On Writing: Rules of Magic

There are two rules for writing about magic:

1. It always has a price
2. It must have limits.

I don’t know who wrote that, but it seems a good pair of rules when it comes to literary magic. As writers, we can do whatever we imagine, yet whatever we imagine must serve the story we are telling. Which means the magic must have a price and it must have limits. (If there are no limits, then there is no conflict and hence, no story. If there was no kryptonite, Superman would be just a ho-hum guy in a cape.)

Literary magic comes in vast array of guises — love, intelligence, beauty, skills, exotic worlds, wonder, wisdom. All have limits, all have a price and consequences. In the non-literary world, sometimes the ripples of such magic are small and unfelt by most people. Such as the magic of a smile. If you smile at someone, they might smile back, and that small exchange might make them feel good enough to smile at someone else. Other small matters might have dire consequences, such as an extra drink before getting on the highway. All lives impinge on others.

I read a story once, an anecdote, really. A guy found a spider swimming in his toilet. He decided to rescue the spider, took it out of the water, and set it on the floor. The next day, he found the spider in his toilet again, and again he took it out. A little later, he found the spider dead. Why, the storyteller asked, did the spider die? The answer: because one life impinged on another.

Whether that statement has validity in real life, it certainly fits with fiction. Everything in a novel should be connected to everything else, which means that small actions could have large consequences. Perhaps that is why fiction is so compelling — it enables us to notice such ramifications. We can’t see far enough in real life to be aware of such connections and their impact, but I’m sure they are there. And isn’t that what magic is? The manipulation of the real and ordinary?

None of my books are about magic as such, but all have an element of magic, even if it is just the magic of a quest, of love, of being different, of finding one’s self. The most magical of my books is Light Bringer, but the magic of the main characters’ harmonic resonance causes problems only because it shows that they are not exactly human. It has limits, since this particular magic doesn’t bring them much happiness — at least not yet. The price they pay could be the fate of the entire world.

What is the magic of your book? What is its price? What are its limits?