January 22, 2017
Hey guys! It's the last, main world-building key of my little series! This particular key focuses on balancing the majesty and granduer of magic with realism--drawing boundries that one can understand to allow deeper immersion into a fantasy world.
(See Key 4: Diversity.)
This post focuses on Key 5: Balancing Realism with Magic.
Magic is one of the most unique and rich elements allotted to the fantasy genre, and every fantasy writer has a different approach. It is generally agreed upon that readers need to understand the limitations of magic to avoid moments of writer abuse (aka, deus ex machina).
In my case, I choose to have the foundation of my magic based on science—it is measurable and understandable—allowing even those unfamiliar with fantasy to become swiftly comfortable with the magical “rules” of the novel.
I often choose to use this magic to put individual characters in predicaments that test their resolve, strength of character, or morality. Magic is also used to create aspects of the world that are awing or terrifying. With the strong foundation in “realism,” these magical elements added to character and world are capable of having a stronger impact on the reader.
Ooooo, magical! [See more art by the amazing Kirk HERE!]
I’ll use an example of my personal favorite magic in the Steps of Power series: healing.
Riphath, one of the seven Legends of Aersadore, was a healer!
I love a threat on a character’s life—the peril that makes your heart ache and you soul weep. But this dread is stripped away in fantasy novels that utilize healing magic to allow characters to escape from death—very often by pulling miraculous healing from an area readers had no idea about. Got a magical staff? Got a cleric nearby? Suffering some Black-Knight-worthy wounds?
BAM. PRESTO. HEALED.
It WAS just a flesh wound after all!
It may be great as a onetime ploy, but when characters survive time and time again, the threat of death wears thin. In order to balance this threat of death with the allowance of healing magic, I chose to have the healing magic capable of doing only what the human body can do naturally. Thus, there are two essential elements to this healing:
One: Healing is limited to what the body can do naturally.
If a character suffers some severe injury of the heart, there is no amount of healing on Aersadore that can ever allow the character’s heart to be as it once was. When a human suffers a severe heart attack, scar tissue is used by the body to “repair” the heart. It is the same on Aersadore—magic can be utilized to speed up this natural healing process—thus possibly saving an individual’s life—but it cannot be used to reverse the damage.
Two: How quickly and effectively a wound is healed is based entirely on the health and skill of the healer.
For example, let’s go with the extreme that someone once asked me to define: What if someone’s arm gets ripped off? Technically, if the arm could be put back exactly where it had been removed and healed quickly enough, the arm could be reattached. However, the human body only has the ability to heal so much at one time before the body runs out of the nutrients it requires to heal. Thus, even if a healer could speed up the healing process of the aforementioned one-armed individual, Mr. One Arm could not possibly recover his arm. Thus, a second element comes into play: the ability of a healer to transfer their own health (nutrients, etc…) to a wounded individual, allowing them to heal past the normal allowed amount. (Instead of one man's limitations, you have the limitations of TWO people now. Or if you had another healer assisting, you have the limitations of three. And so on and so forth.) However, this means damage to such a healer since they are sending their “health” to the wounded. Thus, such a use of the magic is a double-edged sword and while readers might be thrilled that Mr. One Arm gets his arm back, they are now terrified about the damage taken by Skilled Healer.
Such physical limitations, as with most magic in the Steps of Power series (although slightly different for other magics) allow for both moral predicaments, tension, and added understanding of the skills and limitations of characters. This is how I balance magic with realism.
What are your favorite Magic Systems and why?
Writers, what rules do you set down to keep things clear for your readers?
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