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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Friday, 15 April 2011

April A-Z: Magic

Fantasy writers of many kinds have an advantage, in that magic is available to use in their stories. That doesn't necessarily help as much as you might think, if you've never tried to write a story using magic. Magic must have rules; a logic of its own. In any invented world allowing it, magic becomes like a science, and it can never be used as a 'quick fix'.

A beginning children's fantasy writer could be forgiven for thinking you can just have the heroine remember a spell at the last minute to put everything right. After all, they won't have broken the 'rule' that adults mustn't bring about the resolution. But their child readers would be annoyed - they need the heroine to work for the Happy Ending, not just mutter some words, especially if this uses a skill or talent the writer hasn't already set up carefully. Of course, we needn't fear - such a story wouldn't get anywhere near any child readers, except for the author's longsuffering children.

Spells can't just go off willy-nilly.... 
As part of this 'magic has rules' thing, many writers set up consequences. Maybe it costs something to use magic, or maybe there's some sort of risk involved. These can be on the twee side - Magic Can Only Be Used For Good (or else unintended consequences occur) - or more straightforward - Magic is Tiring (so characters can only work so much magic per scene) - or (as in the Harry Potter books) they can be about the need for control, and the risk of non-magical folks discovering the secret.

Whatever system a book uses, it doesn't really matter, but there must be a system, or the magic will weaken the plot rather than strengthening it. Magic must never be a cop-out or an easy fix. It needs to add to the complexity of the plot and the conflict the characters face.


  1. You're absolutely right. Magic as an easy fix ruins the story for the reader. It's kind of like that whole, "it was all just a dream" type of ending.

  2. Good point on the magic... although I really do wish it was a quick fix in real life. I'd use it on the dishes, the kids, the husband, the job.. wait. I wouldn't need a job. I'd just magic the groceries! Nice blog!


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