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Not seeing or feeling the magic

writebcn

Acolyte
I have tried to create fantasy worlds of terror or magic based on concrete details with characters.

Getting the characters to look and sound real is a big struggle for me.

But once the characters appear, the wonder is out the window - for me at least.

They make any effort to add the fantastic feel forced.

Incredible things are about to happen, I tell myself - just not near, or to these people.

Is this a common complaint?

Have there been a lot of threads like this in the past?
 

Penpilot

Staff
Article Team
When something hasn't been solidly defined, it can be anything you want it to be. It can shift to match your current mood and desires in the moment. There's an excitement to that.

I've heard of many people once they start putting things down in concrete form, whether that's from writing or outlining, they loose interest. Part of it I suspect may be from expectations. Writing isn't always wonder. A lot of times it's anything but that. It's hard work. There's an mystique about writing that interestingly gets perpetuated by writers. When you see characters who are writers in media like TV and film, the act of writing sometimes gets portrayed as this magic process where the writer sits down, and with a burst of creative genius, the story pours out onto the page.

Now, I'm sure somewhere in the history of writing, a writer or two has had that happen. But for most mere mortals, it's work. Yes there is a magical side to it. For me, it comes from the brainstorming stage of writing, where I'm throwing down ideas, and those ideas spark new ideas, etc. But in order to turn all that into a coherent story, I have to do the writing equivalent of clean up the mess I made in the house. That doesn't always get the creative juices going, but it needs to be done, and along the way there will be more moments of wonder as I puzzle things together.

So maybe try adjusting expectations. From my experience, a lot of writers get discouraged because they set up expectations that can't be met.

Now in terms of creating characters with dimension, one thing I picked up along the way that helps-- I can't remember where I got it from at the moment-- is you show your character in three types of situations. You show them at work, rest, and play. If you show what your character's lives are like in these areas, it helps the reader get a full picture of who they are and what they want.


my2cents
 

writebcn

Acolyte
When something hasn't been solidly defined, it can be anything you want it to be. It can shift to match your current mood and desires in the moment. There's an excitement to that.

I've heard of many people once they start putting things down in concrete form, whether that's from writing or outlining, they loose interest. Part of it I suspect may be from expectations. Writing isn't always wonder. A lot of times it's anything but that. It's hard work. There's an mystique about writing that interestingly gets perpetuated by writers. When you see characters who are writers in media like TV and film, the act of writing sometimes gets portrayed as this magic process where the writer sits down, and with a burst of creative genius, the story pours out onto the page.

Now, I'm sure somewhere in the history of writing, a writer or two has had that happen. But for most mere mortals, it's work. Yes there is a magical side to it. For me, it comes from the brainstorming stage of writing, where I'm throwing down ideas, and those ideas spark new ideas, etc. But in order to turn all that into a coherent story, I have to do the writing equivalent of clean up the mess I made in the house. That doesn't always get the creative juices going, but it needs to be done, and along the way there will be more moments of wonder as I puzzle things together.

So maybe try adjusting expectations. From my experience, a lot of writers get discouraged because they set up expectations that can't be met.

Now in terms of creating characters with dimension, one thing I picked up along the way that helps-- I can't remember where I got it from at the moment-- is you show your character in three types of situations. You show them at work, rest, and play. If you show what your character's lives are like in these areas, it helps the reader get a full picture of who they are and what they want.


my2cents
Thanks Penpilot. Got it: at work, at rest, and at play.
I'm off now to tidy the mess I left in the house. Thanks :)
 
Personally for me, much of my own creativity is about managing expectations, or expectations versus reality. Itā€™s hard work to get something to fruition to close to how you pictured it in your mind - but that is the process. Sometimes there are happy accidents where things just come together.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
I have tried to create fantasy worlds of terror or magic based on concrete details with characters.

Getting the characters to look and sound real is a big struggle for me.

But once the characters appear, the wonder is out the window - for me at least.

They make any effort to add the fantastic feel forced.

Incredible things are about to happen, I tell myself - just not near, or to these people.

Is this a common complaint?

Have there been a lot of threads like this in the past?
This is a really common issue with novice writers, so no worries. As Penpilot said, you need to get to know your characters better. The way my team (I'm one of three) gets around this is by what we call 'method writing.' Like method acting, we basically develop our characters through roleplay and developmental shorts. We slip into their skins and write in 3rd person limited, so we have to stay in one headspace - for the most part. All writing 'rules' are meant to be bent. Who are these people when the cameras aren't on them? Who are they when they don't have to be what others expect? And crucial: What do they want? What is keeping it from them? What are they willing to do to get it?

