World Building: Caster Magic

worldbuilding: magicCaster magic is by far the most common form of magic in fantasy writing. Throughout this post I am going to give you ideas, and a things you need to solidify when creating a magic system that is hinged by the people who use it.

The first thing, which was detailed in my last post “World Building: Magic, getting started” is to decide who uses the magic. Everyone? A select few? A chosen one? In Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, only women can use magic, while men go insane when they harness it. There are two major factors in developing caster magic;

  • How is it used?

  • The spells

The how needs to be answered first and foremost. How do wizards or witches; warlocks or liches utilize the magic in your world? Beneath is a list of different method that can, and have been used in fantasy.

  • Vocal – Power words, incantations. If your spells need to be vocalised you also need to actually write what needs to be said. Tips for writing incantations:

    • Maintain a theme within incantations. Take Rowling’s Harry Potter as an example. The spells have a whimsical, Latin feel to them.

    • Consider having the incantation imply the effect of the magic – Lumos [Harry Potter] illuminates their wands. Luminous means lit.

  • Tool – Do your characters require a item to utilise magic? Be it a wand, a book, some other item of power [see Item Magic].

  • Ingredients – Do the spells require any special ingredients. Powders, leaves.

  • Gestures – This is a tricky one to write. If you put in a complex list of hand gestures, people will lose track of what the characters are actually doing.

    • KISS it [Keep it Simple Stupid]

    • Use simple gestures

    • Use blanket terms e.g. Peter’s hands moved all about in all directions, before flame sprung from his finger tips.

Creating spells is fun, and to be perfectly honest I would recommend you write them into your story as necessary. Creating a list of spells is a great way to better understand your magic system, though. But it should act as more of a guide to creating spells as you write, as opposed to an end-all list of what a magician can or can’t do.

  • Purpose of the Spell – What does it do? Why would you use it?

  • Who can use it – Does your character need to be a skilled mage to use this spell? Or will a young, new wizard be able to use it?

  • Gesture(s) or incantation or tool required.

  • Ingredients (if any)

These are just a few of the things one needs to consider when developing caster magic. It is a massively complex process but this is a good starting point. Once the initial set of articles are up, I will be going more in depth into each element of caster magic (eg. Ingredients, tools, etc).

Hopefully you learnt something that you can apply to your own world building exercises.  Is there anything you would add?

Thanks a lot for reading,

Cortez

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13 thoughts on “World Building: Caster Magic”

    1. Thank you! Once you’ve got a basic idea of how magic in your world works. I find the best way to come up with spells is to simply write. When you come upon a place in the story that fits using magic, invent a spell that is applicable. As long as you have a good idea of what can and can’t be done with magic, spells you invent on the fly will maintain continuity.

  1. Always good to remember these things. I find experiencing other magic systems then finding what direction it could have gone is an interesting way to go as well… Case in point, in Avatar the Last Airbender (a fantastic series btw), any Air bender would demolition a fire bender in seconds… Why? B/c fire can’t exist without air. It’s a simple thought but in seconds the entire universe changes.

    1. It’s funny you say that; I was considering writing an article about the “rock, paper, scissors” system. It’s used in pokemon, world of warcraft, and while I haven’t seen the Last Airbender myself, it sounds like that’s method they use.

      It’s a good way of giving characters a weakness, out of their control. As well as the “underdog” effect. If your protagonist might be the best water wizard in the world but they’ll run into trouble if they bump into a “sponge wizard”.

      I’m so funny :P.

  2. Excellent advice! My characters use ‘magic’ – and I use the ‘ ‘ because in my mind at least, it’s not traditional magic with spells, or wands, but a side-step from that. But still, not normal behaviour for everyday folk. I’m still ironing out a little of the whys and wherefores – but i have the basics sorted out. Funnily, the editing process is proving to be far more enjoyable than I thought it would be, not least because I can really shine a light in my characters’ eyes and ask them the questions. If they don’t come up with plausible answers, then it’s rubbish bin time for the action, the scene or even the character themselves. Including the ‘magic’!

    1. Cool, there are pitfalls with making completely new magics, but there’s really nothing better than reading fantasy with a really cool, really unique form of magic.

      I am the same and take great joy in editing a rough draft. It’s like the building is complete and it’s time to add the interior. When do you hope to have your WIP finished?

        1. yeah, good option… actually… maybe not. I did the same with my WIP, completed the first edit about six weeks ago and have barely touched it. Be careful! haha.

          By the way, I just realised this morning that your avatar is a picture of shoes… I always thought it was a little black cat haha. Now that I see what it actually is, I can’t comprehend how I saw a cat.

          1. Well, I left the first draft for about a year before I started the first edit (you know, life got in the way!), so I know what you mean.
            As for the cat – how clever of you! I’m going to take another look myself now and see what I can see 🙂

          2. Well, I left the first draft for about a year before I started the first edit (you know, life got in the way!), so I know what you mean.
            As for the cat – how clever of you! I’m going to take another look myself now and see what I can see 🙂

  3. Great write-up! I rarely think about this sort of thing, to be honest, but I’ve had an idea bubbling in my brain recently that will need a magic system to go along with it.

    One thing that may also be worth considering is the effect that using magic has on the caster. It’s possible that there might be some mental or physical price of using any particular spell or type of spell. To give just one example, the Dark Side in Star Wars tends to turn its wielders into cackling loons if used repeatedly.

    1. Yeah most definitely. “Mana pools” are always something to consider. After all, if the characters can cast the strongest spell again and again and again and again, it will make for pretty bland reading.

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