Magic Systems In Novels Are Great
I love magic systems.
Which may seem weird because I don't really write fantasy. But magic systems are much more than just magic. A magic system envisions the richer, deeper roots of the world and explores how each root connects beneath the surface of the story.
The podcast Writing Excuses has a great mention on magic systems and talk about the concept of candles in the Harry Potter universe. If you notice, they use candles rather than electricity. The candles are a function of the magic. They provide ambiance but also light. If you get rid of the candles, you also get rid of the people who make the candles, the people who sell the candles, the factories or homes that rely on candle-making, entire communities focused on making the candles ruining a part of the economy and putting a magical crater in its place.
What's the point of the candles really?
It's to say, that possible crater is the reason why wizards and witches don't just make candles on their own or flick their wrists to create endless light (beyond using their wands as flashlights).
What we see from the function of the magic system are the richer questions that create the broader universe. The magic system forces the writer to think about how the economy works, how each function of the community affects the larger world, how each piece is touched by a person, and how that person connects to our protagonists.
In my novel Life Between Seconds
I use magical realism, which, in a way, can be more difficult to balance than a world full of magic. While in a magical universe, you must ask yourself what is possible and what are the limits of magic, with magical realism, you must ask yourself where does the magic stop.
For example, there is a scene where two characters argue on a street in a rainstorm. As the argument heats up, the rain pummels them, eventually flooding the street. Instead of storming off, the flood water steals one of the characters away. I love this scene but one of the elements necessary for making sure the scene works is understanding what the scene looks like from someone looking out their window onto the argument.
What's the Intention?
Is the pouring rain and flooded street powerful enough to pull away a person only happening in a character's head or is actually taking place in the San Francisco the author has created? If the former, does it just look like a couple standing in the rain arguing to the nosy neighbor looking down on them? If the latter, what action would a person take if they saw a flashflood whip through the streets of the city and take a person with it? Would they call the cops, would they shrug and go back to eating dinner?
Their next action says something about a character off the page as well as a description of the city the author has created. Much like infamous Kitty Genovese murder in 1964-the woman was raped and stabbed outside of the building where she lived; neighbors watched from their windows but did nothing. They didn't call the cops. At one point, one neighbor yelled to stop but no one came to help. Is that the type of world the author is building?
What Should the Author Do?
The author doesn't need to provide all the details of the world to build it. Rowling didn't need to explain the economics of candle-making for the reader in order for the reader to understand why candles exist. But the author understood why the candles exist; the author understood the economics of the candle; I understood what the nosy neighbor on the third floor of the opposite apartment saw when looking at a flooded street but I didn't put that information in the novel.
Magic systems are like icebergs, you only really see 10 percent of the detail that creates the world, the other 90 percent is below the surface of the novel supporting the world the author has created.
Even if you don't work in fantasy and you don't make magic systems, take a clue from their creation when developing your next novel.
More Information on World Buidling?
If you want to see more of the fabulist world I've created in my work, check out Life Between Seconds, which was published by Addison & Highsmith, an imprint of HIstria Press on Nov. 15th of 2022.
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