Top ten lists provide good fodder for blog posts. I came across a “top ten” rules of using magic in fantasy fiction article last week. While I’m all for magic-related rules that fantasy fiction writers should follow, a good writer learns how and when it’s appropriate to break the rules. I’ve broken several of the rules the author of the article listed, and disagree with a few others.
Whatever the good guys have, the bad guys still have a chance to beat them
A good conflict in fantasy fiction will create tension by making the reader believe there is always a chance the protagonist can fail. That doesn’t require both sides having access to magic, however. What if the antagonist is zealously anti-magic and the central conflict is their crusade to rid the world of all magic? I dealt with that issue somewhat in Maiden of Pain, though the Karanok family had access to divine magic, as opposed to arcane magic, which are considered two different systems in the Forgotten Realms.
The Children of Light from the Wheel of Time are perhaps a better example. Though they are not the central agents of conflict, and they suffer greatly when they make frontal assaults against opponents with magic, the Children do find success without the use of magic. So, it’s okay not to give magic to both sides, just be sure the other team still has a way to overcome that particular obstacle.
Magic can be good or evil
Magic is commonly depicted as a tool in fantasy fiction. It’s morally neutral, with no inherent nature of its own. Instead, it’s the characters’ use of it that is good or evil. In some cases, there might even be good magic and bad magic, but it’s pretty rare to find magic depicted as purely good or evil.
That’s a shame. You’re pushing yourself into a corner with a lot of other fantasy fiction if you fail to consider the potential of magic morality. I’ve chosen to make magic inherently evil in the Chronicles of Jord. It stems from a malevolent source, it corrupts those who use it, and it has been outlawed by the benevolent god and creator of the world. While it may appear to produce good in the short term, magic ultimately harms more than it helps.
Magic makes the story
Which brings me to my final point: magic, its use and the consequences of, can certainly be a central theme and plot path of your story. I read fantasy fiction for the magic. I expect it to be an integral part of the characters and/or their world. If I can yank the plot out and slap it into any other genre, sans magic, then the writer is treating it like an afterthought.
Shattered Amulet would not be a tale of Logan Shadowhand if it didn’t include his relationship with magic. Magic forces Logan to grow, provides motivation for key decisions within the story, and is the greatest source of internal conflict. It is so intricately woven into the setting and plot that removing it would unravel the whole.
What rules do you follow when writing about magic in fantasy fiction? What rules do you break?