Stage 4 of Building Marvelous Magic: Iterate the Process
You’re here because you want to build a marvelous magic system. Maybe it’s fully formed and ready to prey upon the world. Perhaps it’s still growing the last of its six limbs and a fire-bladder. It could be you’ve got a killer novel and the only thing missing is even better magic. Regardless of the origin, you’ve got a magic system that needs help.
You’ve forged through the previous three stages and still have a hot mess. But where do you start? What do you do?
Don’t worry. I understand your pain, and I’m here to help you make it better.
The journey so far
Whether this is your first introduction to the 4 Stages of Building Marvelous Magic or you already worked through the previous three stages, there’s plenty to learn in this final stage.
I’m assuming you’re already on the same magic planning bandwagon I am. If you’re ready to enter the realm of Stage 4, then you should have already passed a number of milestones. If not, you might want to loop back and take a look at stages 1, 2, and 3 before reading on.
You Generated Ideas in Stage 1: I’m sure you’re sick of hearing this by now, but you need swarms of ideas to make it through this. There should be so many ideas buzzing around your head you feel like a literal Lord of the Flies. If that sounds right, the mission is a go.
You Checked the Alignment in Stage 2: Every good story requires a variety of key components (character, plot, setting, etc.). But to be a GREAT story, all of these components must run smoothly and support each other along the way. As another of these crucial components, your magic is subject to the same requirements. You’ve got to make sure the magic supports the story as well, if not better than it does the other way around.
You Added Definition in Stage 3: Some kind of structure is essential for moving forward with your magic. This is the stage where it all happens. Defining variables and setting boundary conditions represent the metaphorical buttons and dials that make your magic. You must spend at least some time in Stage 3 before moving on.
Which brings us, at long last to the fourth and final stage of the process:
Oh, come on. You can’t act surprised. It’s in the title. And we’ve been discussing it since the beginning.
Iteration is simply the repetition of a process or utterance, and that’s exactly what we need to do.
It may be tempting to skip this stage and call it good. After all, you’ve got so many great ideas, everything flows nicely, and there’s already plenty of rules in place.
DON’T DO IT.
Not taking the time to go through multiple iterations of your magic is a BIG mistake. Trust me, I’ve been down that road before.
Iteration is your friend. Each previous stage helped build and shape your magic into something you can call your own, but iteration is where truly unique and awesome magic comes from. Killer prose doesn’t come from a single draft — even when it does, it can be made better — and magic isn’t any different. Take the time to iterate and your magic can become something epic.
2, 4, 6, 8, How Do We Iterate?!
Couldn’t help myself, sorry.
There are tons of ways you can iterate, and none of them are wrong. Let’s talk about a few to get you rolling.
Repeat the Whole System
You heard me.
Go back to Stage 1 and start all over again. It’ll be good for you. If you’re anything like me, then there will be plenty to address after the first, second, or even third time through the system. New rules might fiddle with your alignment; tweaking the alignment requires new ideas; new ideas need limits.
See where I’m going with this?
On the first pass, we mostly talked about broader concepts of your magic. Now take it all another step deeper. Generate another layer of ideas. Trim away more chaff and add deliberately where needed. Take time to identify all important equations and make sure everything functions properly.
On the off chance your brain doesn’t work like mine, lucky you, try taking things up a level. If you spent all your time getting the scientific principles and equations in place, take a step back and explore on a broader scale. How will the magic change the universe around it? Does it mesh well with the elevator pitch for your novel?
If you’re familiar with Randy Ingerman’s Snowflake Method then you’ve got a good idea what I’m talking about. The point is to start small and work outward, or start big and work inward. Just do it a layer at a time until everything is complete.
If that doesn’t work for you; you’ve still got options.
Repeat a Single Stage
Already hacked through all three stages? Try going back to your favorite and see how far you can go.
