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My Fantasy setting needs more... well, fantasy.

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Skybreaker Sin K'al, Sep 22, 2018.

  1. Skybreaker Sin K'al

    Skybreaker Sin K'al Troubadour

    My current Fantasy setting has quite a historical flavour to it. It has a few fantasy elements, but I'm having trouble injecting magic into the world's history. I need to know how I integrate mythical creatures and magic into the setting without taking away from that historical flavour.
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    That's awfully general and vague. But there are plenty of examples of books of fantasy-based alternate history, so you know it can be done.

    When you say you are having trouble injecting magic into the world's history, can you elaborate on that? What have you tried? How do you know it doesn't work? etc
    Skybreaker Sin K'al likes this.
  3. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I know for me it's a difficult question because I can't say I would have started with history before I had some understanding of the magic.

    I guess the question to me is, what's the compelling part of your story's history that you're trying to work around?
    Skybreaker Sin K'al likes this.
  4. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Auror

    All righty Sin, let's see if I can help or not. What sort of fantasy and myth you aiming at? Wars, creatures and the like you'd want to see in it?
    Skybreaker Sin K'al likes this.
  5. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    Why does it need more magic or mythical creatures? There are fantasy novels without any of that stuff.
  6. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Inkling

    Magic is usually the precursor to the Sciences... so, there's always that angle. Decide which of Nature's Laws can be bent by magic. The how or why doesn't have to be immediately explained.

    As far as just... fantastical elements... you have to come to terms with your own expectations of what 'fantasy' is to you. Write a list if you have to. Don't try to dodge stereotypes, either. Just get it out of your head and on paper. Put a check mark by stuff you know you like, and see if you can incorporate it into your WIP.

    The stuff that you feel might be too cliché? Put that into a working column where you articulate why it's feeling too cliché to utilize, and re-invent it if you can.

    Fantasy intruding on your concept of 'history'? Nah.
    Real History is far too bizarre in all actuality to feel stymied by the incorporation of fantasy elements in your work here and there. Or everywhere.

    I mean for heaven's sake-- people in Europe used to brush their teeth with human urine... and Egyptians used to dye their teeth green. Gigantic predatory dinosaurs existed with wee dinky little arms. There was an animal the size of a giraffe that had powered flight. Research everyday customs from a few centuries ago. Sprinkle in whatever fantastic elements you want with impunity.

    You're writing fantasy fiction with a hisorical preference, not writing for historically accurate accounts. Just write, have some fun, and try not to overthink everything at once.
  7. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    Like others, I'm not sure what fantasy or magical elements, specifically, you are trying to work in.

    Generally speaking, if you want the fantastic elements not to undermine the more realistic, scientific sort of realities, the best way of going about this is to present those fantastic elements as if they are realistic and have some sort of "scientific" —or at least, factual—reality to the people occupying those lands. The elements almost go without saying, or at least don't need long justifications or explications for the people. They're just accepted.

    There's an awful lot of historical reality and science that goes without complete understanding in our own world. This is true now, but it was especially true in the past when people explained events through all manner of fantastical tropes. Heck our world, Earth, even yet has a concept of magic, hah. Why? Why does that word persist even now, if not for the fact that all of us to some extent have incomplete pictures of the Universe?

    Naturally, if your world has actual magic, that magic will have affected many developments in your world, from technology to unfolding historical events to cultural traditions and worldviews. In our world, things like the Bubonic Plague, the Black Death, had major repercussions well before people understood bacteria. You can present these fantastical things in a similar way. They just are; the actual scientific causes don't need to be explicated—even those causes that don't exist because the fantastical elements aren't based in science!
  8. Skybreaker Sin K'al

    Skybreaker Sin K'al Troubadour

    Yeah, I'm having trouble injecting magic into the world's history. Sorry If I didn't make this clear, I know I have a habit of asking vague questions without really letting the whole thing out of my head.

    For now, you don't really have to answer my question, just tell me how you integrate magic into, Altearth, say, and I could pick up on that. The setting I'm working on isn't an Alternate History, but it does have a historically grounded feel in the renaissance.
  9. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Inkling

    Idea One:
    Magic exists before people. People discover it, much like any other force of nature. Water, Lightning, Fire, Ice, Gravity, Decay etc. It should first be something readily observeable, but not easily interacted with. I suggest that it's something that can be observed, interacted with, and then intuitively connectable after considerable effort. It can be a learned art, like drawing or blacksmithing. Studied like other natural phenomena. It's useable to enhance other efforts. What those efforts are, depends on the user.

