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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » If you had magic, why would you have...?

   
Author Topic: If you had magic, why would you have...?
Grant John
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I was reading a book about how to write fantasy a few years ago and one of the chapters was talking about magic and how having magic in your world should lead to not having other things. For example, if it was common for people in the world to be able to turn stone into water, then cities would not have stone walls because they would be useless.

This really opened my eyes to the greater effect putting magic in a book could have. It also made me wonder about books I was reading, for example if Hogwarts taught First Years an unlocking spell, why would people lock doors? The only people kept out of the banned corridor would be Filch and Hagrid.

I have tried to put this into my own writing, for example in one of my stories the simplest spell my mages learn is how to create fire, and therefore no one wears armour, because it would not only be useless but dangerous for the wearer.

So I was wondering, has anyone else removed things from their world because magic would negate their use?

Grant


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Christine
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That's a very intelligent observation to have made -- and the lock thing in HP has driven me nuts for years.

But before you make changes, you have to figure a few things out. For example, would they give up the armor if there are only a few mages in the world or if the mages don't mess with the regular folk much? Their defenses would then be against mortal men, not mages, and armor is useful against swords.

One of the qualities of magic is often that it's special. If everyone could set fires with their fingertips, we wouldn't need matches or lighters and the person who could not set fires with his fingertips would be disabled -- like a deaf person or one with no legs. Would the people in the world make a wheelchair for the man without fire? Would they invent lighters or matches?

Personally, my favorite power is empathy. Possibly because I've often felt isolated, the idea of knowing how other people feel and having them know how I feel is appealing. I'm not as fond of straight mind-reading...that's a bit scarier. But sharing feelings is fun. I have a world in which many people are empathic (about 10%) and the other 90% have worked hard to develop mind exercises to try to keep the empaths from knowing how they feel all the time. On another world, they deal with the empaths by hunting down and killing them all so those without the ability are not at a disadvantage. It's a subtle power, with subtle implications, but I like it. It has really nice implications for intimate scenes.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
One of the qualities of magic is often that it's special. If everyone could set fires with their fingertips, we wouldn't need matches or lighters and the person who could not set fires with his fingertips would be disabled -- like a deaf person or one with no legs. Would the people in the world make a wheelchair for the man without fire? Would they invent lighters or matches?

The person who doesn't have the ability in a society where most people have it, is often a good choice for a point of view character, because that person is someone with more of a reason to try to change things. (There's a story in the idea of someone inventing matches because they can't set fires with their fingertips.... )


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JeanneT
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My own preference is worlds in which magic is a rare and dangerous thing. Then you don't "lose" things because of it because few people have it. People might go through their entire lives never seeing any magic.
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lehollis
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quote:
It also made me wonder about books I was reading, for example if Hogwarts taught First Years an unlocking spell, why would people lock doors?

quote:
That's a very intelligent observation to have made -- and the lock thing in HP has driven me nuts for years.

I've always assumed there was an equally easy locking spell, against which the unlocking spell had no effect.

In fact, I assume the countering effect in many of my stories, but I also dislike the idea of full-blown wizards and mages. In my current WiP, the idea that magic is reasonably easy to counter makes a difference, and the climax deals with different ideas of negating magic effects.

[This message has been edited by lehollis (edited September 16, 2007).]


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Grant John
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If there is a locking spell my question then becomes why would they not use the locking spell on the forbidden third floor corridor?

Grant


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lehollis
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Wasn't it Hagrid that kept it the dog in there? He'd need some way to unlock it.

Of course, the whole system of puzzles and riddles never did set will with me anyway.

[This message has been edited by lehollis (edited September 17, 2007).]


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HuntGod
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Prevalence of magic is also a big issue.

Being able to spontaneously generate fire is a nice ability, but is it really that much greater than a guy with a match and a molotov cocktail or a primitive grenadier?

I am facing this in a period piece set in the 1890's and it is not a big problem. Powerful magic is relatively rare, it's strength fluctuates radically given environmental issues and there is some social stigma attached to it depending on your geographic location.

Basically treat it as you would any other "technology" and try to remain consistent in how it impacts the world and environment. I am having a lot of fun in my story exploring how the availability of magic to men like Edison, Ford and Tesla impacts the blossoming industrial revolution.


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Robert Nowall
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Well, what little I know of the World of Harry Potter suggests that magic and magical training is rather closely held, so things like unlocking locks wouldn't be a widespread problem. (Still haven't found the time to start Book Two.)
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Lynda
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Hermione knew the unlocking spell because she'd already read The Standard Book of Spells grade 1 (or whatever it was called). The boys didn't know it. So the spell should have kept out the first years, that's all. And Dumbledore wasn't too fussed about Harry finding it - Harry saved it from Voldemort, and that's his destiny, to save the world from Voldie. So Dumbledore didn't put TOO difficult a charm on the door because he wanted Harry to get in there and DD knew Hermione would know how to get past the locked door.

