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7 Helpful Ways to Verify You Have a Complete Magic System

It’s good to see you again… Well, not see you… you know what I mean.

After creating so many ideas, checking alignment between magic and story, defining your system, and repeating the process who knows how many times, you must be exhausted. Believe me, I understand, but there are a couple more things that need to be said. Let me start with the most important.


You’ve come a long way and put a lot of work into your magic. You should be proud!

The thing is, at some point the building needs to pause and the writing needs to begin. Your magic system, no matter how awesome, isn’t reaching its full potential sitting there by itself. When you have a complete magic system, or complete enough, it’s time to start folding it into your story.

But what if my magic isn’t ready for that? How can I know if it’s finished?

Wow, voice in my head, you always have the best questions. Writing these posts is always so much easier with you to talk to. Today we are going to explore 7 ways to answer that exact question so you can know if you are ready to move on.

#1 There’s No Time Left

This is by far the least popular reason to table the development of a magic system, but it is also one of the most common.

We’ve all been, or one day will be, in this position. We’re writers. Life is busy, there’s always lots to do, and there isn’t enough time in the universe to do all the things we want. Sometimes there’s no choice but to take the magic you have and utilize it to the best of your abilities.

And you know what? It’s okay!

Take whatever semblance of a system you’ve got and run with it. Think of it as an early draft. It won’t be perfect on the first try, but you can always fix it later.

Right now you’re out of time, so sit down and start writing that story.

#2 All Variables are Solved and All Questions Answered

If you’ve been hanging around with me for a while, you should probably consult a doctor; I’ve been told prolonged exposure can be hazardous to your health. Government health warnings aside, you’re probably familiar with the different types of magic system variables by now. These variables serve as an excellent metric for the progress of your system.

Think of it like a big math problem…

Complete Magic SystemWait… normal people hate math… The people in my basement won’t stop screaming about it… hmmm

Think of it as a checklist. You’ve got a big list of global, system, and user variables to address. If you’ve taken the time to look into each one, exploring and researching the possibilities, then your magic is sure to have a solid foundation.

If the magic system variables don’t make sense to you, or if yours truly hasn’t given you a full list yet, you can also turn to SFWA’s giant list of questions instead.

Either way works. If you have thought about and addressed all of these variables and/or questions, then you are more than ready to push ahead with your novel, game, or intestine-puppet rendition of Harry Potter.

So, if you get a sick thrill out of checklists, this might be the best method for you. If not, here is another option..

#3 Iteration of the 4 Stages Reveals Nothing New

This one is pretty simple. You can keep running through the 4 Stages of Building Marvelous Magic until you’re brain is nothing but a delicious cerebral smoothie, but there is a point of diminishing return for the effort.

Whenever I’m building a system, most of the revelations come during the first couple passes through the stages. After that, it becomes more difficult to break new ground without working it into a story first. Now, once I’ve done a short story, novella, or novel, I usually come away with a whole bunch of new ideas to test and implement, but that comes later.

If the 4 Stages have stopped revealing new treasures to you, then it’s likely time to move on. 

Go ahead. I won’t be offended. I promise.

#4 The Magic Fits Easily Into Any Scene

The real point of building magic is to develop what you need to understand and use it. This might be as simple as answering a long list of questions, or it could be a little more involved than that.

Try taking a random scenario and see how easily you can answer the following questions

  1. How can the magic be used in this scene?
  2. How can’t it be used?
  3. What problems could it solve for a character?
  4. What new problems might the magic create for a character?

If you can immediately come up with three to five answers for each of these questions, regardless of the scene you receive, then you probably know enough about your magic to call it finished for the moment

#5 It’s Easily Distinguished From Other Systems

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There’s nothing more frustrating than to spend months on a project only to realize someone else has seemingly done the exact same thing. I find this especially true for magic systems, but I might be biased… or paranoid… probably just paranoid.

Fortunately, it’s also far less common than you might think. If twelve people take the exact same idea, you will usually end up with twelve distinct products.

As I’m fond of saying:

Creativity is in the combinations, but distinction is in the details

You need to know how your system is different. Take some time. Hunt around for the most similar magic system you can find and take a long, hard look at it alongside your own. See where they are the same and where they are different.

This is especially important if, in the grand tradition of writers everywhere, you stole ideas from someone else. Make sure you can easily name at least three major differences between your system and theirs before moving on.

If you can tell the two apart easily, then readers should be able to as well. That’s a good indication you’re close enough to a complete magic system to begin storytelling.

#6 The Magic Fulfills the Needs of Your Story

This is the most nebulous and least defined method to identify a complete magic system, but it is also the most important.

Magic systems are awesome. They are hands down, my favorite thing about fiction. But they are not meant to stand alone. In the end, it is the magic interwoven into an awesome story that people want, not just the magic itself.

To that end, you’re magic needs to support the different aspects of your story. If you’re not sure if it actually does that, take another look at Stage 2 and make sure everything is in alignment.

Even if you think you’ve got all you need, you will likely have guessed wrong. Don’t worry about it. You can come back and fix things later. That’s the most beautiful thing about writing: it doesn’t have to be perfect on the first try.

On the other hand, if you’ve already gone through the 4 Stages twice or more, then you already have a much better foundation than you might think.

In the end, the best way to determine what your story needs is to suspend your work on the magic and get to writing.

#7 You Can’t Wait Another Second 

This one should be pretty obvious.

All the ideas, situations, abilities, limitations, and difficulties of your magic system are swirling through your head in a violent, corrosive tornado like batteries in a blender. If it’s eating away at your insides, and you can’t stand the thought of solving one more of my stupid variables, then don’t.

If the motivation is there, seize it. Your system will always be around for you to modify and improve for later drafts of your story. Take that excitement by the whiskers and ride it as far as you can.

A Couple Final Points

To be perfectly honest, your magic system will never be done. Just like your worldbuilding and the story itself, your magic can always be improved.

Also like worldbuilding, designing magic systems can be a tantalizing trap. Whatever you do, don’t let your magic keep you from writing.

Don’t give me that glare. I know I’m as guilty of this as anyone, but it’s an important lesson to remember.

C. R. Rowenson: Author, Literary Sadist, and Power Junkie

Just for you, here are the seven ways to tell if you’ve got a complete magic system:

  1. There’s No Time Left
  2. All Variables are Solved and All Questions Answered
  3. Iteration of the 4 Stages Reveals Nothing New
  4. The Magic Fits Easily Into Any Scene
  5. It’s Easily Distinguished From Other Systems
  6. The Magic Fulfills the Needs of Your Story
  7. You Can’t Wait Another Second

Be aware that you don’t need all these methods. One or two might be all you need. It is entirely up to you which ones you use.

I hope these are as helpful to you as they have been to me. We’ll talk again soon.

Rowenson, out.

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