Magic is awesome. There are tens of thousands of books out there and each one of them have a unique magic system that can do wonderfully amazing, and terrible things. The possibilities for magic are endless. The only limit to magic is imagination. And I’ll tell you this, I’ve met some very imaginative people. All of a persons experiences and knowledge influence the way they think about magic in their world. Some people have very formulaic magics with rules, language, and logic, while other magic is natural and all around us.
This last weekend I was at a birthday party for my buddy Jace’s (he pops up in my blog posts a lot) daughter. One of his brothers-in-law, Ben, is working on a story and is still coming up with the ins and outs of his world/magic system. He has a lot of aspects thought out and knows where he wants it to go. We sat and talked about it for thirty minutes or so until my wife gave me the look that said it was time to go. Actually she gave me that look several times throughout our conversation and finally just said it was time to go.
Exploring his magic system with him was a highlight of the day. I’d like to think that through our discussion he was able to come up with new ideas of how his magic plays a role in the story he’s creating. I know my mind was spinning with applications and challenges his magic would bring to the world. I won’t spoil it by telling you about his magic, but it’s really cool. And, it’s something I don’t think I would ever have come up with.
As an entrepreneurship student I learned an important lesson about creativity.
“Creativity loves constrains.”
I know that sounds counterintuitive. But it’s true. Adding a few constraints to your brainstorming sessions will help the ideas start flowing so much easier. Some of my favorite, and easiest to write, writing prompts are ones that give me 5 random words to use in a story. But I digress. We’re talking about magic systems.
Here’s a list of questions you can ask yourself to inspire you to come up with a unique magic system for your next story.
Magic System Inspiration Questions
Where does magic originate? Does it come from within your character, or is it external? Can you use the magic inside other people? Has it always been a part of the world, or was it introduced by other beings, or from other worlds?
How do people use magic? Does it require a spell, runes, some kind of artifact, or an instrument of direction (wand)? Or do they just have to envision something and it comes into being?
What limitations does your magic have? Is it a finite resource that has to be gathered, or does it require physical, mental, or emotional strength to wield?
How do people learn magic? Is it an inherent thing that will manifest at full strength at a point in their lives? Can it be learned by anyone? Are there books? Are there experience levels you can achieve the more you use it (like video games)? Or is it an ancient order that is passed down verbally from one caster to another?
There are hundreds of questions you can ask yourself at every stage of your magic development. Here’s a list of 50 questions (some are listed above) that you can ask yourself as you come up with new ideas.
My biggest piece of advice is this. Once you’ve come up with an idea for a magic system, run it by some of your friends, or your writing group if you have one. Make sure they are friends who love fantasy though. They’ll give you ideas you never dreamed of, and ask you questions that will inspire you.
Additional Magic System Development Resources
Brandon Sanderson – First Law of Magic
Writers Write – 7 Ways to create a spectacular magic system
Pro Writing Aid – How to build an amazing magic system
If you are mulling around on an idea for a magic system, I’m more than happy to have a spartan smackdown and help you flesh it out. Shoot me an email or leave a message in the comments and I’ll get back to you.