View Full Version : Describing Magic....
September 3rd, 2002, 06:42 AM
To what degree and depth do you attempt to describe "magic" in your stories?
Do you detail each part of the spell, each herb etc and how they will work?
Or do you go for the waved his hands and then explain the affect?
Or have it as some inner sense or gift released by certain actions?
How much do you leave to the readers imagination?
Do you go for the darkening skies and flashes of lightening waves of heat and trembling ground or Big Orange Soap Bubbles? :eek:
Yes Jacquin, I am sticking with it... as by that point my tongue was so far stuck in the side of my mouth, I couldn't remove it even if I tried
September 3rd, 2002, 08:45 AM
I've just completed a short story with a magic user in it. He can take energy from the earth and uses it mostly to work with plants!
Generally my characters don't have a complex ritual to do but I describe how they need to focus/learn patterns in order to do magic. I can't explain it very well here, but they don't use specific things like ingredients.
I don't go for flashy colourful magic - you can't 'see' its effects. Instead I describe the (normally painful) effect on the magic user, and then describe what the magic actually does, perhaps with some sound so that at least some senses are evoked. It sounds pretty plain, but I want to make it sound 'real'/'realistic' whatever that means.
Anyhow, I'm sure someone else can explain their magic system better than this.
September 3rd, 2002, 12:07 PM
My magic system has 3 levels.
The first level - Aural Sight - Student. A magic user first has to learn to see Aura's. But they can't do anything yet without a GrandMaster's help.
The second level - Master. A novic magic user has to have some sort of symbol -ex- runes, writing, singing, herbaligy, etc.
The Third level - GrandMaster. An advanced Magic user has no need to be hemmed in by safety percautions. They merely make it happen, without gestures, words, etc. The only indication magic has happened is the visible result, such as lightning or levitation. A GrandMaster has very few limitations - as such there are very few of that level.
September 3rd, 2002, 02:52 PM
Perhaps I shouldn't be replying to this post because I usually try to avoid magic as much as possible. Unfortunately it's one of the staples of the fantasy genre, even to the point where many define fantasy as a story involving magic.
The problem with magic is that is bends the rules of nature. Lets say for example your character falls into a deep pit. Okay - this is an obstacle for him. It creates a conflict with his environment. What makes the reader go on is the urge to see how resourceful the character can be in resolving the conflict. If he just rubs his mcguffin's belly and floats out then, okay, problem solved. But the reader is left with the feeling that there wasn't anything to be accomplished in the first place.
If you look at what Tolkien does with something like that, he basically says okay, you rub your mcguffin's belly (or put on your ring or whatever) but it will cost you. If you take the easy path you'll want to take it again and keep others from taking it, because only one person can take it at a time. And you'll begin to compromise your morals to keep that mcguffin. So you resolve the first conflict - but in doing so you create a deeper one.
When developing a system of magic, the key is to fill in the holes. The last thing you want is your reader sitting back and saying, "Why can't he just rub his mcguffin and levitate the monster away? After all, he levitated himself to get out of a pit back in chapter 2." If the reader understands your system, this shouldn't come up.
One of my current projects contains a main character who is a mage. He is consistently called upon to use his powers in battle, but he can't, because it's all one big hoax. He can create wonderful illusions if he's allowed to set things up, but in the heat of the moment he has to let the soldiers fend for themselves. This creates a great deal of conflict and suspence. (At least in principle - whether any editors or readers agree with me is a different story entirely.)
For anyone who doesn't know:
September 4th, 2002, 03:51 AM
You can put a spin on the cliches, be cliched, or be original.
I think you are the best person to answer your questions. Whatever entertains you as the writer, whatever fits your style. I wouldn't go into too much detail, just use actively exciting description.
September 4th, 2002, 05:44 AM
I attempt to know everything that a character must know to enable their magic. When describing a scene, however, I pick and choose what to reveal. Drama, tension, and mystery should certainly be present under magical circumstances (if not, then it ain't interesting)...so I choose details that support these elements. I suppose comedy can be an element as well. If a character is a real comedian, the "banana peel" is an important ingrediant to mention. ;) :D
October 7th, 2002, 09:22 PM
I think the very nature of magic makes it hard to go into that much detail with. A mage casts a spell and it's a given he has the ability to do it.
The actual fine detail physics of it would be more impossible to describe than faster than light travel in SF, but we graciously accept it.
Of course there are explanations of where mages draw their power; crystals, the elements, ley-lines and a host of druidic and other sources, but the mechanics of matter/energy transfer etc are probably best left alone for sanity's sake.
October 7th, 2002, 10:36 PM
Don't forget runes, inscription etc..
What I have not seen much in Western fantasy writing, even the newer authors, is the use of the traditional Oriental form of magic. You see it used a lot in cartoons like Cardcaptor Sakura, Mushrambo, etc.. but I have never actually seen it written.
What it involves is either writing an entire essay, or drawing a very complex picture with a lot of hidden inscriptions behind it, than "carding it". This can be done by lifting the paper with the words written on it ( usually a yellow paper written in blood or red ink ) against the sun, sky, earth or moon, read the entire incantation, than stick it against something!!
October 8th, 2002, 03:29 AM
<<but the mechanics of matter/energy transfer etc are probably best left alone for sanity's sake.>>
Since I'm not a very sane man, I've got to admit that you've put thoughts in my head!
But, as not to be completely off topic, I try to explain "magic" to an extent. No-one knows everything about magic, and magical things can happen "for no reason" sometimes.
Also, I don't make "magic" (usually those who use it don't call it thus) common-place. Few gifted people have it, and they don't use it for no reason. Nor magic can help you in large scale battle, except if you have a very specific idea, maybe. Magic is not flashy; it's mystical, criptic, and deadly. A sorcerer can kill someone with a twist of his hand. Isn't that more frightening than someone throwing a fire-ball. (I mean with the second you can miss, but with the first no! :D j/k)
Lastly, not all people who use magic think of it the same way. Especially, people in difefrent places may thing that the use a different force alltogether.
The Cost of Magic is, usually, that the wizard is tired after calling the power, but there may be also other... side-effects. When a lot of power is drawn by many sorcerers (fighting each other maybe), then magic may "run wild" in this place and the area around it --not a very good thing to happen in a city. :) That's why sorcerers avoid starting wars among themselves; and a sorcerous war is a war among... ten persons. Apart from that, someone may contact a magical decease; this may include hallucinations of magical forces (eg, to think that there is magic around, without actually being there) and other stuff.
Now, about the mechanics..... Hm..... :)
October 8th, 2002, 03:48 PM
Originally posted by Bardos
Few gifted people have it, and they don't use it for no reason. [/B]
But, then, that's another story isn't it? Disney's The Sorcerer's Apprentice or any of a half hundred other "I got the power but don't know what to do with it", coming of age, filching the magic kind of stories.
In answer to Holbrook's question, I think I need to describe it to the extent I am curious as to what my character is doing. Sort of answer "how'd she do that?"
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