The Price for Magic

magic-crystal-ball-on-the-hands-655x524“It’s not enough to create magic. You have to create a price for magic, too. You have to create rules.” –Eric A. Burns

I came across this quote recently, and it stuck with me. At first glance, it seems to apply only to writers of fantasy, but I believe it goes well beyond that. Each story is a bit of magic in itself. However, even more than the idea of magic in fiction, I like the idea of rules. A great way to keep your story moving forward is to identify the rules you’ve established. If you have no rules established, perhaps you need to spend some time developing them. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate my point is to give a genre-by-genre list of examples. I’m bound to forget one, so feel free to weigh in if I do.

FANTASY: This will be the easiest to see. Let’s take a popular example to demonstrate the point. The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, for as much grief as I give it, does magic very well, as do the Mistborn books by Brandon Sanderson. In Inheritance and the other books of the series, the magic wielded by Dragon Riders and Wizards etc. is pulled from within themselves. For example, if they try to lift a rock that is too heavy for them to lift physically, it will exhaust them to the point of death. The way around this is to draw energy from other living creatures, or from their own store of reserves, which they can hold in certain gems. Each spell, then, has a cost. The Mistborn books focus on Allomancers, humans who “burn” metals in order to gain physical benefits (speed, strength, etc.). Each metal is spelled out, with each benefit. Additionally, the rate at which they “burn” the metals is proportionate to the “boost” they get from it.

SCIENCE-FICTION: Like fantasy, science-fiction stories often have “magic wands,” except in sci-fi, the wands take batteries. Much of the allure of science-fiction has to do with the advanced technology. This technology must have a power source, be it batteries, solar, geo-thermal, nuclear, etc. What is it that powers the technology? What happens when your characters lose their “batteries?”

STANDARD FICTION: For the sake of time, I’ll wrap everything else up into this neat and tidy little category. By “standard fiction,” I simply mean anything that covers a modern, earthly setting. I understand that I’m neglecting certain historical novels, but I only have so much time (as do you). While you may not feature a “magic” system, I encourage you to think of your characters as their own source of “magic.” That is, they should have some character trait, some skill or ability at which they’re very good. In the same way, they should have some flaw to balance it out. Perhaps they’re very determined and stubborn, but are afraid of spiders. Maybe they’re amazing on a computer, but can’t fix their marriage. The greatest air force dog fighter ever suffers from blinding migraine headaches.

You may continue my extrapolation to your particular genre. The basic idea is this: you must have balance. For every benefit, there must be a cost. A price must be paid for every victory. Without rules for magic, without balance in our characters, we run the risk of creating unbelievable, two-dimensional  cardboard cut-outs. We want something better.

15 Comments on The Price for Magic

  1. Rules are what makes a story flow. Without rules and limitations in the world of fiction, it would be, for lack of a better term, stupid. What if Superman didn’t have his Kryptonite? His “interesting” factor would go down the toilet.
    However, it’s also important not to have too many rules. A story in which absolutely nothing ever even has a chance of going right is only slightly less boring than a story with everything wrapped up in a neat, predictable, poorly written little bow.
    Try to find the balance between a perfect world and a nightmare. That is where stories are born. Whether that story turns out well is in the hands of you, the creator.

  2. ashley lopez rivera per. 6 | January 25, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Reply

    ok…… intermeresting….(not a word) ok so yea i guess. uhm….. what am i trying to say here??………………. ok well i like the photo that goes weith this blog…………………………….. please excuse the misspelling… i tend to mess up and then just be lazy and not go basck to fix things like that……. but yea this could help me when i am like writing about stuff ,like that hahahah NICE JOB!!!

  3. Every fiction story defiantly as its own source of magic. But you have to be original with your source. Anyone can make up a story thats already made and keep running with it. It makes a real author to come up with there own magic. For example, The Vampire Diaries books they have a twist on the modern vampire story adding things like fox-spirits. Being original, although hard, is what makes a story i mean really do you wanna read a book thats basically the EXCATE SAME as say your favorite novel?

