The How and Why of My Viral Magic Research
Welcome to Part 3 of Building a Viral Magic System
All right, where are we at right now? I’ve been proceeding steadily toward world domination with my vampiric allies, but this “Slayer” person keeps showing up and spoiling things. Needless to say, this magic system business has slipped my mind a bit.
Let’s see. I completed Stage 0 of this process a long time ago. Unfortunately for you, too long ago to explain exactly how I worked through it. In part 1 of the series we walked through my efforts in Stage 1: Idea Generation and then in part 2 we covered my first attempt at Stage 2: Alignment.
Okay, I remember now. I told you this next post would be digging into the details of the magic in Stage 3: Definition… well, I lied.
I didn’t mean to, I swear! That was absolutely my plan and then I got stuck. Instead of torturing minions, as my confederates are so fond of suggesting, I sat down and analyzed the mental block to understand why I was stuck. It eventually became clear I need to skip Stage 3 and move on to research and iteration in Stage 4. And I was just finishing the research when all that “Slayer” business started up.
Today, instead of the work I promised in Stage 3, we’re going to cover how I recognized the problem, why I moved past Stage 3, and what I researched and why. So by the end, you’ll know everything I’ve been doing lately… Except the whole “Slayer” thing. I’m sorry, but that wound is still too fresh.
Why I Skipped Stage 3
Look, I tried. I really tried. I followed my standard process, starting by exploring the different Magic System Variables. I couldn’t come up with any definite answers. None! I went through every single User, System, and Global Variable I had and came up with nothing. All it did was make me more confused.
Let me show you what I mean. Let’s look at the Global Variable: Magic in the Wilds.
The purpose of this variable is to understand how much magic exists in the world beyond the powers of man. Are there mythical creatures, natural animals with magical powers, or some combination of the two? Well, there were just too many options.
If there were magical viruses for humans, it would be absurd not to consider magical viruses for other animals in the world. Some of them we likely wouldn’t see at all, but what if our dogs, cats, cattle, and pigs suddenly manifested magic? What would that look like? What would we do? What about viruses spread by animals or insects? How would that change the spread of the viruses? My answer to each of these questions would drastically change the world, the magic, and the story. And those are only two of the options I considered for a single variable.
That was the exact opposite of what I wanted!
For me, storytelling and magicbuilding is about understanding the options and choosing the ones you want the most.
The intent of Stage 3 is to help me identify and eliminate options to get me down to those precious few I can’t bear to part with. That wasn’t happening. Instead of helping me choose options, all my attempts were just showing me even more that I hadn’t considered yet. I was getting overwhelmed and couldn’t find one direction I wanted to take.
I Won’t Lie, This Was Frustrating
I wanted to show you each of The 4 Stage of Building Marvelous Magic in order, but that’s not really how the process works. The 4 stages are a tool to be shuffled around and used as you need, not commandments from the giant spaghetti monster in the sky.
The fact that I was finding new ways to address the magic system variables without seeing answers to any of them meant I wasn’t ready for Stage 3 yet. After looking closely at what was happening, I realized the core of the problem.
I hadn’t generated enough ideas.
Fortunately, more brainstorming should fix that little problem. And what better way to spark creativity than to gain more knowledge and experience?
So I Jumped Back Into Research.
Technically, you can stop and research at any stage. Personally, I like to include research as part of Stage 4: Iteration, especially in the early development of a system. This forces me to push ahead instead of getting sucked down a gravity well and stuck on a single stage. And, as I discussed in part 2 of the series, completing other stages can really clarify what needs researching.
I’ll show you what I mean.
How I Knew What to Research
Really it comes back to knowing what you want. Each stage and each iteration you complete, certain pieces should grab your attention. Those ideas, hooks, or whatever that snatch you by the throat and say, “You will choose me!”
As a general rule, when something’s got you by the throat, it’s a good idea to listen. So I went back to identify exactly such points and ideas from the stages I had already completed.
More than anything, I wanted a connection between this magic and viruses, but not just in a superficial sense. No. I wanted it to feel as though real-life viruses caused and spread this magic; I wanted the “population” of the virus to affect the power of the magic so the user produced the strongest effects while at their sickest. Last, I wanted immunodeficiency to be an advantage somehow.
That meant I had to understand how viruses and such deficiencies function in reality.
Stage 2 showed me a completely different aspect of the magic I needed to explore. After Speed-Dating The System, I learned that the magic needed a strong connection to the plot and the characters of the story. To satisfy this desire, I needed a clear understanding of how viruses and the magic itself would affect events in the timeline.
It may not seem like much, but from there, I came up with a whole list of things to research.
- What different classifications of viruses are there?
- How long does it take for a viral infection to take hold?
- What organs are typically targeted by a virus?
- How long do viruses survive outside a host?
- What symptoms are typical of a viral infection?
- How do viruses spread?
- What is an immunodeficiency and how does it change a person’s ability to resist, fight, and recover from a viral infection?
- How do vaccines and antiviral treatments work?
- What precautions can characters take against viral infection?
I Went, I Researched; I Learned
It took me approximately two hours to find answers, no matter how simple, for each of these questions. By the end, I was pretty pleased with the results.
For one, I knew more things, which is always valuable. In the process of finding answers, I also found priceless terminology I could use in the story to make it all sound and feel more real. I learned more about the nature of the system itself.
Because of how long it takes for a viral infection to take hold and symptoms to arise, there will be few immediate effects in this system. Nobody will cast streams of flame, igniting gunpowder with a thought, or launching coins out like bullets. That also means the magic will be difficult to use spontaneously in combat, instead relying on careful planning and application of power.
Through my research, I also found lots of patterns and constraints I could apply to the system. Most importantly, I got unstuck.
After less than thirty minutes of research, new ideas formed. The more I read, the more connections I could see between the magic, the plot, and back again. There are so many patterns and possibilities to pursue and ideas to chase. Almost too many.
I’m not ready to take another hack at defining the magic, but I now know enough to jump back into Stage 1 and develop that cloud of ideas I so desperately need to proceed further.
That’s all for now
Thanks so much for stopping by today. This business with the “Slayer” is getting out of hand, so I’ve got to keep this outro short. In fact, the specialist I contacted should be here any moment. I think his name is Spoke or Spine or something like that… I have it here somewhere…
You can sign up for the Marvelous Magic Builder’s Mailing List, if you want, but I have something else I’d like from you… your input.
We’re a couple posts deep in this series now and I want to know what you think. What has been helpful to you? Are there topics that I’m glossing over while you scream for me to tell you more? What would you like to see in the rest of the series?
I’ve got the series mostly planned out, but this is ultimately about helping you so drop me a line and let me know what I can do to help. You can contact me here, on Facebook, through Twitter, or with a comment pinned to the body of the “Slayer”. Whichever you choose, I’m always happy to hear from you.
Thanks for stopping by and we’ll talk again soon.