A Glance into the Faeries’ Magic System
Chapters Completed: 24
Chapters In Progress: 6
Chapters Not Started: 4
“Chronicling The Craft” is an article series where I share my experience with writing my current work-in-progress (WIP), which is a fantasy novel. Every 5,000 words, I let readers know what I’ve accomplished since the previous article and share advice, discoveries, techniques, etc. Besides the word count in each article title, a “chapter ticker” at the top also tracks my progress as I use the skip-around / “writercopter” method to write the novel. Today’s installment celebrates the book reaching 100,000 words in length.
YES! Actually, it’s more like, “WHEW! OK, am I almost done yet?” *lol* Seeing the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel has brought on a kind of “can’t-wait-to-finish-this-draft” itch. Unfortunately, with the upcoming December holidays on top of the usual commitments (if you have a day job, you know what I mean), I’m reminding myself more often to be patient. Thank goodness I’ve got some time off planned right after Christmas and around New Year’s. Guess how I plan to spend the bulk of that time? 😉
If you’ve been following this series, you may already know I’ve done “reveals” with every 25K-word milestone in the fantasy novel. Now that I’ve hit 100,000 words, it’s time for another! But first, here’s a quick update of what I’ve worked on since the Chronicle for 95,000 words:
- Chapter 22 is done! It’s much longer than it should be, so I’ll have to take the scissors to it in Draft #2 and cut, condense, etc. to help lower the overall word count. But for the moment, it’s done. Oh, and without giving away details, the final scene in this chapter makes me feel warm and snuggly inside. It needs serious revision in hindsight, but I’m pleased with the direction it’s taken.
- Like last time, my head is still in the city of Denelai, so I’m working on chapters chronologically right now instead of skipping around. Chapter 23 is underway now – and when I last left the protagonist Eva, she was about to fall into serious trouble. *cue evil author laughter*
On past Chronicle reveals, I’ve covered Eva’s character profile, her race (Faeries), and the WIP’s villains and antagonists. Today’s topic covers a different but necessary side of world-building for this universe: magic. I’ll share select aspects of the Faeries’ magic system, as well as some of my inspirations and decisions while creating it.
I’m super-excited to share this with you today – and I’m also stomach-queasingly nervous, because I have no idea if this magic system’s actually any good. When you work so closely with a story for so long, it’s hard to see where you might be going astray. That’s why I’d like to ask for your honest feedback today. If you notice any conflicts between rules, elements that don’t make sense, etc., please let me know or ask questions. What matters is that this system makes sense to readers. (Please note, though, that I won’t tolerate trolling or less-than-constructive comments like “This sucks,” “It’s terrible,” etc., especially without reasons explaining why you think that way.)
*takes a deep breath* All right, then…
The Basics of Faerie Magic in Eva’s World
All Faeries are born with magical abilities, and their magic originates from within their bodies. As a result, Faeries believe the soul is the origin of their magic. Also, the act of casting spells or other forms of magic is physical as well as psychological. Faeries must first visualize the spell they wish to perform. Then, they must speak the appropriate words in their language to create the spell while moving their spell-hand / spell-arm to release the magic. If a spell is difficult, the spell-caster may have to repeat the words or phrase several times before the spell will work.
While all Faeries can perform magic, each is born with varying degrees of magical skills. Some Faeries can master the most powerful spells and create new ones. Others can only do the basics. It’s sort of like how we have different natural strengths and talents. Some of us are good dancers or engaging public speakers; others trip over their own feet, or stammer and get flustered in front of a crowd.
One of two questions I often ask when reading fantasy is, “Does a magician or spell-caster feel any physical sensations when they perform magic?” Unless I’m missing something, much of the fantasy novels I’ve read skip this idea altogether. Sure, it may not affect the plot – but wouldn’t it help make the magic system seem more realistic and add to the reader’s overall experience? My answer: Yes! So, in the WIP, I’m including (when appropriate) brief physical sensations when Eva performs magic, from tingling in her hands and arms during minor spells, to a swell of adrenaline through her body during more powerful spells.
Examples of Faerie Magic and Spells
I didn’t want to make you wait too long to give you the good stuff. 😉 Here are uses and specific spells from the Faeries’ magic system that appear in the WIP:
- Self-Defense / Protection: Faerie magic can be used to protect oneself or others in the spell-caster’s immediate area. Examples from the book include the split-second shield spell (deflects objects or blocks an advancing opponent) and an earth eruption spell (aimed at the ground in front of an opponent, then explodes like a geyser to throw the opponent off his/her feet).
