Creating a magic system: Sanderson's First Law

Friday, January 20, 2012

I wasn't sure what I wanted to cover today or even if I was going to cover anything. I haven't finished another new book just yet, nor have I read anything else the past couple days. But as I was sitting here drinking my Cafe Mocha made with my new espresso machine, I was studying my worldbuilding notes for my trogg and wizard story. No more putting off figuring out the rules for magic. The wizard has been backed into a corner and has to start explaining things to the trogg girl. She wasn't allowed to learn the societal laws regarding magic before she got cursed, and after the curse, the only things she's learned has been from overhearing things. Not exactly reliable.

Yes, I could leave magic more free form. It was going to be like that, not really taking center stage. But magic and the societal laws regarding it both make a big difference in what happened in the past to the wizard, what happened to the girl, and what will happen in the future to both of them and the society they live in. The wizard will have to use magic, and magic will get used against them. Which means now I really have to define it.

However, creating magic systems is like social studies in general: my weak area. In one of my other novels-in-progress, my husband created the magic system, so I just have to fit the powers and abilities into his framework. (It's a joint project.) Magic is tangled with the social structure in this world, so it's particularly tricky. Studying a couple of the other well developed magic systems (D&D and Darksword) has given me some ideas for how to shape it, but neither quite works for how I want magic to function in my world setting.

This morning I just typed "magic systems" into the search line on Google and found this great article from Brandon Sanderson. I've never read any of his books, though I think Mistborn is on my TBR list. This article mentions his first experience on a panel at Worldcon on the topic of "How does the magic work?" His first thought was "it has to have rules." But everyone else on the panel adamantly disagreed, stating that with rules comes a loss of wonder. Well, in trying to defend his stance, and in reflecting later on the alternative position, he came up with this law:

An author's ability to solve conflict with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.

One of the corollaries: Magic doesn't need strict rules, but it can't undermine the plot.

He expands on how to apply this rule on the continuum of soft magic to hard magic, just like in SF there is the continuum of soft science to hard science. He uses Spiderman, Gandalf, and Harry Potter as specific examples but also mentions several authors who have approached magic in ways differently from himself, yet he still enjoys reading their stories.

In some aspects, my trogg and wizard story is leaning toward the hard end even though not a great deal of magic will be used on center stage. But when it is used, I want readers to understand what is going on and the risks involved. The wizard won't be telling the trogg about how magic works directly, but he will be explaining the social laws and a bit on how they are trained, so indirectly, some of the rules on how magic works will be hinted at including types that may show up later in the story.

Though the article doesn't exactly help me create the system itself, it does explain why I need to hash out how things work in this world right now, frustrating as it is for me. And I really like his approach toward writers who use magic differently from his own style. Though I'm more of a definer even when I'm winging it, I have enjoyed books that fall more toward the soft end.

How about your writing? Do your stories fall toward soft magic, middle ground, or hard magic? Or if you write SF, what is your the SF equivalent?

When magic and detective fiction collide

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I finally got around to reading one of my husband's highly recommended books: the first book of the Dresden Files - STORM FRONT by Jim Butcher. We have some overlapping tastes like most of Lackey's and McCaffrey's books (and Harry Potter, go figure), but even though we're both big SF/F fans, we have widely different preferences within spec fic. Well, last night I was browsing through our newly reorganized book collection (with my flashlight since the power had gone out thanks to high winds), and I decided to grab something different.

By the end of the first chapter I was hooked. "Paranoid? Probably. But just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that there isn't an invisible demon about to eat your face." The voice is incredible. I really felt sorry for Harry while he's trying to work with a police contact, keep a gangster from sending his thugs after him, figure out who is cooking up the new drug on the streets (to help with point 2), not reveal anything to a sexy reporter, solve a grisly set of murders caused by magic, and not take the rap for it by the police as well as the White Council and a biased Warden. Oh yeah, and not get killed before the Council even meets to put him on trial. What's a nearly broke wizard to do? Keep moving of course. And have a little faith that he's the good guy.

