Someone once said to me: “Writing fantasy isn’t work. It isn’t real writing. You make everything up. There’s no rules, no research. If you write yourself into a corner just cast a spell and your problem’s solved. It’s magic. It doesn’t have to make sense.”
Thankfully, I knew better. Yes, you get to make stuff up, but you won’t sweep up anyone into the world you created if it isn’t believable. That takes research and rules—yes, you get to make some of those up, too. But your magic has to make sense. And that takes work.
When I was a teenager, the New Age movement was getting a lot of attention. I never knew anyone that was a part of it. There weren’t many crystal healers in the 80’s in the Kansas town where I grew up, at least few that would admit to it. Being a fan of anything with a supernatural flare and having an interest in rocks and minerals, I found it all very interesting. Many years later, when The Crown of Stones was born (inspired by a chunk of amethyst that sat on my bookshelf and the desire to create an atypical character—one who was made powerless by magic) I returned to my own roots to create the roots of my magic system.
I spent a good deal of time researching and taking notes on spiritualism, holistic health, crystal healing, astral projection, aura readings, and the like. At that time, my working title was The Amethyst Crown. As I learned more about the different gemstones and their properties, inspiration snuck in and my story idea expanded. Suddenly, I had multiple stones in my crown. Then I had multiple types of magic. It was time to trim the roots.
There are many different practices that can serve as a guide for inspiration. Wicca magic is nature-based. It involves invoking the five elements and ritual altars and tools. Shamanism involves the spirit world and reaching a state of ‘religious ecstasy’. Hoodoo, along with other spiritual and folk medicine, makes use of charms and potions often made with herbs and minerals. Crystal healing and magic draws on the energy generated by what have been called ‘natural batteries.’
Wanting to develop my own, unique system, I took snippets from multiple practices and beliefs (sticking with the ones I personally found most interesting) and blended them until I had an origin that fit with my story. I also had nine different types of Shinree magic users and thousands of different gemstones and minerals to make use of. The possibility for spells was endless. But I didn’t need to know what every stone would do ahead of time. I just needed to get down the basics and create the rest as the story evolved. Some of the spells would be positive, but I knew a lot of the magic worked by my characters would not be. So I took my research and twisted it.
In crystal healing, emerald can be used to alleviate hidden fears. A healer in The Crown of Stones might use it for that, but a soldier would manifest those fears and use them as a weapon against the enemy. Obsidian is said to shield a wearer against negative energy. My protagonist, Ian Troy, can use the energy, or aura, of the obsidian to cast a protective barrier that shields him from attack. The black stone is also known for stirring negative emotions and bringing them to the surface. As a soldier, a good deal of Ian’s magic is fueled by his aggression and emotions which, considering his circumstances, tend to be on the negative side.
Instead of entering a state of ‘religious ecstasy’ to practice magic as the shamans do, a measure of that comes to the Shinree while they are casting, and the bulk of it after as their reward.
The first book in The Crown of Stones trilogy, Magic-Price is set five hundred years after the fall of the Shinree Empire. Reduced to a slave race, Ian’s people have no society of their own. Much of their culture has been buried and forgotten. Throughout the story, as Ian learns about his magic so does the reader. In the second book, Magic-Scars, as Ian uncovers the lost practices of the ancient Shinree, I pull in some of the other aspects of my original research, including ceremonies and ritual tools. I will also bring a bit of alchemy into the mix in the form of potions and brews not known to the modern Shinree.
Building a foundation is necessary when creating a magic system. But it’s a launching point. You still need to make your magic believable. To do that, it has to make sense. In Making Magic part two, I’ll talk about the importance of setting rules for your magic system and share the ones I created for The Crown of Stones.