World Building Wednesday – The Price of Magic

Pick a card, any card – wait, not that one!

Abracadabra! I’ve built a word… that’s how it works, right? A little bit 😉 There certainly is magic in world building, and so today, I’m going to talk a little about putting magic in world building. In one way, it’s a little bit like science fiction – there’s a range you can use: hard magic is at one end and soft magic is at the other end.

Hard Magic

Out of the two systems, I think this one is easier for writers to use in their books, though it might be harder to think of the system. At the most basic, there are rules for magic, specific rules that the reader knows about and can trust the author to follow.

I have to say that Brandon Sanderson is a great example (he has “Sanderson’s Three Laws of Magic, which I’ll put at the bottom), and another great example would be super heroes in general – even if the idea is impossible and improbable, there is always a weakness (usually several) and the reader knows what it is (interested in a piece of Kryptonite ?)

Soft Magic

This type is normally used when the main character doesn’t use magic, and/or when magic is never certain and it’s dangerous. Main conflicts tend to be fixed without magic (and magic in general is dangerous, unknown, and seems to be in a constant state of flux).

The Lord of the Rings, or honestly any fairy tales, are good examples of this systems. The reader knows there is magic, but we have no idea how it works, it’s a mystery, and all we can do is stand in awe (possibly have a bit of panic) before the spell hits.

Blended Magic

I think Harry Potter shows a good way to blend magic. There are rules, sure, but they aren’t many hard ones, or if there are, the reader doesn’t know about them; we know enough to see how it can hinder the character.

“It’s LeviOsa, not LevioSA!” Hermione shows that the stress and pronunciation of the word affect how this spell is cast.

In addition, the levitation charm needs to have the right wand movement – a nice swish and flick. Oh, and you need a wand of a certain size, flexibility, and magical core to choose you.

But… do you remember the rules to the other spells? How they’re said and practiced? I don’t – I remember some spells in general, and overall I remember which ones can’t be done, such as no bringing back the dead and no magicking food/money. None of us do really. However, Hermione helps us realize that there are existing rules and we don’t need to know the details.

Sanderson’s Three Laws of Magic

  • 1 – A satisfying, magical solution to conflict depends on how well the reader understands the magic.
  • 2 – Weaknesses like limits and costs, are more interesting than the powers themselves.
  • 3 – Expand, see how you can use what you already have, before you add.

Laws of Magic information is from Sanderson’s Blog

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