Tag Archives: Magic Systems

17.52: The WXR 2022 Q&A

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

This Q&A session was recorded before a live audience aboard ship at WXR 2022,

Here are some paraphrasings of the questions our attendees asked:

  • How do you make your world feel big without infodumping?
  • How do you balance a sense of progress with an unreliable narrator?
  • How can I make two magic systems work in the same setting when one is underpowered, and the protagonist uses the weaker one?
  • Have you ever based characters on yourself, or on people you know?
  • What does the process of book adaptation look like
  • Do you have any good convention recommendations?
  • What are some methods for determining how much scientific detail you go into?
  • How do you interact with an audience in order to grow it?

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson.


Write out a few questions. What are the things you need the most help on?

Bastille vs. the Evil Librarians, by Brandon Sanderson and Janci Patterson

17.49: Bodies Are Magical

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette, C.L. Polk, Fran Wilde, and Howard Tayler 

Let’s put a stake in the ground here: disabilities do not grant magical powers. And yet that exact trope can be found in multiple genres, across multiple mediums. In this episode we talk about why this happens, and how we might better portray the magical awesomeness found in our bodies.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Daniel Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson.


Everyone is going to be disabled. Look at your cast and decide which disabilities they have (visible, invisible, known, unknown). Make sure none of those are plot points.

Killjoys (on SyFy)

16.49: Magic and Technology: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Fonda Lee, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Howard Tayler

Magic and technology are tools that we, as writers, use to tell interesting stories, and they’re very, very similar tools. In this episode we’ll examine some ways in which both magical and technological elements can be used in our stories.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson


Come up with one speculative element to add to our world. “Children have night vision.” “Dogs can talk.” Come up with as many aspects of the world that would be different from our own as a result and mark one or two that would be the seed for interesting stories.

David Mogo Godhunter, by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

15.45: Worldbuilding Fantasy, with Patrick Rothfuss

Your Hosts: Dan, Mary Robinette, and Howard, with Patrick Rothfuss

Pat joins us for a discussion of worldbuilding, in which we field a couple of challenging questions from readers. Here are the questions!

  • How do you create timeless urban fantasy?
  • How do you create a compelling secondary world fantasy without leaning on a complex magic system?

We ran a bit long with this one, but we have no regrets. Because compelling. And maybe timeless.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Bert Grimm, and mastered by Alex Jackson



Just change one thing, and then follow the permutations.

14.15: Technology

Your Hosts: Brandon, Dan, Howard, and Mahtab

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about magic systems in our worldbuilding. It’s time to talk about  science and technology in that same way. This has been a staple (perhaps the defining staple) of science fiction since before “science fiction” was a word.

At risk of opening the “where do you get your ideas” can of worms, this episode covers a little bit of where we get our ideas, and where you might get—and subsequently develop—some more of yours.

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


Go read Wired (or some other science and technology periodical, whether online or in print)

Feed, by M.T. Anderson

14.10: Magic Systems

Your Hosts: Brandon, Dan, Howard, and Mahtab

Let’s design magic systems! We talk about how we do it, and how the principles of magic system design apply to the science fiction systems we create, and vice-versa.

NOTE: In this episode we’re talking about “hard” magic systems, where there are well-defined rule sets (even if the reader isn’t shown them explicitly.) Next week we’ll talk about “soft” magic.

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


Take a “soft” magic system, and turn it into a “hard” system. Give Gandalf rules

The Third Eye, by Mahtab Narsimhan

Writing Excuses 9.21: Sanderson’s 3rd Law

Brandon has some rules about magic systems — rules he uses as guideposts for his own writing. In his own words, “I name them Sanderson’s Laws partially out of hubris…”

Sanderson’s third law states, in effect, that a thorough exploration of a single magical ability is better than the creation of lots of different abilities–going for depth rather than breadth. And to immediately break that rule, we explore the wider application of this rule in other arenas.

We talk about how we apply this principle–depth rather than breadth–in many aspects of our own work, and then we drill back down (*ahem*) on its application in the creation of magic systems.




A magic system in which digging holes somehowe generates magic, and the depth, breadth, and location determine what kind.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, narrated by Simon Prebble