Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Storyworld Building: Creating the Magic

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

This post now part of the book Storyworld First: Creating A Unique Fantasy World For Your Novel by Jill Williamson.

Magic is a tricky thing in fiction. Not all of you need or want magic in your books, and that's fine. But for those of you who do, I think it's important to spend some time brainstoming that magic.

Here are some important questions to ask yourself:

1. What type of magic is this? 
Is this the ability to help plants grow faster? The ability to hear across miles? The ability to breathe under water? Try to give your magic a simple name. On Friday I'll write a post with just about every type of magic I can think of to get your brain working.

2. Where does the power come from?
Was your character born with this ability? Did he gain it by maturing in some way? During adolescence, perhaps? Maybe it came upon him through a mutation or evolution of some sort. It could have come as a gift from another. Or maybe anyone can learn this magic with enough study and practice. What if the magic is a language like in A Name of the Wind or Eragon? Maybe the magic is only possible in a certain place. Or perhaps the magic comes from an object like an amulet, talisman, grimoire, stone, wand, a piece of jewelry, a weapon, or a suit of armor.

3. How does it work?
How does the magic work? Is it supernatural, does it come from nature, or can it be explained with science? Think up some different ways the magic can be used. Here are some types of abilities that can be learned if one has the bloodvoicing ability as in my Blood of Kings books. See how different I've made this from general telepathy?

Messaging - Sending a thought to another person.
Listening - Eavesdropping on the thoughts of another with or without their consent.
Watching - Looking through the eyes of another while hearing their thoughts.
Knocking - The way to let a gifted person know you want to communicate.
Blocking - Closing your mind so that no one can send you a message or look through your eyes.
Sensing - Recognizing when a gifted bloodvoicer is nearby.
Jumping - Using another bloodvoicer’s connection to reach a third individual. This is done in cases where an individual doesn’t know their target well enough to make a connection on their own.
Influencing - Forcing someone to do something secretly or by outright possession. A naughty use of one’s power.
Storming - Forcing someone’s soul from their body an into the Veil.

4. Which people have the ability and why them?
Can everyone do this type of magic or only a select few? How does that affect the world? Think about farming, manufacturing, government. How does this power change those things? If everyone can do it, it's not as powerful as if only a select few can. If only a few, why them? What's special about them?

5. What is the cost of the magic?
Magic should have a cost, otherwise there would be nothing to stop someone from taking over the world. Some overused costs are that the user grows weary or ages. Try to come up with something unique. And try to balance the power and cost. If the power is small, the cost can be small, but if the power is massive, the cost should be massive.

Have you thought about these things? Where do you have the most trouble?


  1. I've been waiting for this post every since you mentioned it in your post last week. I've thought about most of these things a little bit, but there are some that I really need to develop more. Thank for the post!


  2. For the medieval fantasy I'm writing now, it could use some magic.

    I might not add a whole lot, because one of the "spiritual" quirks in it has a good theme to it that I don't want to misuse.

    But, adding magic would be a great idea! I haven't thought about that much.

    1. Medieval fantasy is my favorite, Samuel! :-)

    2. If I've said it once, I've said it twice.

      Medieval fantasy should be your favorite, because Blood of Kings came out great!

  3. I know this is two posts late but I'm so happy you're doing a series on world building! Ahhh it's like writing manna for me right now XD Anyways I have a question. Is there a such thing as having too many powers in one story? What if more than one characters have powers and each have different ones. Like if they were separated culturally like you mentioned in the first post, could the different cultures have different powers? Will that be too chaotic to all put in one story? I'm writing mine down as I read this and I have more than five different powers here and I'm worried it may be too much.

    1. *throws manna like confetti*

      Five might be too much. Maybe not in a superhero story, because superheroes always have different powers. X-men is like that too, though it's pretty much a superhero story as well. But if you're writing a medieval fantasy or something like that and you have five cultures and they all have a very different magic, that might be too much.

      I hesitate to tell you anything is too much, since I haven't read your story. Maybe you're handling it really well, you know? BUT--I will say that if you have a gut feeling that maybe it's too much. Go with your gut. Writers have a sense about story and you should trust your senses in this.

  4. Yeah, i'll totally need magic in the book i plan on writing while sitting in the car next year. i'll be totally be adding magic!!!!! AWESOME POST, JILL!!! YOU GUYS ROCK!!! :D

    1. You are going to sit in the car for a year?

      I'm glad this is helping you, TW! I hope you get out of the car sometimes. LOL ;-)

    2. Ok. I'm goingbto be traveling visiting several States next year. Hopefully ill be getting ourtof the car!!!!!

  5. Hmm... So I've had this story in my head for several years now. And there are different kinds of elemental abilities/magic. And I see this done a lot. So the problem I'm having is keeping it from being cliche. I see magic, especially elemental magic, used a lot and I don't know how to make mine unique.

    1. Well, start by not calling it elemental magic, perhaps. Get out a thesaurus or go to Thesaurus.com. Type in "elemental" or "element" and see what you see. Maybe something will jump out at you.

      Also, as you consider where the power comes from, maybe something will jump out there to help you make it unique. Maybe the elemental people can do only one element, not all of them. And maybe for the fire person, water is poison and vice versa. So the fire people would be afraid of rain. And the water people would only eat raw stuff.

      I dunno. Sit down with a sheet of paper and ask a bunch of what ifs? Then see where those lead you.

  6. Yeah. It'll definitely need a better name.

    The people can only use one element and not everyone can use them either. Only a select few. And then there are four 'common' elements that most people have for a reason I have yet to come up with. And then the two 'source' elements are held by only two people who have only one of them. I dunno. It sounds different almost. But I'm nearly certain that someone somewhere else will have had the same idea. >.<

    Hmmm. Water people only eating sushi... Now there's an idea. XD I'm using it.

    1. Woot! Well, my rambling was good for something, at least. Sometimes it's best to write the story, then brainstorm more on the magic once the first draft is done. Because then more ideas will come to you.

  7. This is an AMAZING post!!!! I am writing a medieval fantasy right now, and I am having SO much fun with it! :):):) But I really like the part about, why? Why THAT person of ALL people? Their actions or the actions of people before them, or their personality needs to have something to do with why they can do what they can do... if that makes any sense... lol;) And the cost. There has to be a cost. You can't just go, "bang, bang, bang! Look at me! I'm awesome!" And just be perfectly fine. In my story, they have to be careful with how much they use at a time. If they use to much, they may pass out, or get very sick.

    1. It is fun, isn't it? If only I could brainstorm all day. *sigh* My time will come. Oh yes, my time will come.

  8. I'm trying to write a viking fantasy with a magical item in it, so this is amazingly helpful!!!! Thanks so much, and I love your books!!!! :)
    <>Jessica<> :)