USING MAGICK IN FANTASY
For those of you new to my web site and new to this discussion, I’ll get something straight right away. In my fantasy world, I spell magick this way because to me, magic as it is classically spelled, is what illusionists do on a stage. That is magic. Magick is what a magick user does with spells and potions, wands etc (sometimes called wizards, etc.). That may rub some of you wrong. Get over it. If you’re cool with it, read on.
In my last article, Why Fantasy, which was published on Mat Greenings wonderful web site in an exchange last week, I alluded to using magick the right way in your fantasy story. This week, I want to elaborate a bit more on how to use magick so it enhances the story and doesn’t drag it down and ruin things.
Magick is an essential part of many fantasy genres, but not all. Just because you write fantasy doesn’t mean it’s mandatory you must use magick, monsters and mayhem. If you read my article on the various fantasy sub-genres, not all of them would include magick. However, in the majority of these sub-genres, there is at least some magick. In your story, magick could be key to the plot or it might be window dressing.
Though magick might be driving the story, it cannot be a panacea. In other words, it can’t cure everything. Remember that despite all the trappings, the story is still about people, whether these people are humans, icky bugs (creatures) or gods. As people, we’re imperfect and therefore whatever tools (magick) we used to get from point A to point B are going to be imperfect. Therefore, if your magick system and spells are the be-all-end-all, end of story! There’s no point going on.
No matter what the struggle entails to find the ultimate spell that cures whatever the problem might be, once you find it, it shouldn’t work as advertised. Nothing every does! On the other hand, if that big Kahuna spell or cure is not the main goal, you can let it work as advertised because that won’t ruin the main conflict. See the difference?
In a real fantasy world scenario, your protagonist seeks out an ultimate fireball to destroy an ice dragon harassing a village. If she doesn’t kill this dragon, the world is lost. Okay, I’m generalizing. Sue me.
The problem is she sucks at magick because she never studied. However, she’s the only one that can do the spell because female Elves (okay, I used a standard trope) are the only ones with the mental capacity to handle such powerful spells.
First problem is that she has to practice the spell. To practice it, she has to destroy something. Unfortunately, she can’t do that because it will be noticed and the magick user controlling the dragon. He has wraiths patrolling the region looking for her. Second, the more she tries the spell, the stupider she gets which means, the wilder she gets. She’ll throw the spell around flinging it at everything she sees. Unless someone can get close enough to stop her, she could destroy a large area before she collapses, a raving lunatic.
She finally overcomes those obstacles and attempts to save the village. Her one opportunity comes but alas, the magick user strapped all the village women and children to the roofs of the buildings and directed the ice dragon to hover above them. Now our Elven protagonist has to try and destroy the dragon with a fireball spell she’s still no good at. She has to do it while the dragon hovers above all the exposed women and children without destroying them and without her losing control and going insane.
On the other hand, if she just learns the fireball spell, confronts the dragon and destroys it, so what? That’s no story, no real conflict, no challenge.
In your world, no matter how complex or simple your magick is, you have to make sure it is realistic, as laughable as that might sound. It can’t be a panacea. It’s a means to move the plot along and is an intricate part of the story. However, remember that your story is still about people and as such, it’s about imperfection. What can go wrong will, and magick is no exception.