It doesn’t matter if the inspiration came in the form of your favorite authors latest book, a fever-dream not yet washed from this reality, or 1.21 Gigawatts straight from the Gods and into your brain. You’re here because you want to build a totally kick-ass magic system. Well, my divinely charged friend, you have come to the right place.
Because I LOVE magic!!!
I live for it. I prefer my games, movies, and stories absolutely brimming with cool magics (including sufficiently advance technology). Magic is the entire reason I started writing fiction in the first place, and the lack of magic in our world sometimes makes my soul cry and my eyes bleed. So, if I don’t love it, it would be fair to say I at least like it… a LOT.
The good news is that I’ve dedicated this entire blog, or at least a large portion of it, to teaching you how to build awesome magic of your own. I want to help you, me, and anyone else I can find so bookshelves will be overflowing with epic texts and adventures featuring arcane might.
The bad news is that I’ve run out of fresh sacrifices and, due to ridiculous legislation, will be forced to utilize frozen chickens. We all know that doesn’t work the same, but them’s the rules. As if that wasn’t enough, properly building your magic system is going to take time. Lots of time.
Because I’m such a nice guy, and because of that truly frightening blade in your hand, here are three resources that will let you start your magic right away. They won’t make the long, painful process ahead of you disappear, but at least you can get to work.
Resource #1: Sanderson’s Laws of Magic
If you haven’t read any books by Brandon Sanderson, you’re missing out. In addition to his awesome novels thick enough they could be used to beat caribou to death, he also delivered unto us these three laws of magic. No, he doesn’t think himself a god of magic and literature, not as far as I know; these are just the rules he follows for his systems. And no, they are not all-binding contracts hanging over the fiction world like some ancient and terrible doom. Use them as best you can, and start your magic.
- Sanderson’s 1st Law of Magic: In this essay, Brandon discusses the particulars of the first law and how he uses it. Most importantly, in my opinion, he discusses the sliding scale between Hard and Soft Magic. It’s awesome stuff and has become a staple of magic to many fiction writers today
- Sanderson’s 2nd Law of Magic: Limitations are the name of the game here. Brandon believes the limitations of a magic system make it more interesting than the effects. He also takes a look at the difference between limitations, weaknesses, and costs.
- Sanderson’s 3rd Law of Magic: Simply put, you should explore what you’ve got before adding more to it. Best of all, he alludes to the myriad of ways your magic-building can turn into worldbuilding.
If you’r still confused about anything, or you just don’t want to follow the links, here’s an awesome video of the man himself teaching his laws of magic
Resource #2: Mythcreants
The bulk of their blog and podcast centers around RPG gaming, characters, and storytelling itself (both novels and games), but they also have some great information on magic systems. I’ve even taken the liberty of picking three of the most useful magic posts I’ve read from them. You can thank me any time now… Any time… Whatever.
- How to Create a Rational Magic System: This is another sliding scale you can use to tune your magic. This isn’t the same as Sanderson’s Hard/Soft scale, not in my world anyway, but the two work great together as you start your magic. Bear in mind that an irrational system isn’t automatically a bad one. Much like a rapier made of noodles, it can work if you use it just right
- Six Consequences of High Magic: If Sanderson’s 3rd law is giving you fits, this post might clarify some things. It won’t solve your balance problems, but it will show you the kinds of things you should be thinking about during the process.
- Pulling Your Hero Into the Magical Realm: I like how they broke the process down into three steps within a story. It’s most useful for people writing urban fantasy and portal fantasy stories, but those genres are pretty popular. I know how much people obsess over Harry Potter, so that’s a thing.
If you are one of the chosen already gambling about in the Elysian fields of fiction, published works in hand, then the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America will be useful to you in a plethora of ways. If not, they still have a staggering list of questions designed to help you start your magic system. Don’t worry if you can’t or won’t answer all of these at once, it’s something I’ll come back to in the future.
What resources would you add to the list?
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but they’re my favorites. I’ve gone to these resources time and time again as I continue to refine my development process, and I link to them all over the place. These aren’t an easy fix for hard work, but they’re something to get you going.
If you stick with me I’ll walk you through a process for developing magic systems that I have used and refined over many years.
Interested? Let’s get started.