Conflict = Story

Once you can get inside your characters' heads, they'll open up for you. Characters are more than a stat sheet. The reason you lose the 'mystery' is because you only have a very shallow perception of them. What's there to explore when you know nothing about this person? And yes, they are absolutely people. I say all the time that I get to play with my best friends every day... and then do terrible things to them. šŸ˜ You don't need to know so-and-so's favorite color or who her 3rd Grade teacher was unless it's plot relevant, but you do need to know how they feel, what scares them, what have they done that they are proud of? That's left a scar so deep they don't think they can ever climb out. And then you write and it all comes spilling out. Maybe not all at once, and maybe they'll make you work for it, but sometimes, like I've had happen, one will turn around in her chair, look right at you, and say with a gentle, sad smile, "Oh, I never told you this, but I'm addicted to stimulants." Trauma surgeon.

Let's hear it for complication.

I have over 500 idiots rattling around inside my head at any given time - long-running Urban Fantasy series and I'm the drafter, so it all funnels through me - and if asked I can call up random factoids about them all. I can't tell you my own name half the time, but I know the name of this guy's granddaughter who may grow up to save the world. Lots of factors involved. Much action. So, who knows?

It's a mystery. ;)
 

writebcn

Acolyte
This is a really common issue with novice writers, so no worries. As Penpilot said, you need to get to know your characters better. The way my team (I'm one of three) gets around this is by what we call 'method writing.' Like method acting, we basically develop our characters through roleplay and developmental shorts. We slip into their skins and write in 3rd person limited, so we have to stay in one headspace - for the most part. All writing 'rules' are meant to be bent. Who are these people when the cameras aren't on them? Who are they when they don't have to be what others expect? And crucial: What do they want? What is keeping it from them? What are they willing to do to get it?

Conflict = Story

Once you can get inside your characters' heads, they'll open up for you. Characters are more than a stat sheet. The reason you lose the 'mystery' is because you only have a very shallow perception of them. What's there to explore when you know nothing about this person? And yes, they are absolutely people. I say all the time that I get to play with my best friends every day... and then do terrible things to them. šŸ˜ You don't need to know so-and-so's favorite color or who her 3rd Grade teacher was unless it's plot relevant, but you do need to know how they feel, what scares them, what have they done that they are proud of? That's left a scar so deep they don't think they can ever climb out. And then you write and it all comes spilling out. Maybe not all at once, and maybe they'll make you work for it, but sometimes, like I've had happen, one will turn around in her chair, look right at you, and say with a gentle, sad smile, "Oh, I never told you this, but I'm addicted to stimulants." Trauma surgeon.

Let's hear it for complication.

I have over 500 idiots rattling around inside my head at any given time - long-running Urban Fantasy series and I'm the drafter, so it all funnels through me - and if asked I can call up random factoids about them all. I can't tell you my own name half the time, but I know the name of this guy's granddaughter who may grow up to save the world. Lots of factors involved. Much action. So, who knows?

It's a mystery. ;)
Thanks. Noted. On it. ;)
 

ThinkerX

Myth Weaver
When George RR Martin was doing the initial worldbuilding for 'Game of Thrones,' he spent a great deal of time going back and forth between two options: No Magic, or A Little Magic. The second option won, but it was close.

In my case, I wanted to make the 'magic' as plausible as possible - something that might work here in the real world. Back then, I was into AD&D, which was lots of fun but had too many issues. Same with the other 'game' type magic I looked into. But I was also reading a *lot* of books on psychics, ghosts, and more paranormal phenomena. After a while, I noticed that there were 'points in common' with a bunch of this stuff, and there were quite a few reasonably reputable types at least attempting objective investigations, which sometimes yielded interesting results. So, I took the most 'magic-like' of these paranormal abilities, added a few twists, and made the magic system.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
When George RR Martin was doing the initial worldbuilding for 'Game of Thrones,' he spent a great deal of time going back and forth between two options: No Magic, or A Little Magic. The second option won, but it was close.

In my case, I wanted to make the 'magic' as plausible as possible - something that might work here in the real world. Back then, I was into AD&D, which was lots of fun but had too many issues. Same with the other 'game' type magic I looked into. But I was also reading a *lot* of books on psychics, ghosts, and more paranormal phenomena. After a while, I noticed that there were 'points in common' with a bunch of this stuff, and there were quite a few reasonably reputable types at least attempting objective investigations, which sometimes yielded interesting results. So, I took the most 'magic-like' of these paranormal abilities, added a few twists, and made the magic system.
Personally, I am so glad we got the magic system nailed down early, because we're about to introduce several different types of preternatural and it's going to get wild. ;)

Also, rumor has it that we may... or may not... level Seattle.
 

