Creating Rules of Magic

madoka magica homura
Source: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

One of my favorite things so far in writing In My Blue World has been creating the rules of magic in this universe.  It’s very similar to the process I used when I wrote the trilogy, and it asked the following questions:

  1. What kind of magic do I want my characters to use?
  2. Why would they use it?
  3. What are the limits of its use?

Sounds simple, yes?  But the trick here was to remember: every use of magic must have its reason, and it must have its balance.  In the trilogy, every time Denni used some kind of psychic force, she had to do it for a reason (usually to protect others), and it had its balancing effect (Saisshalé would respond in kind).  This was to show that there was always a price to pay for their actions.

For In My Blue World, I essentially follow the same rules: Zuzannah (aka Zuze) comes from a universe where magic is a natural occurrence and is used in everyday life.  What kind of magic do I want her to use?  She uses this magic energy equally as a creative and destructive force; one of her abilities is to make ‘a tear in the weave’ of the multiple universes so she can jump between them, but for every tear, she must also ‘reweave’ it.  Why would she use it?  She uses it to temporarily escape from a stronger foe.  She also uses it to return and face him once more, when she is more prepared.  What are the limits of its use for her?  Weave-tearing is an extremely rare ability and uses up a hell of a lot of power in the process.  She only uses it when absolutely necessary.  The level and process of magic she’d used in her initial escape was so high and unfocused that it rendered her unconscious for two days.

Using these rules helps me focus on how the plot should unfold.  When she’s in the reality of our other characters, her magic is still there but it works differently.  When she returns to her own universe, her original powers return.  The other characters are also given the same rules: they are introduced to this magic as well, but with their own costs specific to them.

This is why I say that this kind of worldbuilding is often my favorite part of writing a novel.  It’s not just about coming up with neat ideas that I can play around with throughout the novel — though that is a major plus and a hell of a lot of fun — it’s about laying the groundwork for how everything works.  It’s a balance in and of itself, and quite often it suggests more of the plot than you initially expect.

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