How to Go About Worldbuilding Magic

The majority of the stories I have written started with an idea about magic (or monsters) that I wanted to explore. This is why worldbuilding magic is one of my favourite steps of worldbuilding.

Obviously worldbuilding magic doesn’t apply to all speculative fiction stories. In fact, it doesn’t even apply to all fantasy stories, but if your story does have magical elements it’s important to explore the many ways magic will impact not just the environmental aspects of the world but the cultural and societal ones as well.

There are so many things you can do with magic. The possibilities are as limitless as your imagination. This is part of the reason it’s so important to ask questions and develop your magic system before beginning to write your story in earnest. Creating rules and boundaries for what the magic of your world can do will help direct your story and provide additional challenges for your characters.

Questions about What Magic Is
  • How does society define magic? Is their definition correct?
  • Where does magic come from? Was it created by the god(s)? Is it drawn from the earth or the elements? Does it come from inside the user?
  • Is there more than one type of magic? If so, are the different types compatible?
  • How common is magic?

Once you have a better idea of what your magic is and where it comes from, you can start to think about who can use that magic and how it can be used. If everyone can use magic, then being a wielder is probably not very remarkable. But if only certain people can use it, then you’ll need some guidelines about who those people are and what makes them different from everybody else.

Questions about Magic Users
  • Who can use magic? Why?
  • How does one learn how to use magic? Is magic use taught or is it intuitive? Is it difficult to learn?
  • Are some people naturally better (or worse) at using magic than others? If so, why? Are there some people who can never use magic? If so, why?
  • Are people born with magical abilities or are they something that can be gained? Can someone lose the ability to use magic? If so, how?
  • How is magic used? Does it involve a verbal spell, a potion, a hand gesture, or something else? Can objects be enchanted? If so, how long does an enchantment last?
  • What does using magic feel like? Is magic affected by the user’s mental or physical state? Is magic affected or impeded by the use of drugs or alcohol?

While it’s great to know what magic can do, it’s also important to define what magic can’t do and what the consequences of using magic are. Pinning down the limitations of your world’s magic system will contribute to the believability of your story. It will also provide another way for you to challenge your characters and create tension.

Questions about the Limitations and Consequences of Magic
  • What can’t magic do?
  • Is there anything that magic can do but that is forbidden? Why is it forbidden, and what happens if someone does it anyway?
  • Can a spell or magical effect be prevented or redirected? If so, how?
  • Can a person run out of magic?
  • What is the cost or consequence of using magic? Does it use up a person’s energy? Can they only do so much before needing to rest? Are there physical or mental drawbacks?
  • When does this consequence take effect? Right after casting, within an hour or a day, randomly throughout their lives?
  • Is there any way to avoid the consequences? If so, how?

Another thing you’ll want to think about while creating your magic system is how society treats magic and magic users, and why. If magic is an accepted part of society, then how has that society developed to embrace magic? On the flip side, if society is wary of magic, how does that wariness present itself?

If your story has many cultures, you may want to address these questions from each different perspective as they won’t necessarily be the same.

How do you develop the magic systems in your writing? And how do you incorporate magic into the rest of your worldbuilding? Let me know in the comments.

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