All you need to know about creating magic systems

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Magic is one of my favourite things about writing fantasy. When I decided to write a post on it I simultaneously squealed with excitement and chewed my nails in fear.
That’s quite the picture isn’t it?
The thing about magic is that it’s such a wide topic that I’m not sure if I can fit it all into one post.
But it’s part of how I plan my novel which is why I simply need to write about it now.
Maybe in the future I will write a post series about it but for now I will simply see how much clear information I can cram into one post.

There are key elements in all magic systems that form the base of how it works.
The first would obviously be the wielder. (The person who does magic)
And the second is the rules that the magic must follow. (The How to part)
The third would be the effect of the magic. (How the magic touches the world.)

These three together is called a system.
You develop a system by answering questions until you have all three key elements.

The wielder. Who is doing the magic?
Different systems handle this differently so I’m going to give you a list of examples but what kind of magic wielder you need depend on what you feel will work best for your story.

Natural born.
As the name implies these are the people who are born with power. In these cases it’s normally because of their bloodline.
If you are going to choose natural born as your magic system then ask yourself how many people are born with this power? What social class are they normally?

The chosen ones.
Sometimes magic chooses its own wielder. In Eragon the dragon egg hatched for him and only him.
If chosen ones are a part of your magic system then ask yourself what characteristics does someone have to have to be chosen by the magic?

The searcher.
Normally if searchers are a part of your system then anyone can do magic but these are the only ones to practice it.
These are the ones who is capable of doing magic for no other reason than they practiced.
If searchers are a part of your system give a reason why people don’t practice magic anymore despite the fact that they can.

Everybody
In one of my all time favourite book series, Codex Alera everyone has powers.
Everyone uses magic and it has become a part of their daily lives.
If you chose to make everybody a magic wielder then remember that it will affect the way people live.

The super natural.
This is your more normal werewolf, fairies, ogres, old hags, and trolls sort of magic.
If you use the super natural ask how the normal people see them? Are they monster or are they gods?

The only
Sometimes in an entire race only one has magic. This is the one divine magic user.
If you choose this one you must once again ask how people view this person.
One of these must have given you some sort of idea. It might even have given you two. That’s a good thing because a lot of these can be paired up together. If you like two of these and they can work together then go for it.

The rules of magic.
A lot of people go around saying that magic is a free thing that shouldn’t contained with rules but let me make it simple. Without rules magic will be able to defeat the villain in two seconds flat and that’s just lazy writing.
Every magic system ever has certain rules even if some of them are a little vague.
In Harry Potter you can see that there are certain rules for magic.
• You need a wand.
• You need to say the spell.
• You cannot make food.

See? Rules.
All magic systems have either rules like this or restrictions of some kind.

The first question you need to answer when developing your magic rules is where does the magic come from?
What is the source of your magic?

Different sources of magic.
• Inside the wielder.
Sometime power comes from inside of the wielder ready to be poured into the world.
• From a special object.
Magic can come from special objects. It can be anything from a wand to a tree.
• From a regular object.
Sometimes the magic is held in normal objects where the wielder takes it from and uses.
• Everywhere.
This power source is closely related to the power from regular objects because it is everywhere. The wielder takes it out of the sky or the plants and use it as they wish.

The second question that you need to answer is what do you have to do to use the magic.
I can’t give you a bulletin list of methods here because this is something you need to figure out yourself.
Think in terms of A+B=C
In Harry potter it is wand+ magic spell= magic
In Brandon Sandersons MistBorn it is metal+ burning it = alomancy.
So what is it that your magic wielders need to do in order to use magic.

What is the cost of using magic?
Nothing comes without a price.
In a lot of stories the price of using magic is being exhausted or burning yourself out. Severe cases can often include death.

