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Image by Peter Steiner 🇨🇭 1973

How to Create A Unique Magic System

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

Are you writing a brilliant fantasy but want to leave that extra punch when it comes to developing your magic system? After all, nobody wants to reread the same type of magic in every novel! As a fantasy writer who struggled with developing my magic system, making it understandable, engaging, and important to the plot, I can help you there!

1. Why?

Do you need a magic system? Every story is different. If your characters are living in a magical society or have special powers, you will most likely need one to explain to your readers how this magic works, thus adding realism to your world.

If your characters jump into a magical world, are not magical, or going on a sudden quest where they experience magic, you might want to focus on the wonder and thrill they feel rather than explain the workings behind it. If your character is clueless to how the magic works, then it will be an unnecessary info-dump. In Aladdin, we never know how the Genie came into existence, because that was unimportant to the story. We simply experienced the wonder of such a mythological creature alongside the main character, Aladdin.

2. What are the different types of Magic Systems?

A. Scientific

No, I do not mean science fiction. I mean science fantasy, a cross between sci-fi and fantasy! This type of fantasy violates the laws of reality. Like Frankenstein's monster was made from the bodies of the dead and brought to life with SCIENCE! The world of science fantasy is logical and provides detailed explanations on how to break the rules of nature. For example, a set of characters might find that they can defy gravity some place on earth yet have oxygen, and include a detailed explanation on how that is possible!

B. Steampunk

Steampunk is a genre of science fiction that displays steam powered technology rather than advanced technology. However, I believe you can add a bit of magic and enchantment to steampunk, bringing it into the world of fantasy. Pan, Ms. Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, and Mortal Engines are all outstanding examples of a cross between fantasy and steampunk. Fantasy knows no bounds!

C. Common

Witches, Wizards, teenagers with sudden cool powers, mermaids, warlocks, goblins, elves, ogres, fairies, and dragons! Yes, dear readers, we must address this! Though it is my belief that it is time for writers to showcase their abilities by jumping outside the norm of conventional fantasy literature, there are plenty of authors making a killing selling what's been sold before. With that being said, if you're choosing the conventional route found in fantasy literature, you can still stand out by making unique rules for your fantasy story. More on rule making for your fantasy down below!

D. Magic based on what's practiced in our reality:

Oh yes, people here on little ole' earth have been practicing magic for centuries! Whether or not it works beats me, but as a writer it's always great to get inspired by the real world. Some people believe such magic can be practiced and learned by anyone, and that it is not a bad force, while others believe otherwise. According to my research, magic from our world has many different classifications (Green, red, pink, yellow, orange, purple, blue and white magic). There are also many different types of witches based on what magic they practice (Cosmic, Divination, Kitchen, Green, Sea, Crystal, Shamanic, and so forth).

Then there's what people call Black Magic which includes jinxes, hexes, and curses. Its purpose is not to be nice to others and to get whatever you want. It intervenes with free will and decisions using paranormal forces. I'm assuming the magic of evil witches shown in literature and television is based off Black Magic.

It might be worth your while to go further into such topics, depending on what you'd like to write.

Keep in mind your fantasy does not have to be a part of these categories. Though it would be challenging, you have the ability to create your own unique fantasy including fantasy creatures, culture, races, magic systems and so forth! Do not be intimidated! Fantasy knows no bounds!

3. Who are the Magic Wielders/ Mages in your story?

Where do your group of chosen ones get their powers?

Are they born with it?

Is it genetic?

Did this new found power reveal itself randomly? After a certain age?

Or is it a learned skill? Can anybody learn it? If so, how long does it take to master?

Do your magic wielders have a distinct culture? If so, check out my blog post: HOW TO BUILD A RICH FANTASY CULTURE!

Know the details for consistency throughout your novel and series! Readers never love plot holes as they strip the wonder from the story.

4. How does your Fantasy Society react to your Mages?

If you have yet to develop your fantasy culture and society, check out my blog post: HOW TO BUILD A RICH FANTASY CULTURE!

Does society look down upon those who wield magic? Are they afraid of them? (X-Men)

Or are those with magic in hiding, afraid of persecution?

Which of the two are considered a threat to the other? If society is not against those with magic, perhaps a flock of intriguing creatures seek the annihilation of those with magic. In Ms. Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, the peculiars were hunted by Hollowgasts, or empty spirits that enjoyed feasting on them.

Perhaps they coexist peacefully? Or maybe one has more authority over the other? Which of the two have more power? In Gods of Egypt, the Egyptian gods ruled over the humans.

In MANY fantasy stories, those who have magic, or any other extraordinary ability, were meant to hold such immense power for to act as a savior to those without. As uncle Henry from Spiderman infamously said, "With great power comes great responsibility." May you rest in peace, Stan Lee!

5. What are the rules for your magic?

This is by far the most important detail that when thought out will make your story stand out from all the rest! While hundreds of books might share similar magic systems, those that are successful are the ones that make unique and consistent rules for their magic!

Consistency is key, otherwise your magic system will leave your plot with many holes and frustrate your readers. Not very wise, considering most fantasy novels are part of a series, and you want your readers to stick with you.

a. What is the source of your magic? Where does this magic come from?

b. Can it bend the laws of nature?

c. What are the side effects or repercussions?

d. If you have spell work or charms in your novel, go J.K. Rowling's route and consistently use them. By now the whole world knows how to make a wand fly from someone's hand: "EXPELLIARMUS!" Or how to call and object to you: "ACCIO!" Or have a wicked wand night-light: "LUMOS!" Us regular humans are very capable of participating in a wizarding duel because of Rowling's inventiveness and consistency. The rules for her magic never changed throughout the series, adding depth to her world.

Tell me about your magic system!

JK Noble | Author | Artist | Philanthropist

Published author of the new YA Fantasy Series, HALE.

Creator of the LMB franchise and the Encourage Literacy Foundation.


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