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Creating A Magic System

Updated on September 21, 2013

What Do You Mean?

If you are writing a fantasy work or series, one of the first things you must do is create your magic system. This is simply how your characters access magic, where it comes from, and what specific rules exist while using magic. Are there any side effects, any weak points to all magic users? Creating your magic system and gaining an understanding of it is important and should be addressed prior to your writing process.

How Is It Harnessed?

When you've added magic to your newly created realm, you must first understand how your characters access their magic. In the Harry Potter series, Harry and his friends all used wands to focus their magical energies and had to verbalize or mentally think of the spell or incantation. They could not do just any spell either, they had to know the spell and understand how it work. This is a part of how the magic in your realm is harnessed.

In some cases, magic is harnessed by hand gestures, instruments, gems, stones, or other such items. How is your magic harnessed and how is it intricate to the story or plot? How can you contort the story by incorporating some of these prerequisites. In Harry Potter, wands can be stolen or broken, rendering the wizard defenseless. In some fantasy novels, magic can be sucked right out of the person, gems and wands destroyed. There are many possibilities. The question you must answer in this section is how is the magic harnessed and accessed by the magic users in your particular book or series.

Who Can Use It? What Is It Called?

Here's a big question for you. Is magic special to one race of people or can anyone access it? Is it passed down from generations, is it common knowledge. There are some such fantasy series like The Sword of Truth series in which wizards are trained through lineage and possess a specific quality of power. Magic is rare in that world and very few can access it. The question you must answer is who can use magic in your world. Can anyone with proper training and instruction learn or does a person have to be special. Is it like Star Wars where those who possess a concentration of midi-chlorians can learn to harness the force?

All in all, know who can possess the power of magic and why. It could be crucial to your work. Also think of a good name for your magical energy and be able to tell the audience what it's called as well. It can't simply be "magic" because that's no fun.

Where Does It Come From?

Magic sometimes have no origin and simply is. However, I find it easier to explain where it came from be it a magical being, a gem, a different world, or by a deity that provides such power. Giving magic a source makes it easier for the reader to relate to the story. They don't have to ask Where did the power come from? Think of Avatar: The Last Airbender. There are four bending types: Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. The origins of the bending ability is explained in the series. Each bending style was learned by a specific source. The airbenders learned from the flying bison, the fire benders from the dragons, the water benders from the moon, and the earth benders from the badgermoles.

Doesn't that make the story so much cooler? There's an origin to this gift or power or magic. I think it adds substance. Though, you don't have to have an origin. It can just be, but it's just a suggestion. Think about.

In Battle and Against Others

Okay, so we know how it's harnessed, where it comes from, and who can use it. However we don't know about what it can do in battle or how it's used against others. There are several things you need to ask in order to solve this section.

1. How is magic activated?: You can think of words, mantras, hand signals, spell charging, etc to determine how your character activates her magical abilities.

2. Who can reverse spells?: Can enemies reverse spells used by your protagonist or are they stuck?

3. How does it look?: Does it come it on streams or powders or gases? How will it attach to enemies or affect them. Is it an energy force or does it attack internally?

4.Can Spells be countered?: Can your characters be interrupted during spell conjuring? What can stop them?

5.How long do spells last?: Do the spells last a certain amount of time? If so, how long?

Rules, Restrictions, Regulations

Magic usually has its limit, it's usually only meant to be used for certain tasks, and there are usually things that magic users can't do.

This is very important to your magic system. You have to understand that magic has to be beneficial, but no so much that it makes the seemingly deadly uninteresting. Magic is an energy that comes from within, it should be draining and should exhaust itself. If your protagonist can use magic all the time with little effort and dominates all the time, it's not interesting. It just seems cheesy and it prevents your character from having a real conflict.

Magic should have a purpose and be used for certain things. I believe that magic should be used to battle other magical users, to assist when needed, to provide support for the team, and used to do what can't be done in normal circumstances. Healing, fireballs, stopping time, repairing damage, reading minds: Those are the kinds of things I'm talking about. Think of ways that magic can be used and incorporate that into you Magical System.