- Play / Entertainment: Faeries use magic to entertain guests of other races, especially children. They can create illuminations by casting the appropriate spell(s) into a fire and – BOOM! Up in the air they go! A number of Faerie games also involve magic. For example, during fanesiela (a cross between tag and hide-and-seek), the seeker tags any players he/she finds in hiding with a “dart” of magic.
- Spying / Espionage: Want to be invisible? Or silence your footsteps so they can’t be heard? Or talk to your co-horts without being overheard? You can do all this if you’re a Faerie in Eva’s world. All three spells last for about 1 hour, though – so be quick!
- “Floating Candlelight”: This is similar to the wand-lighting Lumos from the Harry Potter series. Faeries can cast a faint sphere of light that floats above their heads and helps illuminate a darkened area for 1 hour. Eva uses this spell twice during the WIP: once when she’s looking for something in her bedroom, and again when she’s visiting a library in the middle of the night.
Faeries also have some cultural uses for their magic:
- Flight: In Eva’s world, Faeries are the size of human beings. In other words, as tall as you and me. Thus, even though Faeries have wings, their magic contributes to their ability to hover, fly, and race through the air faster than most birds.
- Story-Spinning / Truth-Telling: Faeries can story-spin with their magic. They can cast a cloud-like circle that shows images of the story while the spell-caster tells it. Story-spinning works best, however, when the caster is telling the truth. If the story-spinner’s magic senses that certain parts are inaccurate or fabricated, the cloud-shaped image will waver or appear muddy. So, in a way, story-spinning is a sort of ancient “lie detector test” for Faeries.
- “Secrecy Ink”: Think of this as invisible ink triggered by magic. The Faeries invented it centuries before the WIP begins so the royal family and travelling diplomats could correspond without worrying that enemies could intercept and translate their letters. And how does a recipient read the “invisible ink”? By throwing the letter into a fire! The magic-infused ink protects the parchment from completely burning.
- Memorial Services: When a Faerie dies, their magic remains inside their body. Thus, their loved ones must perform a ritual known as “deliverance” to send what’s left of the deceased’s powers into the sky. They stand in a circle around the deceased, hold hands, look down at the ground, and sing a song that’s essentially a permanent spell. By the end of the song, the magic – and the deceased’s body – disappears. Faeries have 7 days to complete this ritual, or else… well, check out the section titled “The Bhadurak” in this Chronicle to learn what happens if they don’t.
Rules and Limits to the Faeries’ Magic
I’m a firm believer that magic systems should have rules and limits. All-powerful systems allow the characters – and therefore the writer – to get away with just about anything. That’s too easy, and not believable enough. So, here are some of the “can’ts” I’ve employed in the Faeries’ magic system:
- Shape-Shifting: Faeries can’t change form or alter their own appearance or the appearances of other living beings, animals, or inanimate objects. No shape-shifting or warping happening here.
- Manipulation of Free Will: Faeries can’t manipulate the free will of animals, other Faeries, or people of other races. In other words, they can’t force others to think, move, or act a certain way.
- Everyday Tasks: A Faerie’s magic doesn’t help them perform simple or everyday tasks that they’re physically capable of performing (eating, hunting, moving objects, etc.).
- Injury and Bodily Harm: Faeries can’t draw blood or intentionally injure others using magic. The one exception to this is a permanent curse known as maronaava (see “Curses and Other Outlawed Spells” below).
- Healing: Faeries can’t use their magic to heal wounds and broken bones or treat illness.
- Limits on Existing Spells: Individual Faerie spells have their limitations. Most are temporary and wear off after a certain amount of time. Also, the spying / espionage spells listed earlier can still be detected by other Faeries. For example, if Eva makes herself invisible, other Faeries can still see her.
Unethical Spells (a.k.a. Dark Magic) and Cultural Repercussions
Think of magic as a type of power. Aren’t all forms of power abused at one point or another? I imagine that Eva’s world has had its share of Faeries who have used magic with ill intentions or ambitions. That led me to wonder how Faeries could abuse their magic, and what kinds of spells – or curses – could be considered “dark magic” (i.e., unethical or immoral uses of magic). Here’s what I came up with for possible uses of dark magic that obey the rules and limits listed above:
- Nature: Manipulating elements of nature (weather, water, fire, etc.) to work outside their usual functions. Faeries practice a nature-based spirituality, so this kind of magic is considered a show of disrespect.
