Magic Systems: General Process

Or ‘Alpin Attempts an Iffy Metaphor Using Earth Flora’

Whenever I work on a magical system, it usually starts out with one concept, and grows outward from there. The concept is sometimes a mechanic, or a general idea, or an abstract feeling. But any way the magic starts, growing the fantasy magic system is especially important. These are the steps I follow once I have the seed.

  1. The Waiting: Take your itty bitty seed concept, and wait. Consider it, think about it, wait it out. Don’t smother it. Sometimes seeds take a while to grow. It’s also ok to toss it jack-and-the-beanstalk style and see if stuff comes to mind.
  2. Careful Growth: At some point, you’ll notice your idea growing a little, becoming more than just a single concept. When the little magic seed becomes a little magic seedling, and it needs some attention. Think about your magic system, how the concept might work in a story, and jot down a bunch of ideas. It’s important not to kill the idea at this stage- If you trim your concepts here, it’s like trimming plant roots. It’s brainstorming. Let the concept sprout roots until it hits water.
  3. Identifying Root System: So if you imagine your main concept as a seed, then the seed has sprouted roots, and some have thrived in your brainstorming session(s). From your brainstorming sheet, identify the concepts that work best together. It might sound ridiculous, but this can include cutting your original concept. If your concept seed has produced an offshoot that you like (love!) more, then pursue that route. Your magical system may be complicated at this point, or it may still be simple, but at the very least it needs to be tangible. This is where you can say: This event could happen in this system, and here’s how.
  4. Planting: Now that you have a solid base, it’s time to plant the metaphorical magical system into an actual world. Give the system stories, by giving it a world (or galaxy, or multiverse!). Take time and find the difficulties and benefits to your magical system, and how these affect the universe surrounding it. Ask ‘What if’ and ‘How’ and ‘Why’!
  5. Blooming: Once you’ve grown your magical system, it’s time to reap the benefits. This is where you can find or produce characters, conflicts, or arcs that will drive a narrative. Whether you’re intending to place a series of independent drivers into your story (as with community storytelling, like Dungeons and Dragons),¬† or you plan to write it yourself, you have a solid foundation in your magic system that will serve as a major mechanic in your story. Make something beautiful!

Happy Planting!


“I know how plants work!” Alpin lied.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s