Developing a Magic System, part 3: The Method of Manifesting

Developing your own magic system can be one of the most enjoyable parts of writing a fantasy novel. It lets you truly shape your world in your image, playing with some incredible themes and ideas while you’re at it.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy.

If you’ve been following my blog, then you already have your source of power well in hand. If you haven’t followed yet, then take a look here to catch up.

Now that you know your source, you need to decide how to make it, well, magic. This is the bridge from your caster into the world, and it shapes more than just the magic it makes.

When you design your method of casting, you have an incredible opportunity to shape your world. Not just in aesthetics—though that too, certainly—but in theme.

So lets talk method. This is basically how your caster draws upon the power at their disposal to affect the world. It can take any shape, so here are a couple basic ideas to build from.

Mechanical

I don’t just mean machines. Though that too, if you’d like—Magitech is fascinating. I mean manipulation of a physical object to pull the power into being. Maybe your characters use wands like Harry Potter. Maybe they brew potions or craft effigies. But one way or another, they physically use an outside object to make magic happen.

This is a very approachable method to use. Not only is it easy to describe, it’s easy to grant a physical space in your world. It’s easy to craft reactions, because something is physically happening to effect something else. 

Using a mechanical method of casting can give your magic a more hands-on touch. It steers away from a spiritual theme, instead lending itself to a secular branch of reality wizards. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But bear in mind that if the spiritual, inner power theme is what you want, this method can be a little more difficult to employ.

Prayer

Prayer is so much more than just kneeling and beseeching a higher power. It’s a powerful call to an outside, usually bigger than you, force.

This too can be done in different ways. Kneeling in prayer is classic, of course, but then you could go a darker route and offer the heart of a slain foe to your god. Or maybe you’re born from the blood of Gods, which you draw upon through sheer will.

Going this route for your magic lends a definite feel of intervention. It is the notion that magic comes from a higher power, and through whatever actions we need to take, we can compel that higher power to act in our favor. This is a very versatile method, as it can draw upon and convey so many different themes in your story, from purity to sacrifice.

Language

I’m a fan of this one. Language can be anything from chanting in Latin to drawing symbols to bring your effects to life.

This one can also be easy to incorporate, as again something is physically happening that you can describe and react to. Not to mention that it can be fun to play around in different languages to find your incantations, or even make up your own.

If you’re using this, just be sure to keep a dictionary of your terms. No one wants to accidentally accio a patronus.

tying prayers into the trees maybe?

Willpower

This is a tricky one. I love it, conceptually, but goddamn can it be difficult to write.

Maybe your casters meditate to change the world, or they draw on psychic strength to will their changes into being. Not gonna lie, I used this method for one of my novels because I loved the way it interacted with my themes and source. But my god, there were times I was pulling my hair out trying to get a scene right because there was just no good physical description.

You need to be creative with this one to make it work. Ultimately, you’re writing a novel, not filming a movie, so you have a little more leeway. But you still need to keep the flow dynamic and avoid passive writing, so you need to manufacture visuals to describe, because the effect itself won’t have any. Maybe this means walking in a dreamscape or reliving experiences from another person’s memory. But whatever it is, try to find a way to make it active, or this style of magic can falter fast.

This being said, if you can get it right, this method can add a lot of richness and versatility to your theme.

These are only a few examples of how you can bring your magic into the world. But however you choose to do it, it needs to be well thought out, and most of all, consistent. After all, one of the most fun parts of reading about a magical world is learning to be a mage yourself.

Don’t be afraid to mix methods. Blessing your crafted potions with prayer or chanting while you wave your wand can make your magic stand out as YOURS. Find your personal blend and go from there.

So, don’t be afraid to get creative. Throw some bat guano, chant in ancient Enochan, or lay a still-beating heart at a golden altar. Either way, have fun with it and watch your magic come to life!

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