WellHiThere! How are things on the magic front? Any problems trimming your magic system?
If I had to guess, I would say… “Hard,” and “Yes.” But let’s be honest, it’s always hard developing something of quality. At least that’s what I tell myself ever night I cry myself to sleep over the corpses of dead stories and half-written blog posts.
Anyhow, 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 opposite.
Don’t cut anything without serious consideration!
I’m contradicting myself, I know, but it’s the truth. If you step into your lovely web of ideas, swinging wildly with your ax of simplicity, you’re going to end up with a pile of useless shreds. We need to go at this like sculptors slicing off unneeded bits of clay, not not like Beserkers wading through the crowds on Black Friday. It’s going to be hard, of course, but figuring out what you should cut and what you should keep is one hell of a conundrum that only you can solve.
This is going to be painful; taking the knife to your creation always is. But it’s time to sharpen your knives and start exploring these important questions.
Random Guidance Before Trimming Your Magic
If you’ve been working through building a system with me, then you have undoubtedly brainstormed dozens of incredible ideas. Staring into that swirling miasma of ideas you’ve created can be… daunting. It doesn’t take long for the questions and doubts to launch their attack.
Where do I start? Can I remove the star-spawn hamsters without compromising the fundamentals of alchemy? Will anyone ever care about this? Air-repellent? Really? What was I thinking? This is the stupidest pile of—
Don’t try analyzing your entire system at once; down that path lies madness. Instead, I want you to focus on specific portions of the magic. Take one of the specific themes, mediums, effects, or cool bits developed while brainstorming and focus in on that. Once you’ve walked through the three questions, you can make a decision and move on to the next section.
Trust me, it’s easier this way.
And if you’re having trouble identifying parts to examine, try mapping your system out. Personally, I love using MindMaps. Darren over at Problogger has a great article on using MindMaps, but you can do it any way you like. As long as you have manageable chunks to work with, I don’t really care how you got there.
Ready to go? Everything in place?
Sweet. We’re ready to start trimming your magic, so pick a section and tell me this:
Is it exciting?
This is rule number one of any and all magic, in my divinely humble opinion. In fact, this might be rule number one for any and all story telling. If your creation isn’t going to be interesting to someone or there’s really no point in its existence, which is why we spend so much time planning in the first place.
Let’s take a minute and think things through.
Is it exciting to you?
After the time you spent creating it, I should hope so. If it’s not interesting to you, then you won’t be interested in writing it; if you’re not interested in writing it, then nobody will be interested in reading it; If nobody is interested in reading it, then your book won’t sell; and if your book won’t sell, then those inter-dimensional
debt-collectors will be knocking at your door demanding a pound of flesh for each misplaced Kroonash.
You’ll have to kill them to save your own skin, which only escalates things, and now bounty hunters are on your tail. At this point your only option is to start a blog about magic systems and pray the walls of your bunker can hold.
If you don’t want to end up
like me like that, you better make sure this bit of your system is interesting to you. If not, then get with the trimming all ready.
Are others excited about it?
Making sure you like the magic is a great place to start, but you should also talk to other people about it.
Wait! Come back!
I know other people are scary and a single criticism can crush your confidence like an empty soda can. Trust me, I’ve been there, but in the end this really is about your readers. If you like it, then the chances are good that someone else will to. You just need to go find them and start asking questions.
This is never particularly difficult for me because you can’t make me shut up without sewing my lips shut. Even then, the odds of silence are only slightly in your favor.
At this point, you must be exhausted from chasing down people on the street, cornering them, and drawing out an honest opinion of your ideas, but your work isn’t done yet. Now that you know it’s interesting to at least two people (you and that poor bus driver), you need to dig a little deeper before you start trimming your magic system any further.
Is It a Good Fit?
The last thing you want is ten doilies of dark black lace surrounding a lone doily of slightly darker black. You want everything to fit together smoothly and feel like a cohesive whole. Because you’re probably excited by most of your ideas, this is where you can start making real progress in trimming your magic system.
There are really two aspects of this question to consider.
Does it match the rest of your system?
If this is the first part of your system being placed under scrutiny, this question can be a difficult to answer, but it’s a vital consideration. The last thing you want is a single piece that sticks out like spinach in the teeth of your story. Unfortunately, this isn’t something I can guide you through without knowing more about your system, but here’s an example from my own work.
Back when I first started this insane journey of creation, my main goal was to take traditional superpowers and apply as much science to them as possible. One of my favorites to consider was the power-type I liked to call “The Bomber.” Much like Gambit from X-men, these people could charge up matter to and force it to explode. Copyright violation aside, it wasn’t the power itself that made it stick out from the rest of my system.
