This article is by Alex Limberg.
You want to pull your reader out of his everyday life and draw him into your fantastic world? Want to wow her with things she would have never imagined possible?
Then you need to introduce magic into your stories!
Here are a couple of hints on how to create a special experience with magic:
Clearly Set the Rules Upfront
First things first: To make your readers go along with your action and feel suspense, you have to set the rules of what magic can do in your world and, more importantly, what it can’t do.
Imagine if your wizard would just have to snap his finger and could achieve anything he wanted. The story would have no serious obstacle anymore and it would become boring quickly. To prevent that, you have to define the limits for your magically skilled characters and for their spells.
Maybe a spell only works for objects your magician touches. Maybe its effect only lasts for three minutes, maybe it doesn’t work in windy places. If at a later point you don’t want your magician to use their skill in a certain situation, because your plot has other plans, you then have a very plausible deniability.
If possible, make it clear what magic can and cannot do early on in your story. Then your reader will not feel tricked by you, the author, and by a sudden “deus ex machina.” And when a powerful spell lets the magician take off into the air to save himself, your reader will willingly accept it. After all, the magician already used his skill in scene one to get a book from the high shelf.
Because I know keeping a story realistic and engaging at the same time is a delicate tight rope act, you can download my free e-book about 44 Key Questions to test your story. It will help you make every single part of your fantasy tale tight and unforgettable.
Magic Is Tied to the Magician
Magic doesn’t equal magic. Have you noticed how different a witch’s magic is from, say, an elf’s magic in most fantasy stories?
Witch magic has something more secretive to it, something more wicked and dark. Elf magic breathes positivity and life and embraces nature. Accordingly, these two forms of magic will have different morals, different ways of thinking and learning, different artifacts and rituals, and a different look and overall feeling.
For witches, the well-being of themselves and their loved ones might be most important, they will brew in kettles, use strange or slightly disgusting ingredients like virgin hair and toad eyes, love the night, fly on brooms, and live a more secluded life, often only accompanied by their confidant cat or raven. They might be good at evocation spells.
Elves think more like Buddhists. They lend their power from and feed it back to Mother Nature. They will be good at healing spells, and use wooden artifacts. They cherish community and are soft-spoken.
Accordingly, witch magic and elf magic will look and feel differently. Want some wicked, dark fascination? Watch the witch! Want to see a truly positive being make life around her grow? Elaborate the elf!
Even if your elf, witch, magician, druid, joker or whoever else you have look nothing like these stereotypes, you should still create your own stereotypes according to your own rules. Make your magic recognizable.
Use Moody Language
If the language hits the right note, it makes for a very moody magic spell.
You could formulate your spell like an order, even when it goes towards objects, the weather, the magician himself, etc… Whatever sounds a little crooked, a little arcane, will help you with your magic language. Pompous and unusual sounding words underline the serious business of your magically gifted character.
You can also draw from Latin words. Just use an English/Latin dictionary and translate English words to Latin or give the English words Latin endings. Common Latin noun endings that will make your spell sound potent and heavy are -us, -o, -or (all male), -a, -ae (both female), -ibus, -ibum, -is, -es, -em.
What do you think, which one of these two spells is more powerful to disarm a furious, fire-spitting dragon?
“Dragon go to sleep!”
“Draco Somnus, dragon rest!”
The Right Artifacts are Key
Everybody knows that for a spell to work, you need the right artifacts. It might not always be the case when your magician is out and about and doesn’t have the time for lengthy preparation. But if it’s a big spell and preparation is possible, then you can add a lot more atmosphere with a couple of details.
Think of clothing, for example robes or gloves the magically inclined character has to put on. Think of a magic wand, stick or cap she has to use. Think of signs and marks that have to be drawn on walls or floors, like a pentagram. Think of liquids, powders or other ingredients that might be needed (didn’t even the magician you watched as a kid employ some magic salt?). Maybe he needs sulphur or morning dew or a mandrake. Maybe the ritual involves moonlight, the twilight or another certain time or location.
Use your imagination. The more prerequisites it needs, the more powerful your spell will be – at least in your reader’s imagination…
Don’t Forget the Effects
Finally, magic takes place. But do you give it a quick “Pooof” now and then that’s it?
No way! What takes place here is a major shift between supernatural forces. It’s arcane power shattering earthly physique, and remodeling it at its own discretion. Make your readers feel those powers to the very tips of their hair.
It’s not just what your characters can see. Think in four senses: Seeing, hearing, smelling and feeling.
Seeing: Don’t hold back! Thick clouds of smoke could be involved, flames, lightning. Sparks, a maelstrom of colors, shapeshifting. There are no limits to your imagination.
Hearing: Ok, you can employ the “Pooof” now. But you can also think of more original sounds. Bangs, hissing, bubbling, screams. How long does the spell, and thus the sound take? Is anything transformed that will let out a noise? What sounds could the objects or beings make when they are stressed under the spell?
Smelling: In some cases something will smell, maybe of smoke, dust, sulfur, black powder or sweat. Or it could just be a strange, inexplicable smell that stays as long as the spell lasts (You can see through walls for the next 30 minutes, but there is this strange smell of citrus everywhere around? Eerie…)
Feeling: Use at your own discretion; you don’t always feel something when magic takes its course. But characters could feel an air blast, heat, cold, splashes of water or saliva, or whatever else your deviant mind brings out.
Don’t forget that many spells can work quietly, without anybody noticing anything – for example, when a magician reads somebody’s mind. You don’t always have to employ the full arsenal. But if it’s fitting, bring out the effects.
Finally, it’s too bad there is no magic spell to produce out of thin air what we all need most right now: An awesome magic spell…!
Do you find this helpful? What is your best tip to make magic magnificent? Do you have some secret recipe that has worked wonders? What should magic accomplish in your story?
About the Author:
Alex Limberg is the founder of Ride the Pen, a creative writing blog that dissects famous authors (their works, not bodies). Make your fantasy stories tight and unforgettable with his free e-book ’44 Key Questions’ to test your story. Alex has worked as a copywriter in advertising and has also been active in the movie industry.