This is the Transcripts Template

Transcript for Episode 1.15

Writing Excuses Episode 15: Costs and Ramifications of Magic

The quick version: make sure that you consider consequences, ramifications, and limitations of magic in your story. Cost provides conflict between using the magic and paying for it. Consequences and ramifications make the magic a part of the world, not some special white box effect outside of it. And don’t forget the donkey – using magic should be more difficult than letting the donkey do it.

Continued from last week’s discussion of magic

Costs of magic? What do we mean by that?

It can’t be free — or at least it shouldn’t be. When you do something with magic, there should be an equal and opposite reaction. In game systems, you lose points or your manna bar goes down. If it doesn’t, then magic is too easy, it’s not interesting.

Even if we are not explaining, there still must be a cost. How do you do that?

  1. Tolkien did this very well. When Frodo put on the ring, it wore on him, the dark Lord saw him — there were consequences.
  2. The basic purpose of cost, at a very basic level, is for conflict. You create conflict between I can do amazing things but am I willing to live with what happens. When the protagonist has to weigh decisions, that’s cost.

I think that limitations are more interesting than the powers. What it can do is not as interesting as what it can’t do or what stops it from working. Comments or thoughts?

  1. When you build in limitations, it allows the world around the magic system to make sense
  2. when you create light, with a cantrip, all the candle makers in the world have just been put out of business

Taylor’s First Law (coughed up today):

If the energy you are getting from your magic is cheaper than letting the donkey do it, then your medieval economy just fell apart.


(How does your donkey make candles?)
  1. If you break the laws of thermodynamics, then you have a big problem that you have to explain somehow. You need to think about ramifications.

One of the big complaints about fantasy is that it reads like a video game. What can we do in fiction to make ramifications work, to make it feel real? How can we make readers say, “wow, I wish I were . . .”

  1. Start with breaking your world. Look at your system, exploit it to the max until it breaks, and then figure out why it broke.
  2. I think the system can’t be too quantifiable. If people are thinking of numbers and dice, it isn’t there yet.
  3. Defeating a monster can turn you into a monster.
  4. That’s a key point. Fiction can talk about the effect on the character.
  5. We can get inside the character’s perspective, show what’s happening to them, show what using the magic is doing to them.
  6. Ramifications — fiction lets us feel the emotions.

How do you come up with interesting costs? How do you make your magic really zing?

  1. Don’t use the age old ones. Everyone thinks about it makes you tired.
  2. Make your costs personal to the character
  3. have costs tied to the ramifications
  4. do something original

Sanderson’s Second Law (you can have the donkey. No, the donkey is yours, Howard.)

Magic doesn’t happen in a static white box, it happens in the world and you have to consider its effect on everything that’s happening in the world if you want it to feel real.

Final Words

  1. You could combine your rules of magic, put the donkey in a box and call it Schrödinger’s Law.
  2. Schrödinger’s Wizard Donkey? Howard, do you have anything that can top Schrödinger’s Wizard Donkey?
  3. No, but don’t forget the donkey.
  4. Spend a little bit of extra time considering how the magic relates to the other parts of your world building. Take two or three extra steps, looking at what’s different because of the magic in your world. Watch for limitations, they can be a source of great conflicts.

Current Mood: jubilantjubilant
Current Music: Gunpowder & Lead, Miranda Lambert