I have been thinking again about planning a novel, hopefully in preparation for NaNoWriMo this year. I was successful with NaNoWriMo in 2010, but have not participated since, and I would like to give it a go again this year. One of the main things I have been working on planning and outlining before writing is the magic system and general world-building.
I have written before about magic when I wrote about Brandon Sanderson and the different magic systems he has developed. I am also a big fan of Sanderson’s First Law, “An author’s ability to solve conflict satisfactorily with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.” The magic system has to make sense, or it needs to be explained in such a way that at least the characters in the novel understand it. If magic is just something that can be used whenever and the rules are not explained well enough then it becomes a ‘cop-out’ for the author, something that he pulls out when he’s written himself into a corner. But, if a magic system is understood by the reader, then they also understand the limitations of that magic system, which can add to the drama and the conflict, as the hero runs into a situation where his magic will not work the way he needs it to.
I have been thinking about the type of magic and how I want it to work as I build the world of my novel. I have played with the idea of using the traditional word-based magic, with spoken spells being the basis of the magic system. That is a very popular magic system used in many fantasy novels, and it is not hard to see why when you consider the fact that authors are writing novels and they know very well the power that the right words in the proper place can have — they can literally change the world. This idea may even go back to the Bible, where we have in Genesis, God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. The creation of our world came about because of God’s spoken Word.
But, then I was reading through an old notebook and came across an idea I had scribbled down. I like this idea because it allows me to combine with another idea I have been throwing around, trying to flesh it out completely. I want to use magic in this world as a way of separating the classes. I see magic as very closely tied to the economy, with the wealthy able to afford magicians to do their work or other things for them, and magic users, then, becoming wealthy as a result. But, the poorer classes, who cannot afford a magic user to do something for them, find other ways to accomplish tasks, such as clockwork machines or other technology. I want to explore this difference between classes and how magic plays a role in that. So, as I was reading through this old notebook, I found that I had started to develop a magic system that was based on a scripture from the book of Moses 6:59-60, which talks about Water, Spirit, and Blood, “ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood”
I thought it was fascinating to consider these three as different ways of doing things. Water presents itself well to be used by the lower classes without access to magic. I like the fact that water can be used in multiple ways to generate power — from the basic waterwheel turning a gear, to steam-powered engines, to hydro-electric power. These do not require any magic skill, but only a knowledge of how the physical world works and can be used to power a world that does not have access to magic (much like our own). And then we have the Spirit, which is an apt description of many magic systems that draw on the ‘energy’ or ‘life force’ or whatever that all living things give off to accomplish their magic. I can use that as the magic in this world, that it is based upon using the Spirit that exists naturally, but only some individuals are attuned enough to draw upon this energy and using it to accomplish whatever they are trying to do.
It is that third aspect, Blood, that I am still trying to develop. I am thinking, maybe, that I might have it refer to a Bloodline, or a specific family that has, throughout the history of this world, had access to a different, higher form of magic. I might leave this third form of magic a mystery, not mention it at all in the novel until the climax where our hero discovers it as a combination of using the two other forms of power – the Water and the Spirit. But, of course, I, as the author, need to understand this more than the reader does. It is apparent when reading a novel if the author has fully developed his ideas or not, even when he does not necessarily explain them all in full detail to the reader.