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Do You Believe in Magic?

"Magic Abound" © 2007 by Mark Cummins

Magic Abound

[As an aside, as soon as I knew what the content of this post was going to be, you can probably guess (from the title if nothing else) what song has been in my head.]

The Shiny™ came back from Apple, all fixed up with a new logic board (the sound card is apparently integrated), a reseated cable which had come loose, and with the hard drive wiped and re-initialized with the latest and greatest version of MacOS. When I got it home, I cranked it up and the first thing it asked for was for me to supply a drive on which I had backed up with Time Machine, and it took about 2 hours to restore it to pre-problem status. I was back up and running in less time than I thought possible (because I used to use only Windows).

Of course, then I started having to type all those ideas I was flooded with into Scrivener.

The good news is that I finally worked out (I think) how magic works in my Urban Fantasy series (la de da, doesn’t that sound high-fallutin’?). This may sound trivial and ho-hum, but you have to remember that I’ve been writing this thing for the better part of two years and have two novels at various stages of completion, plus ideas for a couple or three more. It’s about time I figured this out.

It uses elements from a lot of things that have come before, and probably isn’t unique, but since I’m not writing a “How to Cast Magical Spells” book and am trying to tell a story within the framework, I don’t intend to actually ever lay out how it works for readers. (Plus, that also gives me wiggle-room for changing it as time goes on. :)

There’s definitely some stuff in here from Babylon 5/Crusade, a touch of Star Wars, a smidgen of Dungeons and Dragons, a healthy dose of ancient Greek mythology, a soupçon of The Belgariad, and a sprinkling of Actual Science™.

Now, here’s my question. Although I need to know How It All Works™ (I’m not going to stop doing that ™ thing any time soon, by the way, so get used to it) in order to have some internal consistency (hopefully), how much does or should the reader ever know? Is it enough to leave it something of a black box, or should I sort of have the characters who can perform magic explain it a little bit as they go, for the reader and/or other characters who are not able to do it (and who therefore ‘stand in’ for the reader)?

I’ve seen it done both ways, and to excellent effect. I think it depends on the writing, but . . . still, I’m curious.

Originally published at WriteWright. You can comment here or there.


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( 7 hisses — Hiss at me! )
May. 7th, 2011 06:02 pm (UTC)
I tend to prefer the vaguest of explanations, like "he focused his inner eye and concentrated on the effect he wanted and said "fuego!"" or something. I really don't care about the molecular physics or biology behind it, though I'll call shenanigans if something comes out of nowhere and is inconsistent with the rest of the story.

I also dislike hard SF, where the SCIENCE!!! is the point of it, and the writer spends pages upon pages talking about how Cool Device X works. Bores me to TEARS. (Actually, it bores me to "I'm taking this book back to the library now, I don't care if I haven't finished it.")
May. 7th, 2011 06:22 pm (UTC)
re: Is it enough to leave it something of a black box, or should I sort of have the characters who c
There should be just enough explanation that the readers are never confused or angered when they discover a new way/thing for magic to work, but not so much that they can design better spells than you have.
(Deleted comment)
May. 7th, 2011 07:54 pm (UTC)
Leaving it out opens the door for companion books later on... which I find cool. As long as the reader can follow the "what," the how can be detailed in another work - like the character's diary, or some such. (Cheesy? ah... just a thought)
(Deleted comment)
May. 7th, 2011 08:21 pm (UTC)
I'm apparently very forgiving which is why I asked about it. Apparently, I'm one of the few people who don't just toss a book or put it down at the first provocation and who reads every 'a', 'an', 'the', 'of', 'for', and 'yet' without skipping over anything.

So I'm not a typical reader. Things that would cause me to perhaps frown momentarily and move on because the story is good might make others put down the book or return it to the library or give it away or whatever.
May. 8th, 2011 03:17 pm (UTC)
The stack of books I need to read is scary enough that I don't want to waste time on something that bores me or is badly written. I don't go looking for reasons not to finish a book (and it's really rare that I quit partway through), but there just isn't enough time in the world to spend it reading books I'm not enjoying.

(I mean, I read all 700 pages of Kushiel's Dart, even though the purple prose made me want to get out the red pen and the protagonist (1st person) was the whiniest, most self-centered whore (uh, literally) I've ever come across in my reading. People promised me it got better after about 300 pages, so I persevered. I hated Phedre less by the end, but the payoff wasn't worth the ~10 hours I put into reading that shit. I didn't bother with the sequels.)
( 7 hisses — Hiss at me! )

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