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There are some things that ought to be sketched out well in advance of writing a book, and a system of magic (if applicable) is one of them. It’s important to know the rules under which one’s characters will be functioning. In my defense, I did have my system sketched out. The problem was that I didn’t really write it down, and I didn’t develop it very well.

(This is also an argument for not just trusting your brain to keep track of everything, because there are a lot of details that belong in a book and a lot more details involved in life in general. Things get forgotten.)

Our world doesn’t really have magic like we see in fantasy novels, but we do have a little thing called physics. For example, when we write books, we assume that the characters will continue to follow the dictates of things like gravity. Magic, for the most part, functions like an additional set of physics laws. Since they’re so written into the underpinnings of the world, it’s important to understand these rules before the first page of the book is written. At least in a general sense, anyway.

I did this. And then I got to the end of the book and I needed to understand the rules I set for myself more precisely. So I found a list. (I love lists!) I used the one I found here to work out my system, but I imagine in the future I’ll probably create my own. It was a little clumsy to fill out because I wasn’t so much inventing as trying to remember what I already did. So, pro tip: fill out the list first, or at least early in the writing process because it’s a huge pain to do it later.

For all I’ve learned about creating a system of magic and the details used to fill out one’s understanding of such a thing, the basics seem to boil down to these three points:

  1. How does it work? (Spells, potions, meditation, sacrifice of one’s enemies, etc.)
  2. What can and can’t it do? (Example: are the abilities segmented so that if you can use one you can’t use another?)
  3. What cost is there to those who use it? (And the corollary: why haven’t they all taken over the world?)

As my addendums all indicate, each of those questions have a lot of sub-questions, but those are the basics. With those building blocks, if you can answer those questions you can create your own system of magic.

What kind of magic have you ever had your characters use? How does your system work? I’d love to hear about it!