During my earliest pathetic stabs at fiction, I followed the old cliché of powers coming from the unused 90% of your brain trope. Since the Bombers were capable of channeling and releasing such vast pools of energy, their brains needed to undergo comparable enhancements. As a result, the Bombers in my stories were plagued with perpetual headaches, explosive anger issues *Heh. Pun*, and a short life expectancy.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think this is kind of cool, even if it wasn’t that original, but it didn’t fit. None of the other powers I created inflicted such consequences on their owners. Once I saw this, I couldn’t stop noticing it. The Bomber became the psychotic fly in my magical ointment. I could either cut the Bomber or rework my entire system to make the other characters similarly hindered.
Make sense? Good, because there’s more.
Does it match your story?
Again, I can’t give you any answers without a long and personal chat about your plot (which I’m totally down for, so just email me), but there are certainly some things to watch for.
Are you going for a nostalgic and geeky, action-adventure book like in Geekomancy by Michael R. Underwood or Ready Player One by Ernest Cline? Maybe you want the paranormal thriller vibe like in Residue by Steve Diamond, or perhaps a sense of seeping doom and wonder to match Naomi Novik’s Uprooted. Whatever you choose, your magic should reflect this in some way.
Fortunately, a lot of this is in the delivery, but some aspects work better than others. If you see something that just doesn’t blend, then you might need to cut it.
Of course, that only works if you already have a story in mind. Whether you are creating the magic for magics sake or you are hoping to develop a story, you still need to decide if it fits, but in a different way. Which actually brings us to the third last big question I have to give you.
Is There Room to Grow?
Let’s say your dreams come true: You’ve developed this world changing magic system, it meshes perfectly with itself and the story, and you are now world famous for your literary prowess. Obviously you want to write a sequel and keep your career going strong, but there’s one major problem.
You’ve already explored your entire magic system.
There’s nothing left for you to show the readers. You can still write a gripping plot and characters, but the magic system you used to pull in readers is now old news. We’ve got to work together to make sure this never happens.
Take that part you’ve been scrutinizing, worn and weary as it might be, and take another hard look.
Is it too simple?
Elegance and brevity are powerful allies, but if you say too little, people might not want to listen. Lines are an essential part of any sketch, but a single line itself is not a masterpiece. The same holds true for magic. If it’s too simple, it isn’t going to be very interesting.
This isn’t to say you can’t write a compelling story around such a simple system, in fact some writers would do exactly that just to prove me wrong. Even if you did, I would argue that the magic is no longer the compelling part of the story. Which is what we’re really after, right?
Fortunately, there’s an easy answer. If this part of your magic system seems to simplistic, easily explored, or boring, then just combine it with something else. Better yet, just make sure it isn’t the only part. Any problems, possibilities, and uses of the magic will spawn like rabbits when combined with another. Whatever you do, remember that the ultimate goal here is to cut away the unnecessary parts, not convince yourself to keep everything.
Can you go “deeper?”
If you don’t already have a story your working on, then magic is a great place to start. There are limitless story and character conflicts that surround magic systems.
Is this power new to your character? Are they the only one in the world with this power? Are they the only one without this power? How can the power be abused? Who would pay for the use of said magic? How does it affect the richest and poorest people of your world? Does it ever function unexpectedly?
The list goes on and on and on and on and on and– *slaps self in the face*
Despite what I said earlier, there is almost always something new to explore. In fact, this is the beating heart of Sanderson’s Third Law of Magic. But something isn’t good enough; we want something awesome.
Does this part offer any juicy options?
Myself, I love looking into specific aspects of the magic itself, how it can be misinterpreted, warped, and used in creative ways. For example, the book I’m finishing right now has a type of User I like to call a Mimic. They can alter the form of their body, shaping skin and bone in imitation of inanimate objects. Some of them can even alter the alchemy of their flesh, turning muscle into steel.
This first book was a lot of fun to write, but after a little more thinking, I was floored by the number of directions I could take it.
Entire civilizations will develop, fight, and fall on the use of this power. A single morph could make someone a deadly assassin, a wonderful mechanic, or even a powerful politician. There’s so much room for this power to be misinterpreted that I have a plethora of twists and mysteries just waiting to be used.
That is what you want out of your magic system. If the options start exploding without increasing complexity of the magic, this is most definitely a part you do not want to cut.
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Seriously, I want to help and you can make that possible. If you’re still confused leave a comment below, send me an email, follow me on Facebook, or send a blood-falcon.
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Until next time, Rowenson, out.