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  1. Fungimandias
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    Fungimandias Member

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    Regarding Magic...

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Fungimandias, Sep 14, 2008.

    Alright, I've decided to go through with writing my own Urban Fantasy story and have started to brainstorm some ideas for characters and map out how magic and the supernatural work in my world. Thing is, I'm a fairly inexperienced writer, so I'm not entirely sure how to go about explain how magic works and why the supernatural is the way it is in the context of the story. Does anyone have any advice on how I can illustrate the nuances of my world without slowing down the story or employing flimsy explanations?
     
  2. lordofhats
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    lordofhats Contributing Member

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    The best way to describe magic is ironically the word itself. Its MAGIC! Honestly, I can't see how any technical explanation is needed. All your reader needs to know is that when your character waves his hands things have a tendency to explode... violently... usually with some degree of ludicrous dismemberment... mhhhhh. Sweet juicy dismemberment...

    What were we talking about? Oh right, magic. The best way to show is to probably let the reader know as the character finds out. So stuff blows up when he waves his hands. No reason really needs to be given for this in a magical context. He's magic he doesn't know why it happens it just does. If you want something more technical you can call it spirit energy, or mana, or chi and make up simple rules or something.

    Rule Number One (an example): Once you have called forth the Chi you must release it or you will implode.

    That would actually make for some funny dialogue between a character experienced in magic and one who is not. "Just be careful kid or you'll... well lets just say you shrink into a ball and disappear from existence."

    Its really up to you. Since its magic, no technical reasons are needed for why it works. If you want to give some its really not that hard to work it into interactive dialogue (or something else that is not an info dump) instead of info dumps. Go about it however you like, or maybe while writing the story you find its best to go about it a certain way. I can't really say there is a right and wrong way to do it (Except info dumps. Most would agree that's the wrong way to explain things. But other than that your good to go :p).
     
  3. chad.sims2
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    chad.sims2 Contributing Member

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    I on the other hand think the opposite, I like to let my reader know the rules that it involves, Like when I use Rune magic for a book, I like to discribe what combanations of rune can do what, and it's fun as my inexpereinced mage learns what happens when you combind the wrong ones.
     
  4. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    Hey, It's what I do! It wouldn't be magic if it could competely be explained through technical terms; thus, I only explain just enough....
    Let just say I explain "How" but not "Why".
     
  5. Ungood
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    Ungood Contributing Member

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    before you kill yourself with this, just ask these two questions:

    Does the reader need to know how this is supposed to work to enjoy the story?

    Do I need to know how this is supposed to work to write the story?
     
  6. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    I do things on a learn-as-you-go basis. Dropping it all on the reader at once makes for a huge infodump, and that's no fun. It's best to have small instances where your MC sees magic and begins to understand how it works. He'll never learn everything that way, but he learns enough to get by, and another, more experienced, character can always fill in the blanks or clear up any misconceptions. Also, keep in mind that your story is set in an urban environment, so the characters and the reader already think they know how the world works. You're really shattering their reality when you bring magic in, so take it easy on them, lest you break their feeble minds. :D It's not like "normal" fantasy, where we expect things to be strange; two worlds are colliding here.

    I'm actually in the same boat as you, writing fantasy in a modern-day urban setting. It comes off as very awkward at first, but I think as readers begin to understand the rules, it all falls together and gets very fun. The main thing I'm trying to avoid is introducing new "rules" in tense situations; it's very easy to end up with a Deus Ex Machina scenario if you do that. For example, if your MC gets knocked off a cliff, this isn't a very good time to let the reader know he can fly, unless you hinted at that possibility elsewhere.
     
  7. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I think studying Harry Potter could help a lot in this regard. Little pieces are explained as the story progresses. It is explained in the action, and sometimes with dialogue.
     
