1. Flying Geese
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    Flying Geese Contributing Member

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    Magic that requires training

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Flying Geese, Apr 1, 2015.

    In the novel I'm writing I have a character that needs to learn how to effectively (and not recklessly) wield magic. I've never read books with actual "magic systems" before (would love suggestions here). The magic system I have requires the MC (and also the reader) to learn the basics of how magic works in the world of my book and also requires a scene with the MC learning how to wield that magic.

    I am mainly an essay writer. I'm used to explaining things well, but I don't want to make the story boring here, and slow down the plot or cause readers to skim over it. It'd be great to have a 'training scene' that's actually engaging. I will say that the system of magic I came up with is intriguing in and of itself (at least to me) so I am hoping that helps when doing this scene. But I don't want to write TOO much about it in this one spot if I can avoid it.

    Anyone have any tips here?
     
  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    You've never read books with magic systems? That seems weird - do you read a lot of fantasy? If not, you should probably give yourself a bit of an immersion before you go too far into your project. You don't want to lose your originality, but I think it's important to know your genre.

    A couple books I've read recently that have fairly extensive magic system building would be:

    The Powder Mage series by Brian McClellan (two different kinds of mages, two different systems of magic) - he just dives right into the action and we honestly don't get THAT much explanation of the Privileged system until the third book when an experienced Privileged is training an apprentice. That's a pretty common approach, having one character explain things to another character who needs the knowledge. It's also used in:

    The Black Prism, the first book in the Lightbringer series by Brent Weeks. I wasn't crazy about the book, to be honest, but it had a pretty complicated magic system to explain, for sure.

    I think in general you want to either use a technique like the apprentice being lectured by a master to give a lot of information all at once, or you want to dole the information out in pretty small chunks, only as needed, in the narrative. Bewared the dreaded info dump!
     
  3. Flying Geese
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    Flying Geese Contributing Member

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    Right, the info dump is what I am trying to avoid. The scene is set up to where there is a master lecturing an apprentice, but they are short on time because of a troop movement in a few days. I've incorporated a good bit of moving around and action in the scene as well so it's not just one person talking a whole lot.

    I've watched a lot of fantasy, I've played a lot of fantasy, but for reading I just haven't ever read a book that has a complicated magic system that actually needs explaining. The books I read were light on magic.
     
  4. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    How to fit it within the narrative? I'm reminded of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Basically Aang had to learn all four elements (well, three. He mastered Air) in time to stop the Fire Nation's plot for world domination. It could've easily been a boring show where Aang listened to lecture after lecture about the art of bending and the elements, but the creators wove the elements/bending into the story so well that I honestly never found it the least bit boring when it came time for him to learn an element. I recommend watching it to get an idea of how to explain magic.
     
  5. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not a fantasy writer so I don't read books with magic systems much - but I do listen to a podcast (Writing Excuses) co-hosted by Brandon Sanderson, a fantasy writer who is specifically known for creating innovative magic systems. So you might check him out - can't vouch for the books themselves because I don't have time to read something that big, but they're on my "list of things I want to read". I know he did a big one based on on the manipulation of metal, and another one based entirely on the manipulation of color. Also he's done a lot of writing on specifically how to create magic systems that are believable.
     
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  6. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    And training scenes as an idea should work fine. They pull them off all the time in thrillers and martial arts movies..and those are paced significantly faster than fantasy. Not sure how to do it in text - but in movies they tend to start with some big speech by the teacher and then cut to a montage of progress or something like that. Not sure how to "write a montage", because that's a bit of a non-sequitur but you can probably pick the character up at various points during training showing progress.
     
  7. Flying Geese
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    Flying Geese Contributing Member

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    Thanks Lemming. I actually have already listened to a good bit of Sanderson's laws of magic. I was actually impressed with myself because I have tried explaining identical concepts to my friends (they didn't quite get the first law of magic especially).
     
  8. Skaruts
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    Skaruts Member

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    I think Brent Weeks did a great job conveying all the "boring stuff" in his Night Angel trillogy (haven't read the Lightbringer series yet). The magic is mostly explained as the plot unfolds, bit by bit the magical system becomes known to the reader.

    Yet, there's a part of the story that might interest you. The character spends some ten years of his life being tutored in fighting, disguises, alchemy and poisons, reading and etiquette (to pretend to be a noble), among other things, and the plot still unfolds at the same time. Maybe a similar approach to that could be useful to you.

    Think in terms of what else is happening as the character is learning a ton of stuff. In the case of Brent Weeks' book, there's political intrigue and a childish, arrogant king, there's Durzo (the character's master) refusing to work for such a lousy king and the king wanting to force him; there's Durzo coming home angry (and/or drunk) sometimes and being extra agressive in training, or sometimes the character would be doing better than usual and his master seemed pleased (fighting scenes included); there's the character's self-loath and death-wishes, there's a girl he is forbidden to love and resigns to frequently watching her through a window, there's the character's innability to use what is called the Talent (not quite magic, but nearly), There's the character's first mission, there's his master being hunted by other assassins, among a whole lot of other things.

