Consider this your push. No one knew dragons were real. They decide to put on a concert for the gardener who has unwittingly fed them for years. Nothing could possibly go wrong.
Will magic, in your fiction, be like a tool? A shadowy force of nature? Or will you have several forms, as Tolkien did in The Lord of the Rings, where the dark forces use magic like a bulldozer to gain power, while the elves have a wonderful nature that is magic simply because everything they do is "more effortless, more quick, more complete" than the abilities of those around them?
In fantasy fiction, magic is the central nervous system. Done poorly, it makes readers roll their eyes and reviewers mouth the "genre" label derisively. Sophisticated, interesting magic, on the other hand, can fuel an amazing, wondrous story.
It can add that unparalleled spark that elevates fantasy above other types of writing that have to keep their feet on the ground of plausible reality. Magic doesn't need to be plausible, but it has to work well. Here of some of the keys: Keep the rules of magic consistent. Magic needs to work according to firm rules.
Don't create surprises of magic out of the blue to save your characters -- the fictional equivalent of pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Everything should be set in place long in advance. Things set loose into the story must play out their full consequences. Like Rumpelstiltskin, if you lay down a magical challenge, you have to accept the logical outcome.
But once these laws are set down, the writer cannot, on a whim, set them aside. They must work in the fantasy world as surely as gravity works in ours. Limit the powers of magic.
For dramatic impact, as important as the powers of magic are its limitations. If magic is all-powerful, if a wand is waved and all problems are instantly solved, the plot is pointless.
Where is the narrative tension in that? In the Harry Potter books, Harry's nemesis, Lord Voldemort, has great powers, but even so, those powers are limited. Lord Voldemort must plan his moves carefully. He must recruit minions to help him carry out evil deeds. He must retreat, wait, and choose to strike at just the right time.
And he is constantly thwarted. What will the limitations on magic be? To be effective, magic might require some very specific set of actions, tools, or knowledge, or the participation of multiple characters, or any limitation that makes the story more interesting and draws out the tension and builds our fears that things won't work out for our beloved heroes.
Perhaps magic loses its potency with distance from a source. Or perhaps it can only be used in certain conditions, or only for certain purposes.Fantasy is a huge niche and one with plenty of fanatical fans. It's a brilliant genre to write in and today, Ben Galley, fantasy author and self .
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Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and more than a dozen other books, including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science mtb15.com teaches creative writing, appears at numerous conferences and conventions, and is a freelance editor, ghostwriter, and publishing consultant (mtb15.com).
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