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So the way magic is performed in my story's world is by carving runes into the flesh, and lately I've become worried that this may be glorifying self harm.

In the story, society generally views magic as a positive thing, and people see nothing wrong with it/the way it's performed—while the main character slowly begins to realize the negative impact performing magic her whole life has had on her. I wouldn't really say I'm portraying it as an inherently good/bad thing, more so a tool with unfortunate consequences. It's probably also worth noting that, due to the way the magic works, there is usually little to no scarring.

The magic users themselves, though, are definitely portrayed in a more 'attractive' light you could say, either in the form of highly spiritual monastics, or for-hire rogues trying to survive in a harsh desert environment. They're also considered an oppressed minority group.

I guess I'm just worried about the possibility of my magic system inspiring real self harm in real life. Should I change it? If not, any considerations for moving forward with it? Ty in advanced.

Oh, also one last thing, my story is a comic—so this would be portrayed through illustration rather than written word—if that makes any difference.

Edit:

Thank you for the feedback everyone! I've made the decision to change my magic system to remove the self harm element. I definitely see now how portraying my magic system the way I was planning to, especially in a visual medium, can be harmful. Thankfully I'm not too far into the planning process of my story, so changing things around should be relatively painless.

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    Hi suns99, welcome to writing.se! Thankyou for thinking about this. I wish more writers would consider the accidental messages their work conveys and whether that is a good thing to do. When you get a chance, take our tour and visit the help center to learn about our site. Hopefully someone will be able to provide a great answer. Good luck and happy writing!
    – linksassin
    Mar 1 at 3:01
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    When your protagonist(s) would carve runes into their flesh - do you want your audience to root for them or recoil in horror?
    – Alexander
    Mar 1 at 5:25
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    It reminds me a bit of the (unofficial) Blood Hunter class for Dungeons and Dragons. Their blood magic also requires them to cut themselves to use their powers. So it's not without precedent, at least.
    – towr
    Mar 1 at 6:37
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    I'd look into advice on writing about self-harm (and also suicide), e.g. nicolamorgan.com/news/… (there's tons of it...) You could also use the story to write about self-harm and healing from it... in simple terms a variant where the harmful behavior is a crutch and moving past it, maybe into new magic, that is more powerful. And yes, the comic/visual makes a difference. The more detailed you are, the more likely it will be emulated by the reader... A picture says more than a thousand words...
    – Erk
    Mar 1 at 22:42
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    I also recall writing about it (self-harm or suicide) in such a way that it produces a positive effect is a big problem. Giving your character magic due to self-harm isn't the same as showing a family coming together and healing due to (as opposed to in spite of) the suicide of a family member, but it's in the vicinity... And here's another link (check out the PDF:s): samaritans.org/about-samaritans/media-guidelines/…
    – Erk
    Mar 1 at 23:28

2 Answers 2

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I think the question answers itself by being a question, honestly. If I write something down, hoping a vast audience of kids will fall in love with my vision, and really worry that kids will fall in love with my vision? I generally won’t write it down.

However, assuming your story is deeply invested in self-harm rites, attach the magic to an uncommon item. For example, even old legends kept many women safe from dragon sacrifices by requiring them to be virgin. Hard to emulate that for a good part of the population. Carving runes with a stick or a common knife doesn’t work. Specify that it’s only a knife “that has taken the tongue of a troll” which can create the magic from a fleshrune! or some such impossibility.

I stick with my first answer however, stay away from things that make you go on the internet for moral implications. Your gut was probably right.

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  • Unfortunately, my GAD makes me overthink the implications of everything I write, so I'd have a difficult time writing things off based on gut instinct alone. If I reduce it from a series of runes to just one small rune or cut, do you think it would have the same moral implications? I'm also definitely considering the requirement of a specific uncommon item. The point in story is that this process has a negative impact on the user, and this is heavily reflected in the protagonist's arc, so I guess I'm hesitant to cut this aspect out entirely.
    – suns99
    Mar 1 at 17:25
  • @suns99 tattoos have a negative impact in some societies and a positive one in others. There’s no need to try for an “objectively bad” injury. In the USA you can’t serve in the military if you have certain tattoos or have them in certain locations. The stigma can be from the society instead of a physical problem. But if it “needs to be” a physical disability, then you’ll do best by linking the magical benefit to an uncommon (or better, impossible) item.
    – Vogon Poet
    Mar 1 at 17:41
  • It's not really a matter of physical disability, more so the impact it has on mental health. I should also probably clarify that the magic is flesh & blood manipulation, and the cut/rune is the process through which it's activated/what form is activated. So the magic is inherent in the person, and wouldn't come from an external object. The injury itself is actually of least importance here, because as flesh manipulators, they can easily heal minor flesh wounds. So my question really boils down to, will this method come off as harmful/distasteful even if I stress it's bad in story?
    – suns99
    Mar 1 at 18:06
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While I have my reservations about it, it seems no worse than Mistborn where people ingest various metals to gain magical powers. What I will say though is that it just doesn't seem practical..? I mean how long would it take to carve a rune into your flesh when you need to do a bit of magic? Doesn't seem like it'd be quick. And what happens when you don't need it anymore? Do you then have to heal yourself? or are you stuck with it?

Why not go for something like scarification or tattoos? There are indigenous peoples across the world that practice scarification, whether for aesthetic reasons or as a social construct, the same goes for tattoos, why not use something similar for your magic world? You could have apprentices with very few marks and elders that are covered in them, they could be earned through some kind of test to move up a hierarchy and you could use them to differentiate between various orders, like healers, warriors, clerics etc. There's a ton of possibilities there that don't involve arbitrarily cutting yourself.

Just a suggestion.

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    I think tattoos is a really good alternative. It’s the scarification the OP wants but a less-deep version of it.
    – Vogon Poet
    Mar 1 at 15:42

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