The type of magic system you build for your story will have a big impact on its success.
You may ask, what is a magic system?
Simply put, a magic system in fantasy writing is the set of rules and abilities that characterise the magic in the world in which your story is set.
Choosing which one is best for you is a very important step in building your world.
There are two types of magic systems
Soft magic system: This type of magic system has flexible and abstract rules. Here the writer does not spend a lot of time explaining the magic of his world, you know that it is there and that it must respect certain limitations, but it never goes into detail.
Hard magic system: This type of magic system is very detailed. It contains many strict rules and many limitations. The reader has to make an effort to remember everything magic can do and what it is not allowed to do. This of course requires more work and attention from the writer, but for some stories it is the most suitable choice.
There is no one better than the other, each is perfect depending on what you need. You have to understand and choose what your story needs and never look back.
Related article: How to Choose Between a Hard or Soft Magic System
That said, I now present you with…
The best tips for building a magic system that will drive your readers crazy (with joy of course)!
Choose the purpose of magic in your book
Before you create your magic system, however, you must know why you are creating it.
What is the purpose of magic in your story? To help or to get your characters into trouble? Is there really a place for magic in the story or do you just want to include it because you like it?
You need this because without a purpose you won’t be able to work out what is best for your story and you risk making it too confusing.
We as writers want to take the characters, and the readers, on a certain journey with our story. It becomes very complicated to do this if you don’t have a specific goal to aim for.
Establish what is realistic in your word
The point is not to compare your world with the real world you live in. But it is to compare the world you have created with itself.
You have to decide what laws command it and make it real. Rules are absolutely necessary for a story to hold up.
Take the law of gravity for example. If it were only true when it suited us but disappeared as soon as it became inconvenient, it would no longer make sense as a concept.
It would no longer be a law, we would all do as we please and it would no longer be believable.
And this, speaking of magic, happens a lot in many books and films.
I am sure it has happened to you that after closing a good book, you start to think a bit about what you have just read and realise that something does not add up.
Sometimes all you have to do is think about it for a while and thoughts come up like, “Wait, but if he could do this, why didn’t he use it to defeat the bad guy on that other occasion?”
And the only answer is that the writer didn’t want to use magic to solve that particular situation. This answer destroys the meaning of the whole story.
There must be real parts to magic, which are non-negotiable. If a spell exists to bring the dead back to life, at no cost, but your characters don’t use it when needed, that’s a plot hole.
Many people when they think of magic think of something powerful, that can make anything possible. But that can’t be the case. Because if everything is possible, nothing is impossible.
So in your story there could be no problem, no suspense, no consequences, because in two seconds you solve everything with magic.
“What some would deem as magic, others would define as everyday life“
Don’t make the magic system too complicated
Take Beauty and the Beast for example. A very famous fairy tale that contains a lot of suspense and therefore engages the viewer right to the end.
The magic system in this story is very simple.
It is known that the prince has been cursed and turned into a beast. The only way to reverse the transformation and break the spell is for someone to fall in love with him, for what he really is.
All this, however, must happen before a rose loses all its petals; if it does not happen in time, the curse will remain on both the prince and the entire kingdom forever.
The rules here are very simple. There is no other way out of the curse and the magic is direct and clear. That is exactly what you must try to do.
It doesn’t have to be anything complicated, the simpler it is for you the easier it will be for the readers and they will all live happily ever after.
Reminder: Of course, if your story requires a magic system with more rules, that is perfectly fine.
However, remember to mark well every single restriction it must respect, because as we have already said, a law that is only respected when it is convenient loses all its value.
If magic is in everyday life, it is an everyday thing for characters
Remember that if you are born with magic, you will use it continuously in everyday life.
For those born with magic powers, using magic is like using your legs to walk. Especially if the use of magic has no consequences.
In some series for example after using magic the characters feel very tired, depending on the power of the spell.
But in Harry Potter for example, the use of spells has no consequences on the person who cast them. They do not exert either physical or mental effort.
That is why it makes complete sense that in a house of wizards like the Weasleys, everything is filled with magic.
From the radio to the clocks, everything shows us how naturally they use it in their daily lives.
If in your story magic is a normal detail without many restrictions. you too must keep in mind that the characters will use it all the time to make their lives easier.
You also have to remember that they will never know how difficult it is to open a can of tuna fish precisely because they can open three at a time with a glance.
Test the resistance of your magic system
Play with it. Imagine what would be possible and what would not be possible following the rules you set. Look for plot holes.
Do what discerning readers will do, wander around looking for something that doesn’t fit, and once you find it, solve the puzzle.
Besides being fun, this is a really important step because the last thing we want is to unintentionally insert giant plot holes into our story through magic.
You have to be very careful that nothing of your magic interferes with the logic of your story.
And above all, be especially careful not to make any character on the level of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent god because that would certainly create huge plot problems.
What makes stories interesting, whether books, films or TV series, is tension.
The story begins when the troubles begin. A farmer working her harvest every day and returning to her beautiful home would simply not interest anyone.
We would all be waiting for the moment of tension, the action ready to spoil the moment of peace.
And a god-like character would prevent this tension from existing, thus ruining the story.
Keep in mind:
Take your time to understand your magic system and especially its limitations. As Sanderson’s Second Law says: Limitations > Powers.
The limits of your magical powers are the most interesting part of the magic in your fantasy book.
So look for them, study them, and make them important obstacles for your characters.
Remember that if you are writing the first draft of your book it is good to decide these things right away but if there are problems during the writing process you can solve them comfortably when it is time to edit. D
on’t put too much pressure on yourself, happy writing!
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To sum up
You must establish clear rules and boundaries for your magic system so that readers will be able to understand and appreciate how the magic works in your story.
Even if you are creating a soft magic system, you must have a clear idea of the magic you are using or you risk giving the reader confusing information.
To begin with, you can ask yourself: how does magic work in my fictional world?
What are the origins of magic and what are the rules that govern it? What are the consequences of using magic?
Furthermore, you can create unique spells and enchantments that fit into your magic system.
You can create characters that have special magical abilities, or develop the plot of your book around magic.
The magic system must be integrated into your worldbuilding, and you must take into account the impact it has on society and the relationships between characters.
In this way, you can create a believable and engaging fictional world that will immerse your readers in your story.
In short, writing a magic system for your books takes time and dedication, but it can make the difference between a mediocre story and a highly successful work.
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