    Things are happening, the world is moving. Pieces are being played, decisions are being made, fights are being fought, all that is happening as the character and the reader learn about otherwise boring stuff like certain types of plants and how their poisons affect their victims, and how they can be combined for different strategic results, and the specific precautions and methods for handling poisons and poioned weapons; it's all happening as you learn why the character's Talent is broken and how Talent usually works, as well as where magic comes from and, to some extent, how it works. Among many other things.

    I think that was a pretty good way to dump all that information without any effort to the readers. The fact that the character is in a somewhat idle period of growth and training, without any travelling and only going in very few missions on his own, spending most of his time locked in the safe-house, training or doing chores, or taking reading and etiquette lessons at a whore-house with Momma K., there's still a great sense of pacing.

    Another thing that helps in that case, is that the story is told through the perspective of many characters, not just the main one, which was probably a good way for the author to break the information dump in parts. It's also one thing you might consider doing, if you haven't (if you feel that it's appropriate).
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2015
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  9. Spencer Rose
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    Spencer Rose Member

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    The wonderful thing about creating your own magic system is that it can literally be anything you want.

    In the Xanth series, every person has their own unique power that works in its own strange way, and it's up to the user to discover how to use it. This creates an infinite number of powers with almost no restrictions.

    If you're planning to go with more "traditional" magic system (and you said you're not big on reading fantasy) look no further then Skyrim. There is a College of Mages, where magic can be studied, but in theory magic can be learned through reading spell books, or being tutored by a "master".

    Personally, I remember reading a story a long time ago (with a single spell?) about a boy whose master died after teaching him a single spell, and even though he wasn't terribly powerful or good at the spell, went on a wonderful adventure.

    Too often do we get caught up in the idea that our characters have to be super powerful and talented and amazing to be interesting. I find situations like "a single spell" to be far more enjoyable. I don't want to watch a character perfect a spell on the first try. I want them to struggle, to sweat. Maybe set their bed on fire trying to light a candle.

    Back on track, I don't think a complicated magic system is really necessary. Keep the concept simple, and if you want to make the possible applications more complex. Ex: everyone in the world can cast "fire". Simple use would be lighting fireplaces, candles, cooking Etc. complex uses would be reducing the size of the fire and learning to throw it as a weapon, manipulating the fire into a "glove" that could be used by a blacksmith to craft weapons by hand and so on. Simple idea, complex uses.

    Sorry to rambled. I'm old, it's what I do. But anyways, that's my two cents.
     
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  10. Man in the Box
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    Man in the Box Active Member

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    Magic isn't real, so you can do anything you feel like. You can even do something that doesn't make any sense, like JK Rowling did in HP, where

    the magic inheritance is meaningless and paradoxical because a muggle couple can have wizard children and pure-bloods can very rarely have inept children, it's silly and only served Rowling's (and the Western world's) perennial criticism of Nazism and its nonsensical genetic theories.

    My system is heavily dependent on the character's creativity and cunning, as s/he basically learns their powers by themselves with little tutoring.

    The magic source I used is standard prana, or qi, or whatever it's called depending on the myths you find. It's just easy and recognizable.
     
  11. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    Tamora Pierce handled this really well in her Circle of Magic YA books. The main characters access their magic mostly through actual crafts like weaving and metalworking. As each one learns their individual magics, it's presented in an organic, tactile way which really makes sense. Even Tris' weather magic is treated like something she's really laboring to achieve.

    And even though magic isn't real, it should make real-world sense, with rules and laws. I had a problem with the magic in HP, because everything just worked with no effort and no regard to any physical laws.
     
  12. uncephalized
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    uncephalized Active Member

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    Patrick Rothfuss does a good job of this in 'The Name of the Wind' and 'The Wise Man's Fear'. The main character goes to University to hone his magic, and it's a huge part of the books. He weaves together the actual learning with politics and power games between characters and, in parallel, with the main character's personal struggles with poverty.

    The magic system itself is also very interesting and well-designed, especially to an engineer type like me since the main type of magic, binding, is clearly influenced by the real laws of thermodynamics. Just a really good series in general and worth checking out. Unfortunately we're still waiting on book three...
     
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  13. Megalith
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    Megalith Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have been thinking very hard about this on the fantasy story I am working on. I have watched all of Sanderson's lectures regarding the subject and I have to say that creating a viable magic system has been painstakingly hard. I've had to continue to add and add to my system until it finally became something cohesive. Although now it is so complicated that explaining it is becoming an even larger pain.

