Monday, August 30, 2010

Alliteration

No lesson today, just a reposting of something I've written before!

Seldom surrendering to sumptuous sensory sensations such as smell and sight, the seven sirens sailed southward, seeking to serve as the sheik's assistants. Subsequently, the sirens were seen by a sailor who succeeded in seizing their ship. He slaughtered the sirens and sold the ship's scraps for sixty-seven strips of silver, which he swiftly spent to secure a stable for his stallion, Stanley.

Stanley and the sailor spent their Saturdays stealing sugar from the supermarket. Sadly, they were seen by a security guard and a sailor who was on shore leave. Subsequently, the sailor was sentenced to several psychological sessions with a psychiatrist.

She said, “sir, surely you've seen the seriousness of your situation,”

“You shouldn't see me as a statistic,” said the incarcerated sailor, sighing. The psychiatrist shifted in her seat.

“Still,” she said, skimming her schedule, “it's simpler if we shoot Stanley.”

In the stables, Stanley the stallion shot shifty glances toward the street. It seemed simple, escaping, but such an exercise struck him as stupid.

“Screw it,” he said, starting to stampede. He shattered the stockade and sprinted into the street, striking several pedestrians.

Startled, Sarah Sitwell, senior assistant software supervisor, spilled cinnamon spiced coffee on her shirt, softly scalding her supple skin.

“Shoot,” she shouted, shaking herself and scanning the surrounding shunpike to see if anyone had seen her. It seemed she was safe. After a few short seconds, security soldiers arrived and shot Stanley until his body surrendered his spirit, which swerved off into the stratosphere.

“How sad,” said Sarah, slinging her shoulder bag over herself. She stalked into the sunset, sullen.


Some of you might have seen this before on my other, forgotten livejournal, but I thought it was funny, and I didn't have anything for Monday!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Modus Ponens

Oh, school; messing up my blog 'skedge, making me get up early. On the bright side, it gives me the option of posting something I've written in the past, and my writing folder is chock flippin' full of things that would otherwise never be seen by another pair of human eyes. I'll tell you what this was gonna be about at the end of this post.

