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  1. #1
    Wirt's Fourth Leg Cirias's Avatar
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    Referring to Magic as "Magic"

    I've encountered a strange problem that's been bugging me for a while now. As I piece together my fantasy world/universe, I find myself hopelessly grasping at straws when referring to "magic" in my world. You see, magic isn't really magic if it's a common/known element of the world. If someone came along tomorrow and proved that you can indeed produce fire from the palm of your hand, we would no longer call that magic, because it's in the realm of the possible. Whenever I refer to the traditional magical element in my world as "magic" I cringe slightly. It feels awkward to have my characters walking around calling it that. Magic is supposedly the art of invoking and producing supernatural effects. The trouble is, in my world it's a natural effect. So, the question is, what the hell do I call it? I've toyed with words like "weaving", "will", "<insert word>-mancy" but they all feel wrong. Anyone else experienced this problem before?
    Last edited by Cirias; April 13th, 2012 at 08:09 AM.

  2. #2
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    I've had just the same issue, as I often roll my eyes when the word 'magic' comes up (particularly when it's used to avoid explaining the why or the how!).

    I am trying to use 'ordinary' terms that set the practice apart from what we would think of as normal - for example, in my current WIP's world you can study Medicine as we would know it, and if you happen to have a natural talent for what we would view as 'magical' healing, you would study Arcane Medicine (rather like Maths and Advanced Maths).

    That's just my tupp'orth, anyhow

  3. #3
    There is no tomorrow RedMage's Avatar
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    Cirias, you are smart, you know that? Now I want to change my lingo as well.

    Though, I have the added problem of some of my world's cultures were "magic" is very common and everyone knows how it is used. Others where it is completely unknown and/or something that happened in the past and is seen to be tied into old, no longer practiced/now heretical religions. And then there are others, my MC's culture, where it is common to see and experience but not commonly understood. So in some cultures the word is appropriate and others it is not at all. How does that affect my use of the word "magic"? I have no idea.

  4. #4
    Magic is to religion, what quantum physics is to science. That is if you read about traditions surrounding belief in such things. Magic and all forces associated with it, are considered natural in most regards unless one is working "black" magic as some would call it. It is something derived from external forces as opposed to psionics which are internal. Of course, sorcery requires one to extend a bit of their psychic forces out into the universe so that they can manipulate it. I just call it for what it is, magic.It never irks me to do so, though I some times wish to use a term others might take more seriously, but sorcery is sorcery no matter how one views it. I typically handle the existence of people with abilities that require less ritual as prodigies of sorts or have been exposed to these forces in ways that unlock such capabilities. So in short I would ask "Does one cringe to call science, science or nature, nature?"
    Last edited by Riothamus; April 13th, 2012 at 02:07 PM.

  5. #5
    There is no tomorrow RedMage's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Riothamus View Post
    Magic is to religion, what quantum physics is to science. That is if you read about traditions surrounding belief in such things. Magic and all forces associated with it, are considered natural in most regards unless one is working "black" magic as some would call it. It is something derived from external forces as opposed to psionics which are internal. Of course, sorcery requires one to extend a bit of their psychic forces out into the universe so that they can manipulate it. I just call it for what it is, magic.It never irks me to do so, though I some times wish to use a term others might take more seriously, but sorcery is sorcery no matter how one views it. I typically handle the existence of people with abilities that require less ritual as prodigies of sorts or have been exposed to these forces in ways that unlock such capabilities. So in short I would ask "Does one cringe to call science, science or nature, nature?"
    No, one does not cringe. Science and Nature can be defined. Science has the Scientific Method and that which can be proved through its process is a scientific thing and using the process is what one does to conduct Science. Nature, likewise, is the world around us, the animals, the land and the sea and the air, green growing things. Nature is our surroundings. Both can be physically seen. You can see the trees and the sky and sun, you can see a Science experiment taking place and participate in it and use tools in performing it.

    Magic is different. It can be felt, but rarely seen. It is indefinable by its very nature. We as writers can invent ways through which it is accessed and conducted but, even those inventions do not fully explain what it is. It is like music. Try to explain music to someone who has been deaf from birth. What is music? If they feel the vibrations from a speaker, would they, in their mind, call it music? If they are not told that that is what it is, why would they call it music? Magic is the same.

  6. #6
    Man of Ways and Means kennychaffin's Avatar
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    The Force, Powers, Methods, the mystic way, the practice, ....

  7. #7
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    It doesn't sound like it's natural. It's a world you've created in which the supernatural exists. Just like say the t.v. show Supernatural has a world where angels, demons, werewolves, ghosts, etc. exist that can be killed by muttering a spell and completing a ritual and whose reality of existence is quite familiar and normal to the main characters. If it were natural, you could explain it through a scientific basis -- maybe the people who can have flame in their hands exude some sort of oil. If you wanted to make it natural but create an alternate world where certain laws of physics and such, such as oxygen combustion, etc., are different from the real universe through the idea of dimensions and/or quantum theory, you could do that and have the story explain what those new rules of physics, chemistry, etc., were. But it sounds like you just have a world where some people can produce a magical flame out of their hands -- or magic of some sort -- a fantastical element making it as fantasy story.

