Writing about Magic in your Paranormal Romance, Part Two


So, what are the writing rules for magic systems?

First, you have to establish a set of rules. Fantasy author Phillip Athans states that when you are devising a magic system, consistency is key.

He gives the example of a wizard who can conjure a ball of purple fire that engulfs an entire village, but a hundred pages late, he watches in impotent horror as a marauding gang of bandits storms down a hill.  Athans points out that readers will ask why he doesn’t just conjure up that purple fire again to destroy the bandits.

The rules you create for your paranormal or fantasy romance should clearly convey what the magic in your story is, and what  the consequences are for using it. These rules should be related to your plot, and to your story. Do not arbitrarily create magic and consequences. The most powerful writing ties the magic and its consequences to the story.

Next, have someone (or something) deliver the rules of the magic system to your character. This can take many forms in writing. One example is the archetypal wise old woman or wise old man that Christopher Volger talks about in his book The Writer’s Journey. He gives the examples of God walking in the garden of Eden with Adam, Merlin guiding King Arthur and The Fairy Godmother guiding Cinderella. This person’s role is to deliver and teach the rules of the other world to the main character. This is the mentor that helps the main character prepare to face the antagonist in the story. Often times this includes teaching the main character the magic of the other world, and how to use it without feeling the brunt of the consequences. There are other devices that can be used, and you should explore them all.

Many systems of magic stem from a source. For example in some magic systems magic is sourced from a place such as from rivers, and so in this scenario a wizard must be near a river to create magic. You must decide if there is both good and evil magic in your world or if magic is a neutral  force. Is magic in your world divided up by the four elements like in astrology, or is magic brewed up with potions and spells. Are your magic characters aware of the source where the magic comes from or is it a mystery?

Following the introduction of the rules to your characters, you will then want to create scenarios in which to put your characters that test these very rules.

For example in my paranormal erotic romance Wicked Wonderland (release date December 4th from Samahin Publishing), my half-fae characters are immortal, but healing magic is very dangerous for them. Trying to heal the vital organs of a dying human being can put them into a coma from which they never wake.

In your writing, you need to create situations in which the cost of using magic is something that risks what the character holds dear. This will create conflict, and your readers will want to keep reading.

Some other possible examples of consequences for the use of magic or limitations to magic include:

 1. Time sensitive magic - This is when a character’s magic only works when IT wants to on it’s own time. There is no pattern to it and no rhyme or reason that the character can use to control it. This limit is often used when a protagonist has precognition because a protagonist with the gift of always being able to see the future would almost certainly ruin any story.

2. Magic that can be blocked – With this type of limitation the heroine may have a magic power but the villain may be able to block it. Or the good magic may have some bad side effects for example the instant healing powers can at times cause mutations.

3. Magic that can be Painfully Overwhelming – This limit is often used when the heroine is psychic. The characters abilities are always working on some level or switch on unexpectedly and can drive the protagonist crazy. For example a psychic is always reading others thoughts when she doesn’t want to and finds it distressing. The character usually has to fight to gain control of his or her power.

4. Magic that is Unexpected - Similar to the overwhelming magic, in this scenario the magic kicks in randomly and unexpectedly when the protagonist is startled or excited or otherwise upset. In this scenario the hero or heroine may have trouble controlling a power such a teleportation and must learn to self-control or risk tremendous calamities.

5. Magic that is Exhausting – I use this kind of magic in Wicked Wonderland. My half sylphs cannot heal a human without draining themselves and if they try to heal a human injury that is too serious they risk going into a coma from which they may never recover ( a useful conflict when you have immortal characters who can’t be killed.)  This kind of magic sucks up serious energy when used and can make the hero or heroine tired or hungry or both. A character may lose power until he or she sleeps or eats to replenish her energy.

6. Magic That Can Only Occur Under Specific Circumstances – This magic can only occur under certain conditions often linked to the environment such as the moon being full or the sun shining on a stone or other circumstances such as singing a tune or being immersed in water. With this type of limitation you can build suspense, will the sunlight hit the magic rock at the right time of day etc…

7. Magic that can only be used a certain number of times - The classic example being you only get three wishes.

8. Magic Restricted by the Protagonist themselves or by the Original Power Source – For example the heroine may have sworn an oath never to use her magic powers for personal gain or to harm anyone or she may have been told she will pay a terrible price if she does use her powers in a certain way.

9. Magic that Corrupts – The more the hero indulges in the power the more it corrupts him. For example Gollum becoming enslaved by the evil power of the ring, vampires need blood but can lose their humanity by drinking from humans etc…

10. Magic with a Price – The magic carries a price. The hero might have to pay in some way every time he casts a spell or uses magic to stop a villain. The more magic power needed, the more the hero must sacrifice. Perhaps when magic is used by the heroine, the evil force is strengthened? The possibilities are endless.

11. Magic that requires a Recipe - In this scenario there is no instant magic. Magic requires a lot of ritual, long preparation and exotic ingredients, chanting in a magic language etc… A missing ingredient, wrong positioning of an object or an interruption can ruin the spell or cause a disaster.  This is a huge limit on magic.

Finally avoid the pitfalls of the God in the machine. Don’t create omnipotent heroes who have free rein over their magic. Its weak and it comes across as cheating. In addition to a strong romance, your  reader wants to read about struggle, and conflict in your paranormal romance. Make your magic and paranormal elements dangerous. Make them risky.

Lisa’s paranormal romance novel WICKED WONDERLAND has a release date of December 4th 2012 from Samhain Publishing with trade paperback to follow at the end of 2013.

LISA WHITEFERN had her first short story published in the New Zealand Herald at age 10. She has a Masters Degree (hons) in English Literature and is a member of Romance Writers of New Zealand. She has had several short stories published and has a novella WAKING THE WITCH available from Freya’s Bower.

Follow Lisa on Twitter @LisaWhitefern

WEBSITE: http://lisawhitefern.wordpress.com


4 thoughts on “Writing about Magic in your Paranormal Romance, Part Two”

  1. GREAT blog post Lisa! I’m going to copy it and keep it in my files on writing craft. You’re so thorough about all the various types of tropes and it’s really useful to contemplate. I’ve been working on a fantasy erotic romance that uses magic, but it goes a little wonky from time to time for the protagonist–so contemplating your list is exactly what I need as I work on revisions. 😛

  2. Thank you very much for the comments. 😀 My blog is most often shorter and about trends in the publishing market, but at times I will post more in-depth craft articles.

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