Worldbuilding 101: Magic and Technology (Part Two)

Welcome back! Sorry for leaving last week’s post incomplete, but it was getting too long.

Okay, I covered technology a lot in the last article, but there were some interesting points about magic I still wanted to talk about. How does magic work in your world?

There are a near endless array of ways magic could work, and maybe you are even creative enough to think of new ones. Let’s look at a few possibilities.

1. Words and phrases: By that, I mean just saying the words by themselves and accomplishing magic. No gestures, no rituals, just a couple syllables on the air. Not that you can’t combine it with either of them, in fact they usually are, but it is possible for them to be separate.

2. Gestures: Maybe a snap, or a point, or wave your hands in an impressive manner. Usually these involve the caster’s hands, but not always. In Bewitched, Samantha famously did magic by wiggling her nose. Maybe your character wiggles toes or ears. Maybe you could have a character cast magic by sticking out her tongue, or performing the funky chicken dance (If so, I’d like to read it.)

3. Using a Talisman: Be it a wand, a sword, a piece of Jewelry, or what have you, the caster works through a magic object of some kind. Those are standards and can be used, but you may want to try to come up with an original item of your own. Or at least, something that isn’t used as often. This can be related to having an object that is magical in and of itself. If I have a magic watch that stops time, unless it takes something (energy, blood, sweat, life force, etc.) from me to work, I am not doing magic through the watch, anymore than I am making electricity by typing on this computer.

4. Through a ritual: This ritual will probably involve the previous three and then some. Maybe, in order to light the holy fire to keep the demons away, the priests of the Sly Ferret god, must arrange the three holy rocks of heaven, chant the fifty names of earth, and sacrifice a small bird with the sacred knife. That’s words (chanting), possibly gestures (the rocks, maybe the sacrifice), and using a talisman (the knife).  We’ll get back to sacrifices later.

5. Wishing or Willing the magic to work: While this can seem like a cop-out, it’s actually fairly common in stories. In most forms of magic, this is part of the magic. This may or may not be related to Belief magic. In which case, if you don’t believe it, you can’t do it.  The problem with this, is that done wrong, it is a deus ex machina, done right, you have the Force, from Star Wars.

6. Using plants or animal products:  The difference between this and ritual, is that a ritual has many steps, where this can be as simple as chewing up leaves. Or it can be used as potions.

There are many other ways you can have magic work, but these are some of the easiest starting points. So, you established how your characters do magic. Wonderful. Now, how did they learn it? What are their limits? How common is magic in your setting? Is it accepted, or do magicians have to hide their abilities? Can they use their powers for great and powerful spells, or only little daily use spells? Can they do both? Is one more acceptable than the other?

What is the cost of magic? There absolutely, positively must be a cost. Otherwise, it is a cheep trick, and your readers are going to be frustrated. This cost may be subtle or obvious. Take the Harry Potter series. What is the cost? It doesn’t seem to have much. Most fans assume that at least some energy must be used, and you get tired if you try too many powerful spells in a short time. I don’t remember if that is ever mentioned in the main books or not. But even without it, there is a cost. The whole series is about the characters spending seven years in school, learning how to cast spells, make potions, etc. That is a cost of time. They make potions, that are made from various ingredients. They don’t come from nowhere. You have to purchase or gather the items involved. The characters use wands. These wands require part of a magical animal. A phoenix, a dragon, or a unicorn. Phoenixes are so rare that only one is seen in all seven books. Dragons are dangerous, and unicorns shy from people. That’s why those wands are so expensive.

Maybe the cost is more obvious. Maybe there must be a sacrifice, be it of a valued object, a plant, an animal, or even a person. One word of warning, if your good character practices a magical art that requires the sacrifice of a person, readers are not going to like your character very much. Even animal sacrifices can be harsh for many modern readers. Think about it carefully.

Does the magic work every time? Why or why not? If your character is just learning, that’s a good reason for magic to either not work, or to do something unexpected. Just be careful about making the magic too much of a game breaker. They shouldn’t be able to solve their problems too easily. Nor should it be the source of all their problems.

There are many other parts to inventing magic and technology, but my computer is acting up. Next week will not be Part Three, though if I come up with enough new information, there may be a part three eventually.

On a personal note, I will be out of state next week, and do not know if I will have internet access. If I do, I will make a post, if not, then, I guess it will be two weeks before my next post. Happy Easter, everyone.


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