For the fantasy writers who want to include magic in their story.
So you have magic. But where did it come from? Do you know where it really came from while your characters have some other explanation? Is there a scientific explanation? A religious explanation? Do your characters not want to know? Are they looking for the origin? How long has magic been around?
If you’ve created a mythology and your characters don’t know how long magic has been around, the creation of magic or the gift of magic (whatever you want to call it) may be included within a myth or a creation story.
How much do your characters know about magic? How much a person knows about magic, how it works, its laws, its limitations, and its origins will depend on what they believe the explanation is, how they feel about magic, and how much the world knows about magic in general. Have your characters figured out exactly how magic works? Do they have theories and laws of magic? How long have these theories been in place?
If your characters have extensive knowledge on magic, there will probably be written records of this knowledge. If there are records, how available are they? Are there text books about it? Or is the magic incorporated within religious text? Or is it forbidden to know about magic?
There should be limits on the magic in your world. If there are no limits, everything will be too easy for your characters.
How often can they use magic? How much power do they have? Do they tire after using a lot of it? Does it deteriorate with age? Or does it become more powerful? Can someone gain more magic? Can they lose it? Are they able to kill? Can they only use a certain amount each day? Making a list of what magic can’t do can sometimes be more helpful than making a list of what it can do.
There will probably be laws about magic. What are yours? Who can use magic? Who cannot use magic? Is there an age requirement? Do you have to pass a test? Are there certain types of magic that are not allowed? Are there certain situations in which magic is not allowed?
How are the laws integrated into the government? Is there a separate government for magic? Or just a separate department? Or is magic integrated with other laws? Who makes the laws? Who enforces them? What are the punishments for breaking them?
Think back to the origins of your magic. This will affect how much of the population has magic. Who has magic? If they’re born with it, how is it passed on? Is it genetic? How many people have that gene? Is it learned? How many people are able to learn how to use magic? How many people actually know that magic exists?
Ranks and Orders:
What are magic users in your world called? Wizards? Witches? Warlocks? Sorcerers? Do any of these titles have negative connotations in your world? Is there a rank of magic users? Are there any offensive words that refer to magic users? Are special titles used (Sir, Master, Madame, etc.)?
Is there a hierarchy of magic users? How are they treated? How are they thought of? Are there different types of magic users who are seen as equal? What are those types? Can magic users move throughout the hierarchies and ranks of magic? Are there different levels based on power or skill? Do these users wear anything that signifies what their rank is?
There are several types of magic, some which may be put into the category of science in some worlds. What do your characters call magic? Here are some types of magic:
- Forms of Divination
- Stone/gem/crystal Magic
- Herb Magic
- Color Magic
- Power Primer: Elements
- Power Primer: Mind
- Astral Projection
- Candle Magic
- Tree Magic
- Moon Magic
Is magic even allowed to be used? With most things, there will be differing opinions on the morality or ethics. There may be a majority opinion on the morality or the opinions could be evened out in terms of quantity.
What about certain types of magic or certain people using magic? Is it unethical to use certain types of magic? Is it taboo or looked down upon to use certain magic? Is it immoral for religious leaders or government officials to participate in types of magic? Is it shameful to die from magic? Or an honor? Or is there nothing attached to magic and death?
Teaching and Learning:
If magic is widely used, it will need to be taught and learned. There may be some who are self-taught, but more organized magic systems and worlds will require some sort of training.
- Public Education: In this setting, the knowledge of how to use magic would be passed on from instructor to student in a public setting. This could be a school, just one class, a club, or any other gathering that would either be free or cheap so that it is available to the public. These settings are far less selective for who is allowed in and may allow everyone to participate. Where does this take place? In a school? A classroom? Another building? A special magic center? Outside?
- Private Education: This setting would be similar to the public one, but it would be more selective in who was allowed in, more secretive, and probably more expensive. These settings would be more ideal in worlds where magic is not widespread.
- Private Mentor: This would be someone who is hired specifically to teach one or a few students. This is often expensive. Does this setting take place in your world? Where does it take place? Someone’s house? A meeting place?
- Generational Knowledge: Knowledge of magic and how to use it can also pass down through generations. Do the old teach the young? Do parents teach their offspring in private? Do certain people of a community teach the younger ones?
- The Mentor: Who is the teacher? How do people become teachers and instructors? How are they chosen? Do the students choose their instructor? Are students assigned to one instructor? Is there more than one, each of which handle one type of magic?
- The Student: How old are students of magic? How long does it take them to learn? Do they choose to learn or are they forced? How competitive is it?
With most things, there will be a general attitude toward magic. What is that attitude? Is it welcomed? Feared? Respected? Do your characters talk about it openly, or is it whispered about in secret? How do people feel about magic users? Is there discrimination? Think back to how much of the population can use magic.
Now you come to one of the more important aspects of putting magic in your world: its use. Why do people use magic and what do they use it for? How is it used? Are there certain objects that can channel magic and make it more powerful, such as a wand? Are there appropriate settings for magic and inappropriate settings?
- Magical Objects: Can magic be applied to objects to give them magical connotations? How are these objects used? Are they popular? Can they be bought, or do magic users prefer to make their own? Are objects used to channel magic? Or can people use magic without them?
- Everyday Life: How does magic affect a person’s life? Short people may have no problem with grabbing high objects if they have the power of telekinesis. Glue may not be needed if a magic user can stick objects together with magic or mend a broken object. If they can conjure light, they may not need any lamps (electrical, gas, oil, etc.). What about jobs? Is a person able to do more in one day at work because of magic? Are they allowed to use magic?
- Transportation: Magical transportation is probably more effective than other forms of transportation, especially in a world with little technology. However, this can also be seen as lazy writing if your characters are able to teleport anywhere in the world at any time. Add some risks to this. Are they only able to travel like that once a day? Does it deplete their magic? Can only really powerful magic users do it? How is it learned? Are carts, wagons, and carriages pulled by magic or by animals? Or both? Are there portals? Are certain magical objects needed to transport through magic? Is there a possibility of ending up in the wrong place? What about flying?
- Communication: Communicating between long distances with magic is much easier than snail mail. How do your characters go about this? In one of my stories, the extremely wealthy and government officials are able to use tablet-like devices in which what they write on that tablet (it’s sort of like parchment wrapped over thick cardboard) will show up on another’s tablet thus allowing communication. Think of limitations for the communication, like how the tablets in my story are quite expensive. Who is able to communicate through magic? Are there many forms? Are some faster than others? Can symbols be used to communicate?
- War: Is magic used in war? Does the military have a special task force filled with magic users? Or does everyone use magic? How does the use of magic change battle tactics? Are there magical weapons?
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- Witches and Magic Systems
- Magic Prompt
- Writing Magic
- Types of Magic
- When Magic Goes Wrong
- Magic-Like Psychic Abilities
- Science and Magic
- Creative Uses of Magic
- Thoughts on Creating Magic Systems
- Defining the Sources, Effects, and Costs of Magic
- Coming Up With a Magic System
- Using Magic in Horror Fiction
- World Building Basics: Magic
- Let’s Talk About Magic