Writing Believable Magic

I don’t like to toot my own horn very often because I’m far from being a perfect author. Anyone who has read my blog or who follows me on Twitter knows that I am, shall we say, romantically obtuse when it comes to laying on the oatmeal in a story.

Buuuut … I write really freaking good magic. I mean, really really good stuff that you can almost see when you close your eyes. There’s a lot of urban fantasy out there where the magic isn’t explained very well and where a sorceress, witch, wizard or what have you simply “throws a hex on them” or “I nailed him with a jolt of supernatural fury”.

For me, it’s about writing what a jolt of supernatural fury actually looks and feels like. What it does when it is unleashed. How it affects the target and also the person slinging the magic. But that’s not all – not my a long shot. For every kind of magic, there must be a system or rules otherwise nobody is going to buy it. Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden (who rocks, period) uses “will” as the fountain from which magic springs. That’s a really believable system and one of the things that Butcher does better than any other writer in urban fantasy today, is that he shows the cost of slinging the aforementioned magic.

In other words, Butcher kicks the living crap out of Harry Dresden in each of this Dresden Files books.

I’m not going to explain the magic system in POLTERGEEKS, but what I will say is that what I came up with is original. Spontaneous Human Combustion can occur and magic can be seen, touch, tasted, smelled and felt because it is a force so unlike anything our senses are used to experiencing.  How do I pull it off? Well, I close my eyes when I think about a scene and then I visualize what the magic looks like.

What color is it?

Is it moving?

Can it be shaped into something? Are there tendrils or wispy fingers of energy. How do they interact with the person slinging the magic but also something as simple  as perhaps an evening breeze. That’s what I’m talking about – magic is unreal because we can’t experience it so the writer really does need to show the living hell out of the magic as opposed to simply stating that a magical event occurred. I’ll also write down on a sheet of paper what physical form I might want to make a spell or a curse to take.

  • A column of pure energy that flows like ….
  • An inky black cloud of malice that stirred and bubbled across the gravel like …
  • I gathered the wispy tendrils of magical energy into a tight bind ….

I try to visualize magic as Silly Putty and I make shapes with it in my mind and I try to put it to paper.

So, there you have it. My secrets to writing believable magic and you know, as authors when we’re talking about the supernatural we’re asking the reader to suspend belief as they flip the pages of our books. The least we can do is to help them experience the closest possible match to what we authors are seeing in our mind’s eye. I think we owe readers that much.

Because there is a lot of badly written magic out there and hey, it’s magic so, you  know … we need to make it magical.



4 thoughts on “Writing Believable Magic

  1. got to agree with you on this one. There has to be a price for using magic because the character would be unbeatable and unstoppable and that would be… boring. All superheroes have a weakness and all magic users should too. At least for me to believe it 🙂

    • Exactly, Sharon – nothing is free – particularly when it comes to energy. Magic has to show that cost for a system to be believed, I think.

  2. I had never thought it through, but you are absolutely right – and your magic is written so that I’m NOT concious of it, I just accept that this is how it looks/feels/sounds. It is what it is – I never thought to question it.
    And I have not looked at the statues at CBE building the same.

Leave a Reply to admin Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.