Monday, June 2, 2014

How to Establish a Great Magic System, Part Seven

Okay, I'm back to talk about the next question to ask yourself when setting up your magic system.

Question 7: What are the limitations of the magic?

The limitations of a magic system are what sets it apart from everything else that has already been done. These limitations will force the characters to have to work for their goals, which makes the writing simply more interesting and the characters more sympathetic.

Limitations in magic give the enemy an advantage, which makes for more tension in your novel. And that makes it exciting!

This is where you can really shine. Force yourself to stretch your imagination and come up with something that is unique in it’s limitation. This is tied closely with cost, and the cost of using magic could lead to a limitation. So spend some time on both of these to truly work out what’s WEAK about your magic, and what’s WEAK about your character, and then have them work and strive to overcome those weaknesses. Because that’s what readers like to read about – regular people who are weak becoming heroes. It’s why Superman is so popular. Or Spiderman. Joe Bloggs who can’t get the girl can suddenly leap off tall buildings and save the world. We want to BE that hero. But not if he’s all-powerful. We want to see in ourselves that we could become that person. So the magic still has to have a limitation, a weakness, that makes it “human.”

When you establish limitations on your magic, it can:

  • Force the MC to work for their goals
  • Makes the MC more sympathetic
  • Increase tension
  • Tie to the nature of your world

So what limitations does your magic have?

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). My magic series is here: Question 1, Question 2, Question 3, Question 4Question 5, and Question 6.

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.)


S.A. Larsenッ said...

Your opening sentence is one I'm going to have to ponder all day long. Much truth swirls within that statement.

Uh ... See, I'm thinking. Geez, and it's a Monday morning and everything.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great post. So true about the magic system and characters needing weaknesses. I need to go back and read what I missed.

Nicole said...

Just piping in to say I'm continuing to enjoy this series. Limitations in magic give everything a sense of heightened tension and stakes. I love it! Brandon Sanderson does this really well in many of his magic systems.

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