1. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    Introducing the Magic System(s)

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by B-Gas, Sep 23, 2009.

    I'm worried. I'm a few pages in on what I hope will be the final attempt at the first draft of my story, and already I'm putting way more exposition into the story than I'd hoped. It's woven through a scene in which it is important, but it's still baldfaced exposition- I've actually got one paragraph where I step back and explain things to the reader. One paragraph, but I think it's still too much. I'm introducing a magic system, through the eyes of someone who really, really doesn't grasp the peculiarities of it.

    The scene has action in it- the characters are using a written magic to break into an old, mostly-unused warehouse, and one of the characters, my main, is basically inept at magic and is watching as the other- but I can't help but think there's a better way to explain things.

    What have you seen that worked in the past? How do you prefer to have magic explained to you?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Let the reader learn with the character. A good example is Piers Anthony's Split Infinity.
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I've noticed the following from other novels that use magic. Sometimes what the magic does is so simple that it doesn't need to be explained in much detail to the reader. For example, someone points a finger and fire shoots out of it. In that case, the magic spell is self-explanatory and easy to understand.

    In cases where the magic is more complex and/or needs more description, the author used an MC that knew nothing about how the magic system works. When someone cast a spell or used magic, the MC was told how that spell works by the character who used it. The reader learns about the magic only when the MC does.
     
  4. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    Slight problem- my character has grown up in this world, and it's saturated with magic. And multiple kinds, at that- Craft magic that's native to her country, Script magic that was brought in a few hundred years ago and Devotion magic that's been dead for decades.

    Luckily, she's also inept at all kinds of magic- so she could conceivably ask a competent person about it even though she grew up around it.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You grew up in this world, and computers have been ubiquitous te entire. But the magic of programming them still has to be learned.

    Magic is somewat more interesting to watch someone learn, so following a character around as he learns to use magic will be more interesting than following a young geek learning digital wizardry. So even though he has grown up surrounded by magic, he may be only familiar with the results, not the principles.
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    If the different forms of magic are as instrinsic to the daily life of your world as you have given us to believe, and if your MC is as inept as all that, then you might have to revisit how he/she is seen in this world. This would include self image. In a society where magic is used for something as mundane as frying an egg, someone who does not grasp magic might be seen as handicapped. This might be the view that the MC begins to also adopt about him/herself.

    Your story is about your MC, not the magic systems in the story. I would concentrate on the effect these systems and the MC's ineptitude in these systems have on your MC.
     
  7. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Whether the characters understand it or not, I like the magic to just exist. It's magic. It doesn't need to be explained. I've heard magic defined as science that cannot be explained, and that's the one I tend to go with when I write or read.
     
  8. losthawken
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    losthawken Author J. Aurel Guay Role Play Moderator Contributor

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    I agree with Rei, with a certain exception. In some cases the nature of the magic has an important role in the story and therefore needs some explanation.

    If you use magic as a simple tool to get things done then the less explanation the better. However, if you are using it (and it seems that you may be) to demonstrate something about your character or characters, and have the workings of it related to your plot, then you need a good and well defined system of magic.

    Examples of the latter could include, tying magical ability to state of mind so as to use in as a 'showing' tool. Or relating it to the personality or other traits of the individual. Using such techniques can make a story very rich and engaging in my opinion.

    That said its OK to keep the reader guessing for a chapter or two. You may want to leave your MC confused and pondering for a bit to drag you the exposition of the magic and keep the reader hooked.

    My 2 cents.
     
  9. luckyprophet
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    luckyprophet Member

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    I hate explainations of mysteries ... George Lucas, for instance, tried to turn magic (the Force) into "science" (magichloreans [medichloreans] ??!!), and he threw all the magic in the garbage pile of literature!

    Don't explain mystery! Explain what can be explained, not what can't. Have faith, don't try to understand it. (Quoting young Luke S. & little Yoda ... Luke: "I don't believe it" / Yoda: "That's why you fail".)