ThinkerX

Myth Weaver
Also, rumor has it that we may... or may not... level Seattle.
Do keep in mind that even an unsuccessful effort to level Seattle would be guaranteed to attract the sort of attention that would cause major problems for even powerful preternatural beings and groups. Among other things, Seahaven would be neck-deep in alphabet agency folks, and odds are some or most would either know about the strange creatures and powers or have unusual abilities themselves. Likely, they'd uncover most of the shapeshifters and vampires within weeks.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
Do keep in mind that even an unsuccessful effort to level Seattle would be guaranteed to attract the sort of attention that would cause major problems for even powerful preternatural beings and groups. Among other things, Seahaven would be neck-deep in alphabet agency folks, and odds are some or most would either know about the strange creatures and powers or have unusual abilities themselves. Likely, they'd uncover most of the shapeshifters and vampires within weeks.
That's all true. And it's a huge concern, especially given there's a preternatural event being held in Seattle - where Circus Maximus meets Vampire Prom - that will draw most of the power players in the world for the weekend, including all five Eldest. So, huge security, massive magic to conceal and prevent unauthorized violence, and rumors flying about some sort of renegade fashion week with exclusive designers and elite clients that no one local, at least local human, seems to be invited to. And Erik's managed to secure tickets and lodgings and is taking a sizable party, including Etienne, Alerich, and Winter who is now at 20 weeks and counting, as is Elspeth. This is going to be an interesting book for El. And Alerich, Thomas, and Fitz are competing in the gladiatorial part of the entertainment, at least for a few rounds.

And then I get to them. ;)
 

pmmg

Myth Weaver
Do keep in mind that even an unsuccessful effort to level Seattle would be guaranteed to attract the sort of attention that would cause major problems for even powerful preternatural beings and groups. Among other things, Seahaven would be neck-deep in alphabet agency folks, and odds are some or most would either know about the strange creatures and powers or have unusual abilities themselves. Likely, they'd uncover most of the shapeshifters and vampires within weeks.

Yeah...but then they'd all jump in on a conspiracy to cover it up.
 
If Magic specifically is the issue, then why not write without magic? You can go for alternate world fiction, or historical fiction. Or just with thriller or horror or romance, or any other genre that doesn't necessarily involve magic. There's no rule that a story needs Magic.

Or write fantasy with only a little magic. Game of Thrones as ThinkerX mentioned is veyr light on magic. We know it's there, but it plays only a very limited role in the story.

Another option is to write it just with bad characters and forced magic. It's not that I think you should publish a bad book. But writing takes practice. And that includes learning how to integrate magic into your world and make your characters act natural and all that stuff. You'll only learn that by actually writing it. And the first attempt may read poorly (though perhaps not as bad as you think). But then you either write a second story or edit the first and that will be better.
 
Do keep in mind that even an unsuccessful effort to level Seattle would be guaranteed to attract the sort of attention that would cause major problems for even powerful preternatural beings and groups. Among other things, Seahaven would be neck-deep in alphabet agency folks, and odds are some or most would either know about the strange creatures and powers or have unusual abilities themselves. Likely, they'd uncover most of the shapeshifters and vampires within weeks.
Maybe the aphabet soup people have their own preternatural people in their ranks (without them knowing about it), who take on this assignment and make it all disappear (by blaming the russians or something....).
 

ThinkerX

Myth Weaver
Maybe the aphabet soup people have their own preternatural people in their ranks (without them knowing about it), who take on this assignment and make it all disappear (by blaming the russians or something....).
Having read a few of AE Lowans books, the issue is a bit deeper than that - most of the preternatural people in Seahaven are 'fuzzy thinkers,' and act in such a way that draws mundane attention - to the point where it is nothing short of a minor miracle that the mundane authorities are not aware of their existence. Many have poor impulse control and criminal lifestyles, which would involve prison sentences - not hard to envision a ticked-off werewolf changing shape in a prison cell. The vampires are almost certainly responsible for enough missing persons to have the Feds staring hard at Seahaven. And the Fae? Well, there was the small matter of an 'office tower' that meant with misfortune, plus random fae gates opening up every few days. Too many fires as it is.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
Having read a few of AE Lowans books, the issue is a bit deeper than that - most of the preternatural people in Seahaven are 'fuzzy thinkers,' and act in such a way that draws mundane attention - to the point where it is nothing short of a minor miracle that the mundane authorities are not aware of their existence. Many have poor impulse control and criminal lifestyles, which would involve prison sentences - not hard to envision a ticked-off werewolf changing shape in a prison cell. The vampires are almost certainly responsible for enough missing persons to have the Feds staring hard at Seahaven. And the Fae? Well, there was the small matter of an 'office tower' that meant with misfortune, plus random fae gates opening up every few days. Too many fires as it is.
And do we know it. It's a house of cards and someone's running around with matches. More than one someone at that. And if it was all left to just humans versus preternaturals that house would have gone down in flames long ago with precious few left standing in the ashes of the world.

