A few things bleeding together in my head have congealed into this post, and if that analogy hasn't completely squicked you away from reading any further, I will now tell you what they are:
- an old friend accurately skewered Brandon Sanderson for using his novel as an explanation of a gaming system of magic;
- NK Jemisin stamped her foot on the idea that magic has to make sense; and both of these bumped up against;
- Holly Lisle's advice, long held dear to my heart, on world-building your special physics.
This would be a good place to conclude with my “rules” for developing magic in your story. But I'm a big believer in The Rule – you know the one, the one that says “There are no rules”. If you can make it work, then run with it. (Run. Run like you stole something.)
But you have to make it work.
To assist with that, I would suggest:
- you have to understand what sort of position magic occupies in your universe and your story, because otherwise what's it doing there? Also you will contradict yourself and that will be bad;
- if you have a magic user as a character, there had better be good reasons why they don't just fix everything with magic, otherwise there goes your believable tension; and
- think outside the box. Make something new, unless you can say something new about something old, or… y'know what? THERE ARE NO RULES.
Though I would also like to add that one thing that is often hilariously overlooked in “magic systems” is refinement, advancement and all those other by-products of the application of scientific codification to anything. Basically: if humanity's been doing magic this way for a thousand years, why aren't they better at it than they used to be?
In other news, I will be posting some work-in-progress soon, for thoughts and comments and general entertainment, of the House of Truth and Lies variety, so if you're not encircled on my Dreamwidth and you'd like to see the WIP, let's sort something out.