    Idea Two.
    Or, magic is something that randomly appears. Accidentally created, or unlocked. An alchemist in his lab, creates a substance that gives you telekinesis, etc. Then everybody who's anybody wants the stuff, but there's a steep learning curve to using magic effectively/ responsibly.

    I chose an the first idea. It exists as a force within nature, something cosmic but neutral, and 'there' long before mortals walked the Earth.
  10. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

    I think the problem may lie in over-thinking the problem. Inserting magic into an Earth-like historical setting need not be that difficult.

    King Anton I of North Georgia was assassinated by a evil magician using magic with the result that magic was banned in New Georgia for two hundred years.
    The Council of Kilimanjaro established the basic ground rules about the correct use of magic throughout Europa.
    The Battle of Kowloon of 1509 was the first battle in which technology overcame combat magic.
    St. Beyounce of de Bowles was the first female Grand Mistress of Magic.
    The Great Plague of 1399-1407 proved to be the deadliest epidemic of all time because it was resistant to healing magic.
    The Republic of San Monaco was the first state to be founded by witches.
    The famous battleship HMS Horatio was powered by a crew of 650 mages powering four magical combustion engines.
    The first commercial dragon flight took place in 1345. It was a three hour flight from San Monaco to Liechtenlager.
    Mimi Jones was executed last week for having carnal relations with a merman.
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2018
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Miles Lacey takes an approach similar to my own. I start with a premise that magic came into the world during the period of the (real earth) barbarian invasions. But I had no idea of the nature of magic, where it came from, any of it. All I knew was that I was starting at a point where magic appeared in the world. The book was a kind of origin story.

    I kept going along those lines. Elves appear. From where? How? I dunno. Dragons. Same thing.

    Eventually, though, I started to get key ideas. Since I work with real history, I had the notion that all those pseudo-science ideas from the Middle Ages might be correct. After a while, I settled on phlogiston and aether as key pieces to how magic works. Years later, I figured out where my elves, etc came from, and that has sparked a whole new set of story ideas.

    I made the choice not to try to figure it all out in advance. I knew I had about 1500 years of history to work with, and that if I tried to work out everything in advance, I'd never start writing. This approach has its own difficulty: every time I introduce something--dwarves, a college of magicians, some fundamental principle of magic--it enters into the history of Altearth. Everything that comes after must take that precedent into account. I can't have dragons fly over from the new world in one book, but in another one they get created by a mad scientist. It's like painting a fresco--every stroke goes up on the wall and stays there.

    My big hedge is also historical. People don't understand the world around them; or, rather, their understanding is a pastiche of beliefs and facts, insights and misunderstandings. So, "how magic works" in a story set in, say, the year 900 is going to be different from a story set in 1400. And it will be understood differently by orcs than by elves than by humans. This gives me lots of flexibility in how I present it in the narrative.

    tl;dr: I put magic into a particular story in whatever way seems to work for that story. But I do so with one eye on my fundamental principles and the other eye on "existing lore"--stories I've already published. This allows me to write blind. <g>
  12. Laurence

    Laurence Inkling

    My story requires immortality so I created a natural magic system stemming from the sun to accommodate it. Some less important magic that doesn’t influence the story so much is based on similar imagery. I think this is something to consider. It’s cool if a book conjures up particular imagery when a reader thinks about it. I suppose that’s part of the reason the -punks work.

    So if you’ve already got history, can you think of a magic, running through everything from environment to culture, that might have helped your history to play out that way?
    Night Gardener likes this.
  13. Daisy

    Daisy New Member

    I think for historical fantasy, what's best is to look back at how people in the appropriate times in out history interpreted magic at that time, and inject magic in exactly that way. You can explain it away however you want, after that.

    Is your historical setting similar to medieval England and the Salem witch trials? Then you may as well have witches actually running around. Then you can just explain their magic away through your sun-based system.
    Maybe it's more similar to the Celts. Have druids and psychics and Banshees and whatever else you want.
    Is it more similar to the viking era? Perhaps you have home-brew witchcraft that involves herbs and maths which women use at home, and harpies, and wizards parading around and getting drunk, being mistaken for gods or demigods.

    They don't need to exist aside from your setting - remember that the magic is an existent part of the setting as it exists. It's not an aside, it's an integral part of your world. Maybe your setting would make more sense if people know about it, or maybe it would work better if magic is hidden and everything is done in secret - deep within forests and behind closed doors. But only you can decide that.

    And if you're only adding this at the end, keep in mind that you might need to adjust or tweak a few details about your setting to fit the magic. If everyone knows about it, how would it have changed the world? Maybe everyone grows sunflowers or something, to aid the wizards. Or maybe magic users helped create a more effective mode of transportation that made trade easier so resources are less scarce than expected.