You know, post-apocalyptic Urban Fantasy would be a very interesting sub-genre.

The reason the world of the Books of Binding hasn't just knocked back one last whiskey, chucked a tip to the band, and flat blown up rests on the fact that the preternatural leadership - our firefighters in this metaphor - makes damn sure that their rep is much worse than any human's, and they have wielded that threat off and on for the past few thousand years, but it only really became institutionalized within the past 1500 years or so. Long time for anyone, even immortals, but the immortals are more than happy to take advantage and they do in spades. It's why the ruling body, the Council of the Eldest, are all five magicians and all five vampires of great age. The youngest just squeaks in just over 3000 years old.

The Council's been around a while.

And the Council has maintained a hard and fast rule: you break it, you buy it. Doing anything to risk exposure can be dealt with harshly. The Eldest believe that there's no kill like overkill. They can and will wipe a city right off the map, leaving nothing but wind-swept bedrock behind. But the Eldest are also the ones who invented the misinformation campaign. (Don't think so? Just ask one. ;) ) They have spent centuries implanting the idea in human cultures that there's no such thing as preternaturals, and that to believe that there is is to invite mockery and doubt. And so far, they've done a bang-up job. People will see what they believe, and if they don't believe people can turn into animals or cast fireballs, their brains will automatically fill in the gaps until the memory fits the expectation.

But, this is a party weekend, and even with the measures being taken to maintain the Veil of Secrecy Seattle's going to see some things that even it can't rationalize away.

It's going to be epic.

And OP, all this bouncing back and forth we just did, that's why we're here. It's a great way to explore your characters and your world and to poke holes in it until you know how it breaks. Just chill, make friends, and learn. Welcome to Scribes.
 

Gurkhal

Auror
If Magic specifically is the issue, then why not write without magic? You can go for alternate world fiction, or historical fiction. Or just with thriller or horror or romance, or any other genre that doesn't necessarily involve magic. There's no rule that a story needs Magic.

Or write fantasy with only a little magic. Game of Thrones as ThinkerX mentioned is veyr light on magic. We know it's there, but it plays only a very limited role in the story.

Another option is to write it just with bad characters and forced magic. It's not that I think you should publish a bad book. But writing takes practice. And that includes learning how to integrate magic into your world and make your characters act natural and all that stuff. You'll only learn that by actually writing it. And the first attempt may read poorly (though perhaps not as bad as you think). But then you either write a second story or edit the first and that will be better.
I'd like to second this.

Personally I feel no particular interest in magic in the stories I read. Characters in historical settings is what interests me and what little writing I've managed to put down on a page is in fictional worlds, and with as little magic as possible.

And yes, I have and did and to a degree is considering writing historical fictions around the ancient and medieval Grecophone world.

EDITED: So don't feel that you must have magic or magic in some particular form to write, or hell even write fantasy. Writing fantasy with a minimal ammount of magic, or overt magic, is perfectly possible as GRRM has demonstrated.
 
I thought the OP was talking about metaphorical magic, not literalā€¦ although if you utter the word magic on a fantasy writing forum, people are going to take that literally.
 

pmmg

Myth Weaver
I have tried to create fantasy worlds of terror or magic based on concrete details with characters.

Getting the characters to look and sound real is a big struggle for me.

But once the characters appear, the wonder is out the window - for me at least.

They make any effort to add the fantastic feel forced.

Incredible things are about to happen, I tell myself - just not near, or to these people.

Is this a common complaint?

Have there been a lot of threads like this in the past?

I dont know if there are threads like this, but probably. I also dont know if its a common complaint. Many writers find that the reality of what they think they will create vs what ends up on paper do not always match.

Since I've not really been paying attention since friday...I may repeat stuff others have said.

Story needs a conflict and the conflict needs to drive the story.

What are we gonna do today brain?

Same thing we do everyday, Pinky... Try to resolve the conflict.


As a writer, I think you have to get a good idea of the conflict and want to tell a story about it. Want it enough, that when you are lying in bed, all you are thinking about is getting back up and writing some more of that damned conflict.

But...great as conflict is, what makes us want to follow the story?

Characters do, of course.

You need good characters. Good characters have several things all firing off at once. Which I will summarize as:

Goals (thinks they want).
Motivations (why they want them).
And conflicts (things that keep them from getting it).

And they have them both internally and externally. And every character has them. And often, characters have them and they grate with the other characters who also have them. That's when the story is really hitting.

If you are finding that your story is killing your buzz, I would suggest most, work on the figuring out the characters.


Here is a sample from my current WIP:

1) Prince Laurent

External:
Goal:
Remove all the baddies from his lands.
Motivation: He must, or he will see many people die, and perhaps lose the Kingdom.
Conflict: They are tough, and its not so easy.

Internal:
Goal:
To make his people proud and live up to the expectations placed upon him.
Motivation: He does not want to shame his family, or be a bad ruler.
Conflict: He cant do it by himself, and he feels the same hopelessness they all do.

2) Hannes, a council member

External
Goal:
To see his side win the war.
Motivation: Immense loyalty and love of his nation.
Conflict: The enemy is winning.

Internal
Goal:
To see old ways prevail, and make true his belief in the might of his nation.
Motivation: To hold on to his worldview, and his truth.
Conflict: He is not listened too, and see much falling apart around him. He must win the agreement Princes and leaders who are younger and have a different ideas.



Looking at just those two, I can imagine quite a lot of conflict between them personally, even though they both share the goal of getting rid of the baddies. I can see plenty of area for them to work cooperatively, and grate at the same time, with a sliding scale of which one they do the more of.

How many times will Hannes advise the prince, see himself ignored, see his nation being conquered and still think its a good idea to fight along side the prince? Probably not much. And that is not really the whole of it. I could super fill in some of those categories with more than one bullet point.

All of which is to say, look at who your characters are, and start writing them true. If they are not filling up the page, maybe they are fleshed out enough.
 
Last edited:

writebcn

Acolyte
I dont know if there are threads like this, but probably. I also dont know if its a common complaint. Many writers find that the reality of what they think they will create vs what ends up on paper do not always match.

Since I've not really been paying attention since friday...I may repeat stuff others have said.

Story needs a conflict and the conflict needs to drive the story.

What are we gonna do today brain?

Same thing we do everyday, Pinky... Try to resolve the conflict.


As a writer, I think you have to get a good idea of the conflict and want to tell a story about it. Want it enough, that when you are lying in bed, all you are thinking about is getting back up and writing some more of that damned conflict.

But...great as conflict is, what makes us want to follow the story?

Characters do, of course.

You need good characters. Good characters have several things all firing off at once. Which I will summarize as:

Goals (thinks they want).
Motivations (why they want them).
And conflicts (things that keep them from getting it).

And they have them both internally and externally. And every character has them. And often, characters have them and they grate with the other characters who also have them. That's when the story is really hitting.

If you are finding that your story is killing your buzz, I would suggest most, work on the figuring out the characters.


Here is a sample from my current WIP:

1) Prince Laurent

External:
Goal:
Remove all the baddies from his lands.
Motivation: He must, or he will see many people die, and perhaps lose the Kingdom.
Conflict: They are tough, and its not so easy.

Internal:
Goal:
To make his people proud and live up to the expectations placed upon him.
Motivation: He does not want to shame his family, or be a bad ruler.
Conflict: He cant do it by himself, and he feels the same hopelessness they all do.

2) Hannes, a council member

External
Goal:
To see his side win the war.
Motivation: Immense loyalty and love of his nation.
Conflict: The enemy is winning.

Internal
Goal:
To see old ways prevail, and make true his belief in the might of his nation.
Motivation: To hold on to his worldview, and his truth.
Conflict: He is not listened too, and see much falling apart around him. He must win the agreement Princes and leaders who are younger and have a different ideas.



Looking at just those two, I can imagine quite a lot of conflict between them personally, even though they both share the goal of getting rid of the baddies. I can see plenty of area for them to work cooperatively, and grate at the same time, with a sliding scale of which one they do the more of.

How many times will Hannes advise the prince, see himself ignored, see his nation being conquered and still think its a good idea to fight along side the prince? Probably not much. And that is not really the whole of it. I could super fill in some of those categories with more than one bullet point.

All of which is to say, look at who your characters are, and start writing them true. If they are not filling up the page, maybe they are fleshed out enough.


That was really helpful. Thanks :)
 
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