Lit101: Journal Brainstorm
We need a journal. Seriously. With various users being able to contribute short essays offering advice, encouragement, victories, failures, recommendation of resources, and maybe even an advice column. Lit101 would be the perfect way to facilitate it.
The thought sprung up this morning when I was thinking of "Magic" and how it correlates to Physics. I was hacking away at the thought during my morning commute, and when I arrived at work I thought: "I should share this with the Others!" Then I came here and realized there really isn't any targeted medium to deliver the information, nor any way to really invite discussion.
"But Deathcon," you might say to me. "That's why Tom created forumz!"
To which I'll respond, after rolling my eyes and shrugging, "I've tried making a thread to start a discussion. One may recall Misogyny and Media. mhzinski, may he rest in peace, was the only one that formed an opinion and bothered to contribute to the conversation. The discussion quickly degenerated into an argument, however, of which I take partial responsibility. It's something we need to work on, being able to carry an intelligent discussion. This is in addition to getting writers their critique."
Magic and Physics
Ask a person, an average John/Jane, what physics is, or the first thing they think of when they hear the word, and I assure you it's gravity.
Ask a general what Physics is and he'll probably say something along the lines of it helping to make bigger bombs.
Ask a physics teacher what physics is, and when they're done grading papers, they'll oblige by providing various and sundry equations.
Ask a philosopher what physics is and before long you'll be arguing the nature of space and time, existence, and the universe.
Ask a physicist what physics is and their answer will be very complex, yet very incomplete.
There are so many ways to frame an understanding of Physics, but zero ways of truly understanding it. Nearly three millennia of study and we only recently discovered proof of the Higgs Boson. Nearly three millennia of study and we only recently discovered exoplanets. Nearly three millennia of study and we're only now cracking the surface of nanotechnology, quantum computing, virtual reality.
Magic has to work the same way. Your character understands it, this fictional science, through the limited scope of their application of it. But even as the world, as a whole, continues to push the boundary, there is still much to uncover.
The best types of magics are the ones about which a reader can theorize. Magics that have a central structure, a tenuous central identity, but expand in either direction. Like a character, a good magic system must have an arc of understanding.
The most effective arc, because it offers the most change and the most conflict between start and end, is the inversion. With regard to magic consider this: the power being used is actually your own future strength. Now, imagine the impact on a character when, after a large battle and an immense exertion of power, they discover they've effectively shortened their lifespan to a handful of years or months. It's sweet, sweet irony. Fighting for survival is what kills them. You also open up the incentive for a quest and set up questions to be answered. How can this be undone? What can be done to survive long enough to learn? What is this magic? Where does it come from? Where can information be found? Why is the magic the way it is? These questions lead to deeper questions. Questions of milieu. Not really the point of this, but definitely a benefit of this train of thought.
So what happens when the character learns they draw power through metaphysical conduits? What if their default affinity is their own power conduit, but they can pull from other conduits. Now, their magic can be powered using the energy of their enemies. And, what's more, they can refill their own power, indefinitely, granting them relative immortality. And lo, the longer their conduit is at capacity, the stronger their ability to channel the energy. So now they're effectively immortal, growing stronger by the day. Then you invert their situation again, remove their individuality and make them the weakest. When they reach the pinnacle of that, then take their power away, let them grow strength of character. Which, admittedly, is not magic, but is a type of magic: magic-less.
What I'm getting at, and I hope I didn't over do it with the setup, is that Magic, like everything else, needs to be three dimensional. There needs to be a depth to it that only grows as the story does. And that depth cannot be limited to the start and end of a story. It needs to grow beyond the pages and lend a sense of wonder to the reader. Magic shouldn't just be the fireballs flung from the fingers, or the super high jump just when a super high jump is needed. More often than not, that casual use of Magic only creates plot holes.
One of my favorite examples of how NOT to do magic: The Force. Star Wars handles the force pretty badly. I've yet to read a Star Wars novel, or watch a Star Wars movie, or play a Star Wars game, that handled the Force well. Why in some situations is it used, and not in others? I was watching the Clone Wars cartoon one day. Obi Wan was chasing a terrorist. He was maybe twenty feet behind this guy. Now, Obi Wan can Force Push, so he can more than likely Force Pull. But he doesn't. And the guy jumps a ledge to his death and they can't interrogate him. Why? Plot hole.
Disclaimer: I'm a huge Star Wars fan, but I'm not so blinded I can't see its flaw. As a fan I simply accept them. But I shouldn't have to!
If you've read Patrick Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicle you'll see an amazing use of magic. The magic feels like magic even though Rothfuss explains equivalent exchange, conservation of energy, the mental Alar, Sygaldry, and the nuances of Naming. The Magic deepens with the story. It's a master study of what I'm trying to, in my own verbose way, explain.
Read it. I'm stopping here. I've been slowly writing this post over the course of the day and need to focus on other things.