Creating Magic Systems,  Writing Prompts

12 Prompts to Create a Magic System

One of the most fun things a fantasy writer can do is invent a magic system. Pure creativity, no boundaries honed into a coherent system that does have rules unique to a world you created. There are few things more satisfying. As part of my series on Creating Magic Systems, I have come up with a list of prompts for starting the process. I am sure that every conceivable magic system has already been tested by some writer somewhere. I am not claiming that the following prompts are never-seen-before ideas but they are good starting points. Prompts to get you thinking about your system and how you can make it unique. (Although I am proud of some of these and plan on writing a few of them myself.)

Have fun exploring and when you think you have a good basis check out my article for setting up the rules for your magic system.

1) Colors

You could do this in a number of ways. Magical script rendered in different colors for different results. Adorning oneself or magical implements in certain colors. The results of magic “spells” could always be color-based. Factions of the order of magic-users could be divided on a color wheel.

2) Paper

Writing is given magical properties in many books, movies, and shows but the paper itself is rarely imbued with power. The pulp could be made of something special that allows for different effects when treated differently. Origami, cutting, painting, burning. One or all could be part of the system and manipulation of the paper in different ways could lead to numerous possibilities.

3) Potions

You could base your magic system on potions drunk by the magic-user. Grind anything down and drink it to take on its power or some property of it.

4) Flowers

Floriography, or the Language of Flowers, has been around for thousands of years. Do some research into the meanings of the flowers and then take it one step further and give them powers.

5) Light

Light, when you really think about it, is fascinating. I would love to get into a nerdy discussion of photons and momentum and all that here but I’ll leave that to you. The point is, you could do a lot of fun things with light and magic. Everything from reflections to illusions to invisibility to…so many directions to go with this one.

6) Fluids

Rather than making potions this could be substances that are in their natural state. Manipulation of the energies, imbibing, or extreme heating/cooling of everything from water to blood to motor oil. If you can tap the power of a liquid you could pour it through cracks to reach places you can’t go. You can control the fluids inside someone’s body. This could be fanciful, artistic, or downright gross.

7) Drawing

In The Way of Kings and other Stormlight Archive books by Brandon Sanderson, drawing is used as a way for one character to connect with her powers. But what if drawing was the power. I’m sure this is not a new notion but there is so much room for customization. The medium of the drawing could affect potency. The skill of the artist could have magnificent or disastrous effects. You could play with illusion or reality, creation or destruction.

8) Periodic Elements

What if everyone who could wield magic was connected to one of the periodic elements? They could have their power bolstered by their element or perhaps only have power over a single element. Perhaps the magic-users could even combine their power the way elements can combine to create alloys or other new substances.

9) Touching

People who can take on a property of an object by touching it. Or perhaps they can turn into that object by touching it. They could influence people as long as they are touching. Or perhaps when they touch someone they don’t know what will happen. Touch is significant sense for humans that is often overlooked in books, there is a lot of potential to develop.

10) Names

Using true names of objects to have power over them is an old concept. (My favorite use of this is A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K LeGuin.) But what if the power lies in changing the names. Or using difference languages in conjunction with true names to change reality in some way.

11) Sculpting

Like the idea of drawing power, sculpting could be used to create or change reality. The medium could be significant as could the style and tools used.

12) Confessions

Imagine a magic system fueled by secrets and confessions. A person with a boring life would have little power. The natural progression is for those wishing to wield power to start doing crazy things in order to rack up the secrets that can be used to work magic.

I hope you had fun imagining new and interesting magic systems. What is your favorite magic system in a book or movie? Share in the comments.

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2 Comments

  • Emily Dao

    How about the true, powerful passion for something as the thing that determines someone’s power? For example, a person who have a strong passion for chemistry will have power over chemical elements. Or a person with a passion for fantasy stories will have the power of bringing characters to life (temporarily, and this won’t accpet Mary Sues, because characters must have flaws corresponding to their abilities) or power over energy beings, such as spirits. And, by that, it is perfectly possible for powers to change or having multiple powers. And if a person have multiple powers, there could be a chance that one is weaker than others. Isn’t it cool?

    • QuixoticQuill

      Oooo, I like it! Especially the idea that someone’s power could change. Most magic systems lock you in. I’ll definitely be exploring that aspect myself. Thanks for commenting!

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