Magical Systems

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If you’re writing any flavor of fantasy fiction, you’re probably employing some sort of magical systems. However, it’s easy to get carried away with all the magical elements and forget that your story should come first. This post should help you hone your magic so that it elevates your story. Otherwise, you’re just writing a magical guidebook.

First, What’s Your Magical System Level?

Depending on your storyline, your magical system will either be at a high low. High-Level Magic would be in the realm of Lord of the Rings. There are magical creatures, the whole premise is based on a spooky possess-your-soul ring, spells are performed. You get the idea. The magic is integral. 

Low-Level Magic, based on its namesake, is not as prominent in the story. Think Game of Thrones. Other than the White Walkers, dragons, and that red lady, it’s mostly an epic (and brutal) land war tale. The magical elements could easily be removed and it would read like a huge, sweeping alternate-history fiction. 

Have a Magical Systems Handbook

Do this for yourself, not for your readers. You need to make rules and you need to stick with them. Otherwise, you create plot holes so big, dragons could fly through them. This can become tricky and will test your skills as a good storyteller. Why? Because you’ll need to come up with clever ways of sprinkling your rules throughout the story. What I’m getting at is this–avoid the snore-inducing info-dump. 

Coming up with the rule book should be a fun task. Maybe you could keep a magical systems notebook to refer back to as you write. This will ensure consistency because, without consistency, you run the risk of readers asking questions like, why didn’t that character just bring her BFF back to life? I mean, the other character did that in book 2? If you’ve already established that dead is dead and then change your mind, a reader won’t take that too kindly. 

The Who, What, Where, and Why

In order for you to work magic into your storyline, you need to establish the following:

  • Who will use it?
  • What will they use it for and what does it look like when they do?
  • Where does the magic come from? Is there a source? Is it genetic?
  • And, lastly, why does the magic exist? This might be something you explore in the story, but you may also want to ask yourself why you’re choosing to include it at all … 

How Necessary is this Magic?

No matter what you decide to do, you need to write a solid story. This tale should include a strong plot, good characters, and substantial worldbuilding. Without these essential elements, your story is dead in the water and no amount of magic will save it. 

Therefore, when you’re planning out your magical systems, be sure to ask yourself, can I still write a strong story without this magic? 

Let’s examine Lord of the Rings. It’s a compelling hero’s journey with complex characters and some of the most intense worldbuilding of all time. Those elements, and not necessarily all the magical systems, are what makes LOTR so epic and timeless. Especially since (as of this posting)  J. R. R. Tolkien’s masterpiece was written seventy-two years ago! 

The Fun Part

Whatever you come up with, enjoy the process, and make it spectacular. There are already so many wonderful references in the literary and cinematic world for you to draw from and make your own. So remember to have fun!

Do you have a topic you would like us to cover? Let us know about your suggestion. 


About Author

Heather Rigney is a fiction writer, blogger, journalist, and art teacher based in Rhode Island. Author of The Merrow Trilogy--a dark, historical fantasy novel that deals with homicidal mermaids, the colonial suppression of women, and a present-day alcoholic funeral director trying to make sense of it all. Her writing has been featured in Motif Magazine and Stone Crowns Magazine. By day she teaches art at an all-girls Quaker school and at night she tries to be creative while avoiding too many sweets. You can read more about Ms. Rigney on her website:

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