- Magical Interference: Interfering with another Faerie’s magic, such as casting a spell to prematurely end the other’s invisibility, “floating candlelight,” etc. The only acceptable instances are when a Faerie is defending herself or another person from the other Faerie’s magic.
- Threats or Haunts Created by Magic: In one example from Faerie history, the Faerie King was so enraged by a cultural misunderstanding with the Mountain Folk that he cast a curse in one area of the Mountain Folk’s mining tunnels. The curse kicks up a deadly storm of high winds and rock debris when someone enters the affected section of tunnels; and since its inception, the curse has disrupted one of the Mountain Folk’s most profitable and relied-upon industries.
- Collaboration Spells: Also known as yeketsien, these spells allow Faeries to share magic and work on a spell together. While a yeketsia has its advantages, the spell has been banned due to past abuses within the Faerie race and wariness expressed by other races on the perils of magical collaborations. Oddly enough, the act of “deliverance” discussed earlier is the only form of yeketsia accepted by Fae law, due to the consequences of not sending a deceased Faerie’s magic into the sky. Hmmmmm…
- Soul-Killing Curse: Finally, there’s the soul-killing curse (maronaava), a permanent, violent curse that rids a living Faerie’s body of magic. Since Faeries believe their magic originates in the soul, the curse must strike the Faerie’s chest, where their soul – and their heart – exists. The force of the curse not only destroys the soul, but essentially causes a fatal heart attack. So, yes, the maronaava curse can kill a Faerie.
Because dark magic is considered an abuse of power, the Faeries’ royal family has placed cultural restrictions on Faerie magic over time. For example, all of the curses and unethical spells listed above are forbidden by Faerie law. This has also taught the general Faerie population to be mindful – even fearful – of their powers, and discouraged them from creating new spells regardless of whether they obey the rules and limits of their system.
Which brings me to one of my favorite aspects of the Faeries’ magic system: Their current cultural mindset on their powers becomes a source of conflict in the WIP. As the story goes on, Eva grows increasingly willing to test the culturally accepted limits of her powers for both good and ill reasons. She then faces an uphill battle to convince her more traditionally minded fellow Councilors that breaking the rules is sometimes the only way to reach a goal, even if your intentions are good.
Magic’s Effects on the Spellcasters
Remember how the “physical sensations” question is one of two I often ask when I read fantasy? Here’s the second question: “How does magic affect the magicians or spellcasters who use it?” I’m curious to know what physical limits such powers place on the users. Does it tire them out? Do they need to rest or let their powers regenerate after a particularly powerful spell?
As important as this aspect of magic may be, few fantasy stories address it. Even in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, there’s no discussion about magic’s effects on its casters. So, I decided to cover it in my WIP, and here’s how.
In Eva’s world, if a Faerie isn’t careful with their powers, they can expend so much energy that they temporarily “spend” or empty themselves of magic. Once spent, a Faerie is unable to perform magic or fly for several weeks. They must rest and eat a special diet to help their magic regenerate. And if Faeries are temporarily spent of magic, it leaves them vulnerable – even defenseless – in situations where they’d normally call upon their powers.
Interested in reading more about how to create magic systems? Here are some starting points:
- Margaret Weis and Robert Krammes guest-blog at Not Yet Read last month about creating believable magic systems with drawbacks and limits.
- Philip Martin shares seven tips at Writing-World.com on crafting an effective, creative magic system for your story.
- Also at Writing-World.com, Lital Taylor explores the importance of defining the sources, effects, and costs of magic in fantasy.
- Io9 compiled a massive chart that compares magic systems from various fantasy novels and series.
- Akitso’s Chimney also features a number of articles on magic systems.
What do you think of the Faeries’ magic system? What aspects of it do you think work? Do you see any glitches, contradictions, or other things I may have overlooked? If so, please let me know by commenting on this article. I want this system to be as believable as possible, and any help would truly be welcome and appreciated. It’s better to catch problems now while I’m still in the drafting stage than later on.
Next Chronicle: Sometime in January. I’ll be busy with holiday preparations and get-togethers through year’s end – and I’m also taking time off from my day job to work on the book (yay!). So, the next Chronicle could celebrate one milestone (105k) or two (105k and 110k) depending on how much progress I make.