I really liked the combination of magic in a contemporary world with an old fashioned detective sort of novel. I've been reading more mysteries lately, for variety, and this was well done in more than just voice. The mystery kept me guessing but all of Harry's thoughts made sense as he worked out what was going on and how it all connected. I give this book 5 stars.

As for my ROW 80 goals, I haven't been as on track as I'd like.
Writing 100 words every day: Wed, Sun, Mon - no; Thurs, Fri, Sat, Tues - yes
Exercising 10 mins a day: Wed, Thurs, Sun - yes; Fri, Sat, Mon, Tues - no
New book for the week: yes a few times :D

I haven't counted today for yes or no yet, but I'm going to get on that soon. Dresden tied up my morning.

Fantasy for kids

Monday, January 16, 2012

Still waiting for my library books to come in from the other libraries. For now, here's some more kids' books.

CHILD OF AIR by Grace Chetwin
I wanted to read this one because I enjoyed her books about Gom of Windy Mountain. This is set on a different world, but it has much of the same feel, though written for a younger age group. Mylanfyndra and her older brother Brevan live with their grandfather away from most of the townsfolk on their mesa. It is only after his death that they learn why and what secret he had been holding since they were babies.

The only thing I didn't really like was the very ending; it was too abrupt. Seriously, I turned the last page expecting one more to finish wrapping it up, and it was simply done. The last few paragraphs do conclude it, but I felt it was too quick. It needed just a bit more in reflection or something. Other than that, it is well worth reading, a good story for intermediate readers, 10-12 year olds primarily would be my guess. That's one book off my overall TBR list. Too bad I just added about 3 more today.

TWO SILLY TROLLS by Nancy Jewell, pictures by Lisa Thiesing
This is an adorable picture book for very young readers. It says for K-3, but my son is in 1st, and I think he finds it a bit under him in reading level and story complexity. But that might just be him, too, considering he's been listening to me read Boxcar Children and Magic Treehouse books to him the past couple years. In any case, this I Can Read Book is simple and charming with its 5 micro stories about Nip and Tuck, the two silly trolls who start off the first story with a mushroom home until a bear cub sat on it.

My son really liked this one, even though the reading level wasn't much more complex than the silly trolls story. I think he just got a kick out of the fact that anytime Grandpa Witch messed up, he got a black cat. And once you get a cat, you can't send it back. The Doobelator doesn't really come in until the second half of the story, but Grandpa Witch and his two grandchildren, Wanda and Willy are cute as they prepare for Halloween night.

Glad to see that despite my 2 month absence, some of my readers are still here. If anyone has any other spec fic kid books they want to recommend, you can either just list them in the comments below, or email me your brief reviews to dapperdragon (at) gmail (dot) com. When I get a few of them, I'll do up a post just of your reviews. I know at least a few of you have kids of your own, so please share any favorites.

Fun with kids' books and check-in

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

While I'm waiting for the books I requested at the library from my TBR list to come in, I picked up some kids' books. I had fun reading them with my son (chosen to share). Got a few more, too, but we haven't read them yet.

Wizard And Wart At Sea by Janice Lee Smith
Wizard and Wart In Trouble by Janice Lee Smith
My Mom Is a Pirate by Jackie French

I also just read Into the Land of Unicorns by Bruce Coville, picked for myself. I'm going to have to snag the other books in the Unicorn Chronicles from the library. It was fun.

So I'm good for my new book for the week. :D

As for my other two goals...
*Writing 100 words every day: check. I haven't written a huge amount over that, but I did do it, about double every day.
*Exercise 10 minutes every day: check. I danced for half an hour on Sun and Tues, and did ten minutes of using my new stretch bands on Monday.

ROW 80: Round 1 of 2012: Goals

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Round 1 of ROW 80 has already begun, but I jumped in with some writing before working on my goals this past week, plus I worked on some other non-writing related projects. I'm going very modest on my goals this round. In addition to writing and reading, I'm trying to do more crafting, so I need to give myself time for that as well.

Warmup goal: write 100 words every day. Even when I feel like crud, I can usually scrape out that much.

Read one new book a week. New to me that is, but I'll try to get some new releases in here and there as well. I have a huge list of TBRs to get through that is growing faster than I can knock it down. My over all reading goal for the year is 75 books, but that can include old favorites with the new ones. This will give me more books to write reviews on for this blog, something I feel I need to get back to doing again on a regular basis.

