April 11, 2021, 01:55:45 AM

Author Topic: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?  (Read 4363 times)

Offline eclipse

  • Warning: this topic has not been posted in for at least 120 days.
  • Elderling
  • ****
  • Posts: 5172
  • Gender: Male
Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« on: August 13, 2018, 06:30:15 AM »
I rather you got on with the story instead of about 50 pages about how magic works in the world, Maybe a couple of pages.
« Last Edit: August 13, 2018, 07:03:49 AM by Eclipse »
According to some,* heroic deaths are admirable things

* Generally those who don't have to do it.Politicians and writers spring to mind

Jonathan Stroud:Ptolmy's Gate

Online cupiscent

  • Writing Group
  • Gentleman Bastard
  • *****
  • Posts: 1952
  • Gender: Female
  • an nonsense
    • viscerate.com
Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #1 on: August 13, 2018, 07:05:50 AM »
I choose to read this as "does Brandon Sanderson really need to include so much detail that you could write the RPG sourcebook direct from the text?" ;)

Actually, Mr Sanderson spoke well about the level of detail required in his writing course, wherein (from memory) he said something along the lines of "you need as much detail as required to support your uses of magic". And certainly, as a reader, if the author pulls a magical rabbit out of their hat that could not have been predicted because they'd been vague about the magical system, I'm going to get cranky. It's the same as producing a murderer that we couldn't have predicted because key information was lacking.

That said, if the magic practitioners in the story don't know stuff, I don't mind not knowing it as a reader. (See: KJ Parker's Fencer trilogy.)

If the author gives me butt-tons of technical data about how magic works that I honestly don't need in order to understand the story, I tend to vague out on reading it and, if there's enough of it, put the book down. (Note: if the tech data is needed to understand the action sequences, I may be interested, depending on how engagingly the action is written and how linked to the character and emotional stuff. If it's basically just hack-and-slash-by-numbers, I'm probably asleep already.)

Offline S. K. Inkslinger

  • Master Namer
  • ******
  • Posts: 2060
  • Gender: Male
    • Goodreads Author Profile
Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #2 on: August 13, 2018, 07:24:24 AM »
YASSSSS

I'm a Sanderson fan boy though.  ;D

Offline J.R. Darewood

  • aka Duckly Breadgood
  • Writing Group
  • Khaleesi
  • *
  • Posts: 2785
  • Gender: Male
  • Zork. And it was all downhill from there.
    • Nerd Empire
Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #3 on: August 13, 2018, 10:47:45 AM »

I choose to read this as "does Brandon Sanderson really need to include so much detail that you could write the RPG sourcebook direct from the text?" ;)

Hahaha, hammer meet nail.

I like my magic mysterious. That's kind of the whole point of it. Which probably explains some things about me.

Offline ScarletBea

  • Welcome party and bringer of Cake. 2nd-in-Command of the Writing Contest
  • Administrator
  • Big Wee Hag
  • ***
  • Posts: 13233
  • Gender: Female
  • Geeky Reading Introvert
    • LibraryThing profile
Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #4 on: August 13, 2018, 11:06:18 AM »
I like the details, but with 2 caveats:
- show, don't tell (if you want to explain in detail your magic system, use an appendix)
- by 'details' I don't mean explaining the system in relation to our world

For example, Brent Weeks explained his colour-based system (amazing!) in a high level showing its application and then an experienced person showing the newbie.
At home in the Fantasy Faction forum!

I'm "She Who Reigns Over Us All In Crimson Cheer", according to Peat!

Offline Peat

  • Master Namer
  • ******
  • Posts: 2223
Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #5 on: August 13, 2018, 11:49:31 AM »
No they bloody don't. If I want to read an RPG rulebook I will.



I will make an exception if someone has a book explaining their magic system to the depth of Alan Moore's Promathea.
This is the blog of Peat - https://peatlong.wordpress.com/

Offline Slaykomimi

  • Builder
  • ******
  • Posts: 107
Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #6 on: August 13, 2018, 11:50:08 AM »
It is a double edged sword I think, if you explain it too well and than contradict with your own system you did something terribly wrong. For example, lets say you definetly say a wizard can´t just kill someone on command with magic but than he does some spell that forces someone to drop dead.

On the other hand if it´s not explained at all and you see some people wielding weird magic that could´ve helped before but they didn´t make use of it, it´s kind of bad written too. an example of that would be like a sorcerer in a dark cave who cant make any light but later you see him wielding fire as he pleases.

I think it needs to be explained well enough to point out why or why not things happen. But of course overexplaining and overdetailing it can be a drag and is most of the time not necessary.
Truly, if there is evil in this world, it lies within the heart of mankind.

-Edward d. Morrison

Offline eclipse

  • Warning: this topic has not been posted in for at least 120 days.
  • Elderling
  • ****
  • Posts: 5172
  • Gender: Male
Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #7 on: August 13, 2018, 12:21:25 PM »
Did the magic in Harry Potter ever explained? I didn’t read the books. In the films he just waved a wand.

