So far during the month of preptober, or promptober as I have nicknamed it, I have outlined over a dozen possible books. One of the twelve has stuck out to me enough to further my world building past the initial rough outline. Along with the general application of world building I have also taken on the task of creating the rules and properties of the magic that will exist within my potential novel.
This is not as easy as some might think. Imagine having to define how technological discoveries would affect your world without actually having any reference of the modern day progress. The statement that its just ‘magic’ does not work. Understanding how magic works and seeing how it affects everything around it is an important element of your story telling. So if you intend to include magic in your story be sure to take the time to lay out the basics.
Jei and I both enjoy building magical systems and we have developed a method that works for us. Here are the 8 questions we ask ourselves and some of the examples that you could use. Keep in mind that this is far from an absolute list of possibilities and creativity is encouraged. We do hope this helps others who are taking on the daunting job of making magic.
1 – What kinds of magic are there? Take time to define what types of magic exist within your world. There are a multitude of types out there to choose from. Here are a few common examples
Divine – Holy or divine magic is usually interpreted as power you call down from a diety and use in their service.
Dark – Also sometimes called evil magic, this consists of necromancy, demon summoning and other types of magic that impose harm or enslavement of others.
Elemental – Derived from the four elements, this type uses fire, water, earth and wind to perform magic.
Arcane – Symbols and the study of what is seen as closer to a type of science or math, arcane is a more learned type of magic.
Ritual – Anyone can use the combination of tools, words and other components to perform a spell.
2 – What is the source of the magic? Do not confuse this with the origin. While they are linked together, the source is what well the power is being pulled from. Here are some examples.
Gods – The faithful can call upon magic so long as a god grants it to them. Or the gods have perhaps gifted it to all.
Universe – The universe or world itself simply is magic that you can reach out and tap into with the right tools or natural born skills.
Cataclysm – Some kind of event in the world has suddenly introduced magic into the masses in one form or another.
Other World or Realm – A neighboring realm or world has either granted your world their magic or those from that other realm have come over, bringing their magic with them.
Innate/Born with it – A person is either born with magic or they are out of luck.
3 – How accessible is magic or the knowledge of magic? Think about how easily a regular ole joe in your world could get a hold of a magical tome or pick up the arcane if he wished. Here are some of the levels we have used.
Forbidden – Magic is condemned and considered illegal. Near impossible to find outside of the black market.
Common – Tools, books and information is found in near every city or town to some degree.
Myth – Magic is not even accepted as real. Finding any legitimate magic books or tools is like a needle in the haystack.
Restricted – Only those who have been approved are allowed to practice magic.
4 – How acceptable is magic to the populace? Take a moment to think about how people react when they meet a mage or see magic performed. Here are some of the reactions you could use.
Feared – Terror and witch hunts are the natural response. They fear for their safety and automatically see magic as the enemy.
Revered – Worship and trust is the usual response when coming into contact with any kind of magic.
Indifference – The presence of magic is so saturated that the populace tends to not give its existence a second thought.
Trepidation – While they are not afraid, most people look at magic and those who use it with a bit of unease and sometimes prejudice.
5 – What level of limits and consequences affect magic? Limiting what can be done with magic and having consequences is necessary to make magic more believable. Define how much of an impact of these two aspects have. There are a multitude of combinations but here are the three basic we tend to use.
Very Limited/Heavy Consequences – There are many things that magic cannot do and if you push the boundaries into things you shouldn’t there are dire consquences.
Partially Limited/Medium Consequences – The limit of what magic only applies to certain extremes and the consequences of pushing your boundaries are still significant but not dire.
Few Limits/Occasional Consequences – Magic has nearly no limit to what it can do and when you push your luck the consequences are less of a threat.
6 – What methods are used to interact with magic? Understanding how a person can evoke magic or cast a spell involves developing the methods that can utilized. Here are some of the most common methods we’ve used.
Ritual – Combining ingredients, verbal chants and other ritual components put together for a specific purpose.
Artifacts – Magically imbued items sometimes also known as charms that contain a specific spell.
Spells – Think old school witches with rhymes and wiggly fingers.
Alchemical – Combining physical items both mythical and real together to make a magical potion.
Willpower – Calling upon magic with willpower alone and shaping it to do what you wish without the need of components.
7 – How much of an influence does magic have on the culture? When man discovered electricity the world changed. This concept is no different with magic. Take into account how much impact magic would make. Here are the different levels we usually refer to.
Heavy Influence – Everyday life is covered in the presence of magic and magic users. It would stunt other technological growth.
Medium Influence – Magic is around but it does not imprint upon every corner of the culture. It is a commodity only about half the population has access to.
Light Influence – There very little magical influence in the culture itself. While it exists, the majority of the population either sees no need for it or cannot afford it.
Negative Influence – This can be any level of influence but it tends to harm the culture, destroy its history or shape it in a malicious way.
8 – Where did magic originate from? Every magically inclined culture will have a story that explains how they came to possess magic. This varies so much from story to story it is truly up to you how you want to write the legend. I have found that knowing this origin story tends to shape the tradition of my current magic users and sets an overtone.
After you have answered these questions, be sure to keep them somewhere easily accessible throughout your writing. This will help you stay consistent with every interaction with magic or its users.
We hope this has helped anyone looking for some guidance in building magic rules! If you have any suggestions or comments please don’t hesitate to leave us a note below!