  8. Fungimandias
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    Fungimandias Member

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    Don't worry, I may be inexperienced but even I know infodumps should be avoided like the plague :D And thanks for the feedback everyone ^^
     
  9. Honorius
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    Honorius Active Member

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    first off all things in nature require energy (The Law of Equivalent Exchange/Conservation of Matter) in this sense energy must be used to cast a spell. but at the same time some books like harry potter give no explanation of an energy exchange at all. and spells are limited only to knowledge and skill. but at other times like in Eragon spells require energy, some skill, and knowledge of the words of power.

    if your going to show an energy exchange some classics are just plain energy, mana, magic itself, aether, and life force.

    techniques include waving of hands, wands, and weapons; dances; incantations (saying a spell); reading a spell from a book/tablet; hand signs; using items (crystals, goblets, weapons), and merely thinking the ability.
     
  10. Fungimandias
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    Fungimandias Member

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    Well, the general idea behind spellcasting in my story is this: magic is an external force that mages channel through their being, much like a lenses focusing light. As a lenses heats up as more light is focused through it, mages become gradually more fatigued in body and mind as they channel arcane energies through their fragile person. Spellcasting only requires that the mage be capable of conscious thought, however using physical props and incantations does make the process less straining on their being.
     
  11. CommonGoods
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    CommonGoods Senior Member

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    Magic trick! I've got nothing in my hands, now I clap them together, and now its gone!

    You'd be suprised how many 9 years old think this is actually magic.

    Magic is probably the most tricky part of any fantasy novel or shortstory. Hows does it work, why does work, what does it do? Most of the times, you only have to answer that last point; trying to explain how and why it works is usually overkill.

    I usually work with 3 kinds of magic; Alchemy, Arcana, Divine.
    Alchemy works like the spells in, for example, Full Metal Alchemist; law of Equivelant Exchange/Conservation of Energy and Matter (like Honorius mentioned). You need something to create something. Arcana deals with the power of words, hand gestures or mental power, think of the Skill in Hobbs books. Finally, you got Divine, which means the magician uses an outside source to power themselfs up, the external source being a deity, nature, or something else like in the Chrono Crusade, where they use the Astral Line.

    Your kind of magic sounds most like divine. Since everyone can use it, it will probably be common and often used in rather mudane tasks, which may result in them being slightly technically challenged (why create planes, trains, even cars, if you can simply transport yourself). This last is offcourse up to you.

    Important about divine magic could be the source. What is the source and, more importantly, can it run out of juice.

    Or offcource you can simply state there is magic, and leave it with that. It isn't about how well you explain it, but about how much the reader simply accepts. And the simple statement "there is magic" is sometimes a lot easier to accept then a lengthy explination.
     
  12. Honorius
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    Honorius Active Member

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    i had forgotton about divine magics. though i sortof mentioned arcane magic through my methods.

    yeah divine magic would be power granted down by the gods, an cast by asking for power from the gods... or something along those lines anyways.

    Though i disagree CommonGoods; i see Fungimandias's magic be more of a "alchemy-type" magic. because as far as i can tell theres no dieties involved. and there is a requierment for the magic; physical strain. allthough because the magic is naturally occuring it has an almost druidic twist to it rather than an alchemic one.
     
  13. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say, don't make a big deal out of it. Have it just exist the way it does in high fantasy. I'd suggest reading Charles de Lint. Many people say that he is the master of fanatsies in urban settings.
     
  14. Fungimandias
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    Fungimandias Member

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    Thanks again for the feedback guys ^^ I'm intending this story to be a series of interconnected short stories (at least for now anyway), so I guess I'll reveal a little more about magic with each installment based on its overall relevance to the plot.

    A little more on my magic: you could say it's "divine" as the source of all magic is a technically living entity called the Wyrd, however, the Wyrd itself is not sentient, has no will of it's own, and is only has a minimal level of self-awareness. The Wyrd does adhere to the Law of Conservation of Energy (in addition to a whole mess of magical laws which I'll post up later if anyones interested), but not Conservation of Mass, thermodynamics, or any other established law of physics to date.
     
  15. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with Rei... and would like to add that the more you explain magic, the less magic it becomes. Both in the sense that it loses its mystery, and in the sense that it seems less and less like magic and more and more like an exotic form of technology.
     