    That being said, you don't have to call it magic in that world if you don't want to. You can call it smurlingdidong or whatever. The average reader can probably follow that the word you make up means those magical flames coming out of the characters' palms. You can call it the Art, alchemy, the arcane, occult, theurgy, thaumaturgy, glamour, voodoo, shamanism, conjuration, witchery, mysticism, odylic force, spiritualism, psionics, manifestation, materialization, astral, ectoplasmic, fascination, raising, talismanic, incantatory, charms, sortilege, fortunatus, exsufflation, cantrap, runic, mumbo-jumbo, evil, phylactery, divination, cunning, wizardry, sorcery, fairy, astrology, fire worship, etc. And then there are the non-English languages which have lots of words for these things too. Or smurlingdidong. Or a common word otherwise, like jetting, tapping, flaming, or that weaving or will thing but you said you didn't like those. The Smurfs used smurf for everything, so they would call it smurfing. The important thing is, flames come out of their hands or some other form of magic.

  8. #8
    There is no tomorrow RedMage's Avatar
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    KatG is right in that we can call this thing (aka. "magic") whatever we want. To our stories, we are god, beginning and end. We create and control everything. Nothing happens without our, the writer's, consent. Including those moments where our characters take control and do their own thing. We are the ones who agree and allow them to do that.

    But I digress. I think the OP's question is not just about what to call "magic" in our writing but, also, what words we choose to use, change, or omit entirely.

    When I first started writing, I refused to use the word "earth". I was writing an epic, secondary world fantasy at the time. The planet's name was not Earth. How, then, could "earth" be a synonym for "ground", "soil", or "dirt"? The word was not a part of any of my world's languages. I have read many books with such settings and whenever I have come across the word "earth" in such books it has always made me pause. We decide all these other things for our stories, create characters, each with their own personalities; personal, regional, and national histories; magical systems; religions; maps; customs and traditions; etc. Why would we not decide what words we allow ourselves to use in this story or this other one?

  9. #9
    Xarhian Longtooth HMart's Avatar
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    You could use a reference to something "in between" or "among" all that exists in creation, within your story. I would start there and extrapolate that concept via branching variations of words, other languages, and so on.

    Always mentioning it as "what's inside", for example.

    I've got an entirely different concept going on within my Science Fantasy. Magic is used very distinctly, as a word, because it is essentially an evil thing. To call something magic is to label it "other".
    Last edited by HMart; April 14th, 2012 at 09:18 AM.

  10. #10
    Life is fantastic, yes? CMTheAuthor's Avatar
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    A relevant question is what degree of world-building you are aiming for. If you are trying to create a more detailed setting, there needs to be an in-universe reason why you are calling it "voodoo-hoodoo" or whatever, instead of "magic". This reason doesn't necessarily have to show up in the actual work, but it does need to exist in your head.

    On the other hand, if you are skimping a little on setting creation, you have a good deal more flexibility in this area. Call it "voodoo-hoodoo" if you want; people will enjoy your book regardless, as long as it is well written.

  11. #11
    WordDruid wdavidson's Avatar
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    When I am writing (as in my current WIP) an alternate world, I start from the assumption that I am in a sense approaching the story like a translator. The truth of that world is that it is not going to be a place in which English, or any other Earth language, is spoken. I could, Tolkien-style, devise a whole other language, but I do not have the skill or time to do so, and then all of my readers would need dictionaries!

    So my starting point is telling the story in the language of the readers, in preference to the language of the world. When I approach terminology which is other than purely descriptive, I think about whether there is a good approximation in our language, and if there is, and it does not interfere/jar with the story, I use that. So something that looks like a rose, I call a rose (to coin a phrase). When I come to terms which have no equivalent in this world (and magic, to me, might well be such a concept in the way that Cirias is using it) then I think about the history of the world and how the concept might have originated, and who might have been describing it - eventually a term will sort of emerge from that.

    (As a more superficial observation, I have always understood Magic to be the application of skill/art to the world to produce effects, whereas Sorcery is tapping into an elemental/natural force to change reality...)

    Will

  12. #12
    personally I find a word is a word and the way you use it doesnt really matter. yes it is jarring to find the word knight being used in a culture based on ancient rome [jim butchers codex alera]. but if you are going that nitpicky than why not just write the whole story in latin.

    Its just a word. patrick rothfuss has the word being used by the uneducated, while the educated use terms like sympathy or sygaldry. You could do something similar. or you could just use the word magic. at the end of the day it makes no difference.

  13. #13
    Wirt's Fourth Leg Cirias's Avatar
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    I had a wave of inspiration on Sunday and I think I've got the magic system and naming down now. The words 'magic' and 'sorcerer' etc. are going to be used only by a collection of nations who don't understand the actual power in the story. I'm treating my world's equivalent to classic magic in the same way that we treat science on Earth. It's going to be studied by scholars and there will be colleges devoted to theoretical and practical research - this fits well with the world because its used in construction and other everyday applications. The people who use this 'power' in a physical way are a separate entity and I'm going to treat them more like an army. As for people who are not part of this army but still practice this art, well, that's covered in the story I'll keep the naming I've come up with under my hat, but it's a more 'sciencey' sound as opposed to something like 'the way' or 'the force'.

  14. #14
    Peckish hippokrene's Avatar
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    Can Chuck the farmer cause fire to appear in the palm of his hand? Does he consider it natural, or does he see it as separate from the mundane world?

    He'll probably call it magic.

    Ariziban the sorceress might call the 'The High Art' but if she's talking to Chuck the farmer, she might call it magic as well.

  15. #15
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    I think inventing your own words really helps to add authenticity as long as you are convincing and consistent (and don't have too many). Readers are smart - you don't need to explain the words, just use them in proper context and readers will soon pick up on the meaning.

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