Friday, June 8, 2012

Magic Will Set Them Free

"I saw the angel in the marble
and I carved until I set him free."
Last week, Sabrina wrote an excellent post about rationalizing magic. I can attest that she is amazing at coming up with story ideas. She says that often, after she comes up with the story idea, the scientist in her takes over, and by the time she's figured out the minutiae of the rules to the magic, she's lost interest in the story.  She asks:

As a reader, how much logic do you expect from magic systems?...And how do you, as writers, handle ideas that seem cool but don't make immediate logical sense? How do you explain them without getting frustrated?

Here's my answer: Both as a reader and as a writer, I expect perfect logic from a magical system. However, I don't want it over-explained. I want it to unfold so naturally that I don't notice that I'm being taught the rules to a new world.

Something in my subconscious tells me when I'm crossing a logic line, so I tell the story. As I tell the story, the rules unfold to me, and by the end, I understand them. Then I know what the reader will need, and I can go back and fill in the missing pieces, or take a few unnecessary pieces out.

Museo Subacuatico de Arte:
The Dream Collector (El Coleccionista de Suenos)
By: Jason deCaires Taylor

Evangeline Lilly
by: Adam Beane
 To me, creating a story is like making a sculpture. The story idea is the medium I make the sculpture from. The image I'm creating is my main character, and I find her (or sometimes him) by looking at my medium until I see her staring back at me. The magic (or science) is the tool I use to carve the character out.

"Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task
of the sculptor to discover it." Michelangelo
I come up with two, possibly three good story ideas a year, so I'm extremely careful with mine when they come. This is where I think Sabrina and I vary. Because of this, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about magic until later on. I need to spend more. I did some prewriting exercises with Sabrina and Sheena a few weeks ago, and I learned so much from them.

But perhaps my style can help people like Sabrina the way her style helped me. Trust in your subconscious to figure out the rules of magic. Mine has never steered me wrong yet. Instead, you've got your story idea. Discover your characters next, and use the magic to set them free.

Two views of The Gardener, several years apart
by: Jason deCaires Taylor


  1. Fascinating! Are you a sculptor? Or an artist?

    I love learning about the processes of other writers. It's amazing how different we all are, and yet at the same time so much alike. :)

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. This post was awesome, and I think I tend to do as you do when I write magical systems. Sometimes it's a good thing because it leaves me room to work out plot and characters, but other times I paint myself into a corner and there is no easy fix.

  3. Excellent post.

    Sanderson does a sterling job with magic systems, but there's something deliciously ironic about trying to rationalize magic - it's just human nature, I guess.

    Here's my rule of the thumb: if magic is used as a cop out then it's bleh. That's right bleh. I know there's a lot of better words for explaining disappointment but I just like the sound of it.

    Bleh. Hihi. :)

  4. Melanie, I think my subconscious is a scientist too. :(

    I probably really am overthinking it too much. I mean, when I start worrying that I need to understand nuclear physics in order to make sure my magic system is rational, that might be excessive.

    Many, many thanks for the post! How about a Proser trip to go visit those underwater sculptures some day?

    1. Ah well, embrace it then, I say. :)

      I think that sounds like a fantastic idea, Sabrina!!! Much nicer than the hours and hours I spent googling them for this post.

  5. What a fabulous post. I love the idea of carving out a story - and wow, those underwater sculptures are amazing!

    1. Aren't they? I spent so, so, so much time googling Jason deCaires Taylor on Thursday. The whole MUSA thing in Cancun is like something from another planet.

  6. I love underwater sculptures. Thanks for the pictures. Image searching for sculptures sounds like a fun way to spend an afternoon.

    I really like this. I'm a discovery writer myself, and my favorite parts of all my stories are the parts that just showed up, the parts I didn't plan, I just found in the "chiseling."

    Great post!


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