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Many of my characters, main, side, and recurring all have a suite of magic abilities. So will them constantly using magic be annoying? Will it make the magic stale? What tips should I follow and what should I avoid?

  • It all depends on how talented the author is. – Ricky Nov 12 '15 at 1:30
  • Is this low-level magic like turning on lights and staying dry in the rain, or high-level magic like teleporting to work to avoid traffic? – Monica Cellio Nov 12 '15 at 3:48
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    Rowling certainly seems to have figured out the recipe; make everyday magic seem like exactly that. Don't have the characters draw attention to anything they're doing with magic that would seem ordinary to them. The more spectacular or difficult stuff, sure, go into some detail including character reactions, but pulling out plates or silverware from the drawer with a wave of a hand or wand, just say they do it and move on. This may require, as in Rowling's universe, not using magic in front of people who don't know magic exists. – KeithS Nov 12 '15 at 20:40
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My largest magic pet peeve is when a character uses a previously unintroduced magic for every sticky situation they find themselves in. So, if a character has to defy death 10 times, and then they have 10 unique ways to get out of the death trap and the reader has never seen that magic before that comes across as a lazy author using magic to keep a character from suffering any actual detriment. Magical surprises are okay, but not an array of new ones, especially at just the serendipitous last minute.

  • A character shouldn't always be able to rely on magic to solve problems
  • A character should have a predefined list of magical talents, and then stick to those... UNLESS, the story involves learning new ones
  • sometimes a character has a magical ability to disarm a bad situation in a subtle and elegant way, but many authors will write a lavish and dramatic magical moment to show off the awesome magicalness of magic magickery.
  • Characters that can use their one trick, but in a variety of ways, are very interesting magical characters because they show cunning and skill instead of always being lucky or being perfect without having to try
  • magic characters necessarily will have a trade off with their magical skill. What regular-joe type of thing does this magical character not know about or had to learn because they're magically gifted? How does the lack of those every day sensibilities hurt the character? How do they make up for it?
  • Magic shouldn't be used to keep your character from harm's way, or to keep them from having to develop as characters
  • Magic should also allow the character to develop in ways that non-magical beings couldn't
  • The character's magic has to have limits in strength and endurance. You don't always have to show us the limits, but the reader needs to know that the character could suffer if they're not well matched to the task.
  • Also, it helps if there's some code to how the magic works... even if it's not clear at first or loosely defined. It's more fun to know that magic has a back story and a root, instead of being an omni-present force with no internal mechanics
  • I'd say create some rules for how magic in your world works, and bend them when you want or need to, but don't break those rules without very good reason. You don't have to tell the reader what you're rules are.
  • If your magic does have rules, it is sometimes more fun if the reader has to slowly learn what the rules are by reading how magicians follow or break the rules. Much better for the story than putting all the rules in a single expository chapter; that would get boring.

This is all I can think of for now. Good luck! Post your finished work if want.

  • So what do you think about a character using an ability often for mundane things just 'cause they feel like it/it's easier/that's the kind of person they are? – Justin Alexander Nov 12 '15 at 1:30
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    All for it. People tend to do the easiest thing at hand. I would totally magic the hell out of dishes if I could. So I say go for it. – Andrew Nov 12 '15 at 1:38
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    @JustinAlexander Mage who always magics the dishes: character trait. Remove his ability to do dishes with magic: interesting conflict. Does he pout? delegate? brain-lock? grit his teeth and wash by hand? – Lauren Ipsum Nov 12 '15 at 10:50
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You might want to check out Brandon Sanderson's Laws of Magic. His tips were a great thing to consider when I was writing my story.

They are in summary:

  1. An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.

This means that if magic is used often, the mechanics of it need to be well understood by the reader, and if magic is used rarely then there's no need to go into in-depth explanations.

  1. Limitations > Powers.

Interesting characters are made by what they can't or won't do, as opposed to what they can and will. Omnipotent beings rarely make interesting characters.

  1. Expand, Don’t Add.

It's better to have people with a few well-known and understood magical abilities than people who can do anything they want.

These are obviously very much shortened, he goes into a lot of detail on these points, so the links are well worth a read.

You can obviously choose not to follow these points, and in order to create a work of fiction that is unique to you then it is likely that you will need to break these rules somewhere, but I'd say that it's a great jumping off point.

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    The "Limitations > Powers" point is probably the single thing that will keep the OPs use of magic from feeling like a "Deus Ex Machina". If magic can solve any problem, what's the point of reading the book if all conflict is resolved by literally waving a wand? – KeithS Nov 12 '15 at 20:44
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    This is the truth, gratuitious use of magic isn't annoying, gratuitious cognitive load is. So as long the use doesn't require the reader to understand something new without improving the story, there is no problem. – Ville Niemi Nov 14 '15 at 1:33
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The main way to make magic "not annoying" it to make sure it follows the rules of magical physics, if you will.

Magical acts require energy (fuel). The energy has to come from somewhere to be expended in an act or a spell. It can be extinguished and replenished. It's not endless.

Magical acts have consequences beyond the immediate result. Shooting something with a levinbolt will also raise the ambient temperature in the room and temporarily blind onlookers; using sound waves will burst eardrums.

Even people born with magical talent have to learn how to use it: how to cast a spell, direct energy, form a shield. It takes time and effort to learn these things.

Just because everyone has magic doesn't mean that they'll use it for everything. There will be times when it's easier, safer, or quieter to do something by hand.

For homework, read the Harry Potter series, play some D&D or read some of the D&D/Forgotten Realms etc. novels, and watch the BBC show Merlin for starters. Mercedes Lackey has about two dozen sword-and-sorcery books which show the learning process and consequences of magic in great detail.

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IMHO, characters who have magic powers are tricky, because:

(a) If the character can solve all his problems by just waving his magic wand, the story is boring. Problem comes, the hero waves his magic wand, problem solved, end of story.

(b) If the character doesn't solve his problems with his magic powers for no apparent reason, as a reader I just wonder why not. Like I know Tolkien was wildly popular but I found his stories boring and frustrating. Why couldn't Gandalf just use his magic to destroy the rings? Or magically teleport them all to the place where they could destroy the ring rather than having to make a long and tedious trip? All the problems the characters faced in the stories: why couldn't they just fix them with magic?

Sure, you could say, Well, magic doesn't mean the character can do ANYTHING. He's not all-powerful. Well fine then, you have to describe to me just what he can and can't do. Otherwise it sounds like you're just making it all up as you go along, letting his magic powers get him out of situations when that's convenient for the story and not being of help when it isn't. Frankly, I think a lot of authors of such stories DO just make it up as they go along.

Which leads to (c) You say how amazingly powerful this person is, and then you have to start coming up with limitations of his power. Often this seems very contrived. Like I always found Superman stories rather contorted: first they tell us how he's super strong and can fly and all these amazing powers that make him invincible. But then no enemy is any threat. So they have to come up with "kryptonite" to give him a weakness.

Not to say that it's not possible to write stories about people with magic powers that are interesting, just that there are pitfalls.

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    Eddings, a frequent best seller, has the character UL as an all-powerful god, but he chooses not to intervene. I would also add the show LITTLE CHARGERS (Nickelodeon) to the list of good views (I'm serious!). They bumble their spells and then have to get rescued by stronger spells, which can run itself in circles. – Stu W Nov 14 '15 at 15:23

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