Welcome to Monica’s Magic Monday Dispatches where I dive into magic, magic systems, and worldbuilding! Behold, the first dispatch.
What is magic, anyway? According to the Oxford Dictionary, it’s “the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces” (1). That power, then, is wielded by a practitioner–witch, wizard, sorcerer, mage, etc.–to affect themselves, other people, or the organic and inorganic in their environment.
Science, on the other hand, is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment” (2).
Magic and science have been entwined for millennia because the universal system–the scientific method–wasn’t commonly applied to study, observe, experiment, and record findings until the late 19th century. This proven method is the best way to separate magic from science in our world and is still being used today. There’s a longer history of the scientific method and its deployment, spanning multiple countries and centuries, so if your interest is piqued? This is a fun rabbit hole to fall into… *evil grin*
The process of separating magic from science is recent (within the past 150 years or so) and slow; many scientists are still dealing with this today. Despite this, its impact cannot be overstated. The term pseudo-science, “a collection of beliefs or practices mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method” (3), was popularized as a result of this process. Other words, like witch, have since been rebranded as well. More on terms in a future post!
Questions for Worldbuilding
Applying our basic definition of magic to a fantasy setting, it’s clear you’ll need three components to form a magic system: source of mysterious power, practitioner(s), and one or more vehicles (such as a wand, potion, rune, spell, etc.) to access, store, and wield that power.
With this in mind, here’s twenty basic questions to help you worldbuild and troubleshoot different areas. Please keep in mind your answers are to help you brainstorm the components of a magical system and will spawn other worldbuilding elements. Ultimately, what the reader interprets about magic in your story isn’t linked to your notes, it’s connected to your characters. Before you can figure out how your characters view and treat magic, though, it’s helpful to understand what it means to you.
1) What is the source of your world’s power? Is it unlimited or finite?
2) What effects does your power have on your world?
3) Who has access to that power?
4) Who has the ability to use that power?
5) Can that power be stored? If so, how long does it last?
6) Is your magical source perishable or no?
7) If magic can be stored, how are those objects distributed?
8) Are there any side effects or chance of failure?
9) How is magic taught?
10) How does society view magic? Its practitioners?
11) Is there more than one source of power?
12) Is there more than one way to access that power?
13) What “in universe” nomenclature will you use to describe your practitioners?
14) Is gender a factor? Why or why not?
15) Must a practitioner be literate to perform magic?
16) Is there a moral attribute (good versus evil) to that power?
17) How does faith and religion intersect with its use? Study?
18) Does your world have scientific disciplines? If so, how are they impacted by the presence of magic?
19) Is disability a factor for your practitioners? If so, why?
20) Does class affect the use and distribution of magic? If so, how? Why?
Hope you have fun with this exercise. Until next Monday, my lovelies. Have a magical week!