I was on a writing community forum this week and was quite shocked to read one question. Unlike a lot of posts, it didn’t involve being told I was a beautiful lady and a Saudi Prince wanted to meet me. No, this was much more serious.
It was, ‘What magic system do you use in your writing?’
To which I answered, ‘My own.’
Magic systems are hard to create because there are so many great iconic ones. Two of the most successful and well known magic systems were created by Tolkien and Rowling.
Tolkien’s magic system is arguably the most famous in the world with his long-robed wizards, pointed wizard hats, and staffs. Who can forget Gandalf standing on the stone bridge in the mines of Moria, shouting at the Bellroc, ‘You shall not pass!’ Gandalf used his staff as a spell magnification device, but magical power was also to be found in the nine rings as well as naturally occurring within the elvish community.
Rowlings magic consists of people and creatures blessed with the gift of magic. Either from long standing wizarding families of the pure bred to the anomaly of the mudbloods, a wizard or witch born to a muggle or non-magical family, which presumably would cause a terrible shock to those involves. Spells were created using a wand to harness the individuals innate magic inability. The names of the spells were rooted in Latin and had to be learnt by heart in ancient schools of magic.
The success of these shining magic systems casts a huge shadow over other fantasy writing. If your writing overlaps one the fantasy masterpieces it can be dire. I was at one comic-com and a new writer was selling her book, which we will label ‘X’. A man came up to her crowded author table and wanted to know all about the world she had created. After listening very carefully to her synopsis. He announced to the surrounding audience that the story sounded exactly like Skyrim and walked off. This is not a one-off incident either, any books with Latinized spells and set in Gothic schools are in danger of being labelled a Hogwarts knockoff.
This is the danger of magic – it has to be recreated afresh each time.
So, what can fantasy writers do when most of the magical races have been written about and the spells created?
My advice is always to create your own. The races and beasts you can create are only limited by your imagination and are so much fun to create and you can twist and mould them into whatever demonic creatures you want.
As for magical systems, these are harder to create because they have to be logical, detailed, and your own invention. In my writing, magic users enter into the story and create their own mythology. At the end of the first draft I write all the information I had about magic from my story into my notebook. Then the notebook forms the base of my magical system which I can then expand upon within the story itself. Finally, several drafts and headaches later a brand-new magic system has been born.
Remember to learn the fundamentals of the system as you will undoubtedly be questioned upon it!