1. Luke Andrew
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    Luke Andrew Member

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    Fantasy Without Magic?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Luke Andrew, Oct 29, 2013.

    I am planning a fantasy novel for NaNoWriMO, but I have come across a little road block. I haven't been able to come up with a unique magic system for it. The more I think about it, the more I think that the story will be okay without a magic system. But the problem I am finding is that in my favorite books the magic is one of the things that makes them so interesting and great. For instance the Furies in Jim Butcher's The Codex Alera, and the different magical abilities in Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings.

    Do you guys think that a fantasy novel can still be excellent without a magic system or not? And if any of you have read a fantasy novel without magic could you let me know the title and author so I can read it myself?
     
  2. mbinks89
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    mbinks89 Active Member

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    Sure it can. I wrote a dark fantasy short story in which there's no magic. Only a blind troll that tells riddles and has a large gun. Just be creative.
     
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  3. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Fantasy doesn't require magic.
    It's a staple for it, sure, but not a requirement.

    Like pancakes and maple syrup.
    You don't NEED to have the maple syrup.
    You could have them plain, or blueberry, or whip cream, or chocolate syrup!

    Same goes for fantasy.
     
  4. Dazen
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    Dazen Active Member

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    Look at the earlier version of George R. R. Martin's A song of Ice and Fire. Until the third book or something, there was no magic involved in the plot, apart from the dead bodies coming back as Others. So if you were going to do a series, etc, that you don't want to revolve around magic, you can always add it in later. I mean, look how well A Game of Thrones sold with as little magic as it had, and he only used sorcery/magic later in the series because it was relevant to the plot, not because he felt he needed it.
    And then look at J. R. Tolkien's The Lord of The Rings. Apart from The Elves', Gandalf's, and Sauramon's use of spells and wizardry, there is no mention of any other "magic" per se in the series.
    Also, I feel as if with magic, any sense of danger is harder to depict, unless you made magic have its repercussions, like exhaustion, or Brandon Sanderson's Unpublished Novel Mythwalker, where the main character has a sort of "Epileptic Fit" when he uses magic - just an idea ;)
    Correct me if I'm wrong I think the magic elements of a fantasy manuscript entices the reader to pick up the book, it doesn't make the novel/short story etc. any better than it would have been without magic.
     
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2013
  5. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I feel that the danger in creating 'magic' is that it can make solving problems too easy for the characters. I would personally much rather read a fantasy without it. However, I don't think there are too many of them out there.
     
  6. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    I grew up to detest (dislike and abhor) RPG-type magic in literature. Fireballs and scrolls and "I say a quasi-Latin word to call in a daemon who then I can kill with a silver toothpick" is great stuff in games, but it sucks big time in prose. Most of the time, it's like reading transcripts from DnD sessions. Boooooooring.

    Then again, many people enjoy it to the level of idolatry. Who am I to judge :)

    For me, the story is what counts: actions, reactions, character dynamics, interesting new places to read about, new stuff to boost the reader's imagination. And again: character dynamics, wealth in themes and motifs, something old, something new, something blue (blue=kill off a character or two :p)... And again: character dynamics, inner workings, twists and turns and changes in beats and tempo. Not a non-stop jumping and running and cutting down bad-guys and constanly rising the stakes to melodramatic hights: sometimes you just need a good-ol' descriptive passage about a beautiful landscape or woman's eyes (make her a dead prostitute if you like) :)
     
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  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    There are good fantasy novels with no magic in them. It's not an issue.
     
  8. swetty
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    swetty New Member

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    I think you can't write a fantasy novel without magic: you can without wizardry, but, in fact, it could be hard to define a novel without any sort of magic a "fantasy novel".

    But what's the matter? You're just writing a novel, it's so important to label it "fantasy"?
     
  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Not true at all. There are plenty of examples to the contrary. See for example KJ Parker's novel The Company, or Peake's Gormenghast books.
     
  10. Dazen
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    Dazen Active Member

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    Exactly; A Game of Thrones has no serious magical element apart from the Others. And then Lord of the Rings, which, apart from Gandalf and a few other choice characters, and the Ring, there's not much mention of any "Magic" unless you count Ents and Elves, etc. But I think those are more related to races in general.
    It all depends on what you count as "Magical"
     
  11. swetty
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    swetty New Member

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    It depends on the definition of "fantasy", but don't worry, I don't want to argue for or against any definition of fantasy. I say it just to pose the question "what is the matter".

    @Dazen, ok, I agree, but you can't say there is no magic at all in Tolkien or Martin. Be serious.
     
  12. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    The two books I mentioned take place in a completely made up world, with its own nations and cultures etc., rather than in the real world. If you've created an entirely new world for your fantasy that is not the real world, then I'd say it qualifies as fantasy. If you're writing in the real world, then you need some kind of fantastic element that separates the world of your story from the real world in order for it to be fantasy, in my opinion.
     
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  13. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    I would be perfectly happy reading a fantasy type book that didn't have any magic. I don't see it as a problem whatsoever. If the story doesn't call for it, you will probably feel unnatural putting it in there. Just follow your instinct about what your story is about.
     
  14. Dazen
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    Dazen Active Member

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    Ahah, yeah, I agree with you there. I was just trying to think of some well-known examples of novels where the magic isn't as important to the storyline as in most cases.
     
