August 21, 2017, 05:30:47 AM

Author Topic: How common are magic spells these days?  (Read 353 times)

Offline Yora

How common are magic spells these days?
« on: August 13, 2017, 12:40:42 PM »
I can say with confidence that I am not well read in contemporary fantasy in any way. But I recently noticed that in pretty much all the older classics I tend to read, there are very few cases in which you would say a sorcerer is casting a spell. There is no saying of magic words and then a beam shots out of their fingers or wands and then does something to the target that is being hit.

Yet when I look at contemporary writing advice for fantasy, magic systems appear to be a pretty popular topic. With examples having a considerable number of cases of select your target and release your magic power.

Is that actually common or even the predominant approach to magic in current fantasy? Or are these more like prominent exceptions that get talked about because they are easy to grasp in clearly defined terms?
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Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: How common are magic spells these days?
« Reply #1 on: August 13, 2017, 04:29:26 PM »
The Prince of Nothing (and Bakker's follow up books) feature exactly that kind of sorcery, along with "summoning magic" - bringing demons in from the Outside and letting them run amok. And it's one of his work's biggest strengths.

There's a variety of "magic spells", which I break several groups: psychological/social magic (Gandalf's magic is most effectual in terms of its impacts on people); heavily obscured magic that is rarely seen and often used as a convenient plot-device (I think Wheel of Time falls into this lot, along with The Force in SW); and self-impacting magic, where the 'caster' uses magic to change their own attributes (Sanderson's Allomancy is the best example).

I am not sure which is dominant right now, if any, but the discussion of how to incorporate magic into a story is popular because it has the potential to really upset a story instead of enriching it. Magic is power - power can undermine conflict because powerful characters can use it to achieve goals. If that power is truly momentous, it takes a really clever writer to craft a situation the character cannot 'poof' herself out of. You can go to the extreme with Superman Syndrome - where a character is an all-powerful Ubermensch that would have to get into planet-wrestling before he runs out of strength. Hence the device of Kryptonite.

So I think the discussion of magic systems in writing is akin to what game-designers call balance for your characters - enough power to provide some cool moments and to make baddies dangerous - but not so much that the story devolves into a nuclear exchange between two sorcerers that destroys both and the world.
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Offline ultamentkiller

Re: How common are magic spells these days?
« Reply #2 on: August 13, 2017, 05:15:29 PM »
I haven't read anything in a long time that uses magic spells. I'm trying to remember examples. Harry Potter, Howls Moving Castle, the Demon Wars Saga, Dresden, maybe Night Angel... I think that's it. Most magic I see tends to be mental. or if words are being spoken, the author doesn't write them.
Brent Weeks started writing Night Angel in 2004, and all of the other examples I can think of started around that time or earlier. So in the last decade, I've got nothing.

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: How common are magic spells these days?
« Reply #3 on: August 13, 2017, 05:26:02 PM »
I wanted to add that I have discovered that I LOVE magic - the very idea of it sets a tingling in my limbs. In addition to the idea of directly impacting the world, I am especially intrigued with the idea of magic perception. How wonderful would it be to be able to see the energies that are all around us? The heat in a cup of coffee, the momentum in a child on a swing, increasing on the way down, peaking at the bottom, and dwindling to nothing as she reaches the peak of the arc. I had a vivid dream once where I could see the energy and motion within stationary matter, sweeping vistas of things too minute to see with the eye.

Whatever the form or plot function, I believe it is this wondrous quality, as @Jmack has mentioned many times, that is essential if you want magic to be a compelling element in your story. It doesn't have to (and arguably shouldn't) be intended to be wondrous to the reader; if it is wondrous to a character, that is enough.
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Offline Henry Dale

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Re: How common are magic spells these days?
« Reply #4 on: August 13, 2017, 05:31:02 PM »
R E Feist Riftwar Saga books had proper magic as far as I can remember.

