Realism in Magic

So, I wasn’t sure what to write for today’s blog post, and then I had a conversation on FaceBook that started with a comment on yesterday’s Sunday Snippet post.  (Don’t you just love how one thing leads to something totally different?  Inspiration and ideas come from so many sources.)

Anyhow, I was asked what sources I used for researching wizards.  My response was, “Research? I was supposed to research?  Most of it comes from just general knowledge from having read a lot of fantasy novels, playing D&D, etc, as well as my own experience with magic.”  I then invited the questioner to hit me up on FB if he had any other questions.

It turned out that he didn’t have any specific questions, just that he’d been watching “a lot of crazy shit” on TV and wanted to know how they got their material, so when he read my post he wondered where I got mine.

And that’s a really good question and it got me thinking about how much I struggle with magic in my novels.

Practitioners of magic in the real world aren’t nearly as exciting as what you see on television or in movies or even read about in most books.  We don’t shoot lightning bolts from our fingertips or wave a wand and have the house clean itself. (Although if anyone knows how to make those things happen, please let me know.  Especially the house thing.)

So, yeah, real magic isn’t really exciting enough for a fictional world.

But on the other hand, I have a hard time making magic be as powerful and spectacular as it needs to be for fiction, so I find myself constantly working to balance the two.

So, how do you limit magic?  Coming from a background in D&D (and later an addiction to Materia Magica) one of the things that I do is put a “cost” on magic.

I’m going to pull some examples from The Academy of the Accord, since it’s my main focus at the moment.

In the series I establish that there is a “cost” for magic. Using it drains the user.  The more powerful the spell in relation to the experience of the wizard, the greater the drain.

For instance, a wizard who has just learned to use invisibility can use the spell on him/herself, but attempting to wrap the spell around another as well will exhaust said wizard.  An older wizard with more experience will have no difficulty managing to use an invisibility spell on other people.

And even experienced wizards can be exhausted from a spell – even one that they use frequently – if there is something blocking it. For instance, in one of the books, Caristen, who is very, very good with truth spells, tries to use one to reveal the writer of a letter. There were heavy wards in place around the person who wrote it and he couldn’t push through for more than a glimpse before the parchment turned to ash and he slumped onto the couch, drained, exhausted, and nearly unconscious – scaring his Warder and friends out of several years of life.

In the Other Mages trilogy, magic is even more understated.

And in The Trilogy That Still Doesn’t Have a Name magic is… not used very much, despite one of the main characters being a wizard.  Magic just isn’t the focus of the story.

I also tend to limit magic through society. In The Academy of the Accord, wizards are met with suspicion in a lot of places, due to the Wizard Wars, which happened a long time before any living person can remember them, but the effects of which are still being felt.

In The Other Mages, the Mage Guild is losing power and it’s best not to flaunt what you are.

In The Trilogy That Still Doesn’t Have a Name wizards are accepted some places and hunted in others.

And now I want to write something in which magic is the norm and those who don’t have it are viewed with suspicion.  Thanks, plot bunnies.

“(Don’t you just love how one thing leads to something totally different?  Inspiration and ideas come from so many sources.)”

Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t…



Filed under writing

6 responses to “Realism in Magic

  1. Stevie Miller

    I’ve had a friend consulting me recently for research on magic too, and offered a similar explanation about real life magic and fictional magic being two very different animals. Basically, what do you, as the author, *need* magic to be able to do in your story? If you work backwards from that you can come up with an explanation as to how, and color it in with the culture and personality quirks of your characters. I agree with you that finding a way, clearly defined for the readers, of limiting magic is an important component. You can’t just have somebody being an all powerful wizard getting stumped by a lid stuck too tightly on a jar. Otherwise, readers will be asking in frustration, “Why doesn’t he just use magic?!” But if you’ve established ahead of time that glass containers are immune to magical efforts, and thus widely used in your world to protect the contents from meddling wizards, then you might just have a realistic hurdle for your wizard to overcome.

  2. mikeakin1

    Who was that that hit you up? :)

  3. Skye Hegyes

    The magic system has been touched upon in the Shifters & Mages series, but not really at the same time since the main characters of the first two books have both been shifters. Even book three will follow a shifter, so it won’t really be explained there either, but in book 4, which follows a mage, I will be going into the magic system in depth, and while I know how everything works, I’ve only given hints of the puzzle pieces to readers. That’s how secretive the mages are about how magic works – and how those who aren’t a part of the shifters and mages world continue to remain ignorant of their existence in the first place. ;)

  4. This is kind of how I approached magic in the Dark Heir Chronicles. Of course magic is a norm there also… Well, actually, I take that to both sides. In one place it’s a norm, in another it’s…shall we say disbelieved and looked at as odd and feared?

    But as you were saying funny how one thing leads to another… Sounds like our “great minds think alike” bunny, don’t it? LOL.

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