“Keep to the Code.”
Jack Sparrow taught us nothing if not the Code of the Pirate Brethren. This is the code by which even the lawless lived and it served them well. The Brethren Court was its own magical gathering.
We are fantasy authors. We write about the mythical and the magical. Authors of other genres believe we are the pirates of the writing world. They believe nothing can force us to stick to the rules. That is true, unless we agree there is a code to follow that makes sense for us. It might serve us well, both as individual authors and together as a gathering of authors, to develop a Code of the Magical Gathering.
(Did you know that a gathering, in addition being “an assembly or meeting, especially a social or festive one or one held for a specific purpose”, is a medieval term for “a collection of pages forming part of a book before binding”? But I digress…)
Sanderson’s Laws of Magic
- Sanderson’s First Law of Magic: An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.
- Sanderson’s Second Law of Magic: Limitations > Powers
- Sanderson’s Third Law of Magic: Expand what you already have before you add something new.
Summed up, Brandon Sanderson’s laws say that you must help your readers understand your magic. Members of your audience can suspend their reality and buy into the world you’ve built to the extent that they understand it. Your magic must also have limits, weaknesses and costs. These are what make the character and story more interesting. Costs will forces him to make real decisions because the use of magic is not free. Weaknesses will make him vulnerable. You also don’t want magic to be the “answer” in every moment of conflict. It needs to be just another tool in your character’s toolbox, along with his wit, experience, and physical weaponry. Finally, do not keep adding more capabilities into the mix if what you have can be expanded or extrapolated. For example, if you have many different races in your world, each one does not need its own magic system, but perhaps instead each race can use a common system differently.
That’s a great start. Let me add two significant additional “laws” to our Code.
AJ’s First Law: Know the magic ‘s origins.
As the author, you should understand the origin of your magic, and how your characters came to possess it, even if your readers never know. You should have the backstory of the magic. It will assist you as you develop their motivations for using magic (or deciding against it) and make a character’s actions fall out naturally.
For example, if magic is simply a genetic trait, like blond hair or pointy ears, then there should be some gene dominance pattern thought out by the author. If magic is the dominant gene, two magic parents can still produce a non-magical child IF they each have a recessive gene. Two non magical parents, though, cannot produce a magical child. So, if a magical child appears from two non-magical parents, then the mother had to have had a child with someone outside of marriage. (This might be a twist you can create later. “Luke, I am your father.”)
If the source of magic is from his parents, the main character might be taught how to use the magic, and understand both its limitations or its costs, without ever having to experience them. He may be bolder for it, because he is confident in her knowledge.
On the other hand, if the magic was something your character discovered, say by falling into a magical pond, then she could keep that source to herself, or share it with her friends or tribe, depending on her personality. She could choose to use it simply to find out what its limits might be, without understanding its costs or the vulnerabilities he might expose in its use.
How would our two magic characters respond to using magic on a friend? They might react differently because of the source of their magic. The boy who was born to magic parents and has been taught magic might feel prepared. The girl who fell into the pool might worry that she would harm her companion.
AJ’s Second Law: There must be consistency in the capabilities of magic from the same source.
Take our first example of a wizard with magic that he obtained simply by having magical parents. He might go to school to learn spells with the neighbor boy. While it can be true that two students might study different amounts, and one be more gifted in one subject than another, the basic intended outcomes of the magical spells available to them must be the same. Do not let one wizard turn a peach into a mouse with a transformation spell, while another wizard in the same class uses the spell correctly but turns the peach into a toad. The use of magic must be consistent. The consequences must be consistent as well. If the magic is not permitted to be used in a certain way, then the penalty for using magic that way must applied to any witch or wizard who uses it so.
As authors, we want to have readers who can jump into our stories and want to live there. Having rules will allow us as authors to develop more believable tales. The five laws in the Code of the Magic Gathering are a great start to help us create stories that readers will grow to love. If you have more laws to add to the Code, I would love for you to leave a comment below.
One Last Thing
Remember what Barbossa told us: “The code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.” These rules can help you. They are great guidelines to get started, but in the end, as Jack reminded us, “The only rules that really matter are these. What a man can do and what a man can’t do. ” Take the Code of the Magic Gathering, point the compass in the direction of your heart’s desire, and set sail!