The Fantasy Genre
The Spectrum of Magic
Many things separate the fantasy genre from other genres, the variety of characters – dragons, fairies, elves, dwarves, etc. – talking trees, or mystical locations, but none are as important as the magical system that you use.
As you create a magical system, there are acceptable patterns that you may follow. Remember to create a system unique to your story and always consistent. Adam Johnson writes about magical systems and how to create them.
Hard magic, Soft magic, and the Middleground.
Soft magic is an underlying force that isn’t quite explained. An Example is The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Tolkien never really explains the way his magic works so, we are left with a sense of wonderment and feeling like there is powerful energy at work in the background. He executes this well because he doesn’t use magic to solve the character’s problems. He doesn’t just have Gandolf teleport Frodo to Mount Doom because that wouldn’t make any sense to the reader and would subsequently make the magic and by extension, the whole story, seem weaker.
Soft magic can be a great tool for creating a sense of wonderment in your world. However, you must be careful in how you use it. When creating a soft magic system, you should do it in a way that just supports the characters and the feel of the story. You should not use magic to solve problems in a soft magic system. If you do, it will feel like you’re creating new rules for each situation to give your character a way out. That gets old really fast. Often, in soft magic, Spells won’t turn out the way the character intended them to. If something completely unexpected happens, that the character didn’t see coming, that’s ok because the reader didn’t see it coming either. So, in Soft magic, the Magic system should be there to support the ambiance of the story, not advance the plot. Unless the magic causes problems for the character, then, it’s perfect for the plot.
Hard magic is where the author lays out the rules and applications for the reader. This is done so the reader can have fun and feel like a part of the magic. It also allows the author to come up with all kinds of tricks and twists within their magic system. These are my favorite types of systems to write. They allow me to have fun creating the system. As a reader, I love understanding the inner-workings of a magic system and seeing what the author comes up with and if it seems comprehensive to the rules set forth.
If you think of it in superhero terms, You are introduced to your hero then you are introduced to their powers. Once you know what their powers are, you already have a great idea of what they can do and what their limits are. From there the author can use those abilities to come up with a whole host of abilities that remain within that power set. Each new ability that makes sense will excite the reader and give them a greater sense of realism.
The Middle Ground:
The Middle ground is creating a balance between those two ends of the spectrum. It means giving your reader a good idea of what to expect while still maintaining a sense of wonder within the world. The Harry Potter series is a perfect example of a great middle ground magic system. Ms. Rowling gives us some general guidelines to how her magic works. We know that they need a wand and that they need to know the correct incantations. Those rules stay pretty consistent throughout the series but, She also adds new rules and new applications of magic in each book. This allows her to retain a great sense of wonderment over all. So, each individual book stays very consistent with the rules that have been introduced in that book. This means that her whole series was somewhat soft magic but, each individual book was hard magic. This created a wonderful balance that is a blast to read and easy to get lost in.
Traditional Forms of Magic
- Abjuration: The power to protect/heal.
The school of Abjuration is focused on defensive and healing powers. The can create physical and magical barriers such as walls and force fields. The create glyphs and wards to protect an area or person. Glyphs and wards have an incredible range of effects and intensities. They are activated by an enemy crossing into it or passing through it. Once activated, a ward will release the effect that has been stored in it. It can be anything from trapping the enemy to transporting them to another dimension, even instant death.
Abjurers also have potent healing magic. This can range from healing minor cuts to restoring entire limbs. Depending on your magic system, Abjurers can even bring the dead back to life.
- Defense Powers
- Force-Field Generation
- Conjuration: The power to transport living and non-living things.
Conjuration is a craft that requires a great deal of Studying and research. There are several applications of this magic but, The primary way it’s used is for summoning. Summoning is The act of pulling a Creature/Demon or Entity from their realm or their home and transporting them right in front of the mage. Summoning can work a few different ways as well. The creature summoned can be under complete control of the mage, The creature could just attack whatever he sees, and the mage has no control. The Summoner must draw pentacles on the ground. One for themselves and one to contain the creature. From there, the summoner will employ tactics to either strike a deal with the creature or torture them until they agree to help.
Regardless of the tactic, the summoner must always be wary. The creature summoned is not happy to be pulled away from home and usually, want to kill the summoner. So great lengths are taken to ensure the casters safety and the creatures cooperation.
Summoners can also use their power to open portals to different destinations.
- Divination: The power to gain information.
