Tuesday, 7 September 2010

On the Concept of Magic.

Magic is like Nazis or the Devil (didn't see that coming, did you?).
Well, it is, in the sense that it is often used by lazy people as an excuse for something better,
like (in the case of Nazis)
  • your own psyche
  • yourself from the future
  • fate itself
or (in the case of Magic (capital M))
  • sufficiently advanced technology
  • dreams
  • etc...
Now while I have no problem with magic, as a concept, I can only revolt against the way it is used. When I read a story, and every magical situation boils down to "and then they did magic and the stuff they wanted to happen happened", I cringe a bit. Magic, in my anything but humble and slightly blasé opinion, needs to be something that works, because it needs to connect to the world. It can't be your swiss-army knife. There have to be reasons why one spell would exist and the other wouldn't. Definitions of what spells are. And though you do not have to use these in your story, you need to know them yourself. Let people see the tip of the iceberg. Allow people to realize that there is more behind the story than what you're showing. Hemingway (while I'm not a fan) realized this, and I agree. Heartily, and with cherry on top.

So how would I get about explaining magic? I tried this a few years ago, but it strayed from magic and ended up in the realm of the slightly paranormal (when I realized that most magic abilities boil down to some form of tele-, pyro-, aqua- etc.... kinesis. (farsight, for example, would be the moving of light that had just bounced off a person and letting it enter your eyes)
Now, this isn't quite magic. This is just... slightly boring pseudo-science. The difference?
Sparkly lights and stuff no-one understands, like glyphs, weird incantations and fake latin, runes, wands and weird rituals.

The difference between telekinesis and wingardium leviosa is showmanship.

So how would you go about creating magic that NEEDS the showmanship? The Dresden files seem to have got a good idea: the words are not necessary as such, but the magician needs to anchor his energy to something in the real world. Wands are used to store energy, etc... I'm going to steal heavily off of this, because, honestly, it's hard to come up with a truly original idea these days, and the best you can hope for is something that people haven't used in a long time and hope no-one catches on before your book becomes a best-seller.

Okay, so let's start with the basics: Why do we need magic?
To achieve things you can't without magic, or do things that would take a lot more effort, where it not for, you guessed it, magic.
What is magic?
In my particular 'design' or brand of magic, I'm going to make it simple.
Magic is whatever we wish it to be. This doesn't mean you can do whatever you want just like that. Magic is what you believe and perceive it to be.
If you're not following, more on this after I've explained how the magic works.

How does it work, then, you smug bastard?
When a magician wishes for something to happen, he has to visualize it. By visualizing it, it will become real, but of course, just like that. We can all visualize, but the magician needs energy to make his idea become real. The Energy is the 'fantasy' part about my magic, and even then. There are several kinds of energy. There's potential energy, kinetic energy, speed, etc... mine is a form of... bio-chemical energy. The same we use in our body, to let the brain give orders, and receive signals. A magician's mind allows it to manipulate this energy outside his body. Now, why would this mean you can do magic? Because Energy forms to what we wish it to be. In essence, our being is our entire body, filled with this energy. However, if you could send this energy out of your body, (then there is no basis to assume but let's do it anyway that) you could form it in any way you want, thereby limiting it to your imagination. The effects, too, would be limited by your imagination. And we limit our imagination and AWFUL lot of times. This brings us to the last point. We need a limiter, because otherwise you'd just have unhinged energy on unhinged minds. While I wish I could draw the image in my head, if I could put my mind on paper, it might look like the lovechild of Picasso and Lovecraft. So, we need an anchor (like pencil and paper, for us pencil-sketch mortals). So what we have is two ethereal things, that need an anchor, namely Imagination and Energy. These need to be anchored by a symbol, such as a rune or a glyph.
This glyph has to represent an abstract idea, such as teleportation or levitation, and it has to look perfect. Perfection is here designed by the human mind. After all, we want to make a symbol that represents perfectly whatever it is we wish to do. we have this idea in our head, and this is the ideal (no pun intended). Then, it must be placed in the real world, and it has to look EXACTLY like it does in your head. After all, it came from your imagination, and is fueled by it.

So, in short:
- You make a goal for yourself, like, say, a fireball.
- You visualize a glyph for the fireball.
- You focus on using your energy.
- You create the glyph, exactly as it looks in your head (I'll get to the glyph-making in a second)

And here's where it gets just that little more complicated. Just a leetle. You see, a single, rudimentary line-drawing can not be used to represent an abstract concept, like a fireball. The human mind might, but the space you're going to bend and give shape doesn't. There are an infinite amount of probabilities, factors, etc.... (I'm making this up as I go along, as you might have noticed. The next part I knew in advance, though. Look out. Here it comes.) So the drawing has to be made yourself, the rest of the work will be done by your mind. After the drawing has been made, your mind will fill in the blanks, create a complex drawing in and around the one you made, to give the abstract concept form in the world. It's like drawing three corners of a triangle, but not the lines in between. Like drawing a smiley-face. The first one isn't a triangle, the second isn't a face, but you'll perceive it as such, because the mind helps you along.
And this is where the drawing of the glyphs come in. Because magic needs showmanship, we're going to draw our glyphs in thin air. By pouring energy out of our fingertips, we energize those specific locations, freezing them. Effectively, painting with light, in the air. When the drawing has been made appropriately, our minds make no difference between this drawing and the one in our heads, it will 'fill in the blanks' so to speak. The drawing will become far more complex, seemingly on its own, while it's actually our mind filling in the blanks, making the glyph complex enough for abstraction to replace rudimentary representation (Yeah, I just typed that last part because it sounded cool. Don't you think it sounded cool? I think it sounded cool).

So, summed up:
- You make a goal for yourself, like, say, a fireball.
- You visualize a glyph for the fireball.
- You focus on using your energy.
- You create the glyph, exactly as it looks in your head.
- The Glyph is an anchor, your mind associates it with the abstract idea of fireball.
- The Abstract idea is now represented by a complex pattern, woven around the glyph
- When completed (speed depends on energy used), the pattern will have said magic effect, because you believe it to be so.

So there you go. Pseudo-scientific, pseudo-magical. Something for every... not really anyone but me, but heck, I like it.

- Objects can be powered with Energy, though there will be a substantial loss if the object is not, in fact, organic. Inorganic objects, however, can be used to assist those who do not make their own energy. Those who know how to draw glyphs but have no energy, or a mage who doesn't have enough left, can use these as limited reservoir from which to draw energy to use in a spell.

- Glyphs can be drawn onto surfaces as well, though a considerable effort is required. The base has to be drawn with energy. The energy flow needs to be maintained, during which both the base glyph and the abstract lines are drawn over. Needless to say, this takes an amazing amount of energy. The more complex the idea, the more abstract lines there are. Moving atom a to b is easy, moving it to the bottom of the c less so. This gives you a world in which magicians are not just revered beings, they can also be, when of lesser talent in drawing but great in giving energy, public servants. After all, a drawn glyph on a boat + energy = flying boat. Heck, no need for a wizard, just enough stockpiled energy.

I think I need to wrap this up. Any longer, and I could publish it. Anyhooha, try not to steal the idea without asking me (HAH! Ahem. No. srsly. I wouldn't like it).
Anyway, here's one of the most awesome pictures on the internet:


  1. ok then I'd recommend the laws ofmagic by terry goodkind
    talk about hard magic :p

  2. Oh, the cute little bugger turned into a question mark. How 'bout that for some neat magic!?