2 Nov 2016

The Pierian Spring...

Hello readers!

Previously, I released the new cover of the republished edition of the Necromancer, along with a blurb and prologue—to tease you. I did not give a firm publication date; I said it would be soon, very soon.

You see, I have sent out a review request to several reviewers, and will be sending out several more over the coming days. I hope to gain a fair number of reviews, and high star reviews if possible; these are important for the success of the book. I am therefore hoping to have the new Necromancer out by the 10th November, possibly later—it depends on the reviewers. (Reviewers, as you can imagine, are as fickle as writers.)

In any case, while you are still waiting for the book, you can still follow the many intriguing writings here on the Magical Realm. Up today is a piece I consider particularly interesting: it is about the rules of magic in fantasy, and the important consequences that it brings for plot.

Too Much Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

Going back over the Necromancer—by editing it, rewriting it, and thinking how I might remarket it—it occurred to me that the greatest strength of the book was that... one could never really tell where it would go. Every encounter was a mystery; it was always possible for something to go wrong unexpectedly.

Indeed, ‘things going wrong unexpectedly’ are perhaps the most compelling element of any plot. It’s what keeps your reader in suspense—it’s what surprises them and makes them want to read more. If the reader knew the outcome of 90% of encounters... well: what would be the point? No one would care to read the book.

And this is where the rules of magic systems become important. In a system where the rules of magic are clearly defined and unbreakable—then the outcomes of magic battles are clearly defined and unbreakable. And thus, as above, such battles become boring.

So what can the intrepid writer do? There are a few options:

  1. Keep the magic system deliberately vague.
  2. Make the magic system inherently uncertain. For example: the principles of quantum physics are immutable, but at the same time, uncertainty is inseparably part of quantum physics. A similar thing can be done with the principles of magic systems.
  3. Let the magic system have clear principles, but don’t reveal them all to your readers—leave them with just enough to try and puzzle it out.

There are some problems associated with all of these approaches, but (2) and (3) are—in my experience—superior to (1). The issue with the first option is that, by making your magic system vague, you end up with a world that doesn’t have any rhyme or reason to it. Why did x lose a battle to y? How does the magic system work? (Your readers will be wondering about this, trust me.) And most of all: what are the limitations of magic? Can mages move mountains or just pen knives?

The second and third options are superior, though not entirely perfect. The second option is attractive if you can pull it off—but it requires some quite complex magical principles, and may be difficult to visualise and implement.

The third option is what I took with the Necromancer. I was able to create a world with clearly delineated roles of magic, limitations, and relative power levels. At the same time the reader was always left in suspense—because the magic system was complex and never explained in full detail.

The take-away point here is that, as is often the case with fiction, you need not tell the reader everything. Sometimes, too much knowledge is a dangerous thing. Sometimes—a little ignorance can go a long way.

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