Roger Einhaus parted the blinds and looked down the street. There weren't any signs of life in the neighborhood, nor had there been for several days. The postage stamp-sized front lawns of the houses were unkept and overgrown. Some of the houses still had automated sprinklers that came on in the morning or evening, but most of the others had been turned off weeks before. In fact, there were only two lawns that were green, the rest were prickly shades of brown. Roger had never been in an abandoned neighborhood like this. There weren't even any cars passing through. The last one he'd seen had gone down the street about a week before; a black SUV, clearly loaded with a family's earthly possessions. Even though it had only been visible for a few seconds, Roger had been able to see blankets, clothes, luggage, a computer, a television and at least three children stuffed into the back of the SUV, pressed uncomfortably against the windows. There was even more luggage and half a dozen shipping boxes strapped to the top of the car with cotton rope. The family didn't see Roger inside his fortress, sitting in a darkened room with the blinds drawn. There wasn't a hint that anybody lived there except for the slightly parted blinds from which Roger peered.
It was times like these that he wished for a dog. At least he could have someone to ease the tension that he felt. At the very least it might keep his mind off the news reports, which Roger just couldn't bring himself to turn off. Every hour seemed to bring more alarming reports of outbreaks in major cities. The news anchor's nonchalance had long left him; the smug smile and calm expression had been replaced with those of alarm and rigidity. Even his usually calming tone had started to crack, either from worry or dehydration. That reminded Roger that he needed to be drinking water.
He let the blinds fall back into place with a metallic click and stepped into the kitchen. There was a glass on the counter that Roger had been using for the past few days. It probably wasn't very sanitary, and now was no time to be letting germs roam free. He washed the glass in the sink, scrubbed a little dish soap into it, washed it out and set it down. He stared down into the sink for a long while. He thought a little bit about a lot of things. He didn't have enough food to last more than two weeks. At that thought, he looked up at his cupboards. There was enough canned food bulging over the edges that a casual observer might think Roger was crazy, like those people who were so worried about Y2K.
He was probably going to contract that new flu that was going around, anyway. That was all he needed; first a death sentence cancer diagnosis, then the weaponized flu. He filled the glass and took a deep drink. His throat was dry and the water didn't make it feel any better. He felt feverous. It was probably just cabin fever; he hadn't set foot outside for the better part of a month, and spending that time in a cramped apartment filled with dread and fear. Maybe it was time to raid someone's house. He was frightened as he realized he had been thinking about it for days. It wasn't that he was hurting for supplies, but it never hurt to be prepared. Just like the Boy Scouts, Roger thought. He knew that most families probably would have taken as much of their canned goods as they could carry, but the more perishable food was probably left behind. That's what he was counting on.
Reluctantly, he stepped over to the blinds and looked out again. It seemed like all he did was stare out at the dead neighborhood. He let the blinds fall closed again. He pulled open a kitchen drawer and removed earplugs and an old dust mask that had once been used to hunt for moldy insulation in his landlord's attic. It was odd, now that he thought of it, to have a tenant repair something for the landlord. He tisted the earplugs in his fingers and inserted them into his ears, then he shook the dust out of the mask and pressed it to his face. He reluctantly stepped over to the front door and fastened the straps behind his head. With ceremonial slowness, he unlocked the door. It was a moment before he could pull it open. He took a deep breath.
The door stuck a little as he pulled it open, letting in a dusty breeze that was hotter than the inside of his apartment. All he could smell was his own breath inside the mask. He wondered if the flu could get into a person through their eyes.
He turned and looked down the street. Some people had left their cars in their driveways, probably the families who owned multiple cars. He had seen people syphoning the gas from one car and putting it into the other. Luckily the rioting that had apparently happened in some other neighborhoods hadn't been a problem here; although almost everyone was in a panic, people hadn't resorted to breaking windows. Everyone had left in a fairly orderly fashion. The amount of noise the night everyone left had been outrageous. From the hours of eight O'clock to around three AM people had packed their families and possessions and hit the highway in hopes of finding safety with relatives that lived out of state. Either that or the nearest military base, but Roger already knew that the military wasn't going to help anyone.
He crossed the street toward the Richardson house. They had been good people, the Richardsons. Unfortunately they had locked their front door. Maybe they believed they were coming back. Roger searched around for that obvious rock that usually held a hide-a-key. People just didn't seem to realize that the hide-a-key had never been a secret, since everybody seemed to have one. There was a rock in the flowerbed that didn't remotely look like it belonged. Roger lifted the rock and found that the Richardsons had taken the key with them. Who the hell would have the presence of mind to remember that kind of thing? Most people were too scared to even speak coherently, let alone collect all of their spare house keys. He decided to try the next house.
It was peaceful, walking in a neighborhood with nobody around. It was like being on a movie set, or a model neighborhood. Lots of doll houses that were never meant to be lived in. However, it was hard to be relaxed when the sky was that awful orange-brown shade. Why was there so much dirt in the air? It was like someone was dropping dirt from the clouds. The evening sun was a deadened point of orange brightness in the swirling atmosphere. It might have been Roger's imagination but it seemed like the dirt made everything a lot quieter. Then again, there weren't any people around to make noise anyway.
The neighbors hadn't locked their door. Roger felt a little ashamed as he entered the house. He didn't remember the name of the family who lived here. He closed the door behind him softly. He didn't like the idea of someone coming in behind him.
“I know nobody's around,” said Roger, “I just don't want to take the chance if I'm wrong.” He spoke aloud. His voice was a little jarring. He realized it had been a while since he had spoken at all. The only human voice he heard anymore was that of the news anchorman. He fervently hoped the house was empty.
There was a little coat rack in the foyer. A single jacket remained, a small pink one that probably belonged to a little girl. Why wouldn't they take that with them?
Roger crossed the living room, which looked like a tornado had swept through. He entered the kitchen. Like the rest of the house, it was a mess. It looked like they had just raked everything out of the pantry without paying much attention. The refrigerator was swinging open. Various food items were strewn on the floor. Not only had these people left in a hurry, it was clear they weren't planning a return trip.
There wasn't much left in the refrigerator except some leftover Chinese food that smelled like it had gone bad long before the family had left, and a box of baking soda that had probably come free when they had bought the house. Roger sighed into his mask. He decided to check the rest of the house, maybe he could get a hold of some blankets or something.
The back wall of the house was one solid window running from floor to ceiling. It wasn't the kind of thing a contractor would put in standard; the people must have put it in themselves. Roger glanced out the window. It was a shame the backyard was so pathetic-looking. It didn't look like the grass had ever been taken care of. He noticed a dog lying dead in the middle of the lawn. He looked away.
After ten minutes of scouring the house, Roger left with a garbage bag containing a few boxes of powdered milk and some sheets from the master bed. He felt guilty for stealing, but part of him rationalized that he would be needing it more than anyone else in the neighborhood. He stuffed as much as he could into a kitchen garbage bag and slung it over his shoulder. After leaving the loot back at his house, he went to another home.