Spend 10 mins a day exercising. Super modest but doable. This is more to build a daily routine since I can boogie for an hour to my favorite music, but it's not a daily thing yet.

I'll probably adjust these and/or add new ones in about a month, but this will be a good start.

Unicorns and flowers, oh my!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

I'm starting the new year off with a couple book reviews. This is more like what I'd intended the blog to be about, but I think I'll still keep up with writing updates as well from the ROW 80. Maybe a better blend of the old and new aims.

Over the holidays, I picked up a couple books from the library in the kids section. One my Goodreads list said I'd read before, but I didn't recognize the stories. Hmm. Well, I read it (again) and loved it. Twelve stories with unicorns of many forms fill A Glory of Unicorns edited by Bruce Coville. He also wrote the first story in the collection, The Guardian of Memory. Some of the stories take place in fantastical settings like in The New Girl, some might be our own backyard like in Tearing Down the Unicorns.

It's an interesting mix of stories that draw upon the legends of unicorns without being sappy. Authors in the collection are Bruce Coville, Janni Lee Simner, Gregory Maguire, Ruth O'Neill, Nancy Varian Berberick, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Katherine Coville, Alethea Eason, Nancy with Greg Labarbera, Kathryn Lay, Gail Kimberly, and Sean Stewart.

For a lighter feel, I also picked up Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris. As it says on the cover: part comedy, part love story, part everything-but-the-kitchen-sink. As you can imagine, it's a whimsical sort of tale. Front cover doesn't really hint that it's a fantasy, but the blurb on the back had, so I had to pick it up. I wouldn't want to read it all the time, but it was a cute story.

Christian is gaga for Princess Marigold. He's just a commoner, though, and no match for royalty. Heck, he lives in a cave with a troll! And now he's discovered another reason to put his love-soggy heart on ice: Queen Olympia is scheming to take over the kingdom--and she'll bump off Marigold to do it! Can Chris foil her diabolical plans?

I loved the whimsical feel of the story. Ed the troll is a fun supporting character. He's been trying to get into the tooth collection business, since the tooth fairy herself is falling behind on her duties but won't allow anyone to break into her monopoly. He doesn't want to take over, just get a piece of the action. He found Chris when the boy was a small youngster lost in the woods who refused to be taken back home. Somehow ending up like a parent, he does his best to teach Chris bits of etiquette from a book he'd collected at some point while not being strict enough to make the boy run away again as he'd done to end up in the woods to begin with.

The p-mail parts were another fun touch. Christian first makes contact with Marigold via pigeon, since Ed kept a pair of pigeons for sending messages of his own. And the cave they shared was just across the river from the castle where Marigold lived. Some of the messages are long enough that they are broken up into pieces in order to fit on the birds' legs. They are shown in order, but the book shows the breaks between pieces of paper.

So a fun pair of books. I hope you'll check them out. On the writing front, this week I got back to work on my trog and wizard story. During the holidays, I jumped in on a Word War with some of my writing friends online. I missed the first ten minutes because I'd forgotten about it, and my brain was starting off cold. But since I'd had some scene summary ideas jotted down for that story, I grabbed one and ran with it, writing about 850 words in 50 minutes, one of my best stints. So on Tuesday I picked up where I'd left off and added another 1250 words, though over the course of the morning rather than just an hour. Still a good day's work for me.

I didn't get much done yesterday since I was puttering on several other things as well, like trying to learn how to crochet a hex-base with beads. Still haven't gotten the hang of it yet even with the book and accompanying DVD. Best I've gotten so far looks like a horseshoe shape, like I haven't put on enough beads even though I have the correct number on. Sigh. Harder than it looks. I may have to try one suggestion I got which is to practice without the beads, since I think my problem is the closing the rings and stepping up to the next row (and first stitch after that).

That's enough for now, but I'll work on what sort of goals I want to focus on this month. I plan to post them on Sunday's ROW80 check-in. Maybe I'll have another book review for you then, too. I'm baaack! :D