High Fantasy Friday – Magic

I said in an earlier post that my story didn’t involve magic, but that wasn’t entirely true. My story does involve magic, but it’s of a different kind. It doesn’t have wizards (like in Harry Potter or–more appropriate for the post–The Sword of Truth) but it relies on a magic system more akin to The Lord of the Rings, where magic is often subtle and affects those tied to it. Basically: there are many types of magic, and I’ll go over some points you should remember about magic in this post.

If you’ve ever watched Once Upon a Time, you’ll learn that “all magic comes with a price”. Many stories are this way. The hero needs magic to save someone he loves, and so he uses this magic despite the warning attached to it. He ends up in mortal peril, dead, or wishing he were dead. Then there might be a sequel where he has to fix whatever happened to him. It’s a common theme to make magic behave this way, and when magic requires a price, it usually becomes a rare sort of thing, costly and hard to obtain.

Whether or not your magic is a double-edged sword, there are some “rules” to remember when writing magic.

Firstly, you must decide the origins and limitations of magic. Write it down on a separate document or in a notebook. Where did magic come from? Was it created or found? Can anyone use magic, or can it only be used by certain people? Can it bring back the dead or restore youth? In my high fantasy, magic comes from the gods. Excluding them, only demigods and those blessed with magic can wield it. There are loop holes, though. A mortal can evoke a curse on magical grounds and have it work, and sometimes things happen in certain places that cannot be explained.

I’ve defined both my history and limitations in my short summery. Now you must decide upon yours. Planning out where magic comes from and what its limitations are is the first step in creating a world infused with magic. It’ll help with the writing process. If you know everything from the start, you won’t make a mistake about it early on. (Ex: You decide all magic comes with a price, though your MC has been using magic fine throughout the story without consequence)

Choose how your magic can be used. In the Harry Potter universe, they almost always need magic wands to cast spells, and they can’t cast the spell forever and it can’t reach the other side of the earth. Magic isn’t an almighty power source; it has range, limits, and a cost. Usually, the draining of one’s own energy is the cost of using magic, but in some stories, those able to wield magic can drain it from other sources (The Black Magician series comes to mind).

After you decide all this, the next step would be to write how magic fits in with the rest of society. If you have magical characters walking around, are people going to react differently to them? In Howl’s Moving Castle, Howl was a mysterious wizard who most people preferred to avoid because of the awful rumours he spread about himself. He ran a business under a disguise, selling magical solutions for a price, and people relied on that version of him. In The Black Magician series, magicians are seen almost like celebrities, though there are those who strongly oppose them. When you write your story, decide if you want your magical characters to be treated as heroes or outcasts. If magic is a secret to society, are there groups dedicated to keeping that secret alive?

If you want to add realism to your high fantasy, bring in real-world elements to your magic. Study up on different magical practices around the world and write them into your story, but if you go down this route, make sure you’re accurate about what you write.

Lastly, don’t over-explain your magic system. There should be a certain air of mystery where magic is concerned. If you describe everything to death, there isn’t going to be room for the reader to feel like you’re talking about magic. It’s just going to be another set of rules they have to remember.

I like stories where magic is used as a plot device, and I encourage that way of storytelling. Magic doesn’t have to be included in high fantasy, however. There are just those of us who prefer to read high fantasy books with that element, and those of us who do not.

To summarize: remember the rules you create, know the limitations, and have fun with it.

Happy writing,


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