How logical does a fantasy system of magic have to be?

In worldbuilding for a new fantasy world that is thick with magic, I ask myself how much sense a fantasy system of magic has to make. And contemplate the nature of the human soul.

I’m worldbuilding for my new fantasy novel, and an important part of that is figuring out the universe’s system of magic. I’m trying something a bit different in this story, with a universe that’s less earth-like and more magical.

We’re talking isolated settlements floating over a void through which people must travel to move between them, venomous tree octopuses, and magical orbs exuded by a leviathan of the deep void. You want magic? It drips from every tree.

The problem is, it’s really hard to come up with a unified concept of magic that explains all the weird magic stuff in this universe. I know magic is allowed to be mysterious and, well, magical, but I’ve always preferred magic systems that have a certain logic to them, even if the logic includes a few leaps of possibility.

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Five ways to go overboard with worldbuilding for your fantasy novel

When you write a fantasy novel based in a non-Earth world, you get to make up everything. And with all that freedom comes the opportunity to go way overboard in your worldbuilding. If such is your wont, here are five ways you might do it.

Every fantasy reader loves a fully fleshed out world. They might see only a tiny fraction of it (they’d *better* see only a tiny fraction of it), but they can feel if it exists.

In a fully fleshed out world, the forests are greener and every carnivore knows what it’s hunting. The sky might be purple, but we have the physics to explain why. And you’ll always know which lord build the castle that saved your hero from demons, and how much it cost them.

So if your goal is to give your readers what they want, here are five ways to go overboard with your worldbuilding.

Of course, if you follow these instructions you may never get around to writing your story, but isn’t the price worth it?*

* In general, it’s not.

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The problem with Harry Potter and why it doesn’t matter

Given his upbringing, Harry Potter wouldn’t have been a nice, well-adjusted kid. He would have been a nightmare. But that would have made a very different story.

Let me see if I’ve got this right.

We have Harry Potter, a kid who between the ages of 1 and 11 lived in a house with parental figures who hated, neglected, and emotionally abused him, and a sibling figure who bullied him.

I’m pretty sure he never got any love or affection at home.

He slept locked in a cupboard, for goodness sake.

We see no evidence he had any friends at school*, and, knowing kids, he probably got bullied for always wearing cast-off clothes that were too big for him.

* Okay, I haven’t read the books in years, so I’m mostly going by the movies. That still counts.

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Is it unoriginal to write about dragons?

Sometimes I worry it’s unoriginal to write about dragons, then I realise that’s a ridiculous concern. Here’s why.

From time to time I have the uneasy feeling that when I write about dragons I’m being unoriginal.

Fantasy books can contain any fantastical creatures I can create, so why stick to this familiar beast? Am I taking the imagination out of a genre that lives based on its imagination?

After deep contemplation, I decided no.

Here’s why.

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Questions to ask when designing a magic system, part 2

If you’re designing a magic system for a fantasy novel, here are some more questions you might want to ask.

My last post gave five questions you might find useful to ask when designing a magic system for a fantasy novel. Here are five more questions that should have been in that post but weren’t because it was getting long.

What is the downside or cost of magic and how long do any negative side-effects last?

If magic is free, life will be too easy for your protagonist. They might love you for it, but your readers won’t.

So magic must come at a cost.

Maybe magic is forbidden, and if a user is discovered she risks being dunked in boiling butter.

Perhaps the cost of magic is lifespan–each spell cast shortens the practitioner’s life by a month.

Or each spell cast means someone close to the spellcaster will randomly die in a horrible accident.

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