Fantasy Faction

Fantasy Faction => Fantasy Book & Author Discussion => Topic started by: eclipse on August 13, 2018, 06:30:15 AM

Title: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: eclipse 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.
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: cupiscent 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.)
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: S. K. Inkslinger on August 13, 2018, 07:24:24 AM
YASSSSS

I'm a Sanderson fan boy though.  ;D
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: J.R. Darewood 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.
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: ScarletBea 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.
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: Peat 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.
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: Slaykomimi 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.
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: eclipse 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.
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: Peat 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.
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: ScarletBea on August 13, 2018, 01:12:45 PM
Handwavium x Narrativium.
;D
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: Grey 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!)
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: Eli_Freysson 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.)
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: Slaykomimi 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.
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: Magnus Hedén 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.
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: Elfy 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.
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: Skip on August 14, 2018, 03:15:19 AM
But this is a straw man. Specifically, that "in depth" phrase, which (judging from the rest of the thread) is the same as saying "too much."  The word "really" is another indicator that the author of the question already has the answer.

Nothing should be explained "too much."  It should always be explained "just right." Therein lies the challenge.
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: J.R. Darewood on August 14, 2018, 04:32:59 AM
Personally I have no negative association with "in depth" but that might just be me.
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: cupiscent on August 14, 2018, 08:59:04 AM
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.

...different strokes for different folks, because that was precisely the system of magic I was thinking of as one that had made me go "oh god, I don't care" and put down the book! ;D
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: ScarletBea on August 14, 2018, 10:11:11 AM
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.

...different strokes for different folks, because that was precisely the system of magic I was thinking of as one that had made me go "oh god, I don't care" and put down the book! ;D
;D
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: J.R. Darewood on August 14, 2018, 10:17:49 AM
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.

...different strokes for different folks, because that was precisely the system of magic I was thinking of as one that had made me go "oh god, I don't care" and put down the book! ;D
;D

What like about Brent, tho, is that different cultures have different explanatory systems for magic and it shapes what they believe they can or can't do.  Unfortunately, instead of discovering this, he has someone who somehow knows everything already explain it at the outset, ruining the... magic of discovery... about magic.

Aside from laying a magic system out clearly being mechanical and uninspired exposition--equivalent to any sort of bad exposition-- if magic really existed we wouldn't have the full comprehension of exactly how it works, it would be filtered through various competing and inaccurate lenses.
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: cupiscent on August 15, 2018, 04:43:30 AM
if magic really existed we wouldn't have the full comprehension of exactly how it works, it would be filtered through various competing and inaccurate lenses.

Excellently well said, good sir! There is no reason why magic as a discipline should be any less skewed by societal context (like fashion, politics, commercial considerations, religion, blah blah blah) than the scientific disciplines have been throughout human history.
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: Ryan Mueller on August 15, 2018, 05:03:21 AM
In my own writing, I explain the magic to the extent necessary to avoid deus ex machina.

I usually have my magic systems completely worked out for myself. That way, I don't end up contradicting myself.
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: Alex Hormann on August 15, 2018, 11:59:59 AM


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.

I would happily read that essay.

I love detailed explanations (like Sanderson does with his Ars Arcanums) but I don't absolutely need one. As long as I understand the magic, its general abilities, and its limits, I'm happy. In general though, I'm always greedy for more information.

Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: DrNefario on August 15, 2018, 01:33:46 PM
I don't really remember hearing the phrase "magic system" until quite recently. Maybe in gaming, but never in fiction. The fact that it is now a standard thing that people expect from their fantasy is a little bit depressing. See also worldbuilding. It's like there's an expectation you'll have everything worked out before you ever start writing a story, when, to my mind, the story ought to come first. The world should be built to serve the story, and you don't need to build anything you don't use. Heck, maybe you ought to leave some wiggle-room for the sequels.

But then, I really like Sanderson's books, so what do I know?
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: Skip on August 15, 2018, 06:26:22 PM
I think of magic systems--and worldbuilding in general--as something akin to a kitchen pantry. Sure, I can cook a meal and have only the ingredients for that meal, and everyone still eats. But I like to think that having a full stock of spices, plenty of vegetables, different meats, breads, etc. means I can be more creative in the cooking.