This was the early stages of (one of the) zombie stories I was trying to write about a year ago (2009ish). I thought it might be interesting to have a crotchety old man with cancer as one of the only people on earth who is immune to the Zombie-flu. He shares more than a passing similarity to a certain teacher I had once. I had another, earlier part of the story that gets into his backstory a little more, but I figured that the audience had already figured out that he was a jerk.
What I learned from this:
1) I don't like writing jerk characters.
2) I don't like writing post-apoc stories as much as I like playing them in games or watching them in movies.
3) Some stories will never be finished, and that's probably a good thing.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ending the World (Guest-Written by a Supervillain)

Oh my, just writing the title down makes me excited.

There are many, many different ways the world could end. Because we're more creative than the average person, we supervillains also happen to be a great deal more deranged. This means that we're quite good when it's time to come up with creative and exciting ways to make the world go kablooey. To list only a few, the world could end via:

Explosion

Magic

Black hole

Magic explosion

Aliens

Karma

Pollution

War

Planetary collision

Any number of problems relating to the Sun

Not enough pollution

Anarchy

Disease

Weather

Zombies

Vampires

Curses

Ancient artifacts (see above)

Bad luck

Underground creatures

Aboveground creatures

Gods (angry, happy, lazy, etc.)

Angels

Demons

Superheroes

...I hate that last one.

As you can see, there is no shortage of ways to dispose of a planet and all of its annoying inhabitants. It doesn't even have to be hard. During the creative process, writers and supervillains alike can plan on either starting or finishing the story with such an event. It could be like that movie 2012 where things blow up all throughout the movie, or like The Day After Tomorrow where everything happens toward the beginning and just kind of ramps up. It could also be like Ladder 49 where the firefighter dies at the end. Oh no, did I spoil that for you?

I'm so painfully wicked.

Technically I don't think that killing off a firefighter (portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix no less) counts as an evil plan. It doesn't take a mastermind to see that killing off one character is small beans compared to the main course of the evening, and that is cracking a planet in half, or in thirds, or other wonderfully evil fractions.

Sometimes it's not even the “event” that you're trying to write about. Some movies and books actually take place a long time after the world has ended. As you might imagine, it's referred to as post-apocalyptic, which is kind of a misnomer because the actual apocalypse from the Bible is kind of a one-off. Nobody walks away from that one.

Delicious.

I guess it's not really a (capital) Apocalypse you want; it's more like an unpocalypse. Or an apocalypse lite. Like the beer. I mean, what's the point of killing everyone if there's nobody around to notice? Sure, the reveling by the person who pulled it off would be wonderful for a while, but without civilians to look sadly toward the burned-out husks of buildings, what's the point?

