On Magic



It may not come as a surprise that, as a fantasy writer, I’m interested in magic. It’s one of the basic building blocks of fantasy, and fantasy writers, no matter what subgenre they work in, are all interested in it.
Magic is the thing that we share.

What magic “is”, and how it works,  though, that can vary.It’s one of those world-building questions that we struggle with.

Is there a “divine” single-entity that is the source of all magic?

Is the magic inherent in the world, or in us?

Is it something innate…or learned?

Is it an art or a craft?

Does it require special language, or is it based on intent?

How dangerous is it to the wielder? What are the limits?

In one sense, answering these questions can be a lot of fun for the author (or a big head-ache, depending on the writer) – they can be approached as a kind of intellectual game.

For some writers, the questions are a rabbit-hole they fall into, and it can paralyze them, keep them from writing, while they try to nail down every specific and quantify and qualify every aspect.

It can be a trap. There are pitfalls to that fine-grained an analysis.

One, of course, is that the writer cannot reach a satisfying conclusion, and because (having placed a stricture on themselves that until they’ve worked it all out, they can’t start writing) they never write the actual book.

Oh, well. That’s no one’s problem but theirs.

The other, more deadly problem is that, having worked all this out, the author cannot refrain from telling the reader all the secrets. The trouble is that this takes all the mystery out of it, and places “magic” into the realm of science.

I’ll let you in on an obvious fact. Most fantasy readers don’t come to a fantasy novel for the science.

You need to let the mystery speak to your readers.

You need to let the mystery speak to you.

One of the things that will draw readers in is the space given to them to imagine and create things within the world you have built. They need that space. They need to have gaps they can fill.

Writing is a two-way street: it is a conversation, not a monologue.

If you don’t leave room for the reader, you haven’t left room for the magic.



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