I prefer to learn how magic works in very small doses throughout the story.
According to some,* heroic deaths are admirable things

* Generally those who don't have to do it.Politicians and writers spring to mind

Jonathan Stroud:Ptolmy's Gate

Offline Peat

  • Master Namer
  • ******
  • Posts: 2223
Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #8 on: August 13, 2018, 12:48:29 PM »
Did the magic in Harry Potter ever explained? I didn’t read the books. In the films he just waved a wand.

I prefer to learn how magic works in very small doses throughout the story.

Not really. Those go too far the other way, in that the main limits seem to be Handwavium x Narrativium.
This is the blog of Peat - https://peatlong.wordpress.com/

Offline ScarletBea

  • Welcome party and bringer of Cake. 2nd-in-Command of the Writing Contest
  • Administrator
  • Big Wee Hag
  • ***
  • Posts: 13233
  • Gender: Female
  • Geeky Reading Introvert
    • LibraryThing profile
Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #9 on: August 13, 2018, 01:12:45 PM »
At home in the Fantasy Faction forum!

I'm "She Who Reigns Over Us All In Crimson Cheer", according to Peat!

Offline Grey

  • Seeker
  • *
  • Posts: 8
    • Ideas Scrapbook
Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #10 on: August 13, 2018, 04:20:20 PM »
My cop out answer is: it depends on the book.  ;D

As for my personal preferences though, I'm in the same boat as J. R. Darewood.

One of my favourite ever books is Johnathan Strange and Mr Norrell, where the magic is never really explained and the titular pair begin to wield it without fully understanding it to some vary serious consequences later on. Here, magic is established as a force of nature: powerful, unpredictable and often uncontrollable.

For a particular system of magic, I agree with ScarletBea. I don't think there are many readers who would want to read a 1000 essay on the rules, applications and usage of a particular system of magic. Instead, it would be more fun to think of the ways in which a society is influenced by magic and demonstrate how it affects daily life (for example: a levitation spell could mean no more reaching for the top cupboard in the kitchen!)
http://king-of-sparrows.tumblr.com/ - Ideas Blog
https://greyharper.wordpress.com/ - Wordpress

"It is said of the Ouroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself and gives birth to himself. He symbolizes the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites."  - Carl Jung

Offline Eli_Freysson

  • Master Namer
  • ******
  • Posts: 2315
  • Gender: Male
    • Eli Freysson's author page
Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #11 on: August 13, 2018, 05:04:13 PM »
I vastly prefer magic as a mysterious, rarely seen force. I'm turned away from anything that has magic schools in it.

At the same time magic needs to have at least SOME internal rules, if only in the author's head, to answer the question of why a character doesn't just use magic to solve a particular situation.

I think Tolkien may have been the best at keeping magic vague but also interesting. I'm now in the process of trying to do a "mythic"-feeling epic fantasy of my own, but I keep finding myself trying to make too much sense of it.

(Yes, I lean towards doing the very thing I dislike.)
I'll notify your next of kin... that you sucked!

Offline Slaykomimi

  • Builder
  • ******
  • Posts: 107
Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #12 on: August 13, 2018, 07:46:39 PM »
I vastly prefer magic as a mysterious, rarely seen force. I'm turned away from anything that has magic schools in it.

At the same time magic needs to have at least SOME internal rules, if only in the author's head, to answer the question of why a character doesn't just use magic to solve a particular situation.

I think Tolkien may have been the best at keeping magic vague but also interesting. I'm now in the process of trying to do a "mythic"-feeling epic fantasy of my own, but I keep finding myself trying to make too much sense of it.

(Yes, I lean towards doing the very thing I dislike.)

You can make a system but keep it to yourself. I am sure many others did so too. just don´t tell the reader the rules or don´t explain it. That´s a good point with Tolkien, but I am sure he thought of some sort of system about the magic but just never let anyone question it how it works.
Truly, if there is evil in this world, it lies within the heart of mankind.

-Edward d. Morrison

Offline Magnus Hedén

  • High Lord of commas and Grand Master of semicolons
  • Mistborn
  • ******
  • Posts: 601
  • Gender: Male
  • My name is Magnus. I make stuff up.
Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #13 on: August 13, 2018, 09:05:23 PM »
The writer needs to understand how the world they created works. The reader need only understand it insofar as it is required to understand the story.

I think the mistake a lot of SFF writers make is assuming that their setting is more important than the story they are telling. Nothing is.

Online Elfy

  • Writing contest regular
  • Powers That Be
  • Big Wee Hag
  • *
  • Posts: 7570
  • Gender: Male
    • Purple Dove House
Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #14 on: August 13, 2018, 10:42:51 PM »
I say no, as well. I have issues with hard science fiction for the same reason. When I turn on the light or drive my car I don't need a degree in electronics or mechanics to do those things. That's why we have electricians and mechanics. I look at magic in fantasy much the same way, it's enough for me to know that it works and accept that. There can be some brief description to ground the reader, but they don't or shouldn't require detailed explanations of how the magic works. As others have said if readers do really want that, then maybe the author can make a few extra bucks out of fans by releasing a source book later down the track.
I will expand your TBR pile.

http://purpledovehouse.blogspot.com