Developing A Magic System by Tara Sim



Photo credit: chris.alcoran on Flickr

You have decided to write a fantasy novel. (Cue fanfare and confetti). The first stage is always excitement, a mad rush of desire to paint a world that you can call your own, to make up the rules and the people and the culture and the magic and the—



Everything comes to a screeching halt. You have a shakily-drawn world map and your main character’s name and eye color, but you have no idea what sort of magic runs rampant in this world. Or if you do, you don’t know how to sculpt it into something that fits within the plot or the world.

Whenever I need to develop a magic system, whether it’s for an alternate historical world or a secondary world, I start with basic questions and then dig a deeper foundation as I go. So when you brainstorm, outline, or draft, ask yourself these important questions:

  1. What sort of magic are you dealing with? When I came up with the idea for Timekeeper, I knew right away that I was dealing with time magic. Will your magic hold one form, or many? How many different elements/abilities are there?
  1. Does everyone have this ability, or only some people?

– Who?

– Why?

– Is it genetic or at random?

  1. Are there any leading organization within these magical circles, or is it a free-for-all?
  1. Do people need totems, icons, potions, or trinkets to perform magic, or is it more innate?
  1. What is the origin of these magical abilities?
  1. What are the effects on society? Is magic shunned or embraced or revered? How do rulers/a government factor into it?
  1. How much do non-magical people understand about magic? Or is it like Harry Potter and the non-magical people have very little idea that magic exists?
  1. Are there any famous figureheads? Examples in history? Iconic people that your characters look up to/spite?

When you ask yourself these questions, you’ll be able to build a solid foundation on which to build your magical world.

Tara Sim is a YA author found in the wilds of the Bay Area, California. When she’s not writing about magic, clocks, and boys, she drinks tea, wrangles cats, and sings opera.  To find out more about her and her books, check out her website: Follow her on Twitter: @EachStarAWorld.


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