Offline Yora

Re: How common are magic spells these days?
« Reply #5 on: August 13, 2017, 05:36:44 PM »
Now what would consider to be "proper magic"?
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Offline Henry Dale

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Re: How common are magic spells these days?
« Reply #6 on: August 13, 2017, 05:45:55 PM »
Now what would consider to be "proper magic"?
Proper as in what you described, firing bolts from hands, slicing gateways in the fabric of the universe...

Offline Peat

Re: How common are magic spells these days?
« Reply #7 on: August 13, 2017, 09:07:40 PM »
Now what would consider to be "proper magic"?
Proper as in what you described, firing bolts from hands, slicing gateways in the fabric of the universe...

Would Gygax have approved in other words.

To which the answer for Midkemia is yes. But then, it basically a D&D world...
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Offline Nora

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Re: How common are magic spells these days?
« Reply #8 on: August 14, 2017, 11:31:33 AM »
You seem to be describing a type of point and shoot magic. I haven't read that at all in a long time. I think, maybe, Canavan's Magician trilogy might have had that typical stuff, but mostly I read books where magic is not a point and shoot weapon. Like Sanderson's books. But they can have "spells" like in using breath in Warbreaker.
Rivers of London does magic with Latin and "forma" to hold in your head, and sometimes to speak out, but not always.
Divine Cities has incredible magic, remnants of the presence of the gods... and it works by "miracles" but not by spells...

Globally I don't really encounter what you describe, but then I don't read that much high fantasy at all.
I would say it is not the way it is done in more common fantasy, because that's what I read and I don't see it. I just can't speak for "wizard" and "mages" type of stories.
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Offline Lanko

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Re: How common are magic spells these days?
« Reply #9 on: August 14, 2017, 01:18:42 PM »
I think Harry Potter does that and it's very popular  ::)

Expelliamus, pointing and shooting through wands and all that.
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Offline Yora

Re: How common are magic spells these days?
« Reply #10 on: August 14, 2017, 01:46:04 PM »
Well, I don't just mean shooty magic. Also snap your fingers and get immediate result stuff.
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Offline Lanko

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Re: How common are magic spells these days?
« Reply #11 on: August 14, 2017, 02:00:24 PM »
The Black Company by Glen Cook has characters that use magic and don't say a word about it. They just do stuff. Casting glamors, army of illusions, placing visual effects on their armors to confuse the enemy, etc... or even when shooting a lightning bolt. For some stuff they might need a ritual or some preparation. But yea, no names or hand waving.

On the other hand, it's actually from the 80s....

Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher uses mental illness as a source of power, like pyromaniacs using fire (in various ways), multiple personality disorder = clones, mirror images are actual different people, etc. No name of spells or hand waving either.

in the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb there's the Skill and the Wit, which allows one to mentally communicate with other Skill users or do other stuff, and the Wit to talk to animals, even enter them, but there's no telling, except exceptional circumstances you can tell they're actually using it.
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Offline Nora

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Re: How common are magic spells these days?
« Reply #12 on: August 14, 2017, 03:19:16 PM »
Well, I don't just mean shooty magic. Also snap your fingers and get immediate result stuff.

Isn't that like, the definition of magic? What is the other option? You can make potions, or do complicated seals, or have magic beings... All this can still go with a pretty immediate magic system. But isn't magic meant to be a tool used with pretty much instant gratification?
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Offline Yora

Re: How common are magic spells these days?
« Reply #13 on: August 14, 2017, 03:51:21 PM »
Well, it can. But it also can take the form of long rituals to bring fortune to ensure the protection by gods, making sacrifices to bring fortune in future battles, going to a place of power to ask its spirits for guidance, draw runes to block out spirits, drink strange potions to get visions, or speak a curse that will bring future misfortune.
As long as there are some supernatural forces at work that connect the cause and effect, it's magic.
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Offline ultamentkiller

Re: How common are magic spells these days?
« Reply #14 on: August 14, 2017, 04:05:48 PM »
I found a modern example of god-like magic. Legends of the First Empire by Michael J. Sullivan. They call it The Art, and if you're powerful enough, you can literally create mountains.

And for some reason, I love it!