  4. Savannah Armstrong (Bubba (hopefully I spelt that right) | January 25, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Reply

    The factors in your story are important, balancing well and keeping with an idea. Character balance, plot balance, anything like that. I have read quite some stories that weren’t well balanced. I’ll say right now, two stories I read recently, an Original story, and a fan based story, that were not ruled right.
    In the fan-based story, the main character had no flaws what so ever. Nothing at all to stop her (yes, it was a female). She was super strong, super intelligent, again no flaws, non that I saw in all 80 chapters that I read of that completely preposterous story. Even the characters that weren’t hers (authors) were not even following by their own traits. It’s like she made up a character (Which in my case, I assumed it was her playing the main role in her own story.) and took a story trying to make it play by as her own.
    Now the original. There were some characters, their traits were weird really, and their abilities. One was a pixie who tamed dragons, the other was an elf who hugs dwarves (well figuratively speaking that’s how the authors characters were.). In the story they face many dangers, though in those dangers, they didn’t break a sweat, nor did they even get injured in the process. Sometimes going through the chapters, in one chapter they would be in magical Ucryptia, then in the Sahara Desert. Literally, they actually were in the Sahara Desert, but not Ucryptia, I just made that up… but some magical land. Well in the desert, they had no hot fazes, no creatures coming to get them, nothing that would harm them, they didn’t eat, drink, or sleep, and they were there for a few days, maybe a week I believe.
    The Fan Base Author was self righteous in her ability, while the original, was not so original but vulgar. Yes, we love seeing Pixies taming dragons and Elves hugging Dwarves, that is what is popular now.
    I need to stop reading these teenager stories now…

  5. alexandria heins | January 26, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Reply

    I understand the magic in fantasy and science-fiction, but for a standard fiction novel I don’t understand. Isn’t that “magic” just the main characteristic of a character, the one trait that makes them unique? And if so why are we calling it magic if it is just a quality that can be seen in everyday life. No character is amazing at everything just as no character is terrible at everything. I don’t think that constitutes “magic” though.To me magic should be the extraordinary trait that comes out in imagination, which i would presume would fall under fantasy science fiction genres. I also don’t understand the rules that magic would have? Is that just the consequences?What rules have been established? Is it unique to a writer or a type of genre? I think magic has thoroughly confused me.

  6. Most of the stories i read have barely or no magic in them.If your character has magic in their blood they will eventually have magic later in life. When you use magic you might have consequences if you use it the wrong way that’s your fault and nobody else can help you get through the problems that you have created. If your character has no magic then your character isn’t really a magician or a wizard. This is what i think about magic and the different types of fiction.

  7. Some of the stories i have read aren’t really about magic. But if i were to read one wiith magic involved, i’ll say that it should be samething that hasn’t been thought of before. when using magic theres also consquences with that magic being used. the character that you write about has to have unique magic or it can just think it has magic like in a fiction story.

  8. To start with I’m not a very big reader. Books with magic don’t seem that exciting. If I were to read a book with magic it would have to be a flawless write. Using magic is kinda cheating. There are no limits to it. There is the chance your character can do the wrong things with magic. I don’t think that would count as a flawed person though. It be a mistake.

  9. Brittany Walters | January 31, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Reply

    I can see what you mean by saying that there’s a little bit of magic in each genre. Every genre has something in it that seems magical. It could be something small like a battery, or it could be something huge in a fantasy. I actually don’t find any magic in a special ability. If some runs good, it doesn’t mean it’s magical.

  10. Leslie washington | February 4, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Reply

    I think all magic should have a price for it. Like for example say a character has like the ultimate spell for defeating the villain, what if they had to sacrifice something, or give up half their energy, or possibly lose their life. With giving a character laws or rules you could turn them into a Mary-sue, and I hate Mary-sue’s!

  11. Cameron Rohskothen | February 15, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Reply

    Every protagonist or main charecter in any story has something interesting or “magical” about them, even in a realistic setting. This magic is what keeps the character interesting and aids the story, but they have to have a weakness or consequence with this magic, for that also makes the story more interesting. In a story that I am writing I have the main character with a leading personality and a strong physique, but he has a very haunting past that greatly troubles him and that is what makes him interesting as a protagonist, but I feel that more baggage or another weakness would really help the character and the story.

  12. Shaquille Dudley | February 23, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Reply

    Just as our own world has laws and flaws, the story too needs to have the same system otherwise we cant relate to it making it unbelievable. I didnt like that old show Dragon Ball Z because ( to me it was stupid) it lacked a whole lot of reasoning behind it. In our very own Universe their are laws of physics, basicly im saying nothing can happen without a reason. thus I completly agree with what this blog is saying.

  13. Aracelly Reyes | March 1, 2012 at 9:58 am | Reply

    I needed this to help me with my stories. now i know the different types of fiction and that there is not just one type >.< i also learn from this blog that your characters need to have balnce just like you do in their lives

  14. Brandy Placeres Per.6 | April 28, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Reply

    Hmmm….. Characters with their own source of “magic”. I never thought of that. I like it. Can that thing they are very good at also be some sort of obstacle or weakness later on in the story? Even when you excell in something you can struggle with it from time to time, right?

  15. Darryl_Sanderson | May 14, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Reply

    I like the idea that there are rules to it all. And it makes sense too, to have a reason for how everything works and is the way it is

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


*