Why Even Magic Needs To Play By The Rules In Fiction

Illustration for article titled Why Even Magic Needs To Play By The Rules In Fiction

Sometimes magical events and characters can really push a story into a much more interesting place, but sometimes their appearance seems to stop things in their tracks. What makes the difference? Remembering that even magic has to follow the rules.


Author V.E. Schwab joined us today to take questions about her latest novel, A Darker Shade Of Magic, where she filled us in on her thoughts on why magic that was bound by a few hard and fast limits was much more satisfying to read about than the alternative:


One of the things that I look in good fantasy fiction is an engaging set of rules for the supernatural. They can be extremely rigid and well-defined (Harry Potter, The Magicians) or left rather vague (Game of Thrones, LOTR, etc), but the best of them all have a certain feel that allows magic to feel like something other than a move-the-plot-along button. You appear to have captured this in your novel, so: how did you evolve as system of magic that you felt comfortable with? How many iterations did it take before it felt right? Did you ever have a feeling that something you wrote into the story was too much of a deus ex machina?

V.E. Schwab

Hi! So my belief, when it comes to rules, is that magic is a component of the natural world, and that just like nature, no matter how complicated it can become, at its core, it should be simple. I try to come up with an intuitive foundation for all of my magic—in ADSOM, that means tweaking the magical foundation to suit the world it’s in—so that no matter what I build on it, the ground is stable. And if I do give magic influence over characters and the story, I force it to become a character in its own right, to mitigate the dangers of deus ex machina.

You can read her full interview right here.

Image: The Captive Robin / John Anster Fitzgerald



This is something I am having a lot of fun with in my pet superhero universe. I decided early on I wanted to keep real-world physics as much as possible, and applying real-world physics to telekinesis produces some strange consequences.

Assuming telekinesis provides force, any telekinetic who could lift their own body weight could accelerate a penny to a fraction of 1% of the speed of light, which is enough kinetic energy to terminally embarrass all involved. If telekinesis provides power, there’s nothing to stop a telekinetic from holding up an unlimited mass without effort (the same way a chair doesn’t need to expend energy to keep you up.)

So I am going to have to assume telekinesis is limited by something other than force or energy, add a fudge factor, or just live with the weirdness.