Do I REALLY Need to Trim My Magic System?

Yes! Here’s Seven-ish Reasons Why

Hookay, so, here’s the world and here’s you. 

 

That’s You in There

The long process of building and planning a magic system has begun, and it’s going to change the aforementioned world. You’ve already been working hard to brainstorm the very coolest bits of imagination you can harvest from your overtaxed brain-space. The ideas have finally started flowing and the pages runneth over with details about the magic, the world, and and some sweet scenes of awesomeness. Now you’re ready for the next step. Unfortunately, that step is to cleave away some of those ideas or your precious mind-children.

I know, I know. You worked hard to find/make those ideas. All of them are awesome and there is no way anyone could convince you to give even a single sparkle up. Well, I’m here to burst your little magic soap bubble there. 

It isn’t optional; you have to trim.

Even if you’re the smartest, most creative, and amazing person on the planet, not all of your ideas are created equally. By trimming away the weak and spindly bits, you will be left with a much more powerful system than you had previously. Every writer I know has had to go through this in one form or another. Every. Single. One.

Not convinced? Challenge accepted. Let’s go.

 

1) ​It’s Easier to Explore

Changing one thing, changes everything!

I first heard this from Mary Robinette Kowal, but the longer I write, the more often I hear this phrase. It’s a pretty important concept and I really want to explore that in greater detail some time in the future; for now, you just need to understand that the ability to sneeze globs of acid [picture of acid glob or sneezing] at your enemies will have effects extending well past the battlefield. This could be the center of a religion, segregation, an special industry centered on snot-etched glassware, or even wars and genocide for the collection for the rarest and most corrosive of human effluence.

And this is just the snot.

Tip: Take Corrosion-Resistance

The more things you change, the more it will effect the world around it. If you’ve ever been paralyzed or overwhelmed by your worldbuilding, then you should simplify. Start with your magic. Trim away the non-essentials and everything will be a bit easier to handle.

Which actually leads nicely into the next point.

 

2) Simple Systems Lead to Better Consistency

Pretty straight forward. With magic, much like with acid-snot, consistency is everything.

There are few things more frustrating in a novel than an easily avoided problem. The character can spew mucus from his nose capable of eating through a sword, but when he’s locked in a room he doesn’t think to try it on the lock? Even worse, his potent phlegm destroys an attackers sword but fails to scratch a suit of armor though it’s made of the exact same material. If there’s going to be some indestructible armor, it should probably be the warrior’s metal bikini or chain codpiece.

I’m sure you can see the problem here. The more moving pieces and varied abilities you put into your book, the higher your chances of accidentally breaking your own laws, missing easy solutions, and even burning massive plot holes into your story. Add to that a room full of gerbils, a squeaky swing-set, and a pit of chocolate pudding, and you have my worst nightmare.

Don’t ask. Just do yourself a favor and get trimming.

 

​3) It Makes Things Easier for Your Readers

Readers are, with the exception of yours truly, an incredibly bright and perceptive bunch. Some of them delight in picking apart and unraveling the mysteries of your literary world, but others do not.

Looks Clueless, Don’t He?

Just like with characters, if there are too many magic systems and abilities flying around, it can get difficult to keep track of it all. There’s nothing worse than getting to what you know should be a big reveal, but because you don’t remember who’s doing what, where, or why, the revelation falls all over itself like a drunk man in a spook-house.

Remember: A little bit of authorial pain can go along way to improving your reader’s experience.

 

​4-ish) Limitations are Cool. Sanderson Said So.

According to Sanderson’s 2nd Law of Magic, imitations are of greater importance than the powers themselves.

If you don’t want to trim, take it up with Brandon.

Okay so the previous reason wasn’t a very good one, but there are some really good points in the essay. My favorite is actually my next point.

 

​4-Real this Time) Limitations Create Tension


There are few things more irritating to me than the “all-powerful wizard,” or as I like to call it, the Omni-Arcanum approach to magic.  You know the kind of system I’m talking about, even if you haven’t read it in a book. No matter what is thrown at the mage, they have just the spell to counter it. Nothing is a problem, nothing is too much, and nothing is interesting.

Let’s look at an example

You have a magic system that centers around reshaping matter. Doesn’t matter if it’s stone, steel, or air, the wizard in question can reshape it any way they see fit. They can collapse cities with a thought, twist people into disgusting piles of meat and bone, and turn mountains into rubble.

