Creating Magic

**Disclaimer** Everything below is my own personal feelings. If my own personal feelings offend you, we need to talk about your unhealthy need to be validated by people on the internet. **End disclaimer**

One of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever done (aside from growing up, which has been quite the adventure so far) was creating a magic system for my novels. I’ve a quick confession for you, which will explain a lot: I don’t like the fantasy genre.

An addendum to my confession: I love Harry Potter, to the point that I have a lovely Deathly Hallows tattoo on my left wrist. I’ve read Patrick Rothfuss’s works multiple times. Additionally, the Chronicles of Chrestomanci are among my favorite middle-grade novels, which I will stop to read any time I come across one at a used bookstore.

Fantasy on the whole, however, irritates the living daylights out of me. First of all, the names. I’m sorry, but I don’t want to read a novel about a character named Lake J’fajwei (yes, I just mashed the keys on the keyboard and deleted the first 7 characters on each side). I don’t care if Lake uses a sword or has a magical scepter or discovers a portal to another plane. The fact that his name is Lake and he speaks English with a row of elves (similar to a “flock” of geese or a “pack” of wolves, a “row” of elves is my personal collective noun for “many elves”) is enough to pull me out of the story.

I fall further out of love with a novel when Lake J’umpingriver magically fights off a large number of Big Bads after just learning he is the Prince of Sdfaklsdfais (I tend to stick to the home keys when mashing the keyboard). I’m ready to throw the book across the room when, all in one chapter, Lake J’fallyngwatyr evades death, meets a large-bosomed girl of questionable mental capacity with whom he promptly “falls in love,” and gets saved by the ever-wise Deus Ex Machina (looking at you, Gandalf, you useless geezer).

How does this at all relate to me creating a magic system? (And, if I hate the genre so much, why am I writing it?)

Look at the fantasy novels I do like. We’re talking about characters named Ronald and Wil–simple, logical names that could be your classmates or coworkers. We’re talking about settings that feel real: Tarbean may be on a different planet, but who hasn’t walked down a dingy street and seen paupers begging for their next meal? We’re talking about villains who are so tangible, they’re part of the fabric of the story: Voldemort is regarded by every breathing character as “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named;” the Chandrian are alluded to in folk music. The authors of these novels took fantasy and made it feel like reality.

This is what I aspire to do. The problem I have is creating a fantasy world and making you (“you” currently being my beta readers and critique partners) believe it really exists. Taylor, Raquel, and Cutter have done a fabulous job of looking at my magic system and saying, “Well, why? Why does X plus Y equal Q?”

For example, main character Patrick is allergic to magic. This is evidenced when the town witch, Marani, closes the handles of a bag he is carrying on his arm. Patrick develops a rash on his arm from the magic, which Marani cures with an totally non-magic eel-based salve.

Taylor’s reaction to this was, “A character in a fantasy novel allergic to magic? Cool! So, uh, why?”

To which I responded, “Ummmm . . . because I said so?”

To which Taylor responded, “That’s cool, but, uh . . . so is he allergic to all magic or just Marani’s magic?”

And when I couldn’t really answer that question, Taylor sat me down with a notebook and started tearing apart my fragile magic system. “Who are your witches? Where does their power come from? What can they do? What’s the cost of their magic? Will your main characters ever use magic? Why do you need magic in the first place? If you took magic out of your novel right now, what would it look like?”

What we determined (while adventuring through the Cascade Mountains last Tuesday) was that I suck at creating things that are non-sentient. My novels are not plot-driven nearly so much as they are character-driven. My characters are the most tangible aspect of my world. So why not make magic sentient?

The arrival of that idea felt like finally finding the right key for a stubborn lock. I love the concept of sentient magic, something that has a law of its own and dictates the laws the characters follow (the In Her Name series is a pretty good example of this idea). By turning my magic system into a “character,” I started to understand how the whole story might come together.

It’s still a work in progress, but some plot holes are getting a much-needed fill. In addition, the new laws of magic will definitely create distinct differences in how my two main characters view their world. I am so excited to see where the next few weeks of revisions takes the story.

*ahem* Now that all of that is out of my system, maybe share your own feelings about the fantasy genre? What do you love/hate/find most bizarre about the whole thing?

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