marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,
marycatelli
marycatelli

Consistent Magic Systems in Fantasy

From the program description:

"In many fantasies, particularly in very popular YA fantasy series, magic seems…well…magical. Things happen for no reason beyond the quick application of a magic wand. Is it possible to make magic systems consistent? Who are some authors who’ve managed to achieve this?"

The first question was left out of the description:  do you want to make your magical system consistent?  What are the advantages and disadvantages of it?

The obvious disadvantage is that it makes it so  much less magical.  Magic is unexplained causality.  Drinking willow-bark tea for your headache used to be magic.  Nowadays, magic tends to be "stuff that people used to think would work, but which science has debunked, so that if they work at all, it's sorcery -- trafficking with evil spirits."  But part of the flair, the wonders, the marvels, is its unpredictability.

The obvious advantage lies in plotting.  You can make it clear what your characters can and can not do so that your readers neither assume that the fight will be a snap, nor refuse to believe that your character can actually win.  Rhetoric can pull this off, but consistency helps too.

I blame Ursula K. LeGuin.  Tolkien made his magical characters supporting ones, and not even human at that, and Robert E. Howard set Conan and his ilk against the sorcerers in his sword and sorcery.  But LeGuin put the magic in the hands of the main character, and not safely encapsulated in a ring, or an enchanted sword, which could have its own unfathomable depths.

System is quite useful, but on the whole, I find a broad strokes approach to be best.  If the reader knows the sorts of things your wizard can do, and knows vaguely the price he has to pay -- the steeper the more powerful the wizardry is, the character can be contained within the bounds of plot


part of bittercon.
Tags: bittercon, conflict, genre, plotting, sensawunda, world-building: magic (plot device), world-building: metaphysics
Subscribe

  • sword & sorcery goes to war

    When sorcery goes to war, what would it do? How would the kingdom use wizards? How would wizards work in kingdoms? Like, becoming king? (And, come to…

  • tactical decisions

    This is the story with the military stuff. Rounding out the short story cycle. Sneak in, magically sabotage the necromancer, sneak out, factoring in…

  • Plot devices

    John Gardner once sagely observed that writing exercises were good practice because they were like the writing life, much of which consists of…

  • Post a new comment

    Error

    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

  • 20 comments

  • sword & sorcery goes to war

    When sorcery goes to war, what would it do? How would the kingdom use wizards? How would wizards work in kingdoms? Like, becoming king? (And, come to…

  • tactical decisions

    This is the story with the military stuff. Rounding out the short story cycle. Sneak in, magically sabotage the necromancer, sneak out, factoring in…

  • Plot devices

    John Gardner once sagely observed that writing exercises were good practice because they were like the writing life, much of which consists of…