Creating a Magic System

Nicole’s Notes
December 18, 2014
By Nicole White, Oquirrh Writers Chapter Secretary

 2511411-magic_handCreating a Magic System

A presentation by Mark Minson

A huge thank you to Mark Minson for bravely stepping in at the last minute to give a presentation on Creating Magic Systems in our novels. Below are some of the highlights.


  • Magic must have a purpose in the story
  • Your audience wants to see things happen with it.
  • The magic needs to play a role, to have something other than a whiz-bang affect.
  • A magic system will affect the characters in some way that makes the magic and the character important. If you are not sure that the magic is having the desired effect in your story, take the magic out and see how the story flows. It may be that you have a good story, but not one that needs a magic system.

How it Works:

  • As the author, you need to know all the details of how your magic system works and where the power comes from.  This doesn’t need to be spelled out for the reader. Revealing a little here and there is better than a few long telling paragraphs.
  • In fantasy writing there are some creatures that are usually assumed to be magical like fairies and elves. If using one of the well-established magical creatures in your story give it your own special twist.


  • Ask yourself: How can I make my magic system different from all the others out there?
  • A few of the most well-known magical systems are:
    • Star Wars and The Force – a character needs a certain number of midi-chlorians in their cells to be sensitive to The Force.
    • Harry Potter – a person is born either a witch or a muggle and one didn’t need to have a magical parent to be born with magic
  • In some stories the character acquires magic by study.


  • In almost all stories the magic system obeys its own set of rules. A notable exception is the magical world created by J.K. Rowling.
  • If you break your own rule the reader will put the book down. Even if you don’t spell out the rule the reader will pick up on what they should be.
  • In Mark’s  Kyle by Fire, the magic is based on talents with a scale of levels. There are set focuses (like fire, flight, metal working, animals …). There is some basic magic everyone can do, but as you get into specifics, if you are not focused you can’t do it. Mark had to stay true to these parameters and found that because of the rules he set forth they shaped how the story played out.


  • In almost all magic systems there is some sort of artifact or tool the character wields to help them focus and perform the magic. Gandalf has his staff, Harry Potter and the witches and wizards in his world use wands, and in Wizard Heir there are gems.
  • In Kyle by Fire, Mark has his characters use wands, but with his own special twist. There are rules for the type of woods used, how they get imbued with magic, and how one executes the magic, etc.
  • The artifact also needs rules and parameters. This is an area where the author can really set his magic apart.
  • In some systems magic is the manipulation of the known world based on scientific principles.

Other points:

  • Because of the nature of magic, the lives we live, understand and know will be different. How will society be different from what we know?
  • As the author you must know in detail how each bit of your magic works, but not every bit needs to be explained to your reader. In Kyle by Fire. there is flight magic so airplanes don’t have engines. Not everyone can do high level magic, so some people drive cars.
  • Be careful. There is often a tendency to make your hero the best that he or she can be; to let your hero do anything he or she wants. You need to consider the hero’s faults and weaknesses.  Work to make the hero relatable. Give him or her strength in things other than just their ability in magic.
  • If at the end the hero is going to pull out all the stops and be awesome, you must lay the premise for that at the beginning. As the author, you need to give your reader the foundation for this greatness and all the steps along the way to justify getting there.

Mark Minson is the creator of magical worlds and the author of a YA fantasy Kyle by Fire: Phoenix Cycle, Vol. I, available now on


About Jodi

Jodi L. Milner is a writer, mandala enthusiast, and educator. Her epic fantasy novel, Stonebearer’s Betrayal, will be published November 2018 by Immortal Works Press. She has been published in several anthologies. When not writing, she can be found folding children and feeding the laundry, occasionally in that order.
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