14.11: Magic Without Rules

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Margaret, and Howard

When we say “without rules” we’re talking about stories whose magic is not held under logical scrutiny for the reader. There are lots of reasons why you might do this, and in this episode we’ll talk about not just about the why, but also the how.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson and mastered by Alex Jackson


Take a story with rule-based magic. Now have the rules all go wrong, the characters realize they don’t really understand the rules at all.

Bookburners, by Max Gladstone, Mur Lafferty, Margaret Dunlap, Andrea Phillips, Brian Slattery, and Amal el Mohtar

4 thoughts on “14.11: Magic Without Rules”

  1. Amazing episode. Still, pretty surprised you didn’t mention the David Wong’d John dies at the end series. Wich is exactly magic without rules.

  2. Hey guys, your podcast feed is b0rked. I haven’t been able to see any new episodes for three weeks on my phone; they’re only available here on the website.

    Also, quick question for Brandon. At the climax of _The Final Empire_, our hero wins by doing two things that nobody understands until well into the third book. At first glance, this appears to fly directly in the face of Sanderson’s First Law. Was this just written before you’d worked out Sanderson’s Laws of Magics, or is there something more going on there?

    1. Well, not sure what happened, but without updating the app, the three missing episodes showed up yesterday. WX team, whatever it is you did, thank you for doing it!

  3. A handful of Writing Excuses hosts, Brandon, Mary Robinette, Margaret, and Howard, got together to talk about magic without rules, aka soft magic, non-rule-based magic, and other contenders. What happens when the magic doesn’t seem to be constrained by rules, and why would we write a story like that? Rules can make even magic feel mundane, while magic without rules may have more wonder, awe, and even dread in it. Plus, remember to save infodump equity! Read all about it, in the transcript available in the archives and over here:


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