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Aligning Viral Magic

Welcome to Part 2 of Building a Viral Magic System

Last time we worked on this virus-based magic system, we took a stab at Stage 1 of Building Marvelous Magic and generated ideas. Today we will do the same for Stage 2: Alignment.

Sound familiar? If not, make sure you check out the introductory post on the series. And it wouldn’t hurt to brush up on The 4 Stages of Building Marvelous Magic either.

We’re still in the early stages of developing this magic, so the “system” is more like a blank document with occasional blobs of text. By Speed-Dating the Magic, a quick alignment exercise, those blobs of text will expand and the system will clarify.  There will still be more gaps than ideas, but this takes us another step forward.

I’ll start with a summary of Stage 2 and the exercise before walking you through my experience. Our work in Stage 1: Idea Generation made things easier, but there were still tricky spots. For me, the difficulty came after completing the exercise while exploring the results. 

So let’s get into it.

Review of Stage 2: Aligning Your System

Alignment is a vital part of the process. Your magic system, be it advance tech., weird alien biology, or more traditional magic, holds the potential to make your story into something better than it was. If wielded improperly, it can weaken the other elements of the story, leading to a less satisfying product.

You want the extraordinary elements of your story, the magic, to be remembered for the Force Powers and Flying Brooms, not the midichlorians and the Time-Turners. A lot goes into making this work.

Each of a story’s main components must be examined in the process of alignment. Plot, character, setting, theme, elemental genre, and magic must be considered carefully to ensure everything works together. It’s worth every second to make sure your magic supports all pieces of your story and your story supports the magic.

To properly align your magic, you need a story to align it with. It doesn’t matter if you ever write it or even if it’s a good story. You need something to use as a ruler to make sure you draw the straight line you want.

When speed-dating your magic system, all you do is take a quick look at each of the components and the most important facet of each. You can get more information in the full post on Speed-Dating Your Magic. In fact, I encourage you to do so as I will only talk about the results of the exercise in this post.

My Speed-Dating Results

Each point is only a single sentence, but it represents the aspect of each component I am most intrigued by and excited to work with. These points are what I need to align to. The actual exercise recommends spending no more than 3 minutes exploring connections between the different components. This is to keep you moving and force you past your favorite piece. 

Well… I broke my rule and spent over 30 minutes working this all out. But only so I could give you better results. Let’s take a look.


A CEO with a dangerous secret and a crafty prisoner with a compromised immune system.

That single sentence hides a great deal of useful information.

Because of previously generated ideas, I know the prisoner will be stronger and more capable with magic than any of their adversaries. Chances are also high that the adversaries (soldiers, guards, interrogator, etc.) will have powers of their own. 

When I eventually return to generate more ideas, I will need to make sure I am selecting powers that will be useful to them.

Interestingly enough, this short character description tells me that the prisoner likely won’t be my point of view (POV) character for the story. They know too much and getting into their head might ruin the plot twist I want. Other authors have done similar things before, but it’s always tricky. If I can avoid it by using a different POV, then that’s what I’ll do.


The prisoner is playing a high-stakes con to gather information and uncover the secret of their interrogators.

The most important takeaway here is that the prisoner is tricking their captors. Everything that happens in the story, the prisoner will have anticipated. As we discussed just moments ago, this means that the prisoner will have a great deal of information I need to keep hidden from the reader. 

Knowing this will shape both the story and the magic I build for it.

For the prisoner to think ahead and out plan their captors, I will need a specific type of magic system. Everything needs to make enough rational sense for a person to plan, calculate, and execute their scheme. The magic must serve as an additional tool the prisoner can use to out-think and outmaneuver their opponents.


An interrogation chamber deep in the bowels of a company building.

There isn’t a lot here at the moment. The fact that this line is so much weaker than the others gives me a clear idea where I will need to develop further. I will need to develop the company, how they work, and the secret they keep hidden before I can truly understand the stories setting.

I also need to explore the setting on a larger scale to make sure I understand where the magic fits in the world. Is it a new discovery? When did it first appear? Have they developed science to manipulate it or are they stuck with the magic in its raw form?

All important questions that need to be answered, eventually.


Greed can twist wonderful things to terrible ends.

With this theme, it’s not enough for the company to do bad things. I need to show how they could use the magic for good things and what monstrous behaviors they perform instead. In the story, I also need to show ways the magic can positively impact the world.

Elemental Genres

Once again, the concept of elemental genres is something I picked up from Season 11 of the Writing Excuses Podcast. It comes down to exploring genre as facets of your story and the reader’s experience rather than where to find the book in a store. Whenever completing this exercise, I try to pick the 2-3 elemental genres I want to focus on most.

These will be more important when I get to the actual writing and revision of the story itself, but they’re still valuable in the magic building process. Let’s take a quick look at each of the three I selected.

Horror is a pretty standard pick for me. I like adding off-putting and creepy elements into my stories, so I will need to find ways the magic can support that aspect of my story.

Idea and Issue were selected because of the powerful concept behind the magic and the story itself. I need to make room to explore the uniqueness of the concept and, if I can, connect it to a real-world issue.


Virus Magic.

I worked the basic concept out in advance, but I took time to consider consequences, implications, and connections between the magic and the other components of the story. For one, I think this will need to be a rational magic system to meet the needs of the story, though I’m not yet sure if it should be hard or soft magic.

Hard and Soft Magic
Art by Manuel Castañón

*Check out this post to learn more about the different types of magic.*

As a whole, the other components revealed more about what the magic needs to be. The exercise did a wonderful job expanding my view; these results will play out through the rest of the building process.

Normally, this exercise takes about 10 minutes; I gave myself a full 30 minutes this time to ensure you got something from it as well.

What’s Next?

I learned things. I learned a lot of things

For one, I learned more about the story. Before starting, I only had a vague notion of a final twist. The exercise forced me to extrapolate beyond my previously nebulous concepts. This, as I mentioned, also told me more about the magic system itself.

Mostly, I learned all the things I have yet to learn. Yup, I’m talking about research.

I’ve already got a lot of ideas, but the plan is to have everything follow closely to how viruses work in real life. My current knowledge on the topic won’t be enough, and that means I’ve got a lot of learning to do. 

Like I said, lots to research. But that’s exactly what I needed. Identifying the right questions to explore can be difficult for me. Now I have a list to work through when I get to my first research phase. Next on the journey is Stage 3: Definition. This is where things should really get interesting.

That’s All for Now

After you’re finished with this post, I want you to… do nothing.

Weren’t expecting that, were you? You thought I would talk about the Marvelous Magic Builder’s Mailing List again, didn’t you?

Not today! Today, instead of signing up for the mailing list to receive notifications whenever a post is published, I want you to sit back and think.

Yes, I know, thinking is doing something, but it’s easier than your usual homework. I want you to take the results of this exercise and see how they might apply to any system you’re building at the moment.

Are there patterns or connections I made that can be duplicated or altered for your purposes?

And that’s it, but if you want to share any of your ideas with me, go right ahead. I love hearing from you! Have fun thinking, and I’ll talk to you again soon.

Rowenson, out.

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