Divination is the school of magic that focuses on gathering information, viewing, and probability. A mage that uses Divination is often called a Diviner. Let’s say you encounter a new situation or machine. You have to experience the situation to figure out what will work and what won’t. After you learn how it works, you’ll start to learn why it works as well. A Diviner can skip those steps by looking at a situation and automatically seeing all the various outcomes for the situation.Divination can also be used to make predictions.
With the Aid of a crystal or a scrying glass, a Diviner can Watch things happen in real time as if he were there. powerful practitioners of the craft can even read thoughts from Far away.
- Extrasensory Perception
- Magic Sensing
- Enchantment: The power to influence the minds/emotions.
Note: This is the magical application of enchantment on another living being. Enchantment of objects follows a different set of rules and can have limitless outcomes.
Enchantment is the ability to control someone’s mind or their emotions. Enchantments can come in many forms but, it is important to note that it does not include possession of a host’s body. The Enchanter can only control the mind and the body, not enter it. Enchanters use this power to make people perform tasks or to tip the odds of a situation in their favor. It is sort of like hypnosis in a sense. In Star Wars, Jedi’s use a form of Enchantment that they call “The Jedi mind trick.” It is a strong power of suggestion that essentially brainwashes the subject. This can also be used for interrogation and the extraction of information.
- Mental Manipulation
- Emotional Manipulation
- Evocation: The power to control the forces of Nature for a variety of effects.
Evocation is the practice of Calling forth energies to work for you. It can be summoning fireballs or affecting the energies in your own environment to achieve things like telekinesis. In the hands of an experienced wizard, the school of Evocation can be used to cause tremendous damage. Users of Evocation can call forth lightning and projectiles of concentrated magic energy.
- Elemental Manipulation
- Energy Manipulation
- Illusion: The power to create illusions.
Illusionists are often overlooked and thought of as being weak. This is not the case at all. Being able to trick the mind is an incredibly powerful tool. Creating illusions is pretty self-explanatory. The caster creates a vision of something that’s not really there. Seems simple right? The Illusionist, however, can be incredibly deceptive and has the ability to get themselves in and out of virtually any situation. The only downside for them is that their illusions must be real enough to fool even the most perceptive of people. If someone is very sharp mentally, they can see through the illusion for what it really is.
Some feats include:
- Illusive Appearance
- Psychosomatic Illusion
- Subjective Reality: create illusions that become partially real.
Necromancy: The power to manipulate the forces of Death.
Necromancy is often regarded as the darkest of dark arts. Many of the spells and rituals require some or all of someone’s life force. So, you either have to drain them or kill them to gain the catalyst you need for power. Necromancers are obsessed with power and will stop at nothing to become more powerful. The ultimate goal of any necromancer is to become immortal. Necromancers can raise the dead from their graves and control legions of them depending on their strength and ability. They can speak with the dead and gain control over the undead, i.e., a powerful necromancer could control a vampire, but an extremely powerful vampire isn’t likely able to be controlled. If a necromancer becomes extremely powerful in his lifetime, he has a chance to come back to life as a lich after he dies.
Some Feats include:
- Undead Manipulation
- Skin/bone grafting
- Transmutation: The power to transform living or non-living
Transmutation is the ability to transform one thing into another whether the subject is living or not. Granted, as with anything else, there are varying degrees of difficulty. It’s one thing to turn a cup into a pencil but, quite another to turn a person into a plate.This can be used a wide variety of ways.
Some feats include:
- Elemental Transmutation
- Blood Magic
The mage uses his own blood as a source of power. Blood mages can achieve incredible feats and perform incredible acts of power, all of which are considerably gruesome. The blood mage typically performs a ritual or speaks an incantation to build up the magical energy then, they cut themselves to release the magic along with their blood. So, essentially they pay for magic with their blood or their life force.
Blood Mages can also Twist and bend the blood of another to cause excruciating pain or to control them like puppets on a string. This type of magic is typically considered evil or taboo even in the most diverse of fantasy worlds.
As you create your magic system, remember that the desired goal is for your reader to suspend reality and engage in your world. Provide them with a structure that makes your magic plausible, and they will want to inhabit your world.
Article was written by Adam Johnson for Writer Unite! Workshop
Since Adam Johnson was a child, he had an insatiable craving for a great story. Whether movies, comic books, TV, he was hooked on the story. An invitation to play Dungeons and Dragons led Adam to write a backstory of one of the characters, and the desire to write fantasy was born. When not writing high fantasy, Adam is restaurant management and a tattoo artist. He also serves as an administrator for the Facebook group, “Writer’s Unite!,” with 41,000 + members from around the world.