hope, just for a second, that you’ll emerge in another world.

But to do all that, you’re going to need to think seriously about exactly how magic works in your world. Sure, you can make things up in fantasy, but consistency is what gives your story the elements of surprise, tension, and believability. And having magic in your world has a much bigger effect than just allowing you to have a wizard. Magic opens up whole new worlds of possibility—and with those, possible holes in your story. And that doesn’t even get into the effect of magic on society!

How you handle magic impacts how readers react to your book. I’ve broken down the elements of making a magic system into five basic questions. If you can answer these, you’re well on your way to creating an enchanting magic system to call your own.

What Makes a Wizard?

Wizards are born—not made. At least in most books. How about in yours? Mages can be special snowflakes, defined by rare, inborn talents they got courtesy of mutations, genetics, and accidents of fate. But mages could also be anyone—with the proper application of elbow grease and a few other reagents, that is. One book even pitted both schools against each other, with one school adhering to talent alone, and another, to education. Which one sings more to your soul?

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