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Believable magic?

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I've had a few readers tell me the magic in my wip isn't nearly as believable as the real-world stuff. So I was hoping all you wise BBers could help me out! How do you make sure your magic feels real?
#1 - July 22, 2011, 11:02 AM
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Danyelle

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One way for me is to make sure my magic system has a set of rules and limitations. Usually, in my stories, using magic to get out of a situation escalates the situation and makes it worse rather than better. I'd also make sure to keep the rules consistent.  :frog:

ETA: I forgot to mention, but I think it's important for a magic system to have logic to it. That there's a natural, logical connection between point A and point B.
#2 - July 22, 2011, 11:12 AM
« Last Edit: July 22, 2011, 11:13 AM by Danyelle »

Rhonda

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My Cupid series has magic. I made it partially based off technology and set up strict rules on how it worked.
#3 - July 22, 2011, 12:00 PM

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Building on what everyone else said, here's a funny and helpful article about designing rules and magical systems:
http://kidlit.com/2009/04/03/a-magic-of-convenience/
#4 - July 22, 2011, 12:46 PM

It’s hard to say since I’m not familiar with your writing or the story, but you might also want to look at your main character’s reactions and internal thoughts about the magic. If the main character isn’t sure if the magic is real, you may want to tweak the story to raise his or her level of belief and downplay the doubt a bit more.

Sometimes replacing flexible words like “seemed” with stronger words like “was” can help.  You may also want to check and see if the sentences which show the magic are active sentences. This will make them more believable as well. :star2

The chair seemed to float across the room.

Instead try:

The chair floated across the room.

As much as I my brain told me it wasn’t possible, the chair was floating across the room.




#5 - July 22, 2011, 01:32 PM
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A HOLD ON ME (Dark Heart series #1) coming from Kensington Books, staring March 2016

I think you've hit the nail on the head, Pat. In my mind I want my novel to have a very vague magic, that might be there and might not, spooky, mysterious, and unknown. However, I don't think I'm pulling it off! And by being so vague, I'm just confusing people. I think you're all absolutely right, I need to be clear on the rules and limits and all of those trappings of a more magical story, and make sure they're consistently applied. Back to my notebook!

#6 - July 22, 2011, 11:19 PM
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JustinDono

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What do you mean by "real world stuff"?  Like, real magic?  Stage magic?  Magic in real, published books?
#7 - July 22, 2011, 11:41 PM

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I think you've hit the nail on the head, Pat. In my mind I want my novel to have a very vague magic, that might be there and might not, spooky, mysterious, and unknown. However, I don't think I'm pulling it off! And by being so vague, I'm just confusing people. I think you're all absolutely right, I need to be clear on the rules and limits and all of those trappings of a more magical story, and make sure they're consistently applied. Back to my notebook!

Your magic can be still be vague/mysterious to the reader, as long as you understand the system. You don't have to tell the reader everything off the bat - you just have to know how it works as you're writing it.
It might help to read some books with the type of magic you're looking for. I'd recommend A CURSE AS DARK AS GOLD by Elizabeth C. Bunce. Is the mill cursed, or is it just superstition? Pulls off the "is-it-or-isn't-it-magic" mystery beautifully. You might also like HOW I LIVE NOW by Meg Rosoff. The magic is never explained, or even referred to as magic, but it still feels natural and believable. Anyone else want to chime in with more rec's?

Edited to add: THE EGYPT GAME and THE HEADLESS CUPID, both by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Kids start out playing at magic, but then it seems like it might be turning real.
#8 - July 23, 2011, 08:35 AM
« Last Edit: July 23, 2011, 08:40 AM by Lauren C »

Thanks for the book suggestions, Lauren. I've been thinking the same, that I really need to check out how other authors are doing this.

I think for me it's been really helpful so far just to ask myself a ton of questions about the magic. I'm realizing I don't know nearly as much as I thought I did! Lots of work to do, but at least I feel like I'm heading in the right direction now.

Justin: Sorry to be confusing! What I meant was, the magic in my wip doesn't feel as believable as the other elements in my wip (like the setting, the characters, etc).
#9 - July 24, 2011, 02:09 AM
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Katrina S. Forest

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Just of of curiosity, how late do you introduce the concept of magic (or hint at its existance) in your book? If it feels like you've established a realistic setting and then magic appears, that might be throwing your readers off.
#10 - July 25, 2011, 03:52 AM

CarrieAnn

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I remember being at my first writing conference years and years ago, and someone there was talking about how it's important for YOU to understand how your magic works, even if that understanding doesn't make it onto the page. That way all the hints that you drop point to a cohesive whole, even if it's never fully explained. I've always remembered and followed that bit of advice but am ashamed to admit that I never took down her name.

DOH!
#11 - July 25, 2011, 05:44 AM

You've received great advice re: striving for internal logic. I think pacing can make a difference, too. I've noticed that if the magical parts are (a) dumped on the reader without sufficient build-up, or (b) explained too much, the effect will seem jarring. No idea if this is what's going on in your WIP, as I haven't read it, but it is a common problem in writing magic.

I think Katrina makes a good point, too. You may need to establish the real world stuff before the magic begins, but you have to at least hint, early on, that something fantastical is going to happen. Otherwise it will seem like you're breaking the "contract" you established with the reader in the first few pages.
#12 - July 25, 2011, 06:35 AM

Really appreciate everyone pitching in with their thoughts! Really useful, thank you.

The magic does begin fairly early on in the story, but I think what I really need to work at is weaving all the details about it throughout, making sure it's logical, but, as you say, Ruth, not too much all at once!
#13 - July 25, 2011, 11:14 AM
critically-yours.blogspot.com

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