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Author Topic: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?  (Read 4366 times)

Offline Skip

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Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #15 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.
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Offline J.R. Darewood

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Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #16 on: August 14, 2018, 04:32:59 AM »
Personally I have no negative association with "in depth" but that might just be me.

Offline cupiscent

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Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #17 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

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Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #18 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
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Offline J.R. Darewood

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Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #19 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.
« Last Edit: August 14, 2018, 10:20:14 AM by J.R. Darewood »

Offline cupiscent

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Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #20 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.

Offline Ryan Mueller

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Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #21 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.

Offline Alex Hormann

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Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #22 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.

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Offline DrNefario

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Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #23 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?

Offline Skip

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Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #24 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.
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Offline Toby Frost

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Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #25 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.

Offline Slaykomimi

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Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #26 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.
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Offline Bender

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Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #27 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.
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Offline Jonathan Campbell

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Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #28 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.
« Last Edit: August 22, 2018, 06:29:12 PM by Jonathan Campbell »

Offline Catlinel

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Re: Do readers really need magic systems explained in depth ?
« Reply #29 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.