That's not to say I wouldn't mind a good reveling.

The real trick is leaving enough main characters alive long enough to give the audience a (false) hope that he'll give this miserable story a redeeming ending. You would think that after the freaking apocalypse the guy's story would end, but it never seems to. If you're too cowardly to actually blow up your universe, I suppose you could just threaten to do it a bunch of times throughout the main character's journey. He'll probably try to stop it, and he'll probably win, but at least you kept the tension on him.

Still, when it's time to make like The Matrix and make the world an awful place to live, you might as well do it right. That's actually a good example of what a story can look like when the bad guys kind of win. As long as you ignore the second and third movies and all of that strange Matrix Online story stuff they threw (up) into the lore.

Gross.

Someone should really try writing more stories from the perspective of the quote unquote bad guys. That's right, even though I'm writing, I still used air quotes as if I were actually talking. Into your brain.

Muahahaaaaa.



Signed,

The Supervillain

Monday, August 23, 2010

Please Do Not Plagiarize


I don't think anybody living today can say they've never accidentally plagiarized something, whether it was on purpose or by accident. We Americans live in a culture that seems to revel in stealing the work of others and either turning it into a joke or a competing product.

Lets say you've just finished reading something that really got your imagination flowing, like Steph Meyers' The Host. When I read it, I became very interested in alien invasion stories. To be clear, I don't mean I started researching alien abductions and close encounters; I simply enjoyed the idea of aliens coming to earth for some mysterious purpose. This was the basic idea behind many episodes of the original Twilight Zone in one form or another, and sometimes the aliens turned out to be us.

After reading The Host, I didn't start trying to write a better alien invasion/romance story. I don't want to copy anything, especially not something filled with romantic mush. Instead I started trying to think of new spins on the idea.

What if the aliens are actually ancient Earthlings returning to Earth to capture a relative who has no idea his ancestors flew off in a saucer?

What if aliens land and do nothing but lie about everything? Though they already did this in a Dr. Who. SPOILERS: The alien invasion is just a cover while the real aliens subvert all of the governments of the world. END SPOILERS.

If you read enough sci-fi short stories, inevitably you're going to read something about one kind of alien invasion or another. Star Trek has done it many times, Isaac Asimov has done it more. In one episode of The Next Generation, they even had the humans dress up like aliens and move around among the aliens. Why would they do this?

To make sure it's safe for the rest of them.

I was gonna have a clip from Signs up there where that army general says that line ominously, but it seems nobody has put it on YouTube. But imagine how cool it would have been if I had had it!

Anyway, the point it that my interest in The Host didn't result in me stealing any characters, events or plot hooks and writing them into my own story. My English teachers, and probably yours too, were very adamant that we do not plagiarize!


From an academic perspective, they're more concerned that you give credit where credit is due; listing sources and whatnot. As a creative writer, it might be a little harder for some people to notice that you've stolen something, but eventually somebody is gonna figure it out, and you're gonna look like an
ass.

You obviously just took sections out of the Harry Potters and one of the Artemis Fowl books, changed the names and added steampunk laser guns!” These are the last words you hear before Scholastic Books sues you. Probably.

Of course, some people can't help plagiarizing things. Like faces.

But William! I'm a casual writer! I'm never going to get my work published! My stories are going to live on the internet forever!”

You have to remember that plagiarizing is wrong, regardless of whether or not you get paid for it. Why is it wrong? Some people don't understand why they can't make a book mashup like they do for those Nirvana songs. Yes, you have to watch at least a minute of the following video.

To answer your question, it shows you're lazy. Why would you bother writing something that you're not going to bother to write? You're wasting your time if you do this, plus it leaves you open to pot-shots from the internet community. Maybe your mom has never read Fahrenheit 451 and so misses your clear plagiarism of seashell earbuds, but you can bet your right hand that some guy online has, and he's gonna call you on it.

