An Odd Brand of Magic.
What is one to do when their magic system falls off the bandwagon? How is a writer to know how to build and shape a fantasy world that doesn't quite feel like fantasy? Why is writing magic so complicated?
I think about these questions a lot. I also think about what kind of a writer I am. Whenever someone asks, I hesitate. My stories are fantasy and history and mystery, among a hundred other things. I have slowly taken to saying I write "historical fantasy"...but what does that mean?
Fantasy is a huge field. There are countless ways to create worlds and the magic that lives within them. However, a lot of the resources and books I have come across lean towards the sides of "high" fantasy or "hard" magic systems. High Fantasy is where you create a world completely from scratch, such as Lord of the Rings. The hard magic systems have every rule drawn out, everything set in stone, and a menu of powers.
The fantasy I write is nothing like that. If you are someone who also dabbles in a quieter kind of fantasy, I'd like to lay out how I write my magic and how I mix history with fantasy.
The First Go
- When I was younger, all of my writing had hard magic in place. I would spend hours pouring over different powers, worlds I could build, and the amazing people who could control magic. Everything I wrote either felt stolen from Harry Potter, The Last Airbender, etc...As I got older, I quickly realized that creating a brand-new world, with brand-new magic, wasn't going to work for me.
Now, my first draft of As the Crow Flies had no outline. The plan I had was vague. I had no clue what was going to happen, save for some adventure and romance set in 1903. I had magical ideas of libraries and grimoires, combined with assassins and fun things like that. I sort of tossed everything I wanted to explore into this book, knowing I could weed out things in later drafts. As a result, my magic system had:
-Sun and Moon mages, with their powers being linked to feelings of home and family, blood and bone. It was cool, but I had no actual limitations or understandings in place.
-Portals. People could rip apart time and space and get where they needed to go.
-Objects filled with magic. I describe magic as being a type of energy, which can be found in certain things. Again, I never specified how this worked.
-People could stop aging, meaning some characters were centuries old. How could they do this? Beats me, but it sure was fun to write about.
I was so focused on writing the history part, having my characters go on an adventure to real-life places. 1903 seems like a magical year to me, but I had no idea how to harness that magic. It was only once I finished the first draft and could take my figurative red pen to it, that I learned what I wanted to do with my historical magic.
Second Time is Hopefully the Charm
-I took a long look at my magic. I figured out what this story was actually about. I cut things that didn't fit, I fixed plot lines, I tried to make everything a bit lusher, a bit deeper. The bare bones of the first draft were getting a brand new coat. (A coat with dozens of copper buttons, if I may say.)
I poured over all of the magical elements of the first draft. I decided the idea of Sun and Moon magic, despite it being lovely to write, did not make much sense. Neither did the idea of assassins. I was writing a story of thieves, not of killers.
So I kept the idea of magic being encased in objects. The energy within these objects can be harnessed, once your magic is awakened. It is different for everyone. It could happen in the form of a fight or a kiss or perhaps just reading a delightful book. Magic is offered to few, but there are a handful of groups that search for the best ways to harness it.
The Guild of Collection- used to collect and search (and steal) magical objects from all over the world.
The Hired Hunt- those who use magic for more violent and political purposes.
The Order of Ambrosia- those who use magic for pleasure.
Magic can be found in only very specific objects or places. I decided I needed to narrow the scope of what could be used. Here are some examples of things that possess magic.
-white & red swirls in peppermints
-paintings of the night sky
-nearly empty theatres
-nearly full carnivals
Also, I decided to keep the aging, but I would make it less extreme. There will also be some tie-ins to ribbons. No pun intended. And I kept the portals, but made them more difficult and dangerous to use. My magic before was too wide, too gaping.
Tighten your magic, tighten your story.
The Work is Never Over
-To be honest, I'm still working on my magic system. Perhaps the second time won't be the charm. I could change everything again in the third draft.
Magic is a very difficult for me to create, but I love it so much. I want to balance magic with history. I want it to be an integral part of the story, but I don't want it to override the human connections. Creating an odd brand of fantasy that doesn't even conform to your own plan is frustrating, but in the end, it's really rewarding.
To wrap things up, here is a list of some magical tips:
-Establish at least a few rules for your magic system. Don't give your characters all the power in the world. Authors like Sarah J. Maas are guilty of making all-powerful characters and it is tiresome.
-Branch out with your magic. I got so excited creating magic in small things. Perhaps your magic could revolve around...flowers. Or different forms of darkness. Or...well, I don't know, but let your imagination run wild!
-What does magic feel like? That may seem like a strange question, but it is important. Is it heavy? Is it like a weight has been lifted off the characters shoulders? Does it fuel them or exhaust them? Does it feel golden or white or red? Utilize all the senses with magic.
-For your first draft(s), just play around with magic. You will find what works and what doesn't. That's the fun of it!
Until next time,