Magic can't do everything as we learn in many TV shows, movies, and book series. Normally we see that time can't reverse what should be, it can't revive the dead, and it can't save an entire civilization. Magic is for support and can't prevent everything. In the TV series Charmed, Piper tried desperately to resurrect her recently killed sister, Prue. When she asked why she couldn't do it, she was told It just doesn't work that way. Magic can fail and is not all powerful. It should be restricted also to the power of its user. If your character isn't that powerful, I'm sure she can't stop time revive the dead. Keep those things in mind too.

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In Conclusion

Getting a full grasp of your Magical System will help you incorporate magic into your story a lot easier. It's especially easier when you know these facts about the magical energies in your world. Keep all these things in mind when you're including magic. Know who can use it and why, where it comes from, how is it harnessed and activated. Also know the limits, rules, and restrictions associated with your Magical System. I hope this has been somewhat educational to you!


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    • ACSutliff profile image

      ACSutliff 20 months ago

      Hi CrazedNovelist,

      I absolutely love magic! It is the best part of fantasies and can make or break a fantasy book in my opinion. I will surely be borrowing your handy tips as I begin thinking more deeply about how the magic in my new fantasy works. In my first fantasy (The Keeper of the Code, currently seeking beta readers! Let me know if you're interested in reading it), I called my magic Alchemy, and it was very rigid with lots of rules. I want more freedom this time, but I have to remember the basics, so I am sure your tips will come in handy.

      Thanks for sharing!


    • CrazedNovelist profile image

      A.E. Williams 5 years ago from Hampton, GA

      Aww thanks a lot! I appreciate your comment and support. I'm so glad that this useful for fellow fantasy writers!! :)

    • manicpanicplease profile image

      L Brander 5 years ago from Canada

      Great hub! I'll definitely be using this for future writing pieces. You've made sure to take everything necessary into account for creating a working and believable magic system. Voted up!

    • CrazedNovelist profile image

      A.E. Williams 5 years ago from Hampton, GA

      Aww, I appreciate that Keith!! ;) Yeah this is from my own learning of a sort. Writing fantasy can be difficult if you haven't got your ducks in a row. The magic system should be the 2nd or 3rd thing to establish.

    • profile image

      KDuBarry03 5 years ago

      Great information, Aubrey! This reminds me of the magic systems used in the Final Fantasy games. It is actually quite easy to make a magic system; it's just like creating a fun game for everyone to enjoy!

      Voted up, shared, and tweeted!

    • CrazedNovelist profile image

      A.E. Williams 5 years ago from Hampton, GA

      Yay!! Thanks Unknown! :)

    • unknown spy profile image

      IAmForbidden 5 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

      Aubrey, i missed this before! Very cool, i love this hub, i love fantasy! all my votes!

    • CrazedNovelist profile image

      A.E. Williams 5 years ago from Hampton, GA

      Thanks Olde, I appreciate your votes and your feedback. I'd forgotten about this hub, lol. It was one of my firsts. So glad you gave it a gander. Fantasy is a love of mine, so I really get in depth. :) See ya around the hubs!

    • profile image

      Olde Cashmere 5 years ago

      Such a cool hub CrazedNovelist. I love how in depth you were with all of the nuances of adding this detail in fantasy writing. Brilliant work, voted up, awesome, useful, and interesting :)

    • annerivendell profile image

      annerivendell 5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Thank you, CrazedNovelist. That's very generous of you. :-)

    • CrazedNovelist profile image

      A.E. Williams 5 years ago from Hampton, GA

      Awesome! I am so glad this is to use of you. I was skeptical about the subject matter. I, myself, have learned that these kinds of things should be settled before starting. It's so hard to keep going when you're like "Is that allowed in my universe?" Keep me posted about how your novel is going, would love to hear about or read some samples for you. :)

    • annerivendell profile image

      annerivendell 5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Wow, what a coincidence to have found this hub today. I'm re-writing a fantasy novel for children which I originally wrote 15 years ago (and never managed to get it published). Your hub has helped to concentrate my mind. It's so detailed and specific. Very helpful. Thank you.