As to your original question - in many stories, magic involves a cost (which is something JK Rowling didn't bother with in the HP books - nobody had to "rest" after doing any amount of magic). IOW, the wizard or mage has to rest, eat, wait for his blood to restore, something like that before being able to do serious magic again. In such cases, magic wouldn't be used as casually as it is in the HP world, where Molly Weasley has the dishes washing themselves, her knitting needles knitting for her, etc. But the thing is, each fantasy writer has to come up with his or her own rules of magic. How and where can the magic be used? Does it cost the caster anything? How rare is it for people to be magical? What kinds of things do they use magic for? Each writer will answer these questions differently, but the logic behind the magic has to be there or the readers won't believe it.

JMO.

Lynda


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annepin
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Another interesting choice in HP is that the wizards have to have their wands to do magic (right? I'm not an HP buff by any means). Tolkien is similar, but I believe in Middle Earth you can do magic without your staff, the staff just augments your powers. So--another rule of magic could have to do with props.
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Pyre Dynasty
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I'm sure Filch and Hagrid had the keys. But that's beside the point. I've always believed in the idea that magic would discount other things. For instance: why build airplanes when flying carpets are reasonably priced? Perhaps there would be no internal combustion engine, but a hampster on a little wheel. Then what would the LGM's do?
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rstegman
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I read a book called FANTASY WARGAMMING, I don't have the author off the top of my head.
While this book was for dungions and dragons type games, I got a lot out of it as a writer. With his magic system, the magician had to accumulate "manna" which was energy from the fairy world that leaked into ours. How one accumulated the power was part of the rules one had to work with.
The book had a lot of information on medieval worlds and the way things were done in them.

If the magic done is minor compared to their energy reserves, one would not have to rest, especially if one is trained.
Consider, a ditch digger might have to work after digging a ditch ten yards long, but would not give a thought about throwing three shovel fulls out.
One might be need to rest after running a mile, but running down to the mail box and back might not be enough to cause one to start breathing heavy.
A magician might have to rest up, recharge, after a battle spell, but a simple utility spell such as fire, or levetation might not tax the reserves at all.
Of course, with any speculative writing, consistancy is key.


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Lynda
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Yeah, that "resting" thing can be a problem if you write magical battles. So if your book has a climactic battle scene, you need to remember early in the book to show how much magic (and of what type, perhaps) can be done before the wizard/mage needs to rest. In HP, yes, they have to use wands for nearly everything, although we do see instances of wandless magic, both in young children's play (no wands until they're 11 unless they're using a parent's wand) and in older wizards, such as Harry when he couldn't find his wand and said "Lumos" out of habit and the wand, several feet away, lit up.

In my own novels, my mages don't need wands, but my wizards do (in my novels, mages are a higher order of magical person than wizards, and are more powerful). My young mages are told by their mentor that if they want to disable a wizard, they need to take his wand away, and perhaps even break it (in battle, this would be a handy way to disarm enemies so they couldn't fight anymore, IF there are no wands just lying around for them to take). When my young mages are learning to use their magic, they get tired during duels but recover quickly, which builds their stamina for real battles. Showing a progression in skills like that helps the reader understand the logic behind your magical system, IMO, but of course, if you're only showing mature wizards and not people just learning their skills, that would be hard to do. The main thing is to create a system that's logical and makes sense to you and stick with it. The logic should show in the writing.

Lynda


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theworldinthewords
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The flying carpets rather than airplanes comment reminded me of one of the few anime tv shows I actually like. It's called Fullmetal Alchemist, and it takes place in a world where Alchemy actually works and is a "science". There are severe limitations on what you can transmute and do with Alchemy (you can only get something if you contribute something of equal value and you cannot do human transmuation... a.k.a. bring people back to life). In this world, they never developed flight because they never needed it. It just wasn't relevant. It's an interesting viewpoint at least, and a very good series. I'd recommend it if anyone is interested... good storytelling.
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Tricia V
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Something to remember is that if gold can be made from straw, it will cease to be rare and consequently become less valuable.

I thought of writing a story once where teleportation and healing would be possible, but one would first have to submit to extraordinary diet and thought disciplines, kind of like Yogis that can stop their heartbeats and things like that. I realized there were kind of some correlaries to the inside/outside travel in certain of Card's books, except not really because he has all sorts of people taking advantage of that travel.

My other, more strictly sci-fi concept, is one where people can influence things in process, but they do so by moving very fast and spending their lives at about 30X the rate of normal people.


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Robert Nowall
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It's one of the tools of science fiction that one can make a change in the world and then examine all the effects, big and small, good and bad, in the subsequent story. So examining the effects of magic, or any one kind of spell, is taking a classic fantasy theme and examining it through a standard science fiction technique.

(I'll throw out Randall Garrett's "Lord Darcy" series as an example---magic as codified science, and alternate history to boot.)


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