How to Write Magic

Now, I don’t profess to be an expert at writing about magic. Come to think about it I’m not an expert in anything.

But there are some things I do know about writing magic because I find it hard to write anything except fantasy.

Let’s have an example from J.K. Rowling:

Something I’ve heard when discussing how Harry Potter was written, before everything else, J.K. Rowling sat down and wrote the rules to magic. And one of those rules is: You cannot bring back the dead. Pretty fundamental right? Well, this brings me to step one.

  1. Why does magic need rules?

Without explicit planning and you reminding yourself of your boundaries, you might do something that contradicts your unspoken (or written rules). Your readers won’t know what is possible and what cannot be achieved. Let’s write a small story.

Derek fell off the cliff, as Sylvia watched, horrified. Plummeting to his doom, Derek used a cushioning spell to break his fall.

Pretty straight forward right? But if you haven’t established the rule: No flying/levitation spells, then the reader will scream at Sylvia: “WHY AREN’T YOU LEVITATING HIM?” Or if you have established that, have you established the fact that you cannot levitate yourself? Because I think you’d be screaming at Derek at this point…Because believe it or not, other fantasy stories and magical rules will come to mind of the reader and they will think of those rules if you haven’t established your own.

Let’s try that again, assuming you’ve made that rule clear.

Derek fell off the cliff, as Sylvia watched, horrified. Her heart sank as she knew she couldn’t help him. Plummeting to his doom, Derek used a cushioning spell to break his fall. Continue from there…

Did you notice my point? Yes? Moving on, then…

2. Establish your rules.

This is how magic should and should not work, you can be as elaborate as you want with these rules, but I suggest that you don’t

a) list all of these rules at once for the reader and character to take in

b) through your character’s trial and error, find out the limitations of each rule

You should definitely decide for yourself. But here are my tips. This is the way I’d define my rules for any given magic novel, feel free to use, add to or tweak them.

  • Dark magic exists (and needs to).
  • Dark Magic should be the most dangerous of any type.
  • Magic might/should/doesn’t have a cost. Energy, physical resource, or even a piece of your lifespan….hrm..on second thought, please don’t use what’s in italics. It’s just there to be an idea.
  • Your characters should not be able to do magic with a mastery at the beginning. Yes, talent goes a long way, or inborn skills but even so, training is necessary. Magic training makes the powers way more believable.
  • Magic cannot be used to resurrect the dead. But you could possibly do a variation where in order to resurrect, say, your sister, you need to transfer your life force into her via magic, thereby dying yourself.
  • Magic is exclusive to a people group. A race, the rich, the poor, a certain breed of human etc. (Brings a little more variety into the story if you have non-magic characters)
  • Do magic items exist? Do they bring any special powers to their possessor?
  • Is elemental magic possible? And are there separate rules for that class, and even separate rules for each element?
  • Are certain spells not possible? Flying, Invisibility etc. BE CAREFUL! You should have a good explanation why not.
  • Do certain spells have counters or weaknesses?
  • Are there wands, words, runes, shapes, or potions? Or just hand motions and mental exertion?

These are just a few of my favorite rules on magic. Please comment below if you think you have a good one! And again, if it’s not in italics, feel free to use it!

Do you see why rules are important? They can not only shape your character, shape your world, but also by certain limitations you can create: create subplots…or plots as a whole.



5 thoughts on “How to Write Magic

  1. I came across this through Pinterest, and you gave me an idea to write up a magic rules list for my novel that I’m perpetually working on since last year! I also LOVE writing fantasy so this was a nice read for me.


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