Skip to content
Home » Writing Journey » World Building » The Magic System of My Book

The Magic System of My Book

Note from Cass: This is a guest blog #3 on how my husband created the world for my book with a lens on magic systems. For more on world-building, click here.

world-building magic systems

I mentioned before I like consequence. I also like consistency. I like thinking about magic. I like physics. And math.  

If any of you have looked at different types of magic systems authors use, you will see there are two broad definitions, hard or soft. Hard is a set of rules, it works like anything else. If you have the right set of ingredients (be they whatever, including things that are esoteric) you get the same output from the same input. It is really good for reader clarity, sense of tension, and avoiding using magic fixing your protagonist’s problems with handwaveium/Deus Ex. Soft magic is great for a sense of wonder, randomness and the unexplainable.  

Guess which magic system makes sense to me? Yep, you guessed it. Soft. No, no, hard magic. (Right now I have a certain Monty Python airspeed sketch in mind). 

But kinda both. Nearly.  

Given I did a segue last time, I am going to repeat that here. I would like to just talk for a moment about consequence. Anything you put in your book should be used by everyone in your book if they possibly have access to it. If they don’t then most people will react negatively to it. People really DON’T like to be surprised. And finding out that the world was not what you thought is a big surprise. That’s true today or in your pseudo Middle Ages fantasy.  

I want to expand this idea of consequence just a second into implications of magic. Let’s assume that you are writing a pseudo Middle Ages novel. Limited magic exists, let’s say a single spell, which only a few people can cast, rare but well enough known about. It has always been around, so it is generally accepted as possible (ie, no witch trial-esque reactions). So we make our protagonist a battle mage, with just that single spell: Fireball (for the less geeky, imagine the magical equivalent of a shoulder-carried rocket launcher). Yep, you are ready to write your Battle Mage epic. Erm…. One sec. 

Going to war is dangerous. If the other guys with the magical rocket launchers don’t get you, then the regular old archer will. Or the moron trying to push 5 feet of steel through your guts.  You have a rare ability, is standing on the front line a good life plan? Hell, no! Besides, you have so many more things you can do with your one spell. 

Mining? What? Mining… yeah… blowing up rocks from holes in the ground that other people pick up is bound to be better paid. Because you can mine so much more than a guy with a pickaxe. Besides, having more steel for all your lordships men-at-arms helps the war effort, right? Also fishing? A fantasy equivalent of dynamite fishing, yep, again. Likely better paid. Two ideas of what to do with one spell. I have at least half a dozen more just top of mind, I am sure you do too. All with a single magic spell solely designed for combat. The more spells you add, the more that smart, or rather, self-interested people would have found creative uses for each of them. If you add something, anything, ask at least one question “How could this be used in a weird way to make me rich?”.  

Ok, that was a little more than a brief point and I only touched the surface. I like consequences. Those do not always have to be in the ‘magic costs’ or ‘magic corrupts’ category.  I like thinking about those too, where they make sense. But I want your world to feel alive. People use what they have, to make their lives safer and easier. Maslow you are not wrong.  

So, where did Cass and I get to.  Given the massive power scale from the oldest of the races to the youngest, from strongest to weakest, I realized that one system was not going to work. It would be like never bringing a knife to a gun fight, except more like them being able to bring a H-Bomb to fist fight. So… hard and soft? But harder for the younger races? Clear rules? Limitations? Specific to each of the ‘families’? But the same system? Yep. So… a fuel source (that way I can keep conservation of mass & energy + magic) that is everywhere? Dark matter? No, no, that is way too Sci-fi, and not what I really what to get into.

Nope, I went backwards in time for a name and while I know there are definitely other authors that use the name, it was a good place to start. Welcome to the Ether. Later called the Luminous Aether. Finally called whatever Cass says. It is the fuel for all the magic of the younger races. It has clear rules. Its use has a clear cost. It does the same thing every time. Well, according to how you manipulate it. And of course, different species do things differently, even if they are capable of getting similar results.  

As I said above, I actually went with two completely separate systems. I liked this for a couple of reasons. One is narrative, so I am not going to comment on that. The other is scale. The older your family type, the more of this you have. An Inner Fire. You can use it a lot more freely that the Aether. It has no rules… but it has cost, oh boy, does it. Also, this scale approach means this is less of a major deal for regular folks in the novel. They tend not to be the major powers. 

I have tried to stay top level here. I spent a lot of time working through this, and a lot more time (possibly with an adult beverage of choice) talking to Cass about it. If you want to know more details let us know. It’s up to the boss though  ? 

Also, I know I changed pronouns in this, from us/our to I/me/mine. That is true. The bits above were mine own fevered dream (like some more of the posts to follow), there was a whole other step as we collaborated to bring them together, and I am sure (though have not read) another step as Cass wove them into her world). So, to sum up. Anything you like about the magic in her book was her great inspiration from my ramblings. Anything you don’t like, that is likely mine. It’s ok, I’ll let you buy me a beer to help me get over your disappointment (once we can actually go out for one). I’m good like that. 


Next Time: Just cos I finished something, doesn’t mean I don’t have more to say. Let’s dive into a Family.