How to Write a Successful Magic System, Part 2
It's time for another look at magic systems! In last week’s post, I discussed the importance of a well-researched and thought-out magic system, provided prompts to get you started, and gave a few examples of successful executions. Today we're taking a look at a few more worlds and supernatural abilities, but these aren't actually magic (or are they?).
I promise, this post isn't as lengthy as the previous one.
Grisha are humans who practice the Small Science, or the ability to manipulate the laws of nature. In Ravka, they comprise the entirety of the Second Army. Though it's uncertain how they inherit powers, most abilities manifest in youth. Grisha powers fall into three main categories:
Corporalki, the Order of the Living and the Dead, manipulate the human body. Heartrenders cause harm by stopping hearts or preventing breath. Healers' abilities are self-explanatory. Tailors can alter a person's appearance.
Etheralki, the Order of Summoners, manipulate the natural elements. They include Squallers (air), Inferni (fire), and Tidemakers (water).
Materialki, the Order of Fabrikators, work with composite materials. Durasts focus on solids, like glass and metal, while Alkemi specialize in explosives and poisons.
Because Grisha can only manipulate nature and not produce anything, they do not consider their abilities to be magic. Yet not everyone subscribes to this belief, and though Grisha are born worldwide, not all are as welcoming to them as Ravka. Grisha are hunted by the Fjerdan drüskelle (witch hunters), enslaved and sold by the Kerch, and experimented upon by the Shu Han.
Though many try to hide their powers for the sake of safety, not using their abilities for long periods causes a Grisha's power to atrophy. By using their gifts, they are visibly healthier and stronger.
The two most prominent Grisha are the Darkling and Alina Starkov, the Shadow Summoner and Sun Summoner who manipulate darkness and light. Their powers are rarest and most important to the story.
If you like contemporary stories with a huge helping of magic and a splash of romance and history, Noel's cooked up something you're sure to enjoy. The main character, Ever, moves to Southern California after a horrific accident kills her family—and leaves her with the gift of sight. Ever can now see auras, hear thoughts, and receive visions whenever she makes physical contact with another. She doesn't understand any of it until she meets Damen, who is blissfully auraless and quiet.
Throughout the series, Damen teaches Ever about Eastern and New Age magic, including energy, meditation, intention, charkas, reincarnation, Summerland, the akashic records, alchemy, and more. She also learns to perform rituals that are similar to European Pagan magic.
While the events of this series are certainly magical, it's argued that because it's all energy-based and anyone could theoretically learn to harness these abilities, it's not actually magic. I'm not going to try to convince anyone either way.
Lunars can manipulate bioelectricity, allowing them to put thoughts into heads and create glamours. This ability is the result of the founder of Luna being exposed to gamma rays, and has been passed down through the generations. Though Earthens consider it magic, it is not.
The strength of the gift varies between Lunars, and those with more power are seen as superior. Naturally, Queen Levana is the most powerful. Second to her are the thaumaturges who lead her armies. Guards are chosen for their lack of power, as they can be controlled. Shells are those with an immunity to the manipulation and are considered a "threat" to the oppressive Lunar kingdom.
This gift helped shape Lunar society: women can look however they choose and children get what they want by abusing their power. As a result, Lunar society tends toward entitlement, superficiality, vanity, and supremacy.
But surely not everyone in society is a pompous manipulator, right? Right. Yet as we see with one character (and in many magic systems in general), repressing one's power comes at a cost: slowly losing your mind.
Luckily (and naturally), this power has limits. Glamours can be exposed with mirrors and certain technologies, and cannot affect androids, while a bioelectricity security system protects a person from manipulation.
Like the magic systems discussed in our last post, the authors of these series have been careful to answer the important questions:
what kind(s) of magic are used
who has access to magic
how does it work
where does it come from
what effect does it have on the characters and setting (and vice versa)
when can it be used
what are the consequences and limitations
Even if the abilities your characters have aren't technically magic, the same questions should be asked and answered in order to make it believable. Without approaching these questions, it's likely you'll have a big ol' hole in your plot and world building. Best to avoid that if possible, right?
That's all for now, folks. Which of these magic systems is most intriguing to you? Is there a series you think belongs on the list? Would you be interested in us diving into magic systems that flopped? Let me know in the comments below, or on social media! As always, you can find us haunting bookstagram and Twitter.