Learn to write magic for an enchanting fantasy novel. | Mackenzie Butts Book Blog | Book Reviews and Writing Tips

Questions to Ask Yourself when Writing Magic

Writing magic into your story can be so much fun. There are endless possibilities. But there's also a lot of room to get things wrong.

The most important thing to remember when writing magic is that everything has it's limits. Yes, even magic.

If you want your story to be believable and the conflict to flow naturally, then take a look at some of the questions I've come up with. They should give you a better idea what kind of magic your story is dealing with and how to make sure it makes sense to your readers.

This post is going to be less instructive and more free thinking, so grab some paper and jot down anything you think is important to your story.

So let's get to it!

writing magic

Pick the Power

This is my favorite part. It can literally be anything. The ability to find missing socks. Knowing the lyrics to every song the first time you hear it. Magic can be both a character quirk and a tool. Consider types of magic your characters can use that fit their story and their surroundings. Snow magic won't do any good in a desert. But then again, maybe that's your source of conflict! Below is a list of suggestions:

  • Witchcraft
  • Sorcery
  • Alchemy
  • Shape Shifting
  • Psychic/Prophetic
  • Seeing/Hearing/Communicating with spirits
  • Understanding/Feeling/Communicating with anything not human
  • Empathic (feeling and manipulating others emotions)
  • Telekinesis (moving objects with the mind)
  • Controlling the Elements (fire, water, earth, air, electricity, metal, sand, plants, etc.)
  • Controlling Technology (stealing information, manipulating programs, animating hardware)
  • Necromancy

Elements of Magic

Different types of magic and super powers are going to involve different qualities and equipment. This could be different items of significance, locations, knowledge, and even morals. Consider what types of tools and routines your characters need in order to use their magic on a daily basis. The tools of the trade if you will!

  • Potions
  • Spell Casting
  • Spell Books and Grimoires
  • Wands
  • Charms
  • Talismans
  • Glamours
  • Magical Artifacts
  • Magical/Sacred Locations
  • Portals
  • Religion
  • Rituals
  • Offerings and Sacrifices
  • Gods/Deities/Demons
  • Toxic Chemicals
  • Experimentation
  • Medications
  • Genetics/Inheritance

Important Questions when Writing Magic

Where does the magic or power come from? Is it science or supernatural?

Is it good, evil, or neutral?

How do you wield it?

Can anyone use it?

Is it inherited, learned, or gained by unnatural means?

Is magic a secret? If not, is it widely accepted or outlawed?

Does magic dictate social status?

Does it stem from a religious practice?

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writing magic

Limitations

Nothing, and no one, in a story should be all powerful. It makes the story unrealistic, hopeless, and boring. Even the big bad should have limitations. And so should your magic. Use these questions to help determine where to draw the limits when writing magic.

  • How often can they use it?
  • Does it come at a cost?
  • Is it hard to master?
  • Does it require a special education?
  • What if there are no teachers?
  • Does it hurt to use?
  • Can it be lost? Taken away?
  • Does diet and health affect the power?
  • Does age?
  • Can magic cancel out other magic?
  • Is all magic equal?
  • What can and can't magic heal/fix?
  • Does magic work on humans, animals, or just objects?

writing magic

Naming Spells and Casting Them

The last part of writing magic for today is all about naming. Coming up with clever magical names can be hard. They're either cliche, uninspired, or hard to pronounce. That's why I'm sharing my own tips for naming and casting spells.

Choose Another Language

Just make sure it's something that fits the feel or region of your story. Don't use Japanese just because it sounds cool. If your story takes place in the distant future on an island once known as Japan, then use Japanese. If your magic was discovered by a Japanese philosopher, fine use Japanese. If your protagonist is Japanese, by all means, use Japanese. My point is simply this: the language, and consequently the culture, should fit the setting.

Read my World Building post for more tips and ideas.

Older Dialects

This goes hand in hand with the aforementioned. The dialect should reflect the region or period in which it was discovered. That being said, language changes, and spells probably would to. Consider using slang and different pronunciations depending on the locations your characters travel to.

Latin

Latin is an easy and common go-to when conjuring fantasy names. While some might consider it cliche, Latin is a vast language. There are plenty of unique words to choose from when translating your spells.

Different Spellings

An easy way to inspire fantasy is to use uncommon or phonetic spellings of English words.

Combine Words

Grab a few words that describe your spell and combine them in different arrangements.

Rearrange the Letters

I don’t always use these words because they don’t tend to flow the best for English readers, but it does help me discover different sounds. This is important because starting a word with a certain letter or sound can emphasize its power.

There have been several studies concerning phonetics and how we react to certain sounds. The letter A tends to be associated with larger objects while the letter I better represents something small. Think major versus minor. Meanwhile, U tends to have a negative connotation correlating with words like puke, dull, and clumsy. Hard consonant (B, D, G, K, P, T) are used to market sturdy, durable objects. On the other hand, soft consonants (H, L, M, N, S) work better when describing something comfortable, cozy, and welcoming.

By considering the phonetics of a word, you can increase the power of your spell to pack a punch, or create softer spells that emphasize healing.

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Now it's time for you to start writing magic and applying it to your story. If you have any questions or suggestions feel free to leave a comment.

Still looking for inspiration? Check out my Witchy Reading List for tons of enchanting books!

Like, share, subscribe, and I'll see you next week!

Happy Writing!

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