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Describe your magic system

Discussion in 'World Building' started by thedarknessrising, Jun 4, 2015.

  1. Just last night, I watched a youtube clip that discussed the idea of soft vs hard worldbuilding. That sounds very close to this idea. The world is strange and unknowable. It's a nice watch.
     
    nck and Onemaus like this.
  2. StrawhatOverlord

    StrawhatOverlord Scribe

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    Imo even if the world is weird and mysterious to its inhabitants and to the reader, you the author should still know its rules, otherwise you can just make up anything whenever you want.
     
  3. nck

    nck Scribe

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    Being able to make up anything whenever I want is exactly the goal, for me at least. So long as you keep in mind some broad guidelines (drawn largely from genre expectations, in my case) and don't do anything that blatantly contradicts something you've already written, the reader isn't going to be able to tell whether you knew everything about how magic and the world work before you wrote it or not, and then as a writer you get the freedom of being able to take the story where you want.

    It's not a method that's going to work for everyone, of course; it might not even work for most writers. But this idea that as a writer you need to know exactly how the world works in order to write it is by no means a universal truth.
     
  4. StrawhatOverlord

    StrawhatOverlord Scribe

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    That's fine, I wasn't saying anyone had to, just shared my opinion. Even vague guidelines is still in the spirit of what I meant though.
     
  5. nck

    nck Scribe

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    Respectfully, while you did express it as an opinion, you used the word "should," so I do take this as you saying that this what people have to do. I also don't think keeping in mind "vague guidelines" (by which I meant something as vague as what I described in how my magic works above) is really in the spirit of what you said, which is that regardless of how mysterious a world is, a writer should "know its rules;" that implies a great deal more specificity than what I'm talking about.
     
  6. StrawhatOverlord

    StrawhatOverlord Scribe

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    So I could have worded it better, my bad. It seems preferable to me if the system, or lack thereof, is less mysterious to the writer than it is to the reader. But whatever works is good.
     
  7. nck

    nck Scribe

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    I guess by including "lack thereof" you're suggesting that knowing there are no or very few rules worked out and knowing that there are rules and what they are amount to the same thing, but I feel like those are pretty different perspectives to write from.
     
  8. StrawhatOverlord

    StrawhatOverlord Scribe

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    Well yes, but I guess I don't have a good picture of the mindset for "soft systems". I'm not averse to soft magic, liked it in the Middle Earth stories and Harry Potter, but for my own world I prefer strict rules, I don't think I could make a soft system if I tried. I even ended up with explanations for rule-breaking things that I intended to be mysterious.
     
  9. nck

    nck Scribe

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    This speaks to what I meant about being uncomfortable with thinking about magic in terms of systems. You don't have to "make a soft system," you just let magic be whatever the story needs it to. Think about how magic is often depicted in myths and fairy tales.
     
  10. StrawhatOverlord

    StrawhatOverlord Scribe

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    I kind of have that too, the gods have magic because they're gods, many creatures are just naturally magic and there are fairies who have pretty vague limitations, it's the magicians and witches and such who have rules. Of course there happens to be an explanation for the rule-less too, but I don't know if an explanation and vague limits are "rules" per se. For example the God of War is an aggregate idea of what people think the personification of war is, and he can do war related stuff with magic, and that's about it.
     
  11. nck

    nck Scribe

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    Okay, so the kind of magic I'm talking about is taking the idea of how the gods' and fairies' magic works that you have and applying it to the magicians and witches as well.
     
  12. StrawhatOverlord

    StrawhatOverlord Scribe

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    But then how do I know what they can do or not ? I know it can work obviously, because it has before. But me personally, I can't write a story about people I don't know fairly precise limits for. Plus I just like knowing how things work in general.
     
  13. nck

    nck Scribe

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    How can you write a story involving gods without knowing exactly what the gods can do? It seems like the same thing to me.
     
  14. StrawhatOverlord

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    The story isn't about gods, there's just gods in the setting.
     
  15. nck

    nck Scribe

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    But by your own metric you can't include something in the world if you don't understand its rules.
     
  16. StrawhatOverlord

    StrawhatOverlord Scribe

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    I can't write stories about them, is what I said. I have a group of 6 protagonists, only 2 of them are mages. I want to know what the rules for what they can and can't do, plus the same for any other mages the group encounters. Gods and godlike fairies are mostly background fluff, the narrative isn't about them. Plus they're gods, gods can always do basically anything they want, they wouldn't really be gods if they couldn't.
     
  17. nck

    nck Scribe

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    If they don't have a role in your story at all, then it's not clear why you said that they're something your story has. If they do have a role, then it seems like you'd need to know how they work.

    Sure, and this is easily an argument one could make about wizards or magic in general, provided one is writing a particular kind of story. I brought up fairy tales and myths because I was pointing out that there is a very longstanding tradition of narratives that both prominently feature magic and magical beings and don't work with any rules as to how magic operates; and I only pointed this out because you suggested you didn't even really understand how it would be possible to write a story like that.
     
  18. StrawhatOverlord

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    I have them in my setting, but not in the story.

    I know it's possible to write a story without strict rules, I mean it's not really possible for me personally to write one. I need to know how stuff works. How my stuff works, at least, since I'm don't mind reading stories where magic is vague. I guess I have the impression that there are rules and they're just hidden, but when it's my story, there can't be hidden rules, since I'm making the world.
     
  19. nck

    nck Scribe

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    I guess I just don't see what's so difficult about presenting magic as if it had rules that are hidden from the reader while not knowing those rules yourself. It seems analogous to me to presenting some aspect of a culture that suggests a larger cultural and social system that it's a part of while not actually having that system worked out yourself, or presenting some aspect of a character that suggests some deeper psychological profile or life history that you as a writer don't actually know.

    Like I get why you might not want to do things that way, but I don't really understand why you'd think it's ill-advised or even impossible to do in general.
     
  20. StrawhatOverlord

    StrawhatOverlord Scribe

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    Oh no it's not ill-advised, it's just not for me.
     
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