I have an urban fantasy story that is told from multiple view points. I'm wondering on the best way to introduce the rules of magic within this piece of work?

I have about 10 points of view total throughout the whole work, however I don't want to just splurge in the first few chapters and have everything explained all at once.

I was wondering what everyone thought was best

  1. Outline the rules of magic in the first two points of view and then move on from there only re-establishing rules from time to time throughout the novel.

  2. Slowly drip feed the rules to the reader throughout the whole novel, mentioning them as and when that point of view uses/witnesses magic?

  3. Something else entirely!

All suggestions are very welcome!


I'm not sure what multiple points of view would have to do with how you introduce the laws of magic in your world.

In general, I think a narrative flows better if you can introduce the rules spread out through early sections of the book. Otherwise, you have a long dry intro. If you can summarize your rules fairly quickly, like a page or so, you could simply start the book with a page labeled, "The Rules of Magic" or whatever and list them. Or have an excuse early in the story to present them, like have a character be introduced to these rules in the school for wizards, etc. I'd avoid having ten or twenty pages describing the rules before the story gets started. Readers would be likely to get bored. Unless you can make the presentation of the rules entertaining in some way, like if the nature of the rules is that some of them are funny (if this is a light story) or particularly chilling (if this is a horror story).

Regarding multiple points of view: Be sure it's clear when you transition from one point of view to another. And avoid making the shifts abrupt. I was just recently reading a book where the writer regularly shifts point of view with no warning in the middle of a chapter. I don't think I was ever confused about whose POV it now was, but I found the sudden switches distracting and disconcerting.

  • 3
    With multiple POVs each one would tend to have different areas of ignorance ("Hey, how did she do that?! Oh, I see, [fine point of rules].") and different perspectives of knowledge (so the same "rule" can be presented from multiple perspectives without being dully repetitive, reminding the reader of a critical point or expressing subtleties or incomplete understandings of the rules). Given that the nature of magic will interact with the ethos of the characters/communities, it would be natural to present how magic works in relation to how it is viewed and used by individuals and groups. Apr 29 '15 at 16:27
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    Is animating dead flesh (1) an abomination (a consorting with demons — and for that matter are demons enemies of the species or of a race which different people view differently, just another species, benefactors, or something else), (2) a statement of unconformity (like wearing unstylish clothes but not because they are cheaper), (3) an uncouth convenience (e.g., if animating mineral or even vegetable substance is more difficult), or (4) just the way one school teaches animation? For 3, "necromancy" might be used by the slothful or efficient and offend the prim. Apr 29 '15 at 16:27
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    Okay, that's a significant clarification to your question. You might add something about that to the question. But all that said, it sounds like you CAN'T just give the rules once up front. Unless you have a long list of "here are the rules from the perspective of a necromancer, now here are the rules from the perspective of a witch, now here are the rules from the perspective of a sorcerer", etc. That sounds like it would be REALLY tedious, especially as at that point you wouldn't have introduced any of the characters yet, so you'd also have to be explaining just why they all have ...
    – Jay
    Apr 29 '15 at 17:40
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    ... different perspectives, who all the groups are in the context of your story, etc. I think you have at that point pretty much forced yourself to explain the different perspectives on the rules as each new character narrator is introduced. Maybe you could have a statement of the rules once at the beginning, and then as each character is introduced he discusses his perspective or interpretation. That could actually be an interesting premise -- like Roshomon or Hoodwinked, if you are familiar with those.
    – Jay
    Apr 29 '15 at 17:42
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    It's not my question; I was merely pointing out that using multiple POVs could influence how the setting is presented (similar to omniscient narrator in that thoughts and feelings are easier to present but with the ability to present facts from multiple perspectives), responding to your answer's first sentence. Seeing how people understand magic only via externally observable responses (colored by the observer's perspective) constrains how this information is communicated (which also constrains what information is communicated). The OP may merely have mentioned multi-POV as background. Apr 29 '15 at 18:38

Imagine you are travelling to a foreign country with different laws, customs, traditions and so on. You (the reader) travel in the company of someone who is familiar with that country (the narrator). That companion will warn you of the most deadly pitfalls (such as the death sentence for drug trafficking or that you get your hand hacked off for shop lifting), but beyond that he will give you more details at the time they become relevant, so as not to overwhelm you. So when you go eating at someone's home, your companion and your host will explain to you what they do and what you should do, and everyone will be quite friendly if you don't get it right the first time. But sometimes you will be on your own and you won't understand everything and make mistakes and people will get angry, and only if you get home will your friend explain to you what it was all about and what you should have done.

A good story about a foreign country, that takes the reader by the hand and lets him or her encounter that culture, works much the same way, and a fantasy or science fiction story is basically nothing else but a sort of adventurous travel tale and follows the same basic rules.

In short, give the details of magic as they become relevant. Let the characters discuss them, or the narrator explain them, or simply describe what is done and what happens and let the reader come to their own conclusions. Sometimes the most intriguing books are those that don't explain it all and retain some level of mystery.


I believe you must set up all the rules of magic, and the story world as a whole in the first act. Even if you're not doing 'acts' as such, you should set up the rules before your protagonist begins his/her problem solving. You can hide them like a whodunnit hides clues, but they must be there from the start otherwise the readers will feel you're making things up whenever you get stuck.

Since I assume that you don't have a narrator to relate the rules, you can only do it via action or dialogue. A very direct route would be to have an exciting scene which is almost entirely about what magic cannot do in your world. You may have two characters trying to rob a bank, and they just can't do it because of rules A, B and C. In explaining what you can't do you get to quickly imply what you can do without all the plodding exposition, or showing stuff your readers will have read a hundred times before. e.g. 'But we can't get inside there because dislocation spells don't work through solid walls'.


I think it be best if you show the rules and the consequences of breaking them in easily digestible chunks. Don't overload the reader with too much at once. A easy mistake to make would be forgetting that you know the rules like the back of your hand, while your reader will be encountering them for the first time.

Heck I be tempted to not explain the rules in the first few chapters and let the narrators be clueless to what going off in front of them, before slowly introducing the 'how' over the early half of the tale.

Regardless of how you do it, it be a good idea to have someone read it with fresh eyes, to see if its confusing for a first time reader or not.

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