Keep branching that MindMap until you’re completely and utterly lost in your ideas; keep growing and aligning your story until it’s indistinguishable from the magic; or keep defining rules, limitations, and equations until the known arcane universe is defined.
A word of advice: set a limit on how long you will do this.
There is real value to be gained focusing on one stage, but you must return to the other stages eventually. It’s frigteningly easy to lose sight of the larger picture. Spend too much time in one place and tunnel-vision can develop, and by the time you finally swing ‘round to one of the other stages mountains of work must be discarded.
I’ve been there; it sucks.
If you want an approach that strikes the balance between repeating the whole system and focusing on a single stage, then I recommend the following.
Fully Explore a Single Idea
I know that throughout the process, certain ideas have tried to latch their claws into you. You know what I’m talking about. Those juicy thoughts that threaten to drag you down a rabbit hole and into a terrifying wonderland.
Now you can let them.
Couldn’t shake the idea of magic, chameleon furniture weaponized for guerrilla tactics? Run with it.
Take that idea and push it through the system by itself. See what ideas emerge. Just make sure you maintain alignment and definition of your system.
Who knows what will happen? On multiple occasions, I’ve had this exercise turn a stray thought for one system into a completely different, and much better system, of its own.
Just as before: make sure you come up for air. You’ve got more than one idea to play with, so make sure you share the love.
In the end, there is no wrong way to do iteration, as long as you repeatedly hit all of the stages. Everything affects everything else. All the stages and ideas are connected. Iteration is just the means by which you explore the eternal maze of connections.
Where to Start Iterating
You’re now armed with multiple iteration methods; I’m certain you’ll find even more.
For me, it never takes long before the system starts getting rather unwieldy. At this point, knowing where to focus my efforts is invaluable intel.
Here are a couple of ways you can home in on a section to iterate.
Option 1: Do a Gut-Check
Instinct is your most valuable ally in the entire process. They will improve with time and practice, but even now you should have a sense when something is wrong.
Just make sure it’s an in-system problem and not an insecurity problem. I have both all the time and they LOVE masquerading as one another.
If your guts have failed you, due to a dearth of experience or early-onset evisceration, you still have options. Focus on any area that is unclear or confusing.
Got a question? Answer it.
Got an idea? Explore it.
Overwhelmed by the endless tide of cyber-rats? That sounds like a personal problem.
Option 2: Recruit Outside Help
It’s fun to play God in your own little world. Trust me, I understand. Sometimes what you need more than anything else is an outside perspective.
Sit down with someone you know, preferably another magic-nut, and walk through what you’ve got. See where they’re confused and what excites them. Use their reaction to direct your approach and their joy to fuel the abominable energy-core at the center of your being.
This option is my standard fallback. Everyone has their own experiences and ideas that can improve your magic.
Option 3: Stick With Me
I know that’s less of an option and more of a hostage scenario. Don’t worry; Stockholm Syndrome should be kicking in any second now.
Honestly, I’m going to be here for a long time. We’ve still got lots of ground to cover together before I finally shut my cavernous pie-hole. If you’re stuck, then just keep coming back as we work through all of this together.
Oh, and don’t forget, I can be “the other” for your option 2. If you’ve got specific questions or just want to chat; send me an email, message me on Facebook, or release your courier demons. Let me know and we’ll work it out.
Iteration is the “special sauce”, adding the magic into your magic system. It connects all the stages together, feeding on them until your magic reaches a single, glorious biomass.
You’ve got several options on how to iterate the process. You can:
Repeat The Whole System
Repeat a Single Stage
Explore a Specific Idea
There are other options too, but those are a good place to start. But once you start, it might not be clear where to go or when to stop. For those answers, you’ve got three main places to look:
Yourself and Your instincts
Other People and Their Instincts
Me and My Ramblings
These options will always be there when you need them.
Now Go Iterate!
I’ll talk to you again in two weeks. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter and make sure you never miss a post again as we continue building marvelous magic together, one stage at a time.