Grace Cavanaugh ~ Staff Writer
Magic rules are not the most fun to puzzle your way through, but they are incredibly necessary to any story that has characters who use magic. A majority of the time, magic rules will be the same or similar from story to story.
The magic rules in most of my stories are similar because they are all set in the same place. They change from race to race but otherwise follow the same basic rules.
The first basic rule that everyone has to have is that magic comes from somewhere. It is a rule of energy: it cannot be created or destroyed. Magic needs to have a source and there needs to be balance. One of my favorite books, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, has a checks-and-balance system where pain creates magic. There are plenty of other stories where the pain was used for magic, so it is certainly a popular mechanic, maybe even too popular. You want to make your story stand out with something new, thrilling.
For one of my stories, the characters use magic through the means of the arts. Dancing, singing, and painting all have various ways to manipulate and control magic. I have been tweaking these magic rules since I came up with the idea in high school, and they still need fine-tuning.
Another basic rule that writers must have is how magic is used. Are there wands? Jewelry? Hand motions and specific words? Carry On by Rainbow Rowell used common sayings from around the world as spells, like “up, up, and away” being a flying spell. The magic was only as powerful as the phrase, though, and the quicker the phrase went out of use, the weaker the magic.
Magic strength must also be outlined. Can people do anything with magic? Are there any parameters at all? If there are not, then the story is weakened. If your characters can just wave their hand and complete any task, what is the point of the story?
There also has to be consequences set up so that the characters do not get to the point where power is ultimate. Characters that have ultimate power are boring. A sense of danger if/when a character gets too powerful always spices up a story. What happens if that magic gets out of control?
There is a theme throughout lots of books with magic that magic is like fire: a semi-living thing. It has a mind of its own and, left unattended, can wreak some havoc. The author needs to define rules and guidelines for magic so that it does not cause problems with the story and the plot. Tie it in with worldbuilding, make a game of it, but do not neglect the rules of magic.