Vision: A Resource for Writers
Holly Lisle's Vision
sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"
fantasy seems to be the Goodwill Store of literature. Second-hand ideas
at half price on aisle three! Clichés on aisle six theyre free.
Take all you like. All stories involve a certain amount of recycling.
The themes, the villains, the heroes theyve all been done before.
In fact, you know the princess in your story? Yes, the one who was
kidnapped by the evil sorcerer. Well, let me tell you: that same princess
has been kidnapped by the dark wizard fifty-six times before you even met her.
Last time I saw her she was carrying an overnight bag and on her way back to the
tower. Yes, thats right she keeps an extra toothbrush in his
medicine cabinet. Oh, and her virtue? Well, dont be in any rush
to save that either. Were all familiar with these overly done archetypes.
So, please move on already-- I want to read something new!
is this repetition of ideas more apparent than in the magic systems of the
worlds that we create. Run down the list in your head: necromancy, blood magic,
using someones life force as an energy source, using the elemental forces of
nature (how many times has that been done?), druidic magic, witchcraft, etc.
Almost everything has been done: from Terry Goodkinds Additive and
Subtractive Magic to Dave Eddings use of The Will and the Word.
Now, obviously, it is possible to successfully put a new twist on an old idea.
Marion Zimmer Bradley, Mercedes Lackey, Terry Brooks, Jordan, Goodkind, and many
others are perfect examples of people who have done it very well. However,
unless you really believe that you are the next Andre Norton, maybe its time
to stop looking at the magic systems that have already been used. Its
time for something else. Magic, and its use, has become a staple in the
fantasy community. Its part of the genre, and you probably wont have
any luck selling stories that dont use it quite extensively. However,
it is time for our genre to look beyond the arcane to achieve the fantastic.
We need to look to science as a source of inspiration for our magic systems.
great example (actually, a perfect example) of using physics to define a magic
system is Holly Lisle's article that explains the magic system of her fantasy
world from the Secret Texts series. Many of the ideas that she used are
only a slightly modified version of the Laws of Thermodynamics. I think
her First Law of Magical Reaction is brilliant. Its a perfect example
of using science to create magic. Obviously, she has added
many other rules, and taken some away; however, she has managed to create a very
compelling and realistic magic system. You can find the article here:
thought and theory are waiting to be exploited by the fantasy writer. They
provide an untold wealth of fresh and new ideas that can be incorporated into
your story as magic. Furthermore, there are distinct advantages to using
these theories to form the basis of your magic system. Many are genuinely
new concepts. Very few people read scientific journals and are familiar
with these ideas. For example, consider the many articles that go into
specific detail about the energies necessary to create magical gateways or
portals to other lands. You wont find the articles that Im referring
to in the Occult section of your local library. No, you need to head over
to the sections on Physics, Quantum Mechanics, and Cosmology. Oh, these
articles may use terms like wormholes or faster than light travel.
Occasionally, they utilize strange runes in the midst of the article.
you need to understand these glyphs? Not really. You do need to be
persistent and willing to continue looking for the right manuscripts until you
find one that will unlock the greater meaning behind these symbols. Look
for what is typically called Popular Science books. Steven Hawking and
Richard Feynman come to mind, among many others. Find one that you like,
and let that scientist explain the cosmos to you in a way that you understand.
you gain access to this material, you will learn that they explain many things
that most fantasy writers never stop to ponder. Consider the hapless mage
who decides to use his own living form as a conduit for the very energies of
creation. Dont you think that that much energy coursing through your
body might have some adverse effect on you? In stories, we frequently see
formidable wizards who regularly work with enough power to ignite a sun;
however, the worst consequence that they may face is a headache or they may get
sick for a little while? Is that plausible? Maybe not but we all
buy into those fancies from time to time. Its part of the joy of
fantasy. Couldnt those stories be improved? Couldnt they be
made to be more interesting?
make our magic more interesting by making it more realistic. Im not
asking to limit your magic in any way. In fact, Im proposing the
opposite. Science is looking at ways to extend peoples age well beyond
the hundred-year mark. Extrapolate that a little, and you have a crazed
mad man on an immortality quest. Look at the Genome project its
screaming to be manipulated in a fantasy story where practitioners of magic
gradually change and alter the world around them until it is filled with dread
beasts who walk the night. Thats genetics. Okay, so you dont
call it genetics think up some way of doing this through magic. What
can go wrong with gene-splicing? What are the benefits of genetic
manipulation? Can any complications arise out of crossbreeding different
species? Would these sorcerers employ similar methods on themselves to
augment their own power? These are all examples of ideas that can be
incorporated into your story with just a little research.
dont need to explain -- or even understand -- the math involved, but isnt
it possible that magic systems could be a little more grounded in scientific
theory? Granted, people will say, -- But, its magic! You
dont need to obey the rules of physics. Thats what makes it
magic. However, even magic needs to follow a logical, well-thought-out
series of rules to be believable. Understand that these laws will make up
the physics of your world. Your rules may be different, but, here are a
few that I try to follow:
There needs to be an explanation for the source of this unfathomable power.
There need to be consequences for its use.
And, there needs to be a certain methodology for its practice.
save yourself some work next time you begin to think of an original way to
introduce magic into your story world and borrow some physics from the real
world. A better understanding of physics will allow you to create a
complicated world that is more dangerous or rewarding. Every world has a
certain set of immutable laws that cannot be broken. Even when it appears
that those laws lay shattered, most of the time it is only our understanding of
the law that has been redefined. A better-defined understanding of the
physics of your universe will allow you to better manipulate those laws.
This understanding will also lead to new ideas. Who knows? Maybe we
will finally have a fantasy writer who can come up with a better method of
instantaneous travel than the ubiquitous Gateway well, one can always hope.