    (There's people, though, who like Star Wars I, II & III ... Let them defend their points of view.)
     
  10. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Even if it does play a role in the character development, it doesn't need to be explained. Having a system and rules for that system is one thing, but it's not the same as explaining how it works. Luckyprophet's example of the original trilogy is a good example. There are rules to the Force, and those rules are explained, but where it comes from and how it really works is not, even though there are characters who are utterly perplexed by it, like Han Solo.
     
  11. losthawken
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    losthawken Author J. Aurel Guay Role Play Moderator Contributor

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    I concede to Rei's well put point. but would contend that it should at least be thought out by the author, and explained to some extent if used as I was talking about. 0:)
     
  12. Mark R
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    Mark R Member

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    As others have said, as long as it follows the rules you have created for it, it doesn't need to be explained.

    Especially if the character doesn't understand it. It's a black box to him. Words / gestures (or whatever your mechanism is) go in one end, and magic effects come out of the other. He has no idea what goes on in between, so I would write it that way.
     
  13. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    But it is being used in the way you're talking about a lot and never truly explained. Harry Potter. Star Wars, original trilogy. Any story I've ever seen/read about Merlin/King Arthur never goes into a more detailed explanation than that is comes from the Earth's spirits or something along those lines. George Lucas's movie Willow. Never explains where his abilities come from, beyond believing in himself, and it plays a huge role in his character development.
     
  14. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    B-Gas,

    You have to ask yourself, how important is it that the reader understands exactly how the magic works, especially in the early scene? Giving the reader enough to believe there is a system or rules or ritual to magic is enough. Let the reader piece the parts together throughout the novel.

    Someone unfamiliar with technology wouldn't need to have detailed information on how an automobile works, to witness a person climbing in, starting it up and driving away. How much of what is happening under the hood is initially needed?

    Later on, the non-techie would learn of refueling, about windshield wipers and the horn, trunk, why a key is important, a breakdown could introduce one to the engine, etc.

    Terry
     
  15. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    The thing is, the form of magic that I'm explaining actually is scientific at this point. It's called Script, and it's cast by writing the effect you want out in an old runic language, with a bunch of side effects- restrictions, "cancel the spell if the following conditions pop up", etc.- written out alongside, usually in delicate arcs of text. It's taught through four years of hard tuition at a special university. People know that in ideal conditions, the same Script will always produce the same effect. If the script is unsigned- that is, prepared but uncast- someone else who knows the language and the nature of Script can read it and reliably predict what the effect will be.

    There are another two magic systems that aren't going to be explained in nearly as much detail. But this particular one works like clockwork and I kinda want to get that concept across early, so that people don't assume that "it's magic, so it's unpredictable and dangerous but will save the heroine's life sometime in the future." I'm trying to move away from traditional magic systems which boil down to fireball and telekinesis, are cast through moving your hands like so and saying some cool latin words, and either can only be used so many times per day or draw on the human soul as a power source.

    EDIT: Okay, I've given the wrong impression- I'm not explaining why magic works, I'm explaining how it's cast, how people use it, the equipment that's needed. So, continuing TWErvin2's beautiful metaphor, I'm introducing the reader to the steering wheel, the key, the ignition and the tyres. I'm still not sure what the engine is in this particular magic system, but I have a couple concepts.
     
  16. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    B-Gas,

    It goes back to my original question. How much of this does the reader actually need to know for the scene to work. Why does it all have to be known up front?

    How much can be reasonably inferred from actions and dialogue.

    Although not exactly the same, it's kind of like direct characterization vs. indirect characterization. The former gets the job done in a more efficent, yet often less interesting manner. The second takes a little longer but is usually more interesting to the reader. However, each method has its place.

    Trust the reader to pick up on things, and to take a little bit on faith that the 'magic system' works and is consistent and that they (the reader) will learn more about it as the novel progresses. And remember, 90% of all the history and background and technical stuff you've devised for your world will probably not grace the pages of your mansucript.

    Just my two cents.

    Terry
     

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