But then you start thinking. Matter is just made of of molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles. Why can’t he rearrange them as well? Now, in addition to all his other powers, he can turn any substance into any other substance.

Please tell me this is starting to sound at least a little over powered.

To be clear none of these ideas are bad in isolation, there’s just too much power available to one person in one place.

If we apply even a simple limitation like, he can only shape his own blood, things instantly become much more fascinating. He can still be incredibly powerful, sculpting an impressive variety of weapons and tools from his blood, but he is also faced with a serious weakness. If he draws too much of his own blood for magic, then he might die from blood loss.

Suddenly we have a far more interesting character that must question his use of magic or risk killing himself. Obstacles will become more challenging, each drop of blood more significant, and every beat of his heart more interesting.

Wow, got a little melodramatic there, but I think you see my point.

 

​5) It Gives You a Chance to be Clever

It’s easy to solve problems in your story when your character has exactly the right power for every situation.

We need someone to screw in this light-bulb, but the fixture is at least 60 feet up and surrounded by deadly goat-spiders. Good thing I can fly and wore my special spider-repellent deodorant today.

 

*sigh* Man. It hurt just writing that.

The point is, a quick trim of your magic can reveal some fun situations that don’t have a clear answer. Putting your characters in seemingly impossible situations is a great way to force you, and by extension them, to be more creative. My favorite part about magic is seeing it used in interesting ways.

Lets say your Sanguis Magum has been captured, imprisoned, and sentenced to death the following morning. He has no weapons, no clothing, and is being held in shackles. Things aren’t looking good. Until he decides to bite his tongue, sending blood dripping down his chin. He manages to catch a few drops in the lock of his restraints and with a burst of magical energy, pops them open.

It’s a fairly simple example, but I think it’s cool. I’m sure you could do better, so push yourself.

Show me the genius you really are.

 


6) You Need Room for Story

trim the magic, not the story
Trim the magic, not the story

By now you should already have lots of ideas. If you don’t, fear not, for they will keep coming. Once you open the floodgates, the tide of thoughts, inspiration, and flashes of awesomeness are never ending. Before you know it, you’ll be drowning in them.

When I first started experimenting with all of this, I was drawn in by the lure of magic systems. After a couple years of work I had over 30 different powers/magic systems and hundreds of pages of text. Unfortunately, it all read like an encyclopedia which, while did have a small selection of fans, did not grab the interest of most “normal” people. As much as I love magic, I have to admit I’m more likely to stick around if there’s a good story involved.

And this is coming from me. ME!

I can’t speak for everyone, but I know there is no way in hell or on earth that I am going to fit all of my powers into a single book, exploring each in sufficient detail without compromising the structure of the narrative. Even if I did and by some miracle it got published, it could be used to beat whales to death.

This is painful for me to say, but you might need to trim the magic to save the story. But it’s okay because of reason number seven.

 

7) Trimming isn’t Permanent

Just because you trimmed away some of the baby fat, and hacked away the functional, yet unneeded, limbs of your system doesn’t mean you have to destroy your notes, burn your hard-drive, and piss on the ashes.

Whatever you don’t use, just save it for later.

Personally, I had to cut over 90% of my magic system for my first novel. A number of powers were displayed but only one, maybe two, could be explored at any depth. Even then, the exploration only shattered a fraction of that iceberg. You can bet I’m going to be bringing more stuff in with the next book… and the next… and the next.

Please, don’t be afraid to trim. Embrace it. Really focus in on the elements that make you most excited and build the coolest story and magic system you can.

 

In Summary:

You Should Trim Your Magic System for These Seven Reasons

  1. Easier to explore
  2. Easier to keep consistent
  3. Easier for your readers.
  4. Limitations create tension
  5. Makes you be brilliant
  6. Need room story
  7. It’s not permanent

 

Thanks for Stopping By

I hope this has convinced you to take another look at everything you were planning to stuff into your system. Is there any point in particular that really resonates with you? Do you want to know some of the things I had to cut from my story? Leave a comment below or contact me. You know how much I love making with the magic-talking-thing.

Until next time, Rowenson, out.

 

One Response

  1. […] last time we talked about magic I did my very best to convey the importance of trimming your magic system; now I’m going to say the exact […]

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