Monday, August 13, 2012

I Believe in Magic (ConCarolinas 2012 Writing Panel Notes)

"Literal Meltdown" © 2012 Laura Sheana Taylor. The laptop overheated so much that it melted upon itself, and fried the RAM.

So about those ConCarolinas notes.

Ever experience a dramatic event that throws you off your game? Well, this is what happened to me. Look at the picture above. See that shiny glob of gold splotched onto the RAM? I knew my laptop had an overheating problem. I just hadn't realied how bad it was until it imploded. I joked with friends that my computer had a meltdown, and I thought it was hyperbole. Then my friend Drekian was over at my place for a write-in and killed time waiting for the others to arrive. So he took apart the dead laptop for fun. Turns out, it actually melted down.

Anyway, everything's good again. The universe was nice to me; the night it stopped working, I found an amazing deal at Best Buy to replace the poor pile of sludge. All is well again. I've let it interrupt my blogging rhythm. But now, I'm ready to get back to work!

So without further adieu, here's more notes; and what could be more fitting after all that technology stuff than for us to talk about magic?

* * *

I Believe in Magic
Betty Cross, Faith Hunter, Kalayna Price, Rachel A. Aaron 
Moderator: Stuart Jaffe

There’s a wide-spectrum of what you can do with magic. From Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn saga (magic is created by ingesting certain bits of metal for certain effects) to [missed example] (“Magic is anything we say”).

Tell us about your magical systems.
-     BC: Falls closer to Brandon Sanderson. Finds amature writers make magical powers unlimited, with lots of Deus ex machina. Superman has to have Kryptonite.
-    FH: Has written two magical systems. Rogue Mage – learning how to use raw energy with the abilities each mage is born with. It’s a gift they have to learn themselves, like a  child teaching themselves to walk. The limits: if you don’t learn it and you overuse it, you explode. Jane Yellowrock – she’s a Skinwalker, which is learned. Jane has the skill but was only taught a bit before losing her teacher. Her new work involves a pre-set system ahead of time. Some people come up with their magical systems first. She does a lot of figuring out how her magic works as she goes.
-    KP: Two different magic systems – Does worldubilding and character-creating at the same time, because the society will determine how the magic is used. Haven: Magic is underground. Grave Witch: everyone knows about magic.
-    RA: Creates magical systems for fun. Her spirit world – everything has a spirit, have to work with those spirits
-    SJ: Difference between external and internal magic. In his world, most of the knowledge is lost. Characters are discovering their powers with the reader.

How much do you find you have to reveal about the magic system?
-    RA: Plots an info map of who knows what. Plotting how much to reveal, misunderstandings about magic, stopping to think about how you reveal the information, means you can do amazing things with tension, who knows what.
-    KP: Establishing what the magic is very quickly is very important, but establishing the full parameters goes through the book. But make rules and *stick* with them. Unless you have a very sound plot reason that changes things, that is plausible.
-    FH: No rules for Rogue Mage, until she made the roleplaying game. Has had to make rules for that. Has learned to create systems and write stories based on that. Likes the revelatory process of discovering the magic as she goes. Plots out a lot of her books, big outlines, so discovering the magic is fun, but then she sticks by the rules.
-    BC: Big on having limits on her magic. Characters explain magic by reference to other magic.

Do you create a bible, a document to make sure you stick to your rules?
-   RA: Stays true to the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law. Based on a fundamental understanding of the system.
-    FH & KP: create bibles.
-    SJ: Only one rule: if it works, it works.
-    KP: Readers will only suspend disbelief so far
-    RA: If you break a rule, you have to have a good reason.

Creating magic based on myths and folklore:
-    KP: Has twisted bits of folklore based on what her books need
-    SJ: Example: Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon – blends myth and magic
-    FH: Skinwalker – lots of research into pre-Christian, NA tribal version of skinwalkers.
-    RA: Important to remember, you’re not chained to the folklore. It’s your book.

What about weird stuff for the sake of weird stuff?
-    There is an audience (e.g. China Meiville)
-    SJ: We’re coming out of the 80s and 90s with big thick trilogies, medieval fantasy was really selling, that seemed to be canon. That’s no longer the case.

And what about stepping on the toes, borrowing/stealing other magical systems?
-    BC: It’s okay. Writers do it all the time.
-    FH: With enough twists that a creative mind can put into their own work, don’t worry. Make changes. You can give a plot line or magical system to ten different writers and they’ll go ten different ways.
-    SJ: Everyone’s coming up with new takes. Look at how many different takes there are on vampires.

Can you draw from real magical systems?
 -    Sure, those are great sources for inspirations. E.g. Voodoo, paganism, high magic,
-    KP: If you’re going to use beliefs currently in practice, be respectful.
-    BC: Can be very subtle about it. E.g has system based on Kabbalah

Can you combine sex and magic?
-    FH: No limits for the genre. Fantasy as a genre can become erotica very easily. Depends on what you want to write. Kushiel is very mainstream. But other books can be powerful, terrifying, and off-putting. LKH does it well, even though she’s changed. Do it well, you can stay mainstream; don’t do it well and you can fall into a different group. Sex must forward the plot, not just be titillation.  Otherwise it’s erotica.

Other things to keep in mind: 
-    KP: You can explain less if you can assume the reader is well-versed in a similar magic system.
-    Good to have the good guys screw up. Magic can be a source of humour, be funny.
-    Remember to think of the consequences. You MUST build consequences into your magical system. The magic shapes the story. So the consequences are an integral part. That’s an integral part of the conflict.
-    Any magical system can be used for good. Even necromancy. Any magic can be used any way you want, it just depends on how you build your system.


  1. Hey thanks for posting these notes!

    1. You're welcome, Wren! I have fun doing so. It helps me remember what I've learned, too. :)