Question 3: What is the Purpose of the Magic?
- Contributes to character motivation?
- Main element or mysterious?
- Serves the story?
Maybe this should be question 1, but you need to know the purpose of your magic system. Is it the main element of your book, or something more mysterious, happening behind the scenes? How much does it affect your main character, what they do, their motivations?
The purpose of the magic should be to serve your story. If it’s just some “cool” element and has no real place in the plot, you’ll have a well, not a very good book. The purpose of the magic must be convincing and cohesive to both character development and plot, or it’s just lame. So make the magic integral to both character and plot.
I think any time you can make the elements of world, setting, character, and plot cross -- meaning one impacts the other in a meaningful and uncontrived way -- your novel will feel like it was done deliberately, and readers always want to feel like the author is in control of what's unfolding on the page.
So examining the purpose of the magic can help you develop character motivation, character flaws, character strengths, and determine character growth. The purpose of the magic can (and should!) advance the plot. The purpose of the magic can be tied up in the world/setting. Everything can be intertwined so that when things start going bad, everything starts going bad -- which allows your main character to develop into a hero.
I did use Google to aid me in my research. I found three places that provided me with the most insight and useful information: Brandon Sanderson's Laws of Magic (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), WikiHow (don't laugh, it had good stuff!), and The Four Part Land (he has six parts, but they're all linked at the top of this one).
So I read (ahem, maybe I skimmed a little. Some of the posts are long!) up on magic systems. I thought about what *I* liked in a magic system. I thought about the fantasy novels I'd read (because I don't read high-high fantasy like Sanderson or many of the authors/titles they talk about in these posts). I thought about Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, the TV show Merlin, movies like The Prestige, and other -- in my opinion -- accessible references. (Basically I'm saying I was too lazy to take the time to read those high fantasy novels. I reflected on what I was familiar with. And that's a tip I always give when I'm teaching: Use what you know to draw conclusions and create learning for what you don't.)