If I thought the science of fantasy, or even worse, the science of science fiction was hard, nothing compares to the science of magic. Because, yes, magic is a science. It is the science through which your characters understand their world. Through which you either engage a reader or engage their disbelief. Basically, it has to make sense.
This fact had already been engrained in me from a childhood (and let’s not lie, adulthood too) obsessed with all things Harry Potter. If you can say nothing else about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, you have to admit, her magic works. But she’s not particularly verbose in explaining her methods. So, after reading and falling in love with Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, I immediately went a-googling and found the invaluable tool that is SANDERSON’S LAWS. Read and commit to memory.
The three guideposts by which I built my magic were Source, Symmetry, and Limitation.
What did I know I needed? I needed to have magic that could turn half a country into a desert wasteland. Sanderson’s Laws teach us that all magic has to come from somewhere. It needs a source. So what if the land was the source? What if the life energy of plants, animals, maybe even people, fueled magic? What if someone used so much magic that they zapped a quarter of a continent of all its resources? That kind of magic would be unspeakably dangerous. It would have to be defeated. It would have to be outlawed. A few centuries later is where our story begins.
For character and plot reasons, I also knew I wanted my magical characters to be able to engage in a kind of telepathy. I already had magic sourced from life energy. What if I had magic sourced from mind energy? From willpower? Two types of magic.
One which has the power for great external destruction and has been banned for centuries. And another which has the power for great internal destruction and is the weapon of the sitting government. Energi and Influi.
At this point I knew that Energi magic was sourced from life. But I didn’t know what could actually be done with it. What gain would make the cost of that magic worth it?
This was my first attempt at the things Energi magic could do:
My mistake was starting wide. Not placing limitations. Which, as Sanderson tells us, are essential for any kind of interesting storytelling. Magic (and characters) without limitations cannot fail, and therefore, are boring.
Influi magic naturally lent itself to limitations. Telepathy, influence, exchange of willpower. So if Influi magic was the purview of the mind, shouldn’t Energi be the purview of the body?
At the basest level a magic system should make your reader wish for magic. To imagine how they would wield it, where they would fit in your world. And the only way they’re going to do that, is if they believe it.
BONUS FACT: There’s a misconception that Influi Magic is the art of the mind, soul, and heart; but really it is only the purview of the mind. The soul and heart cannot be controlled by anything other than human self, human nature. CHARACTER.