1. Ged
    Offline

    Ged Senior Member

    Joined:
    Oct 6, 2009
    Messages:
    126
    Likes Received:
    2

    Balanced magic

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Ged, Nov 14, 2009.

    I've seen people complain on various websites that some books have too lax magic systems that allow deus exes to pop up. Other complaints were that some magic systems are too strict, or are too much like the laws of physics.

    What is, in your opinion, a balanced magic system? How does it look like?
     
  2. Banzai
    Offline

    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2007
    Messages:
    12,871
    Likes Received:
    150
    Location:
    Reading, UK
    How about something that is recognisable as magic, but doesn't provide so much of a deus ex machina that it removes all conflict from the plot, or else makes the resolutions seem too contrived and simplistic?
     
  3. sidtvicious
    Offline

    sidtvicious Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2009
    Messages:
    476
    Likes Received:
    74
    Location:
    Inferno, office 752. Take a right turn at the wat
    I've actually had a lot of conversations with friends back home about this problem in certain fantasy novels. Something I would really consider is reading any of Isacc Newtons religious or alchemical texts. The concept of "magic" here is yes somewhat like the dynamic of physics, but because of Newton's religious beliefs the gauge is a bit lax. Just a thought.
     
  4. TWErvin2
    Offline

    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2006
    Messages:
    2,529
    Likes Received:
    561
    Location:
    Ohio, USA
    What I try to provide to my readers is a magic 'system' that fits the world, is consistent, and the reader can comprehend how it works with a little bit of why it works and its limitations.

    In my First Civilization's Legacy novel Flank Hawk, for example, magic affects the user physically. A seer, as he or she becomes more proficient, begins to lose their physical sight, for example. Enchanters are more susceptible to magical attacks (such as by sorcerers).

    In addition, I don't go into great detail about the different ranks or levels of ability of the various spell casters (they have titles such as Lesser Enchanter Jonas, Grand Wizard Seelain, but the reader can pick it up through character interactions, actions (including spells), dialogue, the titles themselves and the abilities and respect (or fear/awe) the various individuals in the novel receive.

    I think that there should be some limitations, just as there is with technology. The ability/cost to develop, manufacture and maintain high-tech equipment, and the energy the tech devices use/consume and even the proficiency/knowledge needed to use and maintain is important. Why should magic, in its own way, be any different?

    Just a few initial thoughts on the topic as it develops.

    Terry
     
  5. bluebell80
    Offline

    bluebell80 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 20, 2009
    Messages:
    636
    Likes Received:
    18
    Location:
    Vermont
    I find the variation of magic in different fictional worlds almost always work as long as it is consistent. Whether potions have to be brewed with special ingredients, incantations spoken, or innate magical abilities present, they all have to be consistent throughout the world.

    I've read books where only certain people are magical, much like only certain people are Jedi in Star Wars, not just anyone can be magical. Some of those types of worlds have potions that can be used alone, some need spoken incantations to work. Some spells can be spoken without any other parts, others need potions or charms to work. Some potion ingredients can only be harvested at certain times of the month/year, and do or don't store well.

    Some worlds have everyone with the ability to develop their magical self. These worlds tend to be more lenient in the rules of magic.

    Other worlds have wizards who only say spells with magic wands or staffs.

    There are so many different combination's of how magic works that you can pretty much craft it how you want it. Who cares what some die hard fans of one way like it? It's like the difference between people who like hard sci-fi or ones who can suspend their belief long enough to accept any type of science involved in sci-fi no matter how far out it is.

    There is one thing for sure, there really aren't any true "rules" when it comes to magic...that's the beauty of it. It can be what you want in your world.
     
  6. Irish87
    Offline

    Irish87 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jun 1, 2009
    Messages:
    228
    Likes Received:
    11
    Location:
    California
    I'm writing a fantasy novel for the NaNoWriMo competition, though admittedly I do not like fantasy. Since I have a dislike for a lot of the standard cliches in fantasy literature I decided to immediately weaken all forms of magic. I also wanted to make sure it had competition, in this case it's technology. The advancement of medicine and surgery is making healing spells almost useless, then again it's because I weakened them. Instead of being almighty, I made it where the heal is only superficial and can't repair delicate parts of the body - think severed arteries or massive internal bleeding.

    So basically I balanced magic by making it inferior to something else. I've not yet delved too heavily into elemental magic, but I did mention early on in the novel that most people avoid using it because it hurts them as well. I will admit, however, that I'm basically writing an allegory of what it feels like to see technology shift before your eyes. I like to think of it as someone who used horses their entire life for travel only to go to a city and find Ford Model T's littering the streets.
     
  7. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,893
    Likes Received:
    10,081
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    Restrictions in magic systems are always going to offend the sensibility of at least some readers. A lax system that allows for anything is going to offend an equal number who are from the other side of the camp.

    So the question becomes: What purpose is served by the magic in your story and how much magic do you need?

    When you decide those two things, then you only need to decide what counterweight you need to make things believable.

    I have read many different magic systems in different fictional worlds, from Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels which have a rather lax magic system to Julian May's Saga of Pliocene Exile and Galactic Milieu series which attempt a more scientific and restricted approach. Both work in that the authors apply costs to the use of magic (in many different ways) that balance out the ability and power in the use of said magic.

    So, decide what you need for your story, then decide how (and how much) you will counterweigh.

    I would bet that the most interesting things in your story will come from the side of the counterweight.
     
  8. Smithy
    Offline

    Smithy Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    155
    Likes Received:
    0
    Like a fantasy version of the Shootist? I've often thought that would make a good novel.

    As for the original posters question, I think the most important things are to keep it consistent and establish any key plot-advancing principles of magic well in advance: one of the things that a lot of people disliked about HP:DH was the way the wand lore that is so important to the resolution felt like it had been pulled out of Harry's arse, having never been mentioned anywhere in the previous six books.

    I think magic is one of the few remaining areas where you can truly get away with a good old fashioned infodump. (I basically have a scene that is a glorified Q and A session about the magic that will prove crucial to the outcome of the story) since the audience has no idea what to expect and must be told what the rules and limitations are as early as possible.
     
  9. Ged
    Offline

    Ged Senior Member

    Joined:
    Oct 6, 2009
    Messages:
    126
    Likes Received:
    2
    Thanks for the replies, everyone! You're really given me some things to consider before starting to work on a (hopefully) original and balanced magic system.
     

Share This Page