I have the majority of the story for my first novel worked out. My only problem is that I feel like I'm trying to find a way to force magic into it.

There is only one point where magic is essential to the story line: A (secret) government group has been kidnaping people from the lower sector (a really poor side of town). They keep the ones who test above a certain range of power and kill the ones who don't. I'm not positive what they will be doing with the ones who test above, but I'm thinking they fix them up and turn them into soldiers.

Should I continue adding magic into into the novel or should I take it out completely? How can removing magic affect the feel of the book? If I do remove magic, do I need to compensate in some way?

  • Nina, Welcome to Writers but I'm afraid this question falls afoul of our community's ruling against questions asking what to write. If you're able to edit this so that it asks a more specific, answerable question, we'd be happy to consider reopening it. (Also, if you haven't already, please feel free to look at our site tour.) Sep 28, 2015 at 0:26
  • I see, thank you for informing me. I am of course new to this site haveing only been a member for two days and was unsure of the rules for asking questions. I will be sure to read more at the Help Center as recommended above.
    – Nina
    Sep 28, 2015 at 10:15
  • I see that asking questions that directly help you on your specific novel is frowned upon. So this site wants broader questions? Would something like "When to know when you are forcing the magic into a novel" be more applicable to this site? Or is that still too close to the rule against what to write.
    – Nina
    Sep 28, 2015 at 10:22
  • Yes, I think that asking when genre elements (like magic) are applicable and when they're forced would make for a fine question. Will do a light edit to your question and reopen. Sep 28, 2015 at 14:52
  • Done, please feel free to further change my edit if I've missed the mark. For future reference, please note that placing a question on hold merely disallows answers until it's reopened. It has nothing to do with not wanting to help people. Sep 28, 2015 at 14:56

3 Answers 3


Being the author, you have the ultimate decision of whether or not to include magic into your novel. In your question, you said that the element of magic feels forced. Normally that would be a good indication that you should either change your approach, or remove it completely.

The central theme of your story sounds like it revolves around these government agents and their interactions with "special people". You would need to figure out what kinds of abilities these people have, and how the government can leverage them.

You would also need to answer the question why these people developed magical powers. What makes these specific people of millions, or billions of other people different than the rest? Is there some kind of special circumstance that occurs when people live in this specific area? You don't have to go into great detail explaining the process, but as the author, you should at least have an idea why. In fact, the less technical you can get with it, the better off you are because people who are very technical will have a tough time suspending their disbelief if you describe a process that would not be possible.

Magic seems to work quite well in small doses. If too many people have the power, or their power is too great, then these people may appear too much like a super hero, than a regular person. The best example of this is Superman. Sure he is super strong, fast, can fly, see through walls, etc. But, he is nearly impervious to all physical danger except for a rare element that is really no more than a MacGuffin. Most people really do not feel worried about Superman because he basically never loses. To balance this out, the characters with powers should remain mortal, and only have slight advantages over the rest.

If you do choose to include a magic element in your story, try to balance it out as best as you can. Magic cannot be the answer to everything, and if it is, then it becomes very cheap feeling.

  • I quite like your idea the magic works well in small doses, especially since it was never my intention to center my story around it. I will take another look at my outline and evaluate it to see if I can balance it out better. Thank you for your help.
    – Nina
    Sep 29, 2015 at 0:36

Technically, your story does not depend on the existence of magic, it depends on the existence of secret and powerful organization that believes magic exists. There is a fundamental difference, as proven by the countless people who have spent all their money on devices and training improving their spiritual abilities. When talking about actions and motivations of people, it is usually the beliefs that count, very rarely the reality.

As such the simplest method of fixing the story would be simply that the characters and by extension the reader simply never find out if the magic that is tested is real or just exists in the minds of some powerful people.

This is actually realistic, presidents and senators do consult astrologers and diviners, intelligence organizations have funded clairvoyance programs, government money has been spent on occult research... Real world examples have stopped short of kidnappings and murders, but all it takes is oversight of the agency in question breaking and such breaking of control is pretty much assumed by default in lots of modern fiction.

This kind of is it real or not is actually fairly common in fiction. I guess many writers have stumbled on the same issue as you have? Such "is it real" issues also play well with hints of horror.

I think this might be better asked in world building SE?

As a general writing answer:

See what amount of magic (or other fantasy) existing your story actually requires and do not write more in than that. Writing surplus elements generally makes the story less coherent and weaker. In this case no actual magic seems to be required, just a belief in it existing among some people. Implication is that you should not write in any actual magic, just people who act based on belief in magic.

But this is about as binding as all those other "rules" of writing anyone else tells you.

  • Thank you so much for your help. You have definitely given me some things to think about.
    – Nina
    Sep 29, 2015 at 0:32

The main trade-off for the reader is between the pleasurable escapism of a fantasy novel and the compelling believability of a realistic novel. In some sense, you can get the best of both worlds by exploiting a bit of ambiguity --which is to say, to leave the reader guessing as to whether the magic actually exists or not.

In my opinion, this was done effectively in Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore where there was doubt right up until the end whether the events in the book would have supernatural or realist explanations (with some characters within the book believing one way, and some the other).

Ambiguity can be a problem, however, if the audience believes through a major portion of the book that they are reading one kind of book and it turns out to be the other --unless that is the entire point. That can be extremely effective if done well, but if done poorly, the audience will just feel cheated.

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