Fantasy and Magic Systems – Guest Post by Jon Thomason
Today I am lucky to have guest Jon Thomason as part of the blog tour hosted by I Am a Reader, Not a Writer. Jon is the author of Max Xylander and the Island of Zumuruud, “a fast-paced fantasy adventure for all ages. Fans of magic, swordplay, secret agents, and conspiracies set in a modern everyday world will not be able to put the book down. Jon Thomason paints a vivid world of magic right under our noses and delivers rapid-fire action that keeps the pages turning.”
I’ve asked Jon why he chose to write fantasy, and what were his feelings about “magic systems.” His response certainly touches a chord with me. Read on—and stay tuned for the blog tour giveaway!
Hello Readers, my name is Jon Thomason and I’m the author of Max Xylander and the Island of Zumuruud.
I’d like to talk about fantasy writing today. Fantasy is one of the most fulfilling genres for a novelist to write because you are allowed, indeed expected, to really stretch your imagination and that of your readers. Most, but not all, fantasy books involve some use of magic. This is really great fun because even if set in the modern world, like Max, using magic carries the writer somewhere they haven’t been before.
In Max, we get the fun of watching Max (short for Maxine) discover that she can do magic and learn how to control it–with explosive results. As readers, we love stories that carry us away, and especially those where we can imagine doing something new.
You might say that this is all obvious. Indeed. But what might not be is why fantasy writers all come up with some “magic system,” or perhaps seemingly arbitrary rules for how “their” magic works. In my opinion, it’s poorly written fantasy that changes the rules or introduces new ones as plot devices midway or later through the book. It’s jarring and can make you drop your “suspension of disbelief.” But still, why the systems? The answer lies in how stories, or in other words, book plotting, works.
Let’s look at a very classic example. Most western literature written about genies has them giving the discoverer only three wishes. The genie is essentially infinitely powerful (usually a no-no), but the system is that only three, carefully worded, wishes are allowed. The bound on the wishes is a critical plot device. Otherwise, the power is infinite, and with infinite power, there can be no conflict, and hence, no story.
More fantasy magic systems impose limits on the magician to allow for a story. Again, infinite power equals no story, so we have to avoid that. Many magic systems have the use of magic taking a toll on the magician. Some have casting a spell reducing the lifespan of the caster, while others exhaust the caster to limit the number of successive spells. The magic itself is often far from invincible. The magician may be forced to memorize long spells, whose books may cost a great deal of money or be found only via a difficult quest. The magic itself may be quite limited in effect or may even backfire.
The worst magic systems are when the limits are transparently plot devices and feel arbitrary to the reader. Even worse is when the rules change “conveniently” to enable something specific to happen in the plot.
Most rewarding is when we learn alongside the magician character and feel what it would be like to be doing magic in the character’s place. It’s particularly fun when some method of using the power is learned early on and becomes key to the ultimate conclusion of the story. “Why didn’t I think of that?” (fully realizing that you could have thought of it) is success. Feeling cheated because the a rule of the universe was broken to resolve the story is horrible.
Magic systems need to feel like immutable laws of physics–a new physics that we learn from reading.
Thanks for reading, and I encourage you to read Max Xylander and the Island of Zumuruud. Let me know @jonthomason on Twitter if you like the magic system in Max and if I was able to keep the spirit of my own rules!
Max Xylander and the Island of Zumuruud
Max has anger management issues. But she has a dangerous secret, too. She can make things happen. Like magic. She almost killed a kid and nearly used it on her stuck up older sister. Can she learn to do anything other than blow things up? And is it really possible that a teenage girl is the key to keeping humanity safe?
Philip just got his ring back. He got it taken away for messing with his teacher’s mind to cheat on a test. Now that he has his ring, he thinks he should be able to use his power to make his life better. But people want him to be responsible. But if you could do magic, wouldn’t you use it to escape work?
Aaron wants to be a soldier. Lots of people would try to take over, and he’s determined to stop them. The problem is that there’s this new girl who might be not be on the right side of things. She’s really talented and pretty, but she might be able to destroy everything. Whatever happens, he needs to be world class with his magic sword while figuring it out.
Brynn never gets out. Her grandfather won’t permit it. Her access to the outside world is magazines, so she has unusual ideas about what to wear. She’s dying to travel. And adopt animals. Is she a lonely future cat granny or are her clothes the next fashion craze?
Jon Thomason lives with his family in San Diego, after many years living in the beautiful Seattle area.
He has a successful career in high tech where he’s been fortunate enough to participate in many big-name industry releases. Storytelling permeates everything he does. In the moments when Jon is not helping build the story of the tech world, he can almost always be found working on a project: writing, photography, videography, graphics design, or 3D art.
And he’s always careful to conceal his jinni magic abilities, though perhaps might slip one day and be discovered…