Magic Systems in Fantasy and Science Fiction

So, I just shared an article I posted today! It was a very enthusiastic review/recommendation of S. Kelley Harrell’s Runic Book of Days, which I strongly recommend to baby witches or pagans on the rise in norse shamanism, but ultimately, this is a blog about my progress as novelist and I’d like to discuss my thought process and construction of magic in my fantasy/scifi story. Rune magick has helped me with my confidence as a person, but definitely gave me inspiration as a writer.

Primarily there are two magic systems in this genre: hard and soft. My novel, Spirit Strings: Initiation, actually fixates on these systems because one is praised while the other is considered dangerous and I have my protagonist decide the truth of these magical systems for herself. The use of rune magick in my story, although they aren’t the Elder Futhark (yet? lol), would be considered part of the hard system, I think. Two videos immediately came to mind and I think if you’re reading this as a fantasy writer, you’ll definitely benefit from watching them. A YouTuber known as Hello Future Me made a concise video on the soft and hard magic systems. If you’re trying to figure out what direction you want to take with your magic system, I recommend giving them a listen. He’s quite silly, but I think he explained the systems wonderfully.

He really likes Brandon Sanderson doesn’t he? It’s understandable because these rules within the two magic systems bring a really nice foundation in fantasy world building. Sanderson goes into even more detail on his website, and I’m certainly thinking about checking out his publications on Kindle.

Anyway, conflict, cooperation, and consequence are essential in a story’s plot; if your story has magic, following the Sanderson laws is a good place to start. For my story, I really wanted the use of magic to be a controversial and stressful topic because the ability to wield it lives in everyone and facing the responsibility of using magic can be twisted into either oppression or empowerment. That is commonly seen in fantasy, of course, but I’m striving to go beyond character development. I want a psychological shift in my characters and I want my audience to wonder who’s going to snap, this way, as I reference Sanderson’s first law, my audience’s understanding of magic won’t bring a detrimental effect to the plot whether they want or expect hard magic or soft magic. As an Edgar Allan Poe fan, my knowledge of the supernatural, paranormal, and psychology wasn’t expansive when I was introduced to his work, but I was still allured by his writing because I connected to his commonly used first-person narrative voice. He wanted me to be right beside him while he experienced what terrified him. Audiences understand fear, stress, and other very common human instances. So when it comes to the magic system, yes, it’s important to have those foundational laws and thorough world building, which I’m definitely aiming for, but as I write, I want the magic system to be fueled by strained perceptions. I want the “cost” in hard magic to feel like suffocation. I want the “sense of wonder” in soft magic to reflect falling helplessly into the dark unconscious, the abyss of the psyche.

I want this because maybe you and others have ventured there before. I certainly did while working with rune magick guided by The Runic Book of Days. In my article, I spoke about the springtime, but in my novel series, you’ll get a glimpse of my bittersweet winter. I’m not trying to be edgy; just being honest. I relish in the fact that I trudged through my cold unconscious and survived. I still visit from time to time enthusiastically.

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