All ya’ll fantasy writers out there know how important it is to have your fantasy world mapped out. But I’m not talking just having a map of countries, cities, and geography – although that’s super important.
I’m talking political maps, culture maps, education maps, and a magic map. (It’s important enough to be bold and italicized.)
As the author, you are the god of your world. However, you can’t just throw things into the stew because it sounds like a good idea – the world has to make sense. It can be a crazy, chaotic, and whimsical as you like, but it needs to believable. Think Wonderland – it’s quite a strange place, but it makes sense. It’s tied together.
When you’re making a new world, you need to know how the magic works. You might not need it for the rough draft, but you need to be an expert on it. Make a codex or an index or whatever you want to call it – a place where all your magic rules, traditions, and guidelines go. Hell, make it a google doc. I’ve got one of those. (I’ve got like five of those.) Keep a notebook on hand or an app on your phone for when you suddenly think of something else.
For magic, you need ask yourself some questions. You need to know how it works, who can use it, and how they use it. Is it unlimited? What is the cost of magic? Does it operate like a power source? Is it obtainable? Where does it come from? How is it regulated? Is it taught? How do people react to magic? Is is normal? Is it forbidden? Is is sacred?
There’s nothing cool about a plot-device magic save-all; that’s when magic is used to get the main characters out of the main problem of the story. There’s also nothing cool about a reader asking, “Why can’t they just use magic to get them out of the problem?” That confusion should be addressed; the magic should be clear; what magic can/can’t do should be clear.
I like books where the main characters have to grow and learn and develop to get themselves out of sticky situations, magic or no.
“Deus ex machina” is a term coined by Greek theater. It refers to the machine that lowered the gods onto the stage during a play, who would then fix the problems that the humans had created. The term is used today to refer to a too-easy ending where someone or something comes in at the end and solves the problem, like a “it was all a dream” or a time travel fix ending, or “here’s this spell to make your problems go away.” (I hate those endings.)
In recap – if you’re writing a fantasy story, make a magic map.