Welcome to Part 6 of Building a Viral Magic System
Let’s take a quick inventory of everything we’ve done on the viral magic system so far.
We started by generating bundles of ideas and speed-dating the magic to align it with the story. From there, we ran into a snag trying to define the system and researched viruses and viral medicine instead. We then reiterated our early efforts and generated even more ideas for the system. Last time we talked on the subject, we walked through another alignment exercise to determine what type of magic system we need.
After all that work, we are finally ready to take a swing at Stage 3 and define the system. Most people struggle with this stage more than the others, so I’m sure you’ve been looking forward to this.
I usually start this stage by considering the magic system variables. The thing is, we’re not going to walk through all of my answers. As tempting as it is for me to dump all of my brilliant ideas on you — Hey! My mom says they’re brilliant, so there! — that won’t help much with your system. So instead of sharing my indisputably genius ideas, I’ll focus on how I went about addressing and answering the variables.
Let’s start with a quick review of magic system variables.
A Quick Review of Magic System Variables
Magic Variables are descriptive qualities of your magic system and are more like a state of being rather than any single idea, question, or answer. To make the matter even more confusing, your magic system is more than just an agglomeration of these pieces.
A magic system results from numerous variables and qualities blending together and morphing into something unique and beautiful.3 Types of Magic System Variables
Think of your magic like a soundboard. Every board has dozens of knobs, buttons, sliders, and deedily-boppers (pardon the technical jargon), each of which manipulates a specific element of sound. We can manipulate each widget individual to turn simple audio input into a haunting symphony or a discordant mess.
Well, your magic system variables are the knobs, buttons, sliders, and so on. You need to determine exactly how to set them and deliver your desired result.
Make sense? Good, because we’re diving into how I go about addressing these variables.
How I Address Magic System Variables
First, you need a list of variables to consider. Fortunately, you can find over a dozen to work through by looking here and here. If you’re up for a challenge, you can also scour the internet for a giant list of questions like those at Mythcreants or SFWA. Once you have a list, it’s a matter of the proper mindset and whatever approach works best for you.
I work through one variable at a time, recording all my thoughts as they come. This gives me solid documentation of all options and opinions and allows extra time for the ideas to solidify. As I worked through each variable, I do my best to classify them as “addressed”, “needs addressing”, and “ignorable.”
The order I work through them changes all the time, but for this system, I started with the Global Variables before zooming into tighter focus on the System Variables and User Variables. You can take any order you wish, but that worked best for me this time around.
The rest comes down to having the proper mindset. At this point in the process, it is important to explore all possible answers and the ramifications they may have. From there, pick your favorite of all the options and move on.
And don’t think you need to have all the answers right away. This kind of work takes time and the growth of a system is a process. If you find something you can’t answer, don’t panic. All it means is that other areas need further development before you can narrow things down. That’s why I skipped back to idea generation in the first place. Do what you can and keep moving forward.
All sounds simple and easily executed, right?
Uh-huh. When has anything related to storytelling been simple and straight forward? Let’s go over some of my results and things should become clear… or at least clearer.
The Viral Magic System Variables
Unfortunately, there are too many variables to address all at once, and this is already a long post. For now, we’re just going to discuss Natural Laws, Awareness, Source of Magic, Magic in the Wilds, and False Knowledge. There simply isn’t time to go through all thirteen.
That said, if you want to dig into each variable individually, let me know and we can do that. For now, I want to give you some examples from my work. Let’s start with the two most critical I identified as most critical for this system.
Global Variable: Natural Laws
This Global Variable is about the natural laws of the universe and how the system follows or violates them. Without a doubt, this is the single most important of my viral magic system variables.
From the beginning, I wanted to tie the magic to the nature of viruses. Throughout the building process, this has been and will continue to be, my guiding light. If something doesn’t fit the pattern, then it’s gone. I already cut a number of awesome ideas because it didn’t fall together quite right.
Knowing this provides a solid foundation as I continue to build. It also means I need to pay close attention to this variable as I add details and write my story.
Global Variable: Awareness
How much does an average person know about the magic? Are they aware of it at all or is it impart of an ignored/hidden world? Does everybody know how it works, or is the true nature only understood by experienced users?
