How I Created My Magic System

Yesterday, I debated whether or not sharing details about my worldbuilding fit into the purpose of this blog. I decided to compromise. I’ll disguise said sharing as a “how-to” guide — a subterfuge that probably would have been more successful had I not warned you about it…

I’ve stated before that I’m a storyteller. Worldbuilding is far down my list of priorities. I’m coming to understand, however, that a great concept combined with great craft generates the best results. It’s too late to change anything for my Power universe, but, perhaps, I’ll try to think up a really cool idea for a future series.

Regardless, what I ended up with for Power is far better than my original concept. Are you ready for the mind-blowing originality of that first idea?

Magic based on the four elements.


My great innovation? I was going to add two mages — one dealing with life magic and one with death.

First Step: Come up with a concept.

After one of my early beta readers/mentors told me that elemental magic is so overuses as to be unviable (that’s somewhat debatable; I’m not necessarily against reusing old concepts), I came up with a new concept — magic based on controlling energy.

Second Step: Make concept simple enough to convey in your story.

In all, there are a whopping ten types of mages, each based on a form of energy. I needed to limit those for the first book. When you’re introducing a new system, you want to firmly establish each concept before moving onto the next and do it in an interesting way. You’re writing a story, not a textbook.

Can you imagine trying to establish ten different types of magic? I didn’t want to devote the story space necessary to do so. Instead, for Power of the Mages, I focused on four of the types, though I mentioned the existence of the others without any detail. I justified the exclusion by having the four types I use be more common, comprising the vast majority of all magic users born.

The four are:

Alchemist – Controls the energy of chemical reactions, of which fire is the most common. This type allowed me to keep most of what I had written about my “fire mage” intact.

Kineticist – Controls the energy of motion, can impart speed and direction to an object at rest or stop an object in motion.

Masser – Controls potential energy by increasing or decreasing an object’s mass.

Death Mage – In my universe, life is a form of energy. By adding life to an injured person, you can heal them. By draining it, you can kill someone.

I also mention a Blighter as the bogeyman, a mage type that the noble use to justify executing anyone born with magical ability. This person can cause nuclear explosions.

Third Step: Limit the power.

After creating a foundation for my system and determining some of the types, the most important step is to limit the power. First, I created the stipulation that, with the exception of the death mage, no magic user can directly affect another person (thanks for the idea, Mr. Sanderson). With this limitation, the mundane have at least a small chance, albeit tiny, of defeating a mage.

The next bound (SPOILER AHEAD – don’t read this paragraph if you wish to eventually read Power of the Mages and be surprised at a key point) was to give mages the ability to block each other’s magic. Again, a completely necessary constraint for storytelling.

Fourth Step: Add complexity.

Finally, I created some complexities that aided my plot. I needed for my mages to be able to communicate over distance and, like Wheel of Time, gave them the ability to dream to each other. Instead of creating a dream world, I rationalized this trait by connecting them all to a “lake” of magic. Their power gives them access to the magic source and, through it, to each other.

Also, since my mages control energy instead of elements, I wanted to give my alchemist a little more of a weapon then just setting someone’s clothes on fire. I decided that the mage, as a part of manipulating the energy, can build up a vast reservoir of fire while containing it. He can then target an enemy and imagine a pinpoint hole in the barrier he created, causing a fiery death ray.

For the last limit, I need the magic to take some kind of toll on the user. I likened using magic to physical strain, and, if a mage overextends, it causes them to pass out.


2 thoughts on “How I Created My Magic System

  1. Thanks for your suggestion on our blog, selfpublishedgold.wordpress. I like your blog and will recommend it to writers. I’m also very intrigued by the world you’ve created for Power of the Mages. Let us know when it’s published. If you self-publish, we might review it. If you’re picked up by a publishing house, I’ll still want to read it.

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