Creating a Magic System

Four Questions to Answer When Creating Your Own Magic System

Magic has been something writers have added to their stories for as long as stories have been told. Zeus changed into a swan to seduce Leda. Your RPG character throws fireballs at the Demogorgon.

If you want to write fantasy, or even contemporary fantasy, you’re going to want to add some kind of magic to your world. It could be tiny hints or it could be full blown, in your face MAGIC.

What Level of Magic Do You Want?

As I mentioned above, you get to decide how much magic you want your world to be able to access. Do you want it to be more like Game of Thrones where magic is still something people are in awe over? Something very few in the world can possess?

Or, do you want it to be something that everyone knows about?

Draw a scale. Make it One to Ten. Make it One to some other crazy number if you need to. On One, you can write No Magic. On the largest number you can write MAGIC IN YO FACE. Or not. But that highest number would be the equivalent of being a witch/wizard in Harry Potter.

Decide where you’d like your story to fall on that scale. This scale affects how the people of your world interact with magic. It affects their views of it, their handling of it. If you and I were to see every day magic there would be some crazy awe and maybe even fear. But, if Mr. Weasley were to see magic, his eyes would pass right over it because it’s everywhere.

Are you following me?

Answer the questions below to better build your system of magic.

Who Has Access to Magic?

The level of magic on your scale should affect how you respond to this question.

If everyone can access magic, then it becomes normal. What they use it for also becomes normalized.

But, if it is only accessed by a select few, then that magic starts to carry some awe.

What Kind of Magic?

This question is a kind of diamond. It has so many facets that it’s hard to look at one side at a time. Let’s start by addressing a few questions at a time.

  1. What is the source of this magic?
  2. How does one access it?
  3. What does this magic do?
  4. What are its limits?

Answering at least these four questions should give you a good jumping point into understanding the system.

The source of the magic can come from a great number of things. It could be from the blood of a god running through your veins. It could be an innate thing that you are born with. It could come through a sacrifice or a tithe. But, it has to come from something.

This leads directly into our next question: how to access it. As Hermoine said, “It’s Levi-O-sa, not Levio-SA.” Her magic was the flick and swish away from the tip of her wand. Others have it burning at their fingertips or in the voice of their song. Or, it could be a complex spell, needing lines and symbols drawn.

Asking what your magic is capable of could be a very simple question or it could be a very complex one. This is where the writer asks themselves, what is the purpose of magic in this story? The purpose and the source will define it’s capabilities and it’s limitations.

Always leave room for surprises when it comes to any of these. Adding a believable twist to these can spark interest in your story. Like I said, don’t throw it in from left field. Make sure these twists were unexpected, but still link with the system you’ve created.

What is the Price? Also see, Where Does it Come From?

Magic is not the be all end all of the world. If stories about wish magic taught us anything, you can’t drum up a million dollars and expect there not to be strings attached.

Attaching a price to your magic system draws a line in the sand. Some characters will rush to overstep it, and they will pay the price, while others will be careful to tread lightly in fear of that price.

Check out your options. Does it carve away a part of your soul each time you use it? Does it come with hunters, looking to wipe magic and magic users from the face of the world? The price doesn’t have to be inherent to the magic. It could be the outside world reacting to the magic.

Either way, adding this shows who your characters are and the lengths they are willing to go. It also gives you, the author, some fun repercussions to use to make their lives awful.

Because it’s your job to make your characters’ lives awful.

Okay, I hope you understood some of that! I always write down how I do things and then stand back and realize I can be kind of off the wall sometimes. In the comments, let me know what you think of my style of advice and how you’d like to see it grow.

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