Different kind of costs.
• Physical.
Physical costs are your regular voodoo sort of thing where you cut yourself up or bleed to death for a spell.
It works well as a cost because it is one of the more obvious costs because you give up your physical form and health for magic.
• Power exchange.
As I already mentioned some people are exhausted by magic. This is a really popular cost among those who’s magic source is within the wielder themselves
It actually follow some laws of science in the form of if you want something to happen you are going to need to put energy into it.
• Withdrawal.
It sounds a little bad but this is one of my favourite kinds of costs because it isn’t a direct cost that comes from the little A+B equation, but instead it’s more of a side effect.
How it works is that while you are using magic you are “high.”
What they are doing doesn’t matter so much as the fact that it makes them more then normal.
But when you go back to normal is when the withdrawal comes in.
Suddenly you feel as if your senses have been shut off and you are incapacitated.
• Cursed.
Sometimes having magic is a curse. The price you pay to do magic is a constant annoyance for you.
• Mentality.
This one isn’t very common but sometimes having so much magic at your finger tips is a dangerous thing that destroys the mind and leaves the wielder a husk of the person they used to be.
The effect of magic.
Despite the fact that I’m sure you already figured out what you want your magic to do I think it’s time I ask anyway.
What does your magic do?
What your magic does is what I like to call the effect but there are all kinds of effects.
Different kinds of magic.
• You get the elemental magic.
This magic is based on what was once considered the 4 elements. Fire, water, air & earth.
You don’t need to use only those four you can add as many elements as you want such as steel or forest.
• You get Mental magic.
You use this magic to mess with people’s heads. It’s as easy as that.
• Physical magic.
This is the kind of magic that brings something new into the world.
With this magic you create something new.
It’s the kind of magic I’m going to be using in my next novel.
• Special abilities.
These are things such as super strength and x-ray eyes.
• Assorted.
This is basically Harry potter kind of magic, which has a little bit of everything.
• Attributes.
These are things such as fangs and wings. It’s something that can be counted as a part of the magic wielder.
While I’m sure there is more but these are the only ones could think of right now. That’s another good thing about magic, people can tell you whatever they want and it isn’t necessarily true. What I’m doing in this post is giving you ideas and basic information, what you chose to do with it depends on you.

Now while how magic appears does count as effect there is another form of effect I want to talk about. How has magic changed the world?
Why would we make candles if all of us can create light out of nothing?
What would our clothes look like if all of us can fly?

Now that you know what exactly your magic does and who wields it ask yourself how it affects the world around it.

Another way that magic effect the world building process is the question, how is magic wielders treated?
In some stories they are the nobility while in others they are the ones being hunted.

Where do your magic wielders fall into the social system?

If your magic wielders are anything but nobility ask yourself why they haven’t taken over the world yet. Why do they put up with us normal people?
Another important question is where does your magic wielders learn magic?
Let’s face it, we all just thought Hogwarts!
Unfortunately unless you are writing fan fiction your magic wielders cannot attend Hogwarts.
But if you think that is what you would like to do then how about you create your own magic academy?
Each magic academy has their own special system that I think will have to be left for a different post.
Other ways of learning magic.
• One on one between the Hero and mentor.
• Learning from books.
• Taught by family as a child.
• Instinctual.
• Spirits that are explaining everything.

 

So that’s the crash course of magic systems.

I hope this helped you in some way or another.

In which book is your favourite magic system?

Have you ever created a magic system that you are ridiculously proud of?

Is there anything you think I left out of this post?

7 comments

Add Yours
  1. Kristi

    This was a really interesting read. I have a magic-type system in my group of stories, and I often wonder if I’m doing it well enough. Reading through this, I was able to pick out how my system worked in every area. Considering how foreign most of this is to me, it’s good to be able to think that I’ve done a more thorough job than I might have thought.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Joy Pixley

    OOOH what a fun post! I could talk about magic systems all day, and you bring up all the same points that I would.

    Now that you ask, yes, I have created a magic system that I am ridiculously (emphasis on ridiculously) proud of. And yes, I have spent an embarrassing amount of time thinking through all these issues about it. Do you have a description of your magic system somewhere (other than in your books, I mean)? I’d love to hear more. My magic system was necessarily founded on the D&D / D20 arcane v. divine distinction (see my About Author page if you want more on that), but I modified it pretty significantly to make it work in a realistic world setting. I haven’t included a real description of my magic system on my blog yet, but one of my stories indirectly answers many of these questions. If you have the chance, I’d love to hear any feedback or questions you have on it.

    https://talesofeneana.wordpress.com/2015/06/28/burning-questions/

    Liked by 1 person

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