  16. biomechanic
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    biomechanic New Member

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    i always tend to write magic as controled coincidence rather than the standard views. just makes it a lil bit ... ya know.
     
  17. CommonGoods
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    CommonGoods Senior Member

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    Magic needs rules for the reader, imho. Else the reader will just keep asking himself; "why doesn't he use his magic to do this, or get out of this situation, or kill that guy."

    As for my explination on devine magic; devine magic does not always come from gods. It simply comes from an outside source. I simply called it devine because power given from a deity is the most common example.
     
  18. Scarlett_156
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    Scarlett_156 Active Member

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    Having a world in your head, or a bunch of characters, doesn't really make a story; I'm sure you know that already, but just stating it so that you'll know that I know it, too.

    What you need to do here is come up with the story first. I can say this on quite good experience, as at the age of 8 or 9 I decided I considered rock bands hella interesting and rock musicians the most glamorous, cool, fascinating creatures in the universe. I wanted to write a novel about some rock musicians. I had already written a novel about a beautiful redheaded witch who lived in some woods in Kentucky, who made friends with a handsome teenage boy whose father raised racehorses, that had run into thousands of handwritten pages, so I figured I was ready to take on something more ambitious. (Hm... how weird that I would remember that just now...)

    Er, anyway: I sat down and started writing my novel about a band of rock musicians. I could see them acting cool in my head, I could hear bits and pieces of dialog (which I had garnered mostly from seeing the movies Help and A Hard Day's Night and watching variety shows like Ed Sullivan and Laugh-In on TV).

    So immediately there was a problem, right? All I could do was copy what I had seen on TV and at the movies, and as everyone is probably aware, when one used to see a band like Iron Butterfly on a variety show (I saw them on the Red Skelton Show) or on Soul Train or American Bandstand or whatever, they were lip-synching and not really playing their instruments, either. So rapidly I found that I needed more than just some cool characters and snappy dialog if I wanted to be accurate with my portrayal of the lives and stories of these rock musicians.

    Now, many decades later, after having played rock music in a band myself since the age of 18, I'm finally possessed of enough technical knowledge (INCLUDING knowledge about writing, which took nearly as long to get a handle on) to be able to write my rock band story.

    Lest you think that I am suggesting that you must become a magician in order to write about magicians, I'm not. If you become a magician that will totally sidetrack you, perhaps for many years. Then if you become a writer all the other magicians will be jealous of you and hex you, is how that whole thing works.

    Anyway, moving on: I'm pointing out that what you really need is a story first. If I had had a story thought out before I started writing about my rock band, I wouldn't have had to go through all that dreadful crap playing bass for JW and putting up with his horrible moods all those years. (I'M KIDDING!!! I love you, Jimmy, I love our band, and I love playing the bass!)

    Here's my advice, take it or leave it (please note that I've been a magician for as long as I've been a bass player, or longer if you count all the stuff that happened by accident when I was a kid, so I can speak with some authority on the subject):

    If you have characters already, try to visualize them in scenes DOING STUFF. Just try to see them without analyzing them. Like an indulgent or possibly alcoholic parent, let them do whatever the hell they want for awhile, and just sit and watch them. Let the story sort of coagulate around them.

    Once you have a story outline sort of swimming around in your brain, just start writing. Don't explain--write. If your writing is good enough, then you won't have to explain how the magic works to anyone; the reader will be able to SEE the magic happening as well as he/she sees the characters and their actions, and the events and settings of your story.

    If your story is about magic it's not going to be any good. People only like stories about people, or sometimes animals, if the story is well written, but they don't like stories that explain how things work. My experience has been that humans will only read stories about things if they are forced to.

    I hope this helps you. Please let me know if you have any questions. yours in Chaos, Scarlett
     
  19. RIPPA MATE
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    RIPPA MATE Contributing Member

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    Methinks majic needs a fresh look on it... its always this boring unoriginal Eragon stuff, i think we need a bit more subtlety in the whole magical writing business. And majic doesn't neccessarally need to be explained (in full)... because magic is and always will be a mystery and its this mystery along with the coolness etc that keeps us reading.

