However, there are times that we forget these established elements of storytelling are meant to serve us. Nowhere is this more common than when it comes to magic systems. As such, I'd like to take a moment to remind everyone out there of something very important. It's your story... make the magic do whatever the hell you want it to do!
|Abra Cadabra! Now do whatever the hell you want.|
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Magic Must Serve The Story (Not The Other Way Around)
To get the obvious disclaimer out of the way, this advice is only applicable if you are creating your own story, and you are not beholden to an existing setting and its canon. Whether it's a book series you're contributing to as a ghostwriter, or an RPG setting your stories are set in, if you want your story to fit the existing rules of that world then you need to make sure you don't defy the already-established physics.
Now, with that out of the way, too many of us will act like our magic has to follow the same rules as other worlds, other books, or even other games, because we never stop to question it. However, if magic is going to be a big part of your story, then it's a good idea to examine the blueprint of the system you're using, and asking if it's the best fit for the story you're trying to tell.
|Have we considered just doing away with ritual magic entirely?|
For example, if you're used to thinking of magic in tabletop gaming terms, it might not occur to you that a fantasy story is not required to use Vancian Magic. And honestly, unless I were writing a fantasy story set in a place like my fantasy cities of Ironfire: The City of Steel or Moüd: The City of Bones (both of which are part of a gaming setting that runs on Vancian Magic), I would never use that fire-and-forget style of spell.
Because the idea of pre-packaged spells of a certain number, and of a certain power level, that achieve a specific purpose is a great mechanic for maintaining challenge and fairness in a game... but it is awful for smooth and interesting storytelling.
So whether your setting uses ritual magic, in-born magic inherited from supernatural sources, some variant of willpower-made-manifest, an unexplained awakening of the mind more akin to psychic phenomena, or just an ultra-soft, fairy tale style magic system where there's little rhyme or reason about how it works, you can use any (or even all) of these different methods in your story. But you need to actively choose how magic works in your story, and you need to make sure you're doing it as a conscious choice.
And if the magic system you initially went with becomes more of a hindrance than a help? Toss it out, and do something different. It's your story, and everything in it answers to your will. Remember that, and make no assumptions about how things need to be, or should be. Especially when it comes to your hocus pocus.
While we're here, you might also want to check out the following:
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That's all for this week's Craft of Writing! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my cat noir novel Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, or my most recent short story collection The Rejects!
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