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.