How to Create Magic Systems

You may not want to consider magic when writing your fantasy stories, but it is an area of worldbuilding that makes them unique. You needn’t explain everything about your magic if you don’t want, and keep it... well... magic.

However, it’s important thinking deeper than ‘X character does this, Y character does that’. I say this because if you just give specialist magical abilities to specific characters, others can replicate their origin story to achieve the same effect. If you define your magic as something tangible, rather than showing it can do anything, it will be more intriguing to readers. 

Where does your magic come from? What is the source? Common origins are the following:-

·         Object - A spice, mineral, sword, ring, jewel or other objects contain magic.
·         Energy - Magic comes from a type of electrical or life force.
·         Evolved - An alteration or mutation has taken place giving characters powers others cannot achieve.
·         Dues Ex Machina - Unexplainable creatures with power mere mortals cannot have such as gods and mythological beasts.

Deciding the size and scale of magic in your realm is important. If everyone is magic, then magic loses its magic.

·         Rare - Ordinary folk may know about magic, though perhaps misunderstand it due to the scarcity of people able to harness the power.
·         Secretive - Only a few with the requisite knowledge use magic.
·         Accessible - Everyone can use magic.

How do people in your world see magic users? Imagine how it would feel having powers when others don’t. Alternatively, imagine yourself if the opposite position.

·         Hate - People don’t like magicians.
·         Distrust - Magicians are tricksters so people cannot trust them.
·         Envy - People crave what they don’t have.
·         Fear - People fear what they don’t possess.
·         Respect - Fear can breed respect.
·         Adoration - Like all great people through history, they attract fans, and magicians may do the same.

After explaining where magic comes from, you need to know how it’s used. Common ways to use magic are the following: -

·         Natural - Characters are born with biological magic tendencies.
·         Train - Characters can train to harness magic.
·         Drain - Characters need to give something up, such as life force, or even blood, to do magic.
·         Words - Simply uttering words or phrases can have magical effects.
·         Potions - Food, drink and creams can have different properties.
·         Places - Magic only works when characters are in certain places such as castles, schools or even other dimensions.

Saying magic can do anything is boring and unrealistic. Give your realms magic rules to stick by. Obviously, magic isn’t realistic whatsoever, but through your explanation for where it comes from, you can give it a realistic sense. Abilities make magic cool, but what is more interesting is what it cannot do and why.

Having decided what your magic cannot do, try to bear that in mind, while salivating over what it can do. I have featured some buzzwords to feed your imagination. The actual power and mechanics of how it works will be something that you, the author, decide alone. Try to make them unique. However, that’s becoming increasingly difficult as more fictitious works become available.

·         Skills - Acid, Aquatic, Duplication, Illusion, Telekinesis, Animal, Resurrection
·         Force - Energy, Magnet, Sonic, Waves, Molecule, Gravity, Aura, Force Field, Blast, Beam/Ray, Liquid, Radiation
·         Nature - Air, Wind, Weather, Plant, Water, Electric, Ice, Heat, Fire, Cold, Light
·         Manipulation - Earth, Creation, Space, Mind, Objects, Time
·         Power - Transfer, Block, Convert, Strengthen, Weaken, Mimic
·         Sense - Power, Surroundings, Tracking, Danger, Thoughts
·         Travel - Electric, Omnipresence, Dimension, Portal, Summoning, Speed, Teleport, Flight
·         Morph - Body, Limbs, Bones, Elastic, Growth, Shrink, Liquid, Gas, Object
·         Knowledge - All, Some (Polymath), One i.e. language Polyglot

After considering magical abilities, think about the knock on effects to your world. When you add magic, it means that otherwise troublesome everyday tasks are no longer chores.

·         Fire - No cooking, lighting or steam engines required.
·         Healing - No medicine or human biology science needed if magicians can cure disease.
·         Flight/Telekinesis - If people can travel long distance easily then there would be no travel or delivery industries.
·         Creation - Choose to decimate world hunger with magical food creation, or make your magicians evil. If you can generate water, there would be minimal disease.
·         All - Massive problems occur if all magic is possible. You will develop a criminal underworld if magic isn’t available to everyone. You cannot expect all magic usage to be good, can you? Alternatively, if everyone has magic, then planets would be unrecognisable, to the effect of a dystopia or a utopia.

Characters may need to study to learn how magic works. There are many ways you could tackle this, including the following: -

·         Schools - Characters learn magic at an Academy.
·         Books - Any character can learn magic from spell books.
·         Groups - Families or societies that hold secret knowledge, handed down throughout generations.

If your magic is powerful then it may be useful setting social laws to prevent evil magicians. They don’t have to, and probably won’t, obey these rules.

·         Restrictions - There could be any number of legal restrictions such as the following: - cannot use magic after midnight, at home, or when still a minor.
·         Punishments - If a magician breaks the law, you can pick sentence. This could be torture, prison, community service, death or one of your own cultural creations.

Happy Creations!