    RM
     
  20. Heather Louise
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    Heather Louise Contributing Member Contributor

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    The best way I beleive, of expaining magic and how things work, is by having the MC someone who does not know themselves, or has had little or know knowlage of the magic. I am writing something about magic myself at the moment, and have resolved this issue by saying that people from her home village, do not have magic as it was stopped by their religion, but where she is living now has been left to its own devices and devloped their own type of magic.

    Now, if this doesn't work for your novel, ie the charector needs to know about this magic to make the story work, I am afraid I cannot offer much help.
     
  21. Fungimandias
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    Fungimandias Member

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    Well, that would be the general idea. Ya see, if there's one trope that I cannot tolerate under any circumstances is "Magic vs. Science," so I'm going to set magic up as a science in my story - an imprecise science that has quite a few murky areas but a science all the same.

    @Scarlett_156: Duly noted, and thanks for the little write up ^^ One of my problems as a writer is that I have a habit of engaging in over analyzation, but I'm working on it :p

    @RIPPA MATE: I can see where you're coming from and agree with you. Granted, I LOVE flashy magic systems full of fireballs and lightning bolts but it would be nice to see a different take on magic. I'm aiming to accomplish that with my own magic system and hopefully my inexperience won't interfere with that goal ;)
     
  22. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    I don't think you can still call it magic if you set it up as a science. You'll probably have to call it magic technology or some sort of...alchemy.
     
  23. Fungimandias
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    Fungimandias Member

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    I was actually thinking of magic "Thaumaturgy" or "Gramarye" in my story as alchemy really wouldn't work for what I'm going for.
     
  24. Scarlett_156
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    Scarlett_156 Active Member

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    There's really no reason you have to think about it in conventional terms ("tropes", a word I'm starting to have a hearty dislike for) at all. Consider that in ancient times magic and science were pretty much the same thing; it's only in the last few hundred years that the two have gone their separate ways, right?

    Now science has contempt for magic, and vice versa. That doesn't mean, however, that the two are mutually exclusive.

    One other thing to think about is the view many people have of science--to many people, science is more like a religion than anything else. They denounce its detractors and threaten them with "ignorance" just as religious people condemn the unbeliever to "hell". They accept the tenets of science with religious fervor, without proof.

    Think of all the things that science has told us over the centuries that we, having no proof, believe. Think of how upset scientific-minded people get if someone questions the things they believe in--and why do they believe in those things? Because the great god of Science declared these things to be truth.

    I'm not expressing a contempt for science here, but just trying to get you to think about the issue in a way that will help you write about magic effectively, since that's your stated desire.

    Modern magicians (those who are independent of thought, anyway) hold to the idea that magic is really just science that has not yet been quantified or proven by experiments. Five hundred years ago static electricity was considered to be a magical or supernatural effect--now we understand what causes it, and that in fact thunder and lightning are the same phenomena that we cause when we scuff our feet on the carpet and see little sparks flying out. Does that mean that there's not still something magical about it? (No!)

    When a magician does something such as fortell future events by means of divination, he/she is working with forces that I'm pretty sure science will one day succeed in quantifying--and indeed, science has already started down that road by conducting serious inquiry into ESP, telekinesis, thought projection, etc.

    Anyway--that's just some more of my rambling commentary. When I read books that feature magic and magicians, I don't have any preconceived ideas about how things should work--I wait for the author to show me his stuff, ya know? If the writing is good then that's really all I care about.

    One author that has written very brilliant fantasy literature that often includes magic is Jack Vance. Check out his Dying Earth series. xoxox
     
  25. Fungimandias
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    Fungimandias Member

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    Why don't ya like the word "trope?" I've always found it to be quite the convenient moniker :D And technically the whole reason magic and science diverged is that "real-world" magic ultimately failed to provided empirical evidence for it's claims. But I do get the gist of what you're saying ("show don't tell!") and I will try my best to do just that :p
     

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