Welcome to Part 8 of Building a
Viral Magic System
Whenever creating a magic system, Stage 3 often takes me the longest. Which is why I’m thrilled with our progress on the viral magic. In the last couple of posts, we examined the magic system variables and identified a handful of boundary conditions.
Those steps usually give me trouble because they are so ephemeral in nature. A lot of times the process feels arbitrary and fake… which makes sense, it being fiction and all. But that feeling always bothers me.
That’s why equations often give me a major release. They serve as guidelines for exploring the vast and murky middle-ground between boundaries. More than that, they help me connect with the magic variables and conditions in new ways so I can better understand how things work.
At least… that’s normally how things go.
This time, I found nothing but pain and frustration, and it killed my progress on the viral magic for quite a while. Today I want to walk through how I tried to find equations, what I did when I couldn’t, and how I pushed past this unexpected hurdle.
Everything Started So Normally
Whenever searching for equations to embed in my magic system, I sniff around the core of the magic itself. For this system, it was with viruses. So I searched the most common mathematical equations used in virology.
Turns out there aren’t many. At least, not many simple ones.
There’s the multiplicity of infection (ratio of the number of virus particles to the number of target cells in a defined space), the viral burst size (number of virus particles produced per infected cell when the cell ruptures), and that was about it. I found a whole heap of papers using mathematical models to emulate the spread of infection through a body or a population.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t easily use such advanced topics in my system.
And that was it. I had a few patterns from my previous research, but nothing new to use. I was stuck. Frozen. My favorite tool dead without a forsaken soul in sight to power it.
I didn’t know what to do.
So I Called in Help
First, I turned to an expert. In my research, I found an awesome blog about virology. Given how much I value subject matter expertise on a topic, I tried to make contact. Even if they didn’t want to talk at length, they might point me in the right direction.
Unlike most nights, I didn’t have time to stare at my email waiting for someone to acknowledge my existence like most nights. The signal flare was up and I had to keep moving while I waited. So I turned to my favorite source of inspiration.
The specifics of why this works continues to evade me, but talking things out always seems to shake some screws loose… wait, that’s not what I meant. Bouncing ideas off someone often gets me unstuck. So I called a friend, and we picked at the problem for an hour or two. Some ideas broke free, but they felt off somehow.
While troubleshooting the system, one friend noticed something important. Most of my equations in other systems centered on the magical effects. Telekinesis, for example, has no equations to call its own, but the physics involved in pushing objects totally does.
So I turned my desperate, bloodshot gaze toward the specific effects and boundary conditions of my magic system. This time my efforts were at least marginally successful and I finally felt I was making some progress on the viral magic system.
My Precious Equations
Since I couldn’t find equations I wanted to use, I made up my own.
After finding some viral lethality statistics I made up my own numbers. I decided the magical viruses killed 20% of their hosts while those infected with two or three viruses had a 40% and 80% chance of dying. The numbers are bogus but my “equation” clarified the risk of contracting multiple strains at once.
I also realized the viral burst size and volume calculations might combine into something interesting. If I wanted to, I could get detailed about the number of viral particles generated in a certain amount of blood or saliva and connect this to the strength of the effect.
But that was more work than I wanted to do for this system.
Because of the effects I kept, another couple of options popped up. For example, if I used the kinetic dampening field, I could get good use out of the acceleration, force, pressure, and kinetic energy formulas. Nothing new or exciting, but at least I would be on familiar ground.
But I wasn’t happy with any of these. The results couldn’t power a toothbrush, let alone an entire magic system. So I continued to get more and more frustrated until the truth sucker-punched me in the cerebellum.
What I Had Was Good Enough
Most of my magic systems to date have been hard and rational systems. I like to stuff in as much science as I can, but sometimes that level of effort is unnecessary.
I didn’t need to go as deep as I normally do. By design, this system should feel more organic and less mechanical than others I’ve built. The trick here is building a system that is rational, not a system that is factual.
Suddenly, the ideas and equations I disliked before didn’t seem so bad. In fact, once I let go of my need for hardcore, scientific equations, I love the patterns and effects I’ve got. Even the things I don’t like aren’t a big deal anymore because more detail and information will come from breaking the system and additional research.
If there is one lesson I want you to learn, its this.
It’s always weird re-learning lessons I thought I knew, but it turns out I have to re-teach myself all the time.
I know what I’m doing, I’ve done it before, and I will come back and fix it. Instead of getting upset that things aren’t working how I want, I need to trust myself and move forward.
You should too.
Even if this is your first magic system, trust yourself. You have instincts from all the books you’ve read, movies you’ve watched, and games you’ve played. Deep down, you know how to fix it, so just give yourself some credit and keep moving forward.
That’s All for Now
While the lack of equations temporarily killed my progress on the viral magic system, everything is back on track.
Our next step is to grab a giant hammer and beat the living hell out of the system until it breaks. And that’s what part nine is all about. If you don’t want to wait until then to read the post, you don’t have to.
Here’s the deal. If you’re on the Marvelous Magic Builder’s Mailing List, send me an email (including the email used for the mailing list) and I’ll send you more than just part nine. I’ll send you all the written posts in the series!
Not everything is edited and tidied up just yet but the core information is there, so you can still binge to your heart’s content. If you send me your questions and thoughts, I’ll do my best to address them in the upcoming posts.
Anyway, good luck finding equations and patterns for your own systems; I’m glad you stopped by. Talk to you next time.