  15. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    I absolutely agree on what's been said - if magic is not a central focus of your book, or isn't even necessary for the progression of plotline, then you don't have to include it. Fantasy, as I see it, is not defined by whether or not someone can cast a spell or focus energy or has a contract with a god/demon. It has many different facets (which is why there are so many sub-genres in the fantasy realm) and can be interpretted however the writer sees fit.
     
  16. Luke Andrew
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    Luke Andrew Member

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    Thanks for all the feedback guys, I feel much more comfortable about the absence of a magic system now. For those of you who want to know "magic" won't be absent completely, it just won't be something that people can use. Instead it will be in the form uncontrollable things, for instance in some places the ground is tainted and the taint has an effect on the landscape around it and those who tread upon it.
     
  17. Dazen
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    Dazen Active Member

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    This applies to my novel as well :)
     
  18. tupbup
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    tupbup Member

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    Magic is not the defining feature of a fantasy novel in the same way space ships are not the defining feature of Sci-Fi. It can be the main focus, a side element or non-existent. It completely depends on what you want to include. I love how flexible fantasy is. There are so many sub-genres that I think you can more than justify not having magic at all. Personally I love the idea of magic and it always finds a way of sneaking into my stories. A fantasy story without magic would certainly not put me off reading it.

    Dragonmaster
    by Chris Bunch had very little to do with magic apart from the alchemists who made hand-grenades. It was more about how war technology develops. The dragons, I believe, were an extended metaphor for how aeroplanes progressed from reconnaissance to actual weapons over the two world wars. Well worth a read if you like to read about lots of fighting. And dragons.
     
  19. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Funny you say that. Now, I love RPG and anime, so fireballs and prancing around calling forth the great spirits are totally my thing - but only when it's on screen. I don't do the quasi-Latin word thing because I suck at coming up with cool fantasy words and I feel like an idiot making my MC shout something like "Excalibre!" So instead, I have my character wave their hands about...

    In short, I feel ridiculous every time I write magic. You're right, it doesn't work in prose. It always feels like I'm writing nonsense. It'd look spectacular on screen but in writing it looks insubstantial. But how else can I write magic? :(

    @Luke Andrew - Northern Lights has no magic and it's a British children's classic. Narnia doesn't really have magic in it either, does it? You could argue the wardrobe is magical, but that's not quite the same thing. Truth is, LOTR barely had any magic either.
     
  20. Dazen
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    Dazen Active Member

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    You could write magic in many different ways depending on the system of magic each character has etc. So if you had to write a spell you could do something basic like this (terrible example by the way:)
    He muttered the words beneath his breath, and a jet of flame erupted from his fingertips. (AGAIN, terrible example, but you get the gist. You don't actually have to write spells, which in most cases looks absurd.)
     
  21. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks for the idea :) trouble with that is, it'd work only occasionally. If EVERY time the character fought, I just wrote: he shouted, muttered, evoked the spell of destruction (and imagine how many of these instances there'll be in an actual fight scene) - pretty soon I'll just look incompetent I think :D The last time I wrote "He shouted a command" my friend asked me, "What command?"

    meeeeeh.

    But yeah I agree, for some occasions it's a good way!
     
  22. tupbup
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    tupbup Member

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    I think magic can ruin a fight scene, especially if its the only thing going on. The ending to Harry Potter and much of the last two books actually was an anti-climax. At the end of all that questing and growing up, the whole thing was solved by standing in front of each other with sticks and "shooting sparks" at each other. I use speech marks because I'm pretty certain that's a direct quote from the scene just after "the bit" in Book Six at the top of the tower. A sniper could have solved the magic world's problem no trouble at all.

    Magic has its place in the fantasy world and perhaps as a support to a swordsman or kickboxer etc. but if its going to be the only action in the fight then work the assumption your reader isn't going to very enthralled by the scene. Perhaps make the spell backfire or completely drain the character or the enemy does something ten times as frightening. If it is a magic only battle I would avoid spending too many words on it. Make it as exciting and as pacy as you can. If you do write a battle with magic I'd be really interested to read how you get on.
     
  23. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    That sounds interesting.

    Game of Thrones has a little magic, but it isn't part of the plots. Check out books that have alternate medieval time settings.
     
  24. Albirich
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    Albirich Active Member

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    It is not the magic that makes a story great, but of course...you can always make it so that only a few characters have some sort of special powers, creating a subplot to as why they have it?

    @MilesTro Magic is a part of the plots. Dragons are magic, according to Stannis. Bran's journey is thrived by magic; visions etc, and Jojen's greendreams. Stannis' is being pushed on by Melisandre and her Lord of Light. I'll twist George's words a little here: Tolkien did magic smart, and doing magic smartly is required to stitch up any plotholes that the story might face when there is magic involved.
    That was horribly twisted, but George R R Martin said that magic is important to fantasy and that it should be done smartly, like he did and Tolkien before him.
     
  25. AlcoholicWolf
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    AlcoholicWolf Contributing Member

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    Magic, in my opinion, has a more interesting effect when it is an underlying force - something that is not necessarily explicit, or even seen, in the world, but rather something which can help or hinder characters in a very subtle way.

    For instance, in my own fantasy writing, often I have this idea of "essence" which builds up in your spirit depending on the deeds you do, small or large. Those with essence will often find that their luck varies. If you are a villainous character, driven by greed or power, your essence will have a negative effect on those around you. And essence can be hunted, by murdering and taking it from others... so in this way the magic can drive the characters in their own dark desires.
     

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