Magic is a part of any fantasy story providing that fantasy story has magic in it. As such a large topic I wanted to share my thoughts on magic and see what others had to share. In my opinion there are two main types of magic: Hard magic and free magic. I was originally going to categorize them as strict and floofy but floofy isn’t a word as my spell check keeps reminding me.
Let’s talk about “Hard Magic” first. Hard magic adheres to a specific set of rules. For example the “Ignis” spell will summon fire(Cause it’s gotta be latin). There’s not really much up to interpretation with hard magic and that’s okay. The advantages here are pretty clear. You can explain the magic user’s spells ahead of time so the reader knows exactly what they’re capable of. This means, when done well, the reader will never feel you’re just pulling out powers as the plot demands it. If you’re as self conscious as I then it’s relieving to think about.
Another good advantage to the hard magic system is what I like to call fan bonuses. Fans of your story will know that the “Ignis” spell will summon fire and feel connected through that. It’s almost like adding memes to your stories that your readers can share while normies scratch their heads in confusion.
One final idea with hard magic is something I’ve wanted to employ but haven’t yet, and it actually ties in with world building. If saying “Ignis” and waving your arms around like a madman in a specific way summons fire, who discovered it? How was that discovered? Most readers probably won’t think about this stuff unless you bring it up, so consider it an optional plot point to pursue when using a hard magic system.
One of the major negatives with hard magic is there’s no real mystery. That’s where free magic comes in. Sometimes weird, ‘floaty’ magic is the way to go. A lot of people berate the idea of free magic. One of my English teachers in High School flat out said fantasy is a bad genre as you can just use magic to negate any conflict.(He was a real inspiration to me as an aspiring fantasy writer). Despite this it’s my belief that free magic can be used well.
I don’t really have much experience using free magic in my stories(I’m a hard kind of guy), but I feel it’s best used in an overarching way. Instead of a tool, it just is. For example a gateway to another world that could open anywhere at anytime for anyone.(I’m talking about you Narnia).
One idea to prevent lack of conflict is to prevent characters from ‘using’ free magic as they do hard magic, instead it’s just a supernatural force that may be driven by some divine god or just exist mysteriously. You can also have the character manipulate the already existing force with varying results. One common example that comes to mind is the idea of fate. Sometimes you can weave your fate, other times it’s locked in place. The conflict then arises from the character needing to learn how and why they can manipulate this force to do one thing, but not something else(like save a loved one). You actually see this conflict a lot in Science Fiction with time travel.
When it comes to free magic I personally enjoy the idea of a character going almost mad trying to figure this system out. Anytime it starts to make sense something else random happens until the character finally concedes that it’s beyond their comprehension and they’re playing with fire possibly losing themselves pursuing a goal that could be(or should be) impossible.
On one final note: You don’t have to limit yourself to just one type of magic in your story. You can use both or even a combination of the two. Never limit yourself to fit into predetermined molds. Break the mold, expand your imagination. I believe that every story idea can be done well once it’s properly refined.
Anyway, I’ve shared my thoughts now share your own!