Help For Writers, Uncategorized, Writing

My Qualms With Fantasy Stories

 February 9, 2010

By  CuylerC

I have a little problem with fantasy stories. Now don’t get me wrong, fantasy is my favorite genre. My issue is more or less not with fantasy stories in general, but with some stories, and mostly, with the authors of these said stories.

The problem I have is called: Accountability.

When I read a fantasy story, I want explanations, I want reasons. I don’t want something to happen, just because the author could make it happen. If a wizard is going to use magic, I want to know where the hell that magic came from, and why he is able to use it.

I’m sick of reading a story where some magician casts a fireball just because he used magic. Where did this magic come from? What are the rules of the magic? A world not of our world, is still going to be subject to lots of the same rules we are subject to. And as we all should know from science class: One of Newton’s Laws of Motion states that, “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

This law of motion is also applied to every action taken in life whether its a tangible on intangible action. You think of something, you’ll usually be reminded to think of something else. Just opening your eyes in the morning sets off a whole set of other actions.

Just because somebody exists in some fantasy world doesn’t mean these laws won’t exist. Sure, maybe in another world it will have three moons, the population breaths in nitrogen to survive, gravity is lighter, and fireballs can be formed from muttering some word, doesn’t mean the laws of science don’t exist there.

Another world can have differences, but it still follows the same laws of science as every other world. Magic can still exist, but rules must be set, and these rules need to follow the laws of science.

Say for instance that you have a wizard who’s power comes from a God of that world. I myself am not a believer in Gods, but if your world has a God, or Gods, and the power comes from them, it might be a good idea to have some sort of explanation on how that God gives his power to the wizard. How did that God acquire the power?

The problem with power coming from Gods opens a whole set of problems. The believers of the God in your world may believe that they know all, and “just” have the power. So in order to set the scene for your world and let the reader be immersed in it, you probably need to just let it be and not explain how the God has the power. For myself, this is a little annoying as I am the type of person who likes to know where this stuff comes from.

But if we can’t even figure that out in our own world, it can make it hard to explain it in a fictitious world, at least not without destroying the scene of the world a writer is trying to set up.

But you know what I’m saying now. There needs to be accountability in a world. There can’t just be things happening because of “Magic”. There needs to be rules, explanations, enough that the reader knows that things don’t “just happen”.

I myself found I was doing the same thing I am talking about. I have some fantasy stories where magic was just being thrown around. I later read and found it to be shallow and take away from the story. Later when I wrote and explained my magic a bit, I found that it was more tangible to me, more realistic, and more exciting.

Lets run through a little scenario. I am going to develop a magic source with rules.

Okay, so where is our magic originating from?

Lets say it’s originating from a source of energy that exists in the world. But where did this source of energy come from? Well we all know that everything is made of energy. Science has proved that right. Well to keep it simple we could say that the people of the world are sensitive to energy. This has been proven in our world as well. Some people are more sensitive to the motions of energy in our world. Have you ever had somebody stare at you from a distance, and you felt it, so you turned around and found them. Well that is our normal sensitivity to energy being stirred.

There are people more sensitive in our world that can pick up on the stirs of energy. We don’t have anybody extremely sensitive, but we could make people in our world extremely sensitive to it, and able to manipulate it with thoughts, rather then by devices.

If we wanted to get a little more complicated, we could say that there is a great magnetic disturbance that attracts energy to it. We have those on our own world, the south and north pole. Well imagine it thousands of times greater. Maybe that is the energy that people in our world access. But we would have to make sure that if they are the farthest away from it possible on our world, that their access to it becomes limited.

See, we are using laws of science to create our magic. Now that is explaining where the energy source and our “magic” is coming from. You can further develop more rules like how it is used and manipulated. Maybe people that use magic can only send lighting bolts. Or they may be able to use the energy to magnetize themselves and attract metal objects, then magnetize it which they can then reverse their magnetic poles and send the metal they picked up hurtling like a bullet.

Maybe by using other materials they can use the magic to create fireballs. To create a fireball in our world, we will say that magicians gather sawdust mixed with a bit of sulfur and small magnetized metal grindings and create a powder. They gather it in their hands, and ignite it with electricity use, then use reversed poles to send the fireball at their target.

So, by using science, magic can seem more tangible. Now, maybe all this magic being used is explained differently by the inhabitants of your world. They may explain that it is power from the Gods. That by experimenting, they learned how to send fireballs flying. They may not know the real rules on how it works, but they made up their own rules. So you have the real science behind the show, and you have what people think the real science behind it is.

Now the real challenge is explaining it to your readers so it seems real, but at the same time not destroying your readers view on the world.

So lets explore this problem.

Just as an example- and there are many ways to accomplish this- this world we are looking into could have a very secretive wizard who understands the magic in it’s real sense. He doesn’t believe in the Gods and so he was very intuitive and wanted to know the real source of energy. He figured it out. So a scene in your book could include him- though make sure it makes sense in the book- and the real magic could be explained. So your reader could have two opinions on how the magic works. That way your not destroying the magic the people believe in, but at the same time it will seem real to the readers.

To write a good story there needs to be accountability. “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Don’t just throw things in and not expect the readers to question it or for there not to be a reaction to it in the story, or a consequence. This will make the story shallow and very unbelievable.

EVERYTHING has a reason why it works.


I love words. Words influence and inspire. Words stir emotion and thought. Words can make the world a better place, as well a worse place. I want my words to make the world better.

Cuyler Callahan

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