Getting Ahead of Myself: What is Magic and Why Do We Like It?

08 Oct

I’ve learned my first lesson about blogging. It is very easy to get ahead of yourself. After re-reading my post about magic “systems”, I’ve decided to put the horse back before the cart. In order to talk about how to create a form of magic in fantasy, we have to define what magic is, and why it is being created in the first place. So, here we go:

Fantasy- anything that is an impossibility in real life

Magic- the method by which these impossibilities are achieved

There are many things people wish they could do that they can’t do in real life. The reason fantasy and magic are attractive is that they allow these impossible things to occur. Personally, I’ve always wanted to fly. With magic, I don’t need a plane. I could grow myself wings, or levitate with the power of my mind. Now, magic doesn’t really exist. I cannot really grow wings or levitate. But through a well-crafted story, I can pretend—even if only until the story ends—that I can out-fly Superman. This is the attraction of all kinds of fiction. They allow us to imagine that we are doing what the characters are doing, and experiencing what the characters are experiencing. People find this sort of thing very enticing. And there is nothing wrong with that.

But that’s just wish fulfillment—or, as the mainstream writers will snidely remark, it’s escapism. That dreadful thing! What else, then, can magic offer to a story? It can offer conflict. Sure, it’s cool to do the impossible. But if the character can do anything, then there really isn’t much room for interesting plots, or suspense, or tension, or conflict. These things are formed by competing possibilities, and having the power to do anything means that the possibility of failing is minimal. Thus, all-powerful characters are contradictory to the idea that a smaller possibility of success leads to greater conflict and tension. Which is what the reader craves.

So, the purpose of magic is not to make anything possible, but to make something possible enough that the reader doesn’t get thrown out of the story when that something occurs. Why could the peasant boy defeat the Dark Lord? Magic!

But magic isn’t easy. Magic is a balancing act, and the possibilities it opens up are what makes it so interesting. Conflict comes from competing possibilities, and possibility is what magic provides.

Tomorrow, I will talk about ways to make conflict with magic, and how these enhance the story.

1 Comment

Posted by on October 8, 2009 in Fantasy/Sci-fi, Ideas, Writing


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One response to “Getting Ahead of Myself: What is Magic and Why Do We Like It?

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