Some Thoughts on Magic Systems

Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse

Every magical ability has an effect on the world. This is a principle I’m working to follow as I rewrite Featherfolk. My main magic system consists of special powers granted by spirits. The availability and breadth of different powers alters the setting and plot, but that’s the way it should be.

The poster child for what I’m talking about is teleportation. If characters in a fantasy story can teleport magically from place to place, why would they rely on x for sending messages, and why didn’t they use teleportation when event y or z occurred? Why do social problems a, b, and c still exist? Even with limitations on when or where or which characters can teleport, it’s  hard to catch all these and keep things consistent.

I tend to shy away from teleportation, because it gives me a headache to pin down all the effects such a power would have on economics, politics, warfare, etc, but I still have to be careful with the powers I grant my characters.

Have any of you had to re-work a magic system to match a setting or vice versa?

Happy Yarning.



Book Report: The City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier


Despite the growing number of books I already own that I still need to read, it’s always fun to pick something random off the library shelf and be delighted by it.

This story explored mirrors and multiple layers of reality, and it kept me intrigued all the way through.

The magic system and its costs were never described in minute detail, but neither did the magic become a deus ex machina when it was used to solve problems. Neumeier struck a balance that I’d like to figure out how to strike myself.

I’d recommend The City in the Lake for preteens and up.

Considering Economics in a Fantasy Setting

griffin carrots

I don’t have to worry too much about getting food. I get it from the store. I cook it. I eat it. Maybe I’m super awesome and grow my own strawberries or tomatoes, or maybe I don’t.

How do your fantasy characters get food? What does the economy and infrastructure have to be like so your party can mosey on into a tavern at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere and get a meal along with all the other patrons there that night? And is your economic system consistent over a whole shire, state, country, or planet? Whatever your setting, it’s important to consider economics. Magic, especially teleportation abilities, will have a big impact.

My husband and I put together a story idea about a society made up of humans and griffins, at about a 1:1 ratio. For a while, we assumed our griffins were carnivores–you know, because they’re half lion and half eagle.

Then we considered the economics of the situation. What, and how much, did the griffins eat? We asked the internet how much meat a lion eats in a day and realized that with the scale we were considering, all the prey in the area would get eaten up pretty fast. And we didn’t want to make our griffins be nomadic while the humans were agrarian. Ok, so maybe the humans raise goats and the griffins eat those. Bam. Solved.

Until we calculated how many goats it would take to keep a family of griffins fed for a year. Something like 200 goats per family. That wasn’t going to work either.

So, obviously, the griffins were omnivores. If a creature can be both a bird and a mammal and have six limbs, it can darn well be an omnivore if we need it to be. Now we have griffins helping out with plowing and harvesting in the fields, hunting game in the woods, and eating the same meals as the humans.

Don’t be afraid to ask hard questions of your setting, or let others ask. In the end, your story will be healthier.

Happy Yarning!

Why Sundays are important during NaNoWriMo

I don’t write on Sundays.

Not even during NaNoWriMo.

Mostly this is because of my belief in the sacredness of the Sabbath. I try to avoid any work outside of service to others, cooking meals, or necessary housecleaning. But last November I discovered something magical about not writing on Sundays.

It sounds like it would make NaNoWriMo harder, because it means writing 50,000 words in 26 days, not 30. But that’s where the magical thing happens. It makes it easier.

Once a week, I got a guilt-free day off. It didn’t matter how many thousands of words behind I was, I didn’t have to catch up that day. The weekly break allowed me freedom to renew my spiritual and creative juices. Yes, I had to plan on writing 1,923 words a day 6 days a week, instead of the usual 1,667, but it was a small price to pay to keep one day free from work and stress.

Whether or not you’re religious, this is my tip for making it through NaNoWriMo: pick a day and make it your “Sunday.”