Magic in Fantasy

Author: Anastasia V. Pergakis // Category:

Magic in Fantasy
"Magic in Society"

***** I interrupt this normally scheduled post for an important announcement. *****

I am officially done with the rewrite for "Burden of Prophecy"

*confetti falls*

It still needs a lot of editing work, but at least I got all the plot points figured out. Now it's just polishing things up (including getting ALL that passive voice outta there. It's a nasty habit I have but for the sake of 'Just get it written', I just wrote it.)

So, it's on the backburner for a little while to give my brain a break (My characters are crying over this fact, btw.) Then - editing and polishing time! I'm so looking forward to that - it'll be SO much easier than the rewrite I just did - seriously.

***** We now return you to your normally scheduled program. ******

I know I did a long series earlier about world building, but I think it needs a revisit. I forgot one very important element in any fantasy series - MAGIC. (How on earth could I forget that? I know!) I made sure I talked about technology (especially for the sci-fi folks out there) but totally spaced about magic! *facepalms* I am so ashamed!

Magic in Society

How does magic work in the society you have built? How do people view it? What types of magic do you have? What are the rules to using magic?

Let's answer those questions one by one.

How does magic work in the society you have built?
  • Where does the magic come from? Inside the characters? Outside?
  • Do they have powers or can they use spells? Do they have both?
  • Are they born with a power then develop it or do they choose for themselves and learn it?
  • Who has magic? Everyone? Only a select few?
In The Faery's Tale, the faeries' magic comes from inside of them. It's a part of who they are, just like an arm or a leg. They can use spells, but mostly they just have a power that resides within them. Other worlds have only spells or the magic comes from outside the characters. They draw the power from the earth, sky, etc. It all depends how you want your world to work.

Once you have this figured out, you have to put it into your story without just saying it. Do you have someone just learning their magic? What does it feel like to them? Explain how the magic works that way. It is much better to show it through a characters view than to just write it all down in an 'information dump'.

Why would only a select few have magic? Is it because they are a woman or a man or a certain race? Think about all the different reasons (or created tension) caused by only a select few having powers for whatever reason. Then of course, you can always make the exception to this rule! (Like in a society where only men have magic - suddenly have a girl have it! *gasp*)

How do people view it?
  • Is magic frowned upon? Punishable by death? Hefty fine for using it?
  • Do people need to pay a tax to use magic?
  • For those that don't have magic - how do they feel about not having any?
  • For thos that do - how do they feel about having it?
Since my novel has all the faeries having a power, it is considered the norm for them. It's a regular part of their life just like growing up. It is not the focal point of their society, it's just -- THERE. But what about other worlds?

Magic that is frowned upon could cause a lot of tension for a story. A magical revolution! What if in the situation above where only men had power but suddenly a woman did? How would everyone react to that? What sort of uproar would that cause?

It's easy to center an entire plot around magic but it's not the only way to write a fantasy novel. In 'The Faery's Tale', their magic is not the main plot - it is a side plot in a way as I have one character who was born without a power - and thus is tormented by everyone else for being different. Others stories have magic just the common place with the plot and subplots focusing on other things entirely. It all depends how the author wanted to write the story! That's the great thing about fantasy (well writing fiction at all really) you get to make it up!

What types of magic does your world have?
  • Chaos and Order? Black and White? Good and Bad?
  • Elemental? (Fire, Earth, Air, Water)
  • "Mundane?" (Magic can be found in every day things too! Cooking, sewing, gardening, etc - think of how you can turn that into something MORE magical.)
The faeries in my novel have a mix of powers. Some are elemental types but there are some "mind powers" like telepathy and telekinesis. Each world is different and it depends on how you planned out your world. If the elements are a huge focus in your story, it might be good to have elemental type magic. Chaos and Order, Black and White and Good and Bad Magics are popular to use but it is something that will never get old. Take the same idea and make it your own!

What are the rules to using magic?
  • Do your characters become tired when they use their magic or do spells?
  • If they used them too much could they hurt themselves - even die?
  • What about the ramifications of using their powers for "personal gain?"
  • How long must they attend school/tutoring before they are allowed to use their power without permission or supervision?
  • Do they recieve some sort of sign (medallion, tattoo, etc) that show what level of power they are?
  • Is there anything that can prevent them from using their magic (besides other magic)?
This is another question that makes you think of how magic works in your novel. Characters that are born with a power would obviously need to develop it in some way. Even if they choose their own power they must be taught how to use it. (If not, serious consequences could result!)

When I say "prevent them from using magic" I don't mean laws or rules that say they can't but something that physically prevents them from using it. Iron is a popular element to keep a person from using magic. (Like Kryptonite to Superman!) Would your world have something else? A certain gem or plant? Another type of metal? How does your character react being around the object? Do they get sick or could it kill them? Pain? In The Faery's Tale, my faeires become nauseous around iron and a little 'off balance'. Slow reaction time, a bit of dizzyness, etc. If they try to use their power around or while touching it, they could die.

World building is an intense process - I know. But it's so worth it when you hash out the tiny details before, trust me.

5 Responses to "Magic in Fantasy"

kah Says :
June 25, 2010 at 4:52 PM

Good questions. Those will def come in handy for my stories which also require some world building.

It's so much fun though! :)

Congrats on finishing the rewrite!
*hands you a celebratory cupcake*

Unknown Says :
June 25, 2010 at 6:05 PM

Great post! I'm going to link to this in my next installment of World Building on Sunday!!

Kristie Cook Says :
June 26, 2010 at 5:22 PM

This was a great post that I'm adding to my personal writers workbook (along with your character sheet and other bible stuff). I immediately had to check out the rest of your world-building posts. Awesomeness!! Kudos to you for putting this all together and sharing it. Thank you!

And more kudos and confetti and chocolate to go with Karen's cupcake for finishing the rewrite! Woot!

Olivia J. Herrell, writing as O.J. Barré Says :
June 27, 2010 at 1:24 AM

Haha, love your poem!

Thank you for the great post. I just wrote a short story involving fairies that will be worked in to a novel at some point down the line. These are all good questions, I'll have to bookmark your post (or print it off) for future reference.

Congrats on your manuscript!


Jason Black Says :
July 2, 2010 at 1:51 AM

Nice post. It's very similar, in a sort of side-by-side, parallel but different kind of way, to a post I wrote earlier this week about the connection between settings and the characters who live in them.

The presence of magic--in whatever form you decide it takes, and the guidelines in this post will definitely help you figure that out--is exactly the kind of thing that factors into a setting such that it ends up being a part of every thought, action, reaction, and decision the characters make.

If you liked this post for guidance on how to deal with magic, specifically, you might enjoy the one on my blog for how to derive appropriate character attitudes et cetera from ALL the elements of your setting.

You can find the post here:

Post a Comment