Monday, May 16, 2016

Creating Magic Systems

A popular post from June 2011

by Heather Moore
This week I’m attending the Writing & Illustrating for Young Readers conference. A lot of big named authors are there, including Carol Lynch Williams, Allyson Condie, Brandon Mull, Kathleen Duey, Holly Black, and Kristyn Crow, just to name a FEW.
So for someone like me, who has several historical novels published, but is looking to get my first YA science fiction series contracted, it’s a guessing game—which workshop to go to. I know the craft of writing, but every genre has its particulars (Picture Book writing is in its own class).
Since Holly Black wrote the Spiderwick Cronicles, I decided to listen to her presentation. Last week I’d “tweeted” and asked her which book I should read of hers as a new reader. (Some of my kids have read her Spiderwick books, and might have even seen the movie, but not me). She recommended that I read White Cat, first in her new Curse Makers series.
White Cat is an intricately plotted book based on a fascinating magic system. In this world, magic is considered bad and is run by the underground community, mainly mobsters. I don’t know if I’ll ever write a fantasy novel, but I did a ton of world-building for my WIP.
I found myself doing something that I rarely do in workshops these days—madly taking notes.
Holly Black described her world-building process as “6 crazy blue circles”. Each of her “circles” are the springboard for answering the important world-building questions.
According to Holly, coming up with a magic system that works, you must ask yourself these 6 questions:
1. Who has it?
2. What does it do?
3. How do you make it happen?
4. How is user affected?
5. How is world affected?
6. How are magic users grouped & perceived?
Holly then proceeded to answer these questions in reference to White Cat. (If you haven’t read it, this next part might not be as fulfilling. So go read it!)
1. Who has it? 1/1000 have it; it’s genetic
2. What does it do? It’s curse magic, and it can either bring luck, create dreams, change memories, affect emotions, bring physical death, cause transformation
3. How do you make it happen? Magic is transferred by bare hands touching someone’s skin (everyone wears gloves in this world)
4. How is user affected? Blow back (part of the magic blows back into the curse maker)
5. How is world affected? Magic is illegal and underground magic is controlled by the mobsters.
6. How are magic users grouped & perceived? Magic is not good and is perceived as a crime to use it.
Holly added some other great things to ask yourself during the world-building process, then concluded that it’s great to test your magic system on people who game or role play—since they are always trying to break the rules.


Krista said...

This is great! Thanks for sharing. It was very encouraging that I had an answer for all of the magic system questions, but I need to look a little deeper for a couple of them. I love writing magic, but it is challenging!

Heather B. Moore said...

I'm glad it was helpful!