Well, I didn’t have answers to any of these questions initially, but as I worked through my thoughts, the situation became clear.
For one, this isn’t a hidden aspect of the world. The media might limit public knowledge of the magic to some extent but not entirely. This story will take place in the modern world so the news of magical viruses will leak out somehow.
Additionally, I didn’t want this story taking place during that initial craze following their discovery. If possible, I wanted to skip past the “this is crazy and impossible” stage of reactions and on to a point of normalcy. Therefore most people needed to know about the magic even if they didn’t understand how it worked.
Altogether, this told me a great deal about the world, the viruses, and the timeline I had to work with.
While both the Awareness and Natural Laws were important viral magic system variables, there were several I could mostly ignore.
Global Variable: Source of the Magic
One of the most common, and most difficult, questions people ask about a magic system is, “Where does the magic come from?”
For my purposes with this story, I don’t care.
There are a number of interesting answers I could explore, and some are really cool.
Depending on how I answer, the source of magic could generate plot points, story hooks, and character goals than any of the other viral magic system variables. But the scope of this story is small enough that none of that will come into play. The story will focus on a specific setting with a small cast of characters with specific goals. And since none of the characters care where the magic comes from, I don’t have to sort it out.
For similar reasons, I could ignore Personality, Personal Influence, and several other variables. It’s worth noting, that if I implement this system into a story of larger scope, I may have to readdress these variables. For the time being, I’m focusing only on portions that need development.
Speaking of which, let’s look at the variables I couldn’t address.
Global Variable: Magic in the Wilds
Because I’m following the “natural laws” of viruses, logic dictates there will be magical animal viruses in the world as well. At the very least, there will be viruses spread by animals.
The thing is, I have no idea what those viruses might be, how many there are, or how relevant they might be on a global scale. If not handled carefully, such viruses could spread beyond anyone’s means of control. This could lead to a massive number of awesome stories, including a fascinating post-apocalyptic setting, but I don’t know which option I want.
There are so many enticing options that picking my favorite will take some careful consideration and I’m not ready for that.
User Variable: False Knowledge
This is an especially interesting variable to me.
It’s always fun, from a storytelling perspective, to make a character’s knowledge faulty. When done properly, characters can act intelligently, brilliantly even, and still fail because they didn’t understand the truth of things.
For this story, there are a number of factors to consider. For one, the prisoner will probably have no false knowledge, which means humanity as a whole has access to the truth. At the same time, some characters will be unaware of the specifics. They might have a general sense of how it works but lack the details. Very similar to how most people understand the basics of viruses but don’t know much beyond that.
This provides me the potential for some powerful worldbuilding and characterization. Differing the character’s reactions to the viruses will add a lot of flavor to the story. For example, if one character has a medical background while another is offering folk remedies, that could be interesting.
Currently, I don’t know what specific false knowledge is present in the world, but it’s worth holding onto.
After working through all the viral magic system variables, I know what’s finished, what I can ignore, and what needs further development. All of this will be invaluable next time when we look into boundary conditions for the system.
That’s All for Now
Now that you’ve heard the theory and seen how I handled it myself, the process should be clear. If things still aren’t making sense, then we definitely need to discuss it more.
If you’re enjoying this series as much as I am, you don’t have to wait weeks at a time for the next post to come out. All you have to do is join the Marvelous Magic Builder’s Mailing List and get the whole thing right now!
Here’s the deal. If you’re on the list, send me an email asking for the series (be sure to give the email address you used for the list) and I’ll send you the whole series. Not everything is edited and tidied up just yet but the core information is there, so you can binge and study to your heart’s content.
What’s more, you can help shape and improve the unpublished posts. Send me questions and thoughts you might have and I’ll do my best to address them. The more you engage with me, the better this whole series will become.
Unfortunately, the telepathic portion of my brain is still under development, so you’ll have to send me an email, leave a comment, or contact me in some other creative way. But, whoever keeps sending imps as messengers, please stop. My dogs keep killing them and leaving the bodies in my sock drawer.
Thanks for stopping by. I’m really looking forward to discussing boundary conditions for the viral magic system. So I’ll see you next time.