HOW TO INCORPORATE MAGIC INTO YOUR STORY
If you are writing fantasy, then at some point the question should arise as to how to use that magic. If it doesn’t come up, then I’d be concerned that the usage of magic in your story might be…flawed.
That said, I’m sure that figuring out what rules should apply to your magic can be quite a challenge. Here’s a post that should at least get you thinking in the right direction.
ORIGIN & WIELDERS
From where does the magic originate? Some stories work with the premise that magic resides in the land; therefore, anyone has access to it. These are the stories where ascetics and monks tend to specialize in the magic, though it is available to everyone. This would be your Star Wars types. (Don’t all jump down my throat at once).
Other stories look at the characteristics of a particular person and that person’s ability to harness magic. In these stories, you may see one man or one woman struggling with the powers of magic, and in the end she is able to wield magic willfully.
There are those stories where magic is left to enchanted items. I use this method with The Pioneers where the citizens have gems lodged in their chests at birth, and whatever region the person is from determines that person’s powers. Some can control beasts, others control spirits, others control temperature, while another region controls the elements.
Figuring out where your magic comes from and who can command it is one of the first steps to creating believable magic.
Magic will have an effect on your culture. If everyone has magic, then of course there will be those who want to be the most powerful wielders of that magic. If no one has magic, then there will be those who spend their entire lives trying to get it.
If you must have a talisman to wield magic, then that talisman will be coveted by all men and all kingdoms.
You will have some subcultures who hate the magic; others will do nothing but think of it day and night while some people may have never have heard about it.
Magic affects everything. Think of it as something more precious than gold. It should have differing effects, and it should there should be limitations.
Magic must have its limits. If everyone can use magic at its maximum power, then it’s useless. It negates everything to being…regular. There should be the feeling of diminishing returns.
I always love a good story where a person is using magic, and that person starts straining and sweating. It shows that the magic is taking a toll on the person. If a person can use magic without consequence, then it cheapens the magical talents.
The limits don’t have to be fatigue, but it could be a tradeoff. If you are going to use fire magic, then you can’t use ice magic immediately afterwards, because your body cannot endure such extreme temperature changes. These types of limitations tend to give magic its own unique characteristics, making the story more enjoyable when magic cannot bail your characters out of every situation.
Magic must be consistent. There’s nothing like setting some rules and then breaking those rules just to bail your characters out of impossible situations.
Keep in mind that breaking the rules is not the same as expanding those rules. Here’s the difference. Let’s say that magic cannot be used to heal people. Then when your main character gets stabbed, you decide that you need him at his best, so you have a character heal him. That does not work, because you promised that magic doesn’t heal.
To expand is something like this: Healing Magic has never been used by anyone before. Now you have just promised the reader something, so you have the ability to use a character to learn this new facet of Magic. In fact, it is expected.
There are ways around this “requirement,” but cheating is not allowed (as is described above).
This is a unique requirement, because it seems intuitive. But no one in your world should be an expert at magic, unless that person is the villain. Why? Because there needs to be something for your characters to aspire to.
There needs to be limits and difficulties, and if a character has maximized his magical potential, then what more is there to learn.
Now of course there can be the sage-Gandaulf type, but even he had to develop into his abilities.
LANGUAGE (written by Maria Thermann)
Magic should have its own “language” – see BBC’s Merlin, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or JK Rowling’s Harry Potter for example. One uses Anglo Saxon, the other a kind of pseudo-Latin and Tolkien made up his own language. It adds hugely to the readers’ enjoyment and gives your magic historical background within the fabric of your story. I couldn’t use Anglo Saxon spells in my Merlin fanfic because it’s really difficult to research – if you’re not an expert. Merlin’s Shine Ltd production team had a historian-nerd at hand to help them.
Making up your own language doesn’t have to be as epic a struggle as Tolkien’s though! Just a few words here and there mumbled by magical protagonist when casting spells. Make up your own vocabulary and stick to it; BTW, your magical protagonist can also use it to swear, not just cast spells, keeping your book clean for younger readers:)
I hope these ideas expand your thinking about magic. Let me know if you have any ideas to add!