Writing Excuses Episode 15: Costs and Ramifications of Magic

This week the Writing Excuses team discusses magic again, this time focusing on the cost of magic. Whether or not your magic system has internally-consistent rules your readers can follow (per Sanderson’s First Law and last week’s ‘cast) you need to consider the ramifications of using magic in the worlds you create. Or at least, that’s what we think. Have a listen and find out why.

Also, this week Howard attempts to create “Tayler’s First Law” using a donkey. It can’t have gone too well, since by the end of the podcast he’s willing to give the donkey away.

This week from our sponsor, Tor: Jack: Secret Histories , by F. Paul Wilson


60 thoughts on “Writing Excuses Episode 15: Costs and Ramifications of Magic”

  1. Late listening to this, but I want to say that I think the focus on limitations and ramifications excellent. However, I’ve found the word “cost” to ultimately be counterproductive because “cost” often leads people to think ONLY of magics where you trade x thing for y power. Blood, memories, vitality, years of life, etc. Magics that use fuel (cost things) are all great, but there are so many magics where there isn’t any cost.

    For example, Heroes shows a lot of magic without cost. What does it cost Hiro to time travel? Nothing. It’s free. What about the painter? He can do it at will. The guy who goes invisible. The cheerleader who regenerates. Same with all the other characters there. What about the magic in Elantris? It costs nothing to draw the runes. What was consumed? Nothing. What about Orson Card’s Hatrack world? Alvin can doodlebug until doomsday. There’s no fuel required.

    Some may say it’s semantics, but it’s not. It affects the paths taken in the invention of the magic. Don’t trust me, do a group magic brainstorm session where you ask this question and then another where you ask about limitations instead.

    I’ve found that it’s more helpful to ask these questions.

    –What is a cool power?
    –What are the limitations to it? (Here we can use costs or MANY other types of limitations like genetics/bloodlines, intelligence, sources, morals, geography, times, etc.)
    –What are the ramifications and conflicts of using it?

  2. One hint which worked perfectly for me so far: When you are finished developing your magic system, write it down as a concept paper, go to your local RPG circle and give it to the most notorious powergamer/munchkin. These guys are geniuses in breaking magic systems to create omnipotent characters.

    So even if your magic system doesn’t fail catastrophically you can still get some nice pointers on how your protagonists/villains in the story could exploit magic to give them an edge.

    As mentioned in episode 14 – this is actually the most fun part: Establishing a ruleset the reader can relate to and then surprise him by an application he hadn’t considered yet.

  3. one thing i thought of to do with my magic system was to make it a common factor in the book. If everyone has magic than its not really special anymore. This allowed my world to be more developed than it would have been otherwise AND give my characters all some fun talent.

  4. I’m late to the party, but im catching up!:P This chapter really helped me with a story im writing. At the start of my notes it was just they used their own magical, then physical energy, and if they used to much they died. Now i’ve kept that, but it also bleeds energy from around you. So things start to dull, rot e.t.c.. The more magic you use the worse the affects. Okay, bit of a tangent, but just to say thanks for writing excusesXD

  5. The first ‘cost of magic’ that popped into my head when listening to this was not ‘makes you tired’ or anything like that. It was actually… the Hemalurgic spikes from the Mistborn trilogy. (The fact that the author is the one talking probably helped steer my thoughts in that direction, but still.)

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