Vision: A Resource for Writers
Holly Lisle's Vision
Finding Magic in Mundania
©2001, Jen Taylor
Were these things to happen in a novel, you might wonder if
you've picked up a rather clichéd suspense thriller. And yet each of these has
some basis in reality. Almost everyone has little stories of unexplained occurrences. In
that sense, 'magic' is among us all of the time. It's the touch of unreality in
an otherwise mundane and boring world. Properly utilized, such small things
provide a heady atmosphere of the special, the sacred, and the mystical in any
type of fiction, and that atmosphere is exactly what draws many readers to
fantasy and science fiction.
Modern fantasy genre writers have adopted a habit of
substituting magic for science. Need a way to get your characters from Point A
to Point B, and haven't got cars or supersonic jets? No problem. Teleportation
spell. Need long distance communication and Ma Bell isn't around yet? Drop in a
magic gourd that repeats whatever's said into it, or introduce telepathy, or
send a voice on the wind. I admit to using magic as a convenience in my stories
now and then; sometimes it's just necessary. But at the same time, making magic
so utilitarian takes away exactly what draws most people to magic in the first
place -- the sense of mystery, of power unexplained. The feeling of 'special.'
Anyone who has ever felt that chill of deja vu knows
how powerful even little things like mysterious premonitions can be. Just for a
moment, the world doesn't quite fit into the commonly applied limitations.
Remember that feeling, brief as it may be, the next time you're describing how
one of your characters feels the first time he sees a fireball streak across the
night sky. Keep a notebook handy and jot down those occasions when you
experience something unusual -- the color of the sky just before a storm, for
example. Describe the way the light falls across the landscape as if you'd never
seen that sort of thing before. After I started keeping track of these little
experiences, I was enormously surprised at how often they occur. Just as writers
in other genres utilize real-life events for their stories, so can fantasy
writers adapt these 'magical' experiences to better flesh out their own work.
We as a community often speak of building magic systems in our
worlds. In a fantasy world, it's as critical to understand how magic works as to
understand basic physics when writing a space opera. It is also vitally
important to the bring a touch of the mystical to our systematic magic.
We writers may need to know exactly how the mechanics of
spells and potions work in a universe, but it's just as important to remember
what the reader needs: to feel that touch of wonder at the unexplained and come
away from our stories with stardust in their eyes at the possibilities of magic.