My Week In Tropes | Feb 9th

This week has been a mess of editing, catching a stomach bug, getting insomnia, and scrambling madly to finish work for my contracts on time. But in terms of my writing, I’ve been working on fine tuning my world’s magic—with special focus on editing the scenes in which it’s involved.

Trope of the Week: Functional Magic

“As for what experimental theology was, Lyra had no more idea than the urchins. She had formed the notion that it was concerned with magic, with the movements of the stars and planets, with tiny particles of matter, but that was guesswork, really.”

–Philip Pullman: The Golden Compass

It’s a pretty safe assumption to say that, if you have magic in your fantasy novel, it’s probably going to actually be effective at doing something. However, the something can differ GREATLY between worlds.

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(Actually, those two are pretty similar: a spell that wards away dark, evil, scary things.)

In any case, I’m not going to talk a lot about how the magic in my world works (when the book ever actually comes out, you can read all about it!), but suffice to say that, though the magic in my novel is effective at doing a good many things, most of those things aren’t entirely flashy.

So, my focus this week was on making the magic in my world feel more… well… magically functional, without betraying its base conceits (which are really very simple, in comparison to the system that ends up being built on top of them).

Much of this work has taken the form of rethinking my descriptions of magic to make them stronger—and no, I don’t mean making flashy lights prettier or explosions bigger or lighting bolts clearer, because none of those apply. Rather, I’ve been focusing on how magic feels.

This may be something of a weakness in the functional magic trope—by focusing solely on the function of magic within the story world and the plot, the things that make magic, well, magical, can suffer. Now that I’ve found a couple touchstones to refer back to and ground my magic in the experience of my protagonist—to describe how it affects her, both physically and emotionally—it helps make the instances when spells are used both work in terms of the plot and the action, as well as create the emotional impact that I think is at the core of writing about magic in any world.

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