Dial Down Your Fantasy Fiction Magic to Deepen the Drama


Fantasy fiction magic is some pretty powerful stuff.

It can locate missing persons or items, open portals to whole new worlds, breathe speaking and higher thinking abilities into animals, bind people in spells – for good or bad – and so very much more.

Really, it’s not altogether inaccurate to say that fantasy fiction magic can do anything!

But should it? That’s the topic this week’s Writing Rule requires us to contemplate.

Even the Most Powerful Fantasy Magic Needs Limits

The fun with fantasy is that you can create whole new abilities. Like candles that can telepathically connect you with people thousands of miles away. Or “one ring to rule them all.” But don’t let yourself get carried away by that admittedly heady ability.

Magic should very rarely be perfect, where it can control absolutely everyone or do absolutely everything. And characters should never have access to that perfection. Otherwise, the whole story loses its edge.

Look. It’s your world. Whether you’re basing your fantasy fiction magic and abilities on actual myths, legends and established genre canon, or you’re making everything up yourself, own it.

While you’re owning it though, respect the fact that a novel’s plot – fantasy fiction or otherwise – depends on making readers ask a whole set of questions… and then not answering them for pages and pages, chapters and chapters.

For our genre of the week this time around, those questions might look like:

  • Why won’t the mermaids reveal the secret grotto to their supposed allies?

  • Where will the supernatural bounty hunter find his lost lady love after the vampires took her captive?

  • How exactly did the evil wizard make the Andriellowians submit to his will, and when will that spell ever break?

  • What does the fox say?

Forgetting that last question, which clearly has nothing to do with fantasy fiction magic (or does it?”), the powers you grant your characters could easily solve the other three and a half. In no time flat too.

  • The mermaids won’t reveal the secret grotto to their supposed allies? No problem! Your protagonist can read minds like a total boss.

  • The supernatural bounty hunter’s lady love has been taken captive by vampires? Eh. Problem solved when he has a fail-proof sense of smell like the most powerful hound dog ever. It’s the magical ability his mother passed down to him before she died, you see.

  • The evil wizard made the Andriellowians submit to his will by using their mesmerizing mined lellio rocks against them, though that stuff only has a shelf life of two months without the proper care. Everyone who can counter-bind Mother Andriellow to her will knows that. And your main character just happens to be one of those all-powerful people.

None of this is to say that it’s a bad idea that your protagonist can read minds… just as long as there’s some force that can disable that ability.

The same goes for powerful senses of smell. Remove the “fail-proof” part, and you could have a really interesting story on your hands.

And as for being able to bind Mother Andriellow to one’s will, what if that involves some key ingredient that isn’t easily found… something the evil wizard knows full well?

Adding those touches of inability and limitations allows authors and authors-in-the-making to logically and compellingly deepen the drama in their stories. That way, fantasy fiction magic maintains its most amazing power of all: spellbinding readers to the writer’s world.

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