    If it's being kept hidden, what small things are there that magic users/creatures do as a normal part of life to keep the secret? Maybe they created a rumor that the nearby forest is haunted to keep people away. Or maybe they all have signs at their doors that don't mean anything to anyone else, but it helps them know where another magical lives so that they can help each other in need.

    I can't give you anything other than guidelines, but I think the best thing you can do is to have the magic be a part of your world in the way that feels the most natural with the world you've created, and you can easily identify that by looking at our own history and mythologies. I do hope this helps you at least figure some stuff out.
    Skybreaker Sin K'al likes this.
  14. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    Magic has a history of its own in the real world. And it crops up in oddball ways,

    Couple off the top of my head examples:

    When Xerxes attempted to invade Greece, he needed to cross the strait between the Med and the Black Sea. His engineers built a temporary pontoon bridge using ships. Storm came up, wrecked the ships. Next try, Xerxes 'whipped the sea' - literally. To modern eyes, this is an act of lunacy. What it actually was, though, was a magic ritual. Regardless, the next temporary pontoon bridge held long enough for his army to cross.

    The name/designation escapes me at the moment (more Skips area of expertise than mine) but the late medieval popes were engaged in bitter strife with the Moslems. Story goes that when the Christian and Islamic fleets clashed, the reigning pope (hundreds of miles distant) had a vision of the Christian fleets victory. (Which did happen)

    More...technical stuff. The ancients were big believers in spirits, be they ghosts, demons or deities. A major goal of most old line magicians was to learn the 'true name' of a given devil, spirit, or god. It was believed that knowing this true name would give the wizard power over the entity in question, and that he/she could command said being to work wonders. A wizard without a spirit at his beck and call...usually didn't rank that high, magically speaking.

    Another magic area the ancient were big into was shape shifting. Tales abound of wizards and witches changing unfortunates into all manner of critters. Apuleius made wondrous use of this in his 'Golden Ass' (arrogant noble transformed into an Ass, who then witnesses all manner of social situations).

    Other biggies were curses (and protection from curses), 'charm' type magic, and especially divinations.
  15. Riva

    Riva Minstrel

    You could make them appear relatively recently, so you have a world with magic and mythological creatures that hasn't yet adapted to them, so you also have the historical aspect.
  16. Agam Ridelle

    Agam Ridelle Scribe

    I usually develop the magic to fit with the plot and people. The magic is an integral part of the story. I start with a general story of how the world was created, what magic means to the people, then go into the stories of the people and the magic develops from there.
  17. SoulThief

    SoulThief Scribe

    I am a big fan of Arthur C Clark's three laws:
    1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
    2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
    3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
    Hence my fantasy novel uses the third law and is set in the extremely distant future where humans have:
    • achieved the singularity (merging of humans and computers)
    • forgotten that this is the case now live in a regressed civilisation that still has existing (but hidden) self-repairing technology
    This permits me to add "magic" and add "magical creatures" but also impose rules (i.e. conservation of mass in respect to shape-shifters) into an essentially fantasy environment.

    Secondly - why do you need magic or magical creatures? Every element in any story (be it fantasy, a thriller, a police procedural, etc) should serve a purpose to propel the story. So ask yourself how the magic will be used to achieve plot outcomes. For example, if you do have a shape shifter will they use that magic to assassinate someone or steal something. If so, what are the limitations of the magic that they have to overcome (i.e. they can only shape-shift for 24 hours or their voice remains the same or the person/thing they have shifted into has physical limitations and so on).

    As for magical creatures, a little bit of historical research will tell you the sort of magical creatures that people of any epoch believed.

    So in response to your question:

    • create magic that is an enabler to your story and also adds problems for your protagonist.
    • add magical creatures that enhance your setting

    Anyway, I'm not sure if I've answered your question but that is my five cents. :)

  18. Voydemain

    Voydemain Acolyte

    I am in the process of writing a Historical Fantasy myself. One of the great things I found to be the most enjoyable about writing this genre is that the paranormal was not introduced until the normal was well established. Giving that contrast made the unusual seem even more magical.

    How I did this was first explaining the supernatural away. Anchor in what is normal for the story. Things like centaurs are just someone misunderstanding someone riding a horse rather than a horse-drawn chariot or that there is no monster outside the window but just a tree branch.

    Now once I was able to explain the abnormal away, that is when I introduced the abnormal in small doses. By making the contrast the strange appears to be more fantastical. Take for example Scooby-Doo, their most memorable adventures is when they were up against actual monsters because it had been a running gag for so long that it was someone in a costume.

    In other words, you don't need more fantasy particularly if it is a historical fantasy. However, the fantasy elements you do use can still have major impacts on your story.

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