Magic is common in novels. Fantasy isn’t just for sci-fi fanatics who love quoting Spock anymore. It isn’t just vampires, witches, demons, and gods/goddesses, but whole new worlds. Places where it would be weird if you didn’t see a unicorn walking down the street because the myths we grew up hearing stories of are so believable, they are real to readers. Superheroes, angels, demons . . . anything goes.
So how does an author make this so believable?
They build magic systems and the worlds they can’t get out of their heads layer-by-layer, and then become so immersed in them that it becomes their reality. Think of a basic character sketch. Whether you are a “pantser” or a “plotter”, you have a framework you follow when creating characters so that you don’t forget who your story is about. Do they have green eyes, blonde or black hair, glasses? Where were they born? What is their favorite food? Who do they hate? Even if the author doesn’t reveal all of this information, knowing these answers is what makes it easy to “become” the characters you are writing about. Being able to do this is what will make the character believable for readers. Therefore, it makes sense that building a world in the same way will help allow the author to imagine they are a part of it.
As a YA Fantasy writer, whenever I start a new story, the world and magic used within it is almost always so integral it has to be one of the first things I figure out. There are hundreds of ways to do this, but I always start by asking myself some basic questions:
- What kind of magic does a character possess? What can it do?
- How does it relate to them, as well as to the overall theme and plot? (Each has a separate answer, which will allow for a more rounded system.)
- How is it learned? Strengthened?
- How is it accessed/executed? Or is it uncontrollable?
- What does it cost? What restrictions apply?
- How long will it last?
- How do others react to it?
- How does the character feel about it?
These questions can be asked on an individual level, as well as a communal level. For example, in my series, Twisted Fate, Alyssa Frank is the leader of a new breed called “Pure Souls”. Not only is she destined to lead the new race of angels, ensuring she won’t fit in with the humans she was raised to believe she was a part of, but she inherited magic, which protects her until her eighteenth birthday. All of this makes her so special—important to a future only the Sisters of Fate are aware of—angels are assigned to make sure she reaches her predetermined destiny, to protect her against Darkness and Death’s grasp. At the same time, Alyssa’s very existence and the powers she wields goes against everything angels know to believe.
There are great series—Vampire Academy, Twilight, Soul Screamers, House of Night, etc.—that are so well-built, they answer all the above questions, and more. Each started with an idea that was built on by its respective author, and then written with such conviction, we were all forced to believe, if only long enough until we regrettably reached, “The End.“
Have you ever built a magical system or new world for one of your stories? Do you have questions not listed, or a method that is completely different? I would love to hear from you! Please visit my blog or website, and leave me a message.
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