Creating a Magic System for Your Story

I am so excited about this post because I love magic. It is so flexible and fun and can add such an interesting element to any story. Probably 90% of what I write has some sort of magic in it. And, yes, it can get complicated, but I think it is so fun figuring everything out and watching your world work with this awesome thing that you’ve created.

What Kind of Magic Should You Have?

This is probably the trickiest bit. Because magic can be anything. It can be elemental, physical, spiritual, mental…and it can be whatever your mind can make up. If you have a specific purpose for magic in your story, this decision becomes a bit easier. Because you have a goal, you can narrow down the possibilities.

I can’t tell you what to do here, there are so many options that there’s no way that I can cover it all, but I can ask you some questions to help you figure it out.

What are the Abilities?

Deciding on what exactly the magic can do is the core of everything. The simplest example I can share would be elemental magic, since we all know what that is. If your character has the elemental magic over water, you have to decide what that means. Can they control it? Create it? Freeze it? Can they become it? How much can they control at once?

If they have a less physical magic, there are less barriers to what one could do. So, you must put up those barriers. Or, make it known that the power is limitless (which can sometimes makes one overpowered and, therefore, boring and unrealistic).

  • Do different people have different powers?
  • Do all people have magic, or only some?
  • How much control do they have over it?
    • The Time Traveler’s Wife

What are the Limitations?

All powers have their limits and their consequences. Are these based on the magic or based on the people (ex: unforgivable curses in Harry Potter)?

In Avatar the Last Airbender, the element of earth had a ‘limit’ of not being able to bend metal (which, SPOILER, Toph then later overcomes.) *Also, if you’ve never seen Avatar the Last Airbender, watch in now. Please and thank you*
In Stardust, magic makes the witches age and only consuming a falling star can restore their youth and power.
Genie cannot fulfill certain wishes and also cannot use his magic to free himself unless his ‘master’ wishes it in Aladdin
In Kiki’s Delivery Service, when she loses faith in herself, she loses her magic.
In Star Wars, Jedi mind tricks only work on the weak minded.

  • What are the limits?
    • Invisible woman can’t make her clothes invisible
    • Cyclops (X-men) needs his eye mask to channel his power
    • Knowledge (if you don’t know the spell, you can’t cast it)
  • Is it draining physically or mentally?
    • Nosebleed (Eleven), Avatar State (ATLA)
  • What are the consequences?
    • Burn out (Throne of Glass), pain (Wolverine), physical disfigurement (Star Wars Sith)
  • Weaknesses
    • Kryptonite (Superman), fear (Frozen), silver (werewolves)
  • Rules
    • contract (Little Mermaid), only three wishes/no falling in love (Aladdin)

How do People Acquire it?

People get magic somehow, and you need to figure out how. The easiest question to start with is: Are they born with it or not? Then you can work from there.

Born With It

  • Is everyone born with it?
    • Why or why not?
  • Is it dependent on race? Genetics?
    • Elf, fairy, dwarf, etc.
  • At what age does it manifest itself?
    • How does it manifest itself?

Not Born with It

  • How does one acquire it?
    • Gift from someone with magic or some sort of god
    • Bitten (werewolf, radioactive spider, vampire)
    • Magical object (Infinity stone, Aladdin’s lamp, the Ring, Resurrection Stone)
    • Test or trial to receive it
    • Unwillingly cursed (Beauty and the Beast, The Last Witch Hunter)
    • Accident (Bruce Banner/Hulk, Tighten from Megamind)
    • Knowledge (anyone can use it if they learn how)

How is it Used?

By this, I literally mean how. In Harry Potter, magic is used with wands and potions. Supernatural uses pentagrams. In Avatar the Last Airbender, magic is used with hand movements (and your mind).

It’s important to know how magic in your world is used because that gives it structure and limitations.

  • Conductor
    • wand, staff, crystal
  • Incantation
  • Materials
    • For a pentagram, potion, sacrifice, etc.
  • Practice
    • learning new forms (ATLA)
  • Setting/Situation
    • Full moon

How Does Magic Affect Your Universe?

Unless magic is a very very small part of your universe, it is going to change the way people do things in your world. They way they interact and grow as a society. I’m going to make a long and – hopefully – helpful list.

  • Social status/Prejudice
    • Are certain people looked down upon or looked up to because they do or don’t have magic? Or, perhaps, because they have a certain type of magic?
  • Power struggle
    • If certain people have magic, do they take advantage of that to control government or oppress people without magic?
  • How they fight
    • Wars and battles are going to be fought very different based upon what type of magic is in your universe and who has it. How would non-magic folk adapt to fighting those with magic?
  • Crime
    • Crime could be different or more abundant based on what kind of magic you create. Or perhaps less abundant if a certain magic-holder is in charge of law enforcement.
  • How they heal
    • Is part of their magic that they can heal faster? Or can they use their magic to heal others or themselves?
  • Their loyalties
    • Are people more loyal to blood or magic?
  • Relationships
    • Are relationships forbidden or frowned upon between certain people. Is it normal to mix magic? Or it is even sought after and arranged for people to have children based on their magic?
  • How they build
    • Physical magic could change the way that people build cities which could also rapidly grow their architecture before other parts of their culture are developed.

Conclusion

I hope this has given you a good solid start on creating magic for your universe. If this is your first time, don’t fret! It is all about trial and error and, honestly, logic. If ever I’m having trouble I just try to think logically how something would work and can usually figure it out. Trust yourself and don’t be afraid to play around. Writing is fun and writing magic is even more fun (in my opinion).

As always, feel free to subscribe or follow me on social media for updates on new posts!
And take a gander at my ‘Services‘ page for prices on my editing services!

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Sherwood

    I appreciate the numerous examples provided; that’s probably the best route for tackling such an expansive topic in such a condensed format. I really like that you included vampires and werewolves in particular. While it’s absolutely some form of magic that causes them, they were just filed away as monsters in my head and hadn’t been attached to magic. That helped shift my perception of the issue a bit.

    What and how magic is has (among other things) brought my story to a standstill. It boils down primarily to not knowing what I want and being unable to make decisions. There are too many other problems afoot for this to help me currently, but I’ll hold onto this for future reference.

    It might be helpful to make mention of the difference between hard and soft magic systems. (And maybe you have elsewhere.) While there’s not much to say about soft magic, I think it could be beneficial to let people know that they don’t necessarily have to come up with all the nitty-gritty rules. It depends on the purpose of the magic in the story.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.