I knew a girl who would take any idea that “looked cool” and Blend-Tec-blended it into her own stories. It could be anything. Books, movies, comics, television, conversations. After a while you just kind of hesitate to tell her anything because you know it's gonna wind up in her story, and she's probably gonna get paid for it.

There's another kind of plagiarism that affects many people, perhaps even more than the deliberate plagiarizers: Accidental plagiarism!

Lets say you come up with a brilliant idea. You don't know where it came from, but you know it's all you. You've decided to write it down, or draw it, and somebody walks by your desk and says, “hey that looks exactly like Jack Skellington!” Or somebody reads your story and says, “This is just Speed on an airplane instead of a bus!”

I'm not sure why humans tend to do this. Other creatures might do this too, but every time I ask the dog, she just looks at me. We'll probably never know.

Anyway, I think this usually happens because we're tired, or we were half asleep in front of the TV when Twilight Zone was on. It probably comes from bad memory recall. After three years in digital art class critiques, you realize how quickly people compare things to other things. You also realize how hard it is to be original.

It gets even more annoying when your story actually is quite original, but people read it and still make comparisons that you never intended!

Humph!

So I guess my point is that you should always strive for originality. Don't settle for making something “like” something else. Be creative in your creative writing.

Also, you get bonus points if you can guess the name of my favorite photo blog.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Androids (Or, William Has Writer's Block)

The other day my cousin and I began talking about androids and what would or would not have to happen in order for them to be a viable alternative to human employees.

Henceforth, I'm defining androids as a robot with a human appearance. Some definitions claim that androids must have a human brain at their center, but I'm not using that definition.

This all began because I've been playing Fallout 3. About halfway through the main quest you find a crabby old scientist who asks you to find and return his runaway android. This android has received plastic surgery and a mind wipe, so not even he believes he's an android (the perfect disguise)!

Because I'm playing an incredibly evil character for my fourth play through of this game, I found him and returned him to his slave-like existence. While I did this, I mentioned offhand to my cousin that in a podcast I listen to, they had an episode where they explained the reason real androids will probably be created. Mostly it's because they cost billions of dollars to create, and they'd be doing basically the same jobs as humans. As you might know, it's very cheap to make a baby the old fashioned way, and actually much less work for the manufacturers.

Machines are used in the industrial setting because they are made to do jobs that humans can't do, or that humans can't do as quickly. Think of a mechanical lathe, or those arms that make stuff.



Why the heck would you need a mechanical person to do something that a human can do? My cousin argued that employers might want androids if they needed them to work 24/7/365. But why would you pay billions of dollars for something that you could just hire people to do? I argued that it would probably still be cost effective to simply redesign your factory, or relocate to a new, mechanized one. The cost would (only) be in the millions.

Ultimately we agreed that the only way androids could be practical is if they were relatively easy to make and didn't cost very much. Like in the movie I, Robot.


When I told my sister about this, she pointed out that maybe androids could be useful in totally hostile environments, like on an expedition to Mars or in a completely irradiated area. I counter-pointed-out that it would probably be cheaper to train a person and put them into a specialized suit that could support the same conditions. Again, millions of dollars versus billions.

I mean, I'd like to see a real android as much as the next sci-fi-writing civilian, but I don't think we'll ever see anything like in the movies or books. Sadly.

Oh, sorry I missed Wednesday's blog. Blame Fallout 3!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Self Inserts and the Forgettables

To begin today's entry, I thought I'd use the definition of Mary Sue from tvtropes.org:

The prototypical Mary Sue is an original female character in a fanfic who obviously serves as an idealizedversion of the author mainly for the purpose of Wish Fulfillment. She's exotically beautiful, often having an unusual hair or eye color, and has a similarly cool and exotic name. She's exceptionally talented in an implausibly wide variety of areas, and may possess skills that are rare or nