Jun 19, 2014

Magic in #Fantasy Fiction: How to do it Right, How it can all go Wrong by @EricBuffington1

Magic in Fantasy Fiction
How to do it Right, How it can all go Wrong

By Eric Buffington

One of the reasons I got into writing fiction is because I was finishing up my Master’s degree and I was writing long research papers each week. I found that I liked writing, but hated doing research. I wanted to be free to write whatever I wanted, and I thought that fantasy would allow me that freedom. But then I started realizing that there are rules in fantasy, if you follow them you can create awesome worlds and believable characters, if you don’t follow them, you can have a flop.

Magic is one area in a fantasy book that there are rules that need to be followed. The great thing is that the author gets to make up the rules. Each fantasy world has different rules about magic, and when the author makes clear guidelines on how the magic is used, it helps the reader not only appreciate what the magicians are doing, but also anticipate what they might do next, and how they can use their magic to solve problems.

Some Dos and Don’ts about Magic in Fantasy Fiction

Be consistent. It is really frustrating when you are reading a book that gives certain limitations on magic, and then completely ignores those boundaries later on. If you say that magic can heal, but not bring people back from the dead, don’t bring people back from the dead. If characters need to move their hands, or wave a wand, or say a word to use magic, make sure they do that. Consistency is essential to make a believable world.

Explain how it works: Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson is one of my favorite fantasy trilogies. He creates a magic system that is built around people eating certain kinds of metal and then ‘burning’ the metals in their system to enhance different abilities. Because the magic is so unique and somewhat complicated he uses a person who is just learning how to use the magic as a way to show us how the magic works. It’s really brilliantly done.

Don’t tell exactly WHAT the magic can do. In Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, each person has one magic ability, but they need to learn to use that ability in a variety of ways to overcome obstacles. If you tell exactly what magic can do, you often limit the magic ability and stop the creativity and learning of characters. It is better to share how magic works, then have the characters in the book use magic in creative ways to accomplish what they are trying to do.

Have limitations. It is important to have some limits on magic abilities, even if those limitations are only known by the people who use magic. In Stones of Power: The Invasion, we are introduced to a magician, Dune. Dune has a very powerful gift of magic, and most characters in the book are nervous or scared of magicians because they don’t know what he is capable of doing. Through the character of Dune, we see how magic actually works, and that lets the reader get a glimpse into the power, but also the limitations of magic. One example is that Dune can’t instantly travel to places outside his sight, and he can’t fly. These limitations help the plot develop so he can’t just bounce across the entire map whenever he wants.

Magic doesn’t always have to be magic. Giving people enhanced abilities can also be a form of magic, and that can help define a character, and make a consistent magical world. A common example is super strength. One of the great advantages to these enhancements is that the reader can relate and easily understand the ability. People know what strength is like, and they have a general idea what super strength would look like.

Enchanted items: In fantasy it is not unusual to have magic items. One of the most famous pieces of enchanted jewelry is the ring from the Hobbit. Having magic items, can be done very well, and very poorly. If JRR Tolkien gave Bilbo an invincibility ring, with no downside, the story would have been pointless, with no difficulty or suspense. Giving characters special weapons, jewelry, or potions is fun, but it needs to not be overdone.

Magical Creatures: Because so many books/movies/stories have been told about unicorns, dragons, dwarves, elves, and goblins, most readers have an idea what these creatures are like based on what they have experienced. Writers need to carefully define what magical creatures are like in his/her own world. It is sometimes better to just make up your own creations so you know the reader is not coming in with false expectations.

Having said all of this and talked about how to stick by the ‘rules’ of writing magic into a fantasy book, it is also important for me to say that some of my favorite books have broken some of these rules. If it is well written and explained clearly, there is a lot of leeway in making good fun magic in fantasy writing, so think outside the box, read a lot, and get writing!

Meet Eric Buffington

Eric Buffington was born in Ontario Canada, where he lived until he was eighteen. After that he traveled with a Canadian government program, for one year (what he did is top secret), he then moved to California to serve a two year mission working with the Laotian people.

Shortly after returning home he met the love of his life, moved to Pennsylvania and married her. He has since completed a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in education. He currently lives in Pennsylvania with his wonderfully supportive wife, and their four children. He currently works as a High School math teacher in an online cyber school.

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In a world where each person is born with a magic ability, the island of Denall is on the verge of an attack from a power hungry sorcerer, Mordyar, as he scours the world in search of the Stones of Power. While the stones are gathering and their power begins to be revealed, four boys leave their village on a rite of passage into adulthood and are swept into an adventure that will make men and heroes of them, if they can survive.

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While Kaz and P join forces to overthrow Omer, the holders of the Strength and Magic Stones unite to hunt down Mordyar's minions and discover his plans. With each new discovery they are thrown farther into danger until they find themselves in hopeless peril. Will Prophecy overcome Mordyar's forces as they invade a broken kingdom, or has Fate already turned on the stone holders? The time for hidden silence ends, as the time of strength and magic begins.

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