Magic systems are more than just world building in fantasy fiction. As a writer, you make the rules and can use your magic system as part of the plot.
Here are things to consider for your magic system when planning your story…
Create a challenge for your characters like newly discovered magic, opening a magical room, translating a magic book.
Represent something emotional for your MC. Maybe trauma locked away their powers. Maybe an estranged parent has answers.
Establish a social hierarchy. More power could mean more respected or feared. Certain abilities might be good or bad in society.
Tools to complete a bigger task. Maybe a specific power will achieve the final goal. Maybe a certain combination of abilities is the only way to solve a problem.
Secret magic. Perhaps magic is banned, so any magic users have to hide it. Someone could dabble in dark magic and they have to keep it a secret.
A race. There could be something special that multiple people are trying to find.
Base your magic system on something real. Manipulating natural energy or elements can make it easy to set limits and exceptions.
Magical conduits like devices, runes, spells, etc. can have specific magical effects on things or people around them.
There are probably more, but these are some of the main things that I have in various WIPS.
My favourite is connecting emotion to magic. I have a character who fears her magic because her mother couldn’t maintain control, and my MC is worried she’ll end up the same. Another WIP has merging magic that is only possible with a strong emotional connection like family, friends and extra fun when it’s between lovers.
In one WIP, I imagine the magic as a way to combine magic, science, and religion in that one all powerful being (a sort of star) released a massive amount of energy that created the universe. This being then created worlds and more masses of energy that are like stars from a science perspective but are also similar to angels. Each ability has a scientific explanation or theory behind it, such as creating wormholes like portals, breaking down and reforming physical matter for shifting, bending light, etc. Sure, much of it is pushing it in relation to exact science, but it helps me as the writer decide what is and isn’t possible.
One WIP has stones that hold the power of the elements, and only specific people can use them through special devices. The stones are also used for everyday things like light, heat, showers, helping plants grow, and powering airships.
Oops. I meant to give this one last check yesterday before posting it, since I post my writing ranting on Wednesdays. This week has been a bit weird with final prep for summer camp at work and family health stuff getting to me. Actually, this is perfect way to introduce todays post because it’s something I work on when I don’t have much.
The Fourth Wall is a new mini series I’ve started based on a TikTok video I made about my MC accidentally hearing me as the writer. I thought it would make a few short and fun pieces to have for various characters where they overhear me or tumble into my world if it suits the story’s magic system, which in some cases, it does.
It’s also a way to get an interest in my novels as prequel chapters since they’re set not long before the mains story and don’t spoil anything. I have some other short stories planned for various WIPs as non-spoiler backstories, and some bonus chapters from other POVs. But they’re something to share after I’ve published to keep people interested in between each book in the series.
Mostly, these started when I got into writing slumps or in the middle of planning. They helped with world-building and fleshing out my characters or detailing past events that don’t need whole scenes or chapters in the main book.
I have my debut novel about to go through the publication process once I’ve chosen my editor and made some decisions on art, etc. My Fourth Wall story with Clair will be available before publication as a glimpse into her life. Also, it’s something fun to write during a busy few days where I need to write but can’t focus on the main novel.
I completely agree with this. But there’s often some misunderstandings as to what elements are capable of moving a story forward.
Most people think of plot movement, which is like the skeleton of a story. It’s the structure that holds everything together, otherwise your story is just a mass of flesh and gooey gross body fluids of conversations and thoughts. These things are just as important unless you like a skinny book. Not me. I love a fuller story. But as in life, too big can be… unhealthy. Long, repetitive conversations to fatten up a book are not entertaining.
As with all elements in a story, balance is key. Plot points need to be clear and often enough to keep a good story flow. Having several chapters of characters talking and thinking can be hella boring. Trust me. I’ve read my fair share of boring chapters that lead to nothing. I love character building, but there’s a limit.
On the other hand, a character has to realise something before they can make their next move in the plot. That means dedicating a scene or two to the characters where “nothing” happens. But in actual fact, it does. People process a lot before they come to a decision or realisation about their life or situation that leads to action. This needs some attention in your story for their actions to make sense.
There’s also internal conflict in characters that inhibit their actions. Their fears and insecurities might hold them back from doing something. Without establishing these insecurities through character building scenes, their lack of action makes no sense.
These are all valid things that move the story forward as long as they don’t drag. Sprinkling some well-placed character-building scenes can give your story the meaty parts to satisfy hungry readers.