Tips on Building a Fantasy Magic System

Before I get to the topic of today’s post, I need some input from my readers. I’ve been discussing my blog with one of my author friends. It’s his opinion that I should add more reader-friendly content. I know that this blog is geared toward writers and other bloggers, and, frankly, I don’t want to change that no matter the potential advantages.

On the other hand, would it hurt to add in a few articles about my world in particular?

On the other hand from that, would it actually add anything to do so? Is anyone out there actually interested in stuff like the magic system I created for Power of the Mages?

I’d love some feedback in the comments section.

Now, on with the show…

There are two types of speculative fiction writers — those who believe that speculative fiction writers can be grouped into two categories and those who… Yes, I know that I’ve used this joke before. Yes, I know that it wasn’t all that funny the first time.

There are two types of speculative fiction writers (for the purposes of this post, anyway) — those who create a world as background for their stories, and those who create stories to showcase their world. I’m definitely a storyteller.

In the end, though, I don’t think it much matters which you are. Worldbuilders have to tell stories, and storytellers, for speculative fiction, have to build worlds.

For fantasy, the major portion of that world, almost a character unto itself, is the magic system. Here are some considerations when creating yours:

1. Be consistent. That’s the most important advice I can give you. You can do anything you want with your magic, but you have to stay true to the rules that you create. I suggest spending a lot of time thinking about the ramifications of each piece of information you come up with and keeping a comprehensive list/guide.
2. Don’t let your magic be overpowering. Tension is created by the reader’s doubt that your character can accomplish his goal. If he has access to superpowerful magic, your opposition has to be even more superpowerful, and, after a while, your story risks becoming ridiculous with the escalation.
3. Magic should be simple enough to understand but complex enough to create surprises and twists. You need to be able to explain the broad strokes of your system to your reader using a few simple paragraphs. When the magic is first encountered, you can’t spend a whole chapter detailing the ins and outs. Instead, you need to show them just a taste and expand their knowledge from there. On the other hand, if it’s too simple, there’s no room for that great zing moment later in the book/series.
4. Magic needs to create as many problems as it solves. Tension drives interest, so, if magic solves all the characters’ problems, you don’t have a story.

It occurs to me that all my tips deal with using magic to tell a story whether than how to create a magic system. Maybe it does matter whether you’re a storyteller or a worldbuilder.