That's how it feels when I write. By having far more available to me, I can put greater variety into the story, throw more interesting challenges at my characters. Also, having a fairly complete (it certainly can turn into an obsession) system of magic means I know the constraints. I know what magic cannot do, and why. That, too, is important in story telling. If I work from a blank slate, literally all things are possible. I'll go a bit further: we're not really working from a blank slate, because the story doesn't actually drive anything. We do. The authors. And each of us come to the page with a set of assumptions about magic that will inform all our writing. By doing formal worldbuilding, we can examine those assumptions and maybe turn a few inside out. Maybe you can do that on the fly, mid-sentence, but I sure can't. Every writer differs, of course.

I'll try for one more comparison. The more worldbuilding I do, the more it feels like I've been there. And that means I'm going to be better at describing it, bringing it alive to someone else. Everything can be over-done, of course, but just because there's a possibility of over-cooking that steak is no reason not to cook it at all.
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: Toby Frost on August 15, 2018, 08:41:59 PM
For me, it doesn't really matter so long as the magic system doesn't become a deus ex machina to get characters out of trouble. It's a kind of Chekov's Gun in reverse: the characters shouldn't just be able to do something with magic to solve their problems unless it's been foreshadowed that they can.
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: Slaykomimi on August 16, 2018, 08:29:02 AM
In my opinion it also depends on the scale of the story, if you write just one book or a small series it probably doesn´t matter too much how far all is planned out. If you go for the opposite and want to create a vast world with stories happening over thousands of years with countless characters and all, than it´s probably better to think a little bit first about the world, the magic, how things work, how they developed and all.

I would say the bigger it´s scaled the more explained it needs to be. But that´s just for me, I am sure many people would also prefer or don´t mind not much explanation at all.
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: Bender on August 20, 2018, 12:02:11 AM
Of the mega Malazan books, probably a few pages are devoted to magic system explanation, that too as a sidetrack during character conversations. And what was explained actually raises more questions than what it answered  ;)

I don't recall Wot making much effort either.

It's not important, what's more important is understanding how it works practically within the world.
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: Jonathan Campbell on August 22, 2018, 06:26:11 PM
Theory- it isn't just whether or not the magic has rules, but how much your character knows or is meant to know about those rules.

Like, Star Wars has some loose rules about the Force and the Jedi because we are following Luke Skywalker, and the prequels and the Expanded Universe going into much more depth because we are following other Jedi, in fact we are following entire Orders of Jedi now, as well as Sith and other Force users.

Star Wars from the POV of Han Solo though probably really does look like the Force doesn't really have rules or doesn't need explaining, because Han isn't going to be using the Force anytime soon and doesn't really need to know how it works all that much (unless to browbeat Finn of course).

Most magic systems that are explained in depth are ones in which the main characters are going too e students of those systems; most stories where it isn't are ones where the main characters aren't.  There might be the odd occasion where the magic is mysterious even to the wielders for whatever reason (like, say, the Farseer trilogy), but for the most part this is consistent anywhere the writing is at least half-decent and the author isn't just making things up and disregarding all internal logic as they see fit.
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: Catlinel on November 07, 2018, 03:25:31 AM
I quite like having details, knowing the contexte, how it evolves, how it works. As long as it is well written, not too technical and especially, not boring.

When it is well done, it gets me all the more engrossed in my reading.
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: eclipse on September 09, 2020, 02:06:03 PM
I don't really remember hearing the phrase "magic system" until quite recently. Maybe in gaming, but never in fiction. The fact that it is now a standard thing that people expect from their fantasy is a little bit depressing. See also worldbuilding. It's like there's an expectation you'll have everything worked out before you ever start writing a story, when, to my mind, the story ought to come first. The world should be built to serve the story, and you don't need to build anything you don't use. Heck, maybe you ought to leave some wiggle-room for the sequels.

But then, I really like Sanderson's books, so what do I know?

How long have we’ve been using the word magic system in fiction?
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: ScarletBea on September 09, 2020, 02:29:52 PM
How long have we’ve been using the word magic system in fiction?
I think it's more a case of people talking about books as a community more now, so they need to find the words...
It's a system and it's not from our world, therefore 'magic', hence "magic system" ;D
Title: Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
Post by: cupiscent on September 10, 2020, 01:12:47 AM
I tend to prefer using the term "special physics" because that also covers strangenesses that aren't really a "system". And I feel like I heard that term before I started hearing "magic system", but perhaps that's because I came at this from a literature/writing perspective, rather than a gaming perspective? (Both perspectives converging on "speculative fiction".)