    I thought it would be uninteresting to not understand how the magic works while watching these magic action scenes, but I'm starting to realize that how the magic works is only mildly interesting compared to how the magic is used. So I have been successful putting off long explanations, letting my readers guess how the magic works. I'm hoping that through example they will begin to realize the specifics, like a scientist witnessing the results of a test, slowly discovering the pattern that emerges. I am going to give my reader a slightly steep learning curve, but I'm hoping that with other factors, they won't be very annoyed by it. And in fact, I'm hoping they ill enjoy trying to come up with their own ideas about how the specific system is designed.
     
  14. animenagai
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    animenagai Member

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    I just wanted to thank you guys for pointing me to the Sanderson laws of magic. This stuff is really good. Cheers!
     
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  15. Flying Geese
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    Flying Geese Contributing Member

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    I've put a lot of work into my system. I was wondering if anyone would be interested in critiquing my magic system? Does anyone have magic systems they would like for me to critique?
     
  16. sjdjpdj
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    sjdjpdj New Member

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    I have a very simple one, if you are interested. Would you like to hear it? Or in this case... to read it?
     
  17. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    @geese, @sj : I'd be happy to run a reader's eye over your systems
     
  18. sjdjpdj
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    sjdjpdj New Member

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    Ok, here's is mine (not very original, granted):

    Magic in my setting is more of a... natural energy or force. Very few people can control or manipulate it, those who do are considered "gifted". This "gift", however is not hereditary. Just because one or both of your parents have it doesn't mean you'll have it too. Gifted people are very rare, indeed, they are consideed to be "touched by the gods", which sometimes can be problematic for their personal lives. I'd say only 1% of the world population are gifted.

    Now let's go with the mechanics and different types of "gifted".


    • Basic: This is the most common type (almost 3/4 of the total number). The basic gifted can use the mystical energy for a variety of purposes such as: Telekinesis, minor mind reading, concusive blasts and in very rare occasions, force fields and mental illusions. How strong this abilities are depends on the potential of each individual. The strongest ones are able to move trees with their minds, stop thrown proyectiles like arrows or spears or even destroy castles with their blasts. There are some limits, however, the more energy you spent, the closer you come to death.

    • Healer: This type of gifted are able to heal injuries of almost any kind, with the exception of missing limbs or organs. Diseases are far more complex, but still manageable. Also, the healers can only use their gift with someone who is alive. Corpses are out of the equation. The healing process usually takes about 10 minutes, though this can changed depending on the experience and potential of the gifted.

    • Drainer: The most dangerous type. These individuals are able to absorb via touch the strength of other gifted beings (the more powerful their prey is, the more power they gain). The drainers can also absorb non-gifted people, however, they gains are minimal. It's woth noting that prolonged contact can cause the victim's death.

    • Vessel: The strangest type (only 1/100). These indivuadual can serve as a container for other gifted's strength. The vessels potential is practically unlimited, and only depends on the number of gifted willing to share their strenght with them. They are considered to be the mystic community's last line of defense.

    Note: Healers, drainers and vessels are also able to use the mystical energy for the same purposes as the basic gifted, but in a much weaker way. Finally, all gifted are, in the end, still mortals. They can still be killed the same way a normal person can be killed. And, like normal people, the older they get, the weaker they become.*

    *There are however, a few exceptions.

    If you guys have questions, if there is something you don't quite understand or if you want some examples, please... do feel free to ask.
     
  19. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would be happy to offer a critic on your magic system. I also have a magic system you could critic. If you want too. :D
     
  20. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    @sj: that's actually pretty cool. Could the drainers also heal by targeting infections or cancer cells with their power? It would be a pretty awesome twist on a "destructive" talent.
     
  21. sjdjpdj
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    sjdjpdj New Member

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    Yes, sort of like an exchange, but it most be done carefully. They also can stop thier aging process somewhat by absorbing enough people.

    The drainers can also touch people without fear of absorbing them by accident. That is to say, they need to activate their power consciously.
     
  22. Lemon flavoured
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    Lemon flavoured Active Member

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    The idea I've been toying with recently is a magic system that is essentially just transfers of energy, and is difficult to use for the same reason that running a marathon or driving a race car for two hours is difficult, it's physically and mentally draining, to the point that it can kill you. My idea is that anyone can do stuff like start a small fire, but you need a lot of training, mentally and physically, to really use it to a "dangerous" extent.
     
  23. Reilley Turner
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    Reilley Turner Active Member

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    I've read about many magic systems, as well as made one myself (which I will not spoil). My advice: follow your heart, and be original, but try to not to copy (if you can), or copy a existing magic system as a whole.
     
  24. Jack Kensington
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    Jack Kensington Member

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    I myself am creating my own magic system for my series, but just like Reilley I don't really want to share it as it's unique, albeit taking some inspiration from some others.

    A magic system can be anything, JUST so long as it follows the rules and limitations of that system. From anime, to games, to films etc, there is always a limit unless the mc is the all mighty god.

    Take your imagination, create your 'magic' and start laying down some rules and limitations and then stick to them.
     

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