1. Kualan
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    Kualan New Member

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    The Rules of Magic

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Kualan, Nov 3, 2008.

    (First post! :))

    As all fantasy writers know (or should!), when including magic in their stories - whether set in the modern-day real world or an entirely new land of their own creation - they have to form and abide by certain rules. Without these rules governing what magic can and can not do in your story, the believability and credibility of the entire plot can be undermined.

    I myself have, after attempting to motivate myself with other genres beforehand, finally given in to temptation and begun work on a fantasy story. Though magic isn't as predominant as it is in some fantasy works, it nevertheless has a significant role to play in the tale, and I have been giving a great deal of thought to what my 'Golden Rule' should be concerning magic in my world.

    The one which most appeals to me is that magic is more about saving time than energy; if you cast a spell to, for example, hurl a log at someone else, then, although you may be able to do so in the blink of an eye, the spell will still drain you of the same amount of energy as if you had picked up and thrown the log yourself.

    This way, I can impose a 'cap' on what magical characters in my story can and can not do.

    However, some of you may already have noticed, that such a system of magic is very similar to elements of how magic works in Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle.

    What I would like to know is, is that 'method' of incorporating magic into a story a common theme in the fantasy genre (such as dwarves with beards, elves living in woods and wizards wearing pointy hats), or is it a product of a single author's (Paolini) own creativity? If the latter, then I would have to seek out an alternative method, but if it is a 'staple' of the fantasy genre, then I'd be more inclined to include it in my own story - as magic is not a central theme in the story itself, I want to spend less time on developing its structure and more on making sure my characters connect and contrast in the right ways, at the right time.

    :)
     
  2. lordofhats
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    lordofhats Contributing Member

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    You should read through the forums before posting a new thread, especially since we already have one for this down the first page of plot creation and probably a handful of others already addressing this subject. I'm not going through this all over again when your question pretaining to the incorporation of magic into a fictional universe has already been answered and you can find it and related subjects here:

    Regarding Magic...
    World Building - Technology and Magic
     
  3. Kualan
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    Kualan New Member

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    Apologies, I did skim through the first few pages of the forum but apparently overlooked 'Regarding Magic...'

    Thanks for the links.
     
  4. Heather Louise
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    Heather Louise Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well I can tell you I have never heard of that before, and, writing a magical based story myself, I am intruiged also by the idea, as I am struggling to think of some boundries, of ways that stops people being able to do whatever they want.

    My idea was simply that you must train your magic, if you do not learn how to use it properlly, you can't. The better you learn, the better your magic. I know this has been done before in varous methods, but it is working so far.
     
  5. Silver Random
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    Silver Random Senior Member

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    I havent read that magic system apart from in Eragon, though i dont read a great deal of fantasy. I do know that Eragon is widely criticised for ripping off other fantasy novels, and that the magic system in it is one of the things people bring up, but i think that is more because of the "everything has a true name" than the "same energy shorter time" thing.

    I think the premise is something that you could use safely enough without it being a direct rip off of Eragon, as long as you dont do it exactly the same way (i.e. with the magic "true name" language etc.)
     
  6. whitefairy
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    whitefairy New Member

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    Hmmmmm... That is a tough one. I would say that maybe they can learn spells. And everytime you do something good at magic then you learn a new spell. And so, you are only permitted to do the magic you learned, and if you try something else before you can handle it that something bad would happen. I know it is not that good, but maybe you could use this to give you a better idea! Sorry that is the best I could think of!
     
  7. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    What's the point? I thought magic was supposed to allow you to do things that would be impossible otherwise. Limitations are necessary, but if it's too limited, it becomes science (albeit science of your own creation, having little or nothing to do with the real world's scientific constructs) and the whole the point is lost.

    A better system would be to factor in some degree of experience. Personally, I'd go with a system where lifting a log with magic is initially more difficult then lifting it manually. Over time, the magic user could learn to lift not only a log, but the entire tree, as he/she learns to use their energy more efficiently. Unlike science, magic has an unknown variable. In this case, that variable is the user's skill, but it could be anything (willpower, a magical device, a magical entity, ability to pronounce magic words, etc, etc).
     
  8. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    The system you propose has been used to reasonable effect in the Velgarth books by Mercedes Lackey.


    As to your other comment, I don't imagine you could throw a log without using your hands and in the blink of an eye, without some sort of magic, so in that sense, the proposed system is true magic. On the other hand, I agree with your statement as a general principle.
     
  9. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've never read Paolini, (or Lackey,) but the way the OP described the system implied that doing it the magical way would use the same amount of energy as doing it the natural way. In other words, if it can't be done physically, it can't be done magically either. That's the main reason I said I don't see the point in it. Of course, I may have simply mis-interpreted what he was saying.
     
  10. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'll agree that the OP was badly worded.

    From what I gather, you can do things that you couldn't normally do physically, but the amount of energy to perform the action through the spell would be almost exactly equivalent to the actual amount of energy it takes to do the work.

    The problem with humans is that our maximum instantaneous force output is exceeded by the amount of energy we actually have available. I may not be able to apply enough force at one time to lift the "log", as mentioned in the OP, but it is entirely possible that if you were to convert my energy reserves to electricity, then there would be enough to power a machine that could hurl the log a fair distance.
     
  11. delhi
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    delhi Member

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    I guess it depends on your idea of magic. Once I wrote a story in which every scientific law was actually a mental barrier that kept the true world away from human beings' perception, because if humans knew what the world actually was like they would go mad. However, some people could perceive that "there was more", and with some kind of astral projection (not exactly like that) they could "do magic" in the sense of bending the scientific laws. It took a great deal of mind and heart openness (is that the word?) to the character and... well, a good relationship with the Earth.

    Paolini did steal many ideas. I don't think he did it on purpose, but he didn't do much to make them his own. Of course, you can't ask everyone to have a unique, original magic system, but you can combine many "limitations" to make your own rules. Those could be: body strenght, blood heritage, knowledge, training, tools, mood, power of will, peace of mind, etc (speaking of the character) and distance, material, weight, willing resistance (speaking of the affected object/person).
     
  12. Garfiun
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    Garfiun Member

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    Need help for magical laws!

    Well im currently planning my first serious novel and Im sorting out all the background information before I start.

    I need help thinking of what types of laws wizards would have.

    So far I have
    * Non-magical person protection
    * Improper use of magic
    * Magical creature rights

    Just wondered if anyone can add to that?

    Thanks.
     
  13. Dante Dases
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    Dante Dases Contributing Member Contributor

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    When thinking about such things as this, think about their role. Then think about real-life rules regarding what an army can and can't do. Rules of engagement, where use of certain kinds of weapons is authorised, etc. Read around a bit, get an idea of other 'rules' of magic.

    But surely the main rule isn't going to be something written in ink but in a persons sense of morality?
     
  14. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    You need to know first if these things have any importance in the story you wish to tell. If not, and they crop up here and there like odd bits then the story ends up as what I call a tour.

    Harry Potter is very much a a tour.

    Things are introduced as little display cases of concept that often have nothing to do with anything and then shuffle off again leaving one wondering if this is meant as a foreshadow? Will this somehow play out elsewhere? No, no it doesn't. Just thought you might like to know these interesting little factoids about the world I created, now back to the story.

    Know what I mean?
     
  15. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Load of great fantasy from all over the spectrum do magic without rules. All from some of Neil Gailmans work in comics and books, to Jacqueline Careys political and very sexual epic stories to the Harry Potter universe where there are very little logic to what can and cant be done.

    You might love magic rules but it probably healthy to examine the alternative before deciding that that is the way to go.
     
  16. Garfiun
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    Garfiun Member

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    Thanks and its not directly going to be used straight away but I would like to get a system going and possibly make an accompanyment to go along with the novel giving a more insighted view of the world I want to create.
     
  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    A person couldn't pick up and throw the log, but if they found a pile of wood chunks that was, added up, as heavy as the log, they could pick up the wood chunks one by one, and throw them, over a period of hours.

    So as I interpret the original idea, magic would allow them to throw the whole log instantaneously, and also instantanteously make themselves as tired as they'd be if they had picked up and thrown those wood chunks, without rest or food, for that period of hours.
     
  18. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Another way to express it is that magic works as a lever. Using the right lever, you can easily lift a hundred times what you could normally lift, but you would have to exert the same force over a distance which is a hundred times as long.

    But I agree with w176... I don't think magic rules are usually very important. You make up the plot and storyline first, and then you invent reasons why the characters need to go through the storyline. Limitations on magic is only one of many ways to force the characters to follow the storyline, and not a very flexible one.
     
  19. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm also not a fan of rules for magic. At the most, the author might know them, but I don't think that it's a good idea for the characters to know them, or for the author to explain them to the reader. If it's all very tidy and explained, then to me it's not magic any more, it's science.
     
  20. Garfiun
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    Garfiun Member

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    Well reading this thread has started changing my mind. I think that I will scrap the "Magical Laws" I was going to write, sort of getting rid of the governing body I was going to apply in the story, instead applying moral guidelines that most of the magical community would use as second nature then there are people who dont.
     
  21. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have to say I agree with the others and glad to see you are scrapping the magical laws, for me they often hamper a story and make it too technical. I like my fantasy stories to be just that fantasy and imagination.

    I know with my story I have aboslutely no idea how the magic works aside from the fact it comes from the core of the universe and is stronger on the Island the story is set on because of where the Island is positioned.
     
  22. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The point is not to infodump the rules governing magic. But the author MUST have a framework in mind that keeps magic from becoming a deus ex machina for every problem.

    Whether or not you allow the reader to deduce what those rules are, and to what degree, is your choice. But there must be limits, and there should be consistency.

    Harry Potter was mentioned. There are indeed rules and limitations in the magical system. Some of the restrictions are stated explicitly, when appropriate, such as what the Unforgivable Curses demand of the witch or wizard casting them. We see most of the significant spells used both in ways that help the protagonists, and under other circumstances, pose a threat to them.
     
  23. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, it's better if the characters have absolutely no idea what they're doing. That way, we can have boom!s and bam!s and limbs scattered everywhere. Oh wait, authors only use vague rules to write themselves out of toough situations.
     
  24. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's a difference between having some ability at an art or craft, acquired through trial and error by you and the people came before you, and actually knowing all of the principles that underly it, to the point that you can sit down, make calculations, draw a graph, and predict with absolute certainty what will happen. Doctors went for a long time thinking that they needed to bleed people to release pressure, as if people were steam engines, but they still did some good.

    ChickenFreak
     
  25. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    It depends... first, you only need defined limits on magic if you use it as a plot device. If magic is only used for the setting, its limits don't matter much.

    Second, only the protagonists need defined limits to their abilities. The antagonists can be insanely powerful and come up with new, hitherto unknown abilities on the fly, as long as there exists one conceivable way to defeat them. If only the antagonists know magic, the deus ex machina problem becomes reversed; the problem is not if magic becomes too powerful, but if it becomes too weak. (As in Conan the Barbarian, for example.)

    Third, the need for rules depend on how much magic you give your characters. If only a few of them can do a few things, you can simply name them, and that's that. The reader knows precisely what to expect.

    Fourth, even if the protagonists have been given so much magic that they need explicit limitations, they can be given them in other ways. For example, the protagonists may believe magic is inherently evil or harmful, only to be used as a last resort, so every use becomes a moral choice. Perhaps they will be detected by their enemies if and when they use magic. Perhaps their abilities have been limited as a form of punishment.

    I don't mind Rowling's approach to putting limits on magic. She has a few rules on how certain types of magic can be used, but it's not a coherent system. It's when the magic starts to sound like a role-playing game I think it has gone too far.
    I think the "magic can be powerful, but there is a price to be paid" approach is actually pretty good. It creates tension.

    But just for the sake of argument, I'd like to point out that the problem could have been solved in other ways. She could have decided that only a few evil characters knew the unforgivable curses, and didn't want to share the knowledge. Or she could have made the death-eaters more powerful, allowing them to protect themselves from most types of "ordinary" magic.
     

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