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What is magic?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Endymion, Jun 10, 2012.

  1. Endymion

    Endymion Troubadour

    How on earth can you explain magic (I know, I know, you don't need to)?
    Is it a power hidden within us (chakra and that kind of stuff)?
    How on earth can you destroy a house just by shouting Simsalabim?
    Do you ever care to explain to your readers how it all works? Why only elves can use it or why everyone can use it except for elves (hope you get the point).
    And if you explain magic as your hidden power that is just waiting to be released, how can you explain that your hidden power is taking the form of ice, wind or teleportation?
    Do you ever care to explain or think about these things? No? Yes? Is it a bad thing to care?
  2. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

    I do not explain in my stories everything about my Magic, since most information about it is really a mystery and I find it better that way instead of creating some science-like magic system where everything is governed by rules and limitations...

    In my stories, Magic is a truly supernatural power (not part of nature or part of the universe, at all!!) that is freaking super powerful and clearly superior to everything else =)
  3. Robert Donnell

    Robert Donnell Minstrel

    Having a workable set of rules for magic for your universe is important to make the reader suspend their disbeleif.
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2012
  4. Androxine Vortex

    Androxine Vortex Archmage

    In my novel magic is only possible by reciting holy invocations. Magic comes directly from the gods themselves. But the MC in my novel discovers a way to harness magic without divine assistance.
  5. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    I always work within a pseudo-scientific framework, for three reasons:

    1): It helps keep you from writing scenes where a character suddenly demonstrates a power that would have been real handy three chapters ago.

    2): If your character does figure out a new way to utilize their powers, you can explain it as a logical extension of one of the existing rules. Do this right, and readers will be impressed at your creativity. (Jim Butcher is brilliant at this.)

    3): I love science fiction, and I'd be writing it if I knew more science. (Yeah, this one's more personal.)
  6. Robert Donnell

    Robert Donnell Minstrel

    Basically you either create rules that give the characters some powers (but not too much) or the Magic users become Godlike in their powers and the story is not interesting.

    For example a dragon is spotted in the forest:
    A. Mage casts a spell repelling all monsters end of story.
    B. Now how about the hero has to go on a long dangerous quest to get a magic amulet that will allow the Blacksmith to make a special spear-tip to kill the dragon? Then he has to use it!

    Do you see the difference?
  7. The Dark One

    The Dark One Archmage

    I prefer to keep it vague and describe the feeling or the effect rather than the details of how it happens. Another benefit of this system is that you don't have to call it magic. It might be vaguely magical or it may be undiscovered science - it doesn't matter. Only the effect matters.

    Also, I don't use it much. Limiting the use makes it seem more real, and for my taste - the realer the better.
  8. It's like we're of one mind, maaaaan!

    Seriously, I'm the same way. I worked out a detailed (pseudo-)scientific explanation for the magic powers that develop in my NIP, but the civilization they develop in doesn't have one percent of the science or technology needed to be able to explain it. And I'm never planning to have them get to that point, either; it just isn't necessary for the characters (or the readers) to know how it works. As far as the characters are concerned, they have some magic powers, and that's that. But they are consistently depicted; and in fact the limitations of the power drive a lot of the story elements.
  9. It depends on the system you need/want for your story. The biggest problem I find with magic in many books is that it is made up as they go along. This bothers me. I don't have to have magic explained, but it should have underlying rules the author follows so there is consistency in it.

    In one of my worlds (which I will get back to one of these years) magic just is, and most people can use it to varying degrees. This makes pretty much most places built and influenced by magic.

    It's really up to you how much of it you want to describe or explain, as long as you know the rules and follow them, then it will keep the story believable.
  10. ElliotWyndwryght

    ElliotWyndwryght Dreamer

    Having rules to the magic/power seems like the best bet. Has anyone else wanted to hit the author over the head when their characters easily escape a difficult situation one chapter and then gets ensnared in the next by something simple?

    I always come up with rules for the magic/power so I don't contradict myself later, thus frustrating my reader.

    I'm assuming you mean the power being specific to the character, like talents. You could explain it just like that. For example; creativity. Many people are born with it but they use it for different things depending on what they like or what they are like. Some people use creativity to throw parties, others to make weapons, do crafts, plant gardens, or write books. Your characters would manifest their magic in a specific way because that fits their character the best. Is that what you meant?

    Personally I like it when the author takes the time to explain the system behind the magic. Weather people get their power from a crystal embedded next to their heart, from the life force in the earth, or from some shady scientific explanation.
  11. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

  12. Addison

    Addison Auror

    I found this information of magic in an enyclopeida:

    Magic is: "Anything occurring naturally on earth, whether plant, animal, plant, stone or metal, is alive."
    "Magic is the manipulation of Earth's naturally occurring powers in an attempt to provide the caster with success."
    "Magic spells are deliberate specific attempts to harness and manipulate this energy following a formula or direction."
    "Magic power is inherent on earth. No one created it."
    "Magic is older than writing itself."

    Where did magic come from?
    "Magic is older than writing so no one knows how it started." Some cultures revel in their magic cultures. Others are ashamed of it. Alexandria, Egypt, has a reputation as a world capital of Magic. From there it went to Greece, Mesopotamia, Rome and Nubia.
    "A magic spell is a conscious formalized attempt to manipulate magic power and energy (haka) in order to achieve your personal goal."
  13. Lorna

    Lorna Inkling

    The power to bring about change.
  14. To put it another way: Magic is sufficiently advanced technology. :)
  15. Loupgarou

    Loupgarou Dreamer

    I really think that as long as magic is consistent and doesn't feel like a dues ex machina, it is good and doesn't necessarily need to be explained. Some universes call for more scientific forms of magic and that can be really cool, to make it make sense, more an alternate way the world works. Other universes call for a religious sort of magic, where it's all about drawing power from powers that be, that can work too in a world with gods like that. And sometimes magic can simply be.

    I'm not so on board with the idea that 'too powerful equals not interesting'. One of the most successful graphic novel series of all time is Sandman, and that's about the reality altering demigod Dream. It's just that the conflicts are usually not physical ones, and that there are many just as powerful as him regardless. And often, a conflict's most interesting points aren't the 'hows' (how will he do that?) but the whys. I often come to Superman's defense similarly when it comes to comic discussions, because although plenty of stories abuse his godlike powers, he has had great stories that weren't about that but about more personal and mental conflicts. To me his true power is his resistance of temptation, that he could take over the world if he wished and yet doesn't. Stories that explore that avoid a boring character.

    Anyway, without getting distracted, my point is that any and all sorts of powers, explained in detail or not, can be interesting to read/watch, as long as they are right for the story and the character, and the world of the story.
  16. ShortHair

    ShortHair Sage

    Well, by definition fantasy involves the impossible. No doubt there are more "explanations" than there are writers, with some having multiple schemes. It really depends on how much work you want to put into it, which (I'm guessing) correlates with how much work you put into the overall background.

    Simply put, in the case of destroying your hypothetical house, the magic user isn't just shouting a word, he (or she) is calling on some outward source of energy to do the work. In some schemes, words themselves have power. In a sense magic is a set of tools. Whether the mage uses an earth elemental, a small explosion, a divine lightning bolt, or a crowbar, he has something to amplify his own strength. The crowbar might take a while longer, but the intent and the result are the same.

    Some readers love to learn about all the nuts and bolts of your setting. Some don't. If you wave your hands and say, "It's magic, ooh, sparkly," you disappoint the former, and the latter won't care. If you do explain, the former become fans, and the latter still won't care. If you explain poorly, perhaps with a Wall of Wonky Text or a lot of As You Know Borozob, you turn off everybody. So I vote for full disclosure, but only if you feel that you can do it well.
  17. Zero Angel

    Zero Angel Auror

    From what I have read on the subject, Aleister Crowley defined magick as "the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will."

    I think this is a great general description of magick that can be applied to basically any fantasy situation. At some point there has to be a Will that influences the world around it.

    In my novels, the influence that a particular Will can cause depends on the Will's own race, but I also have certain "universal" magicks that can be used by any race (like alchemy, naming, witchcraft, etc). In fact, magick is literally the fabric of the universe and makes up all reality. This is why the magick within one creature or object can influence the magick of another.
  18. ...You know, the more I hear that phrase or any variation thereof, the more I want to invent a time machine so that I can go back and punch Arthur C Clarke in the face. It gets a bit tired after a while.

    Plus, I'm pretty sure he didn't mean it like that - he was pointing out that when writing science fiction about a sufficiently advanced culture, the limits of their capabilities are not set by what is plausible to real science but rather your own creativity. It has very little to do with actual magic in a fantasy setting.

    Anyway, for the most part, magic is phenomenon rather than a technology.
    Zero Angel likes this.
  19. Rullenzar

    Rullenzar Troubadour

    Magic doesn't age, doesn't suffer, doesn't ask you to be happy, sad, or content. It just is. Magic is there to intrigue the imagination and give it something extraordinary or out of this world. To some that's the same thing but some will argue there is a difference.

    Point is, no matter how you apply this word to your work it excites the psyche by the meer mention of it. The most satisfying part about it is it's almost always unknown and the unknown is always more exciting then the preaching.

    Humans nature to explain all things is built in and motivational. When we find the answer to an unexplained question we ask ourselves now what? and look for something else as the last has lost it's intrigue.

    If you need to explain on some level how your magic system works just so you know its limits then do so. But think long and hard if you want to transfer that explanation into your work for all readers to see.

    Harry Potter for example, you know a lot about the magic system and its limits but you still don't know how it came to be, where it came from, and how the power transfers from one to another through breeding aside from saying it's in the genes. Where does a magic gene come from? How does it change the body aside from being able to do magic? Does that make magic folk mutants?

    You get the point.
  20. Any phenomenon can be observed, recorded, analyzed, and eventually understood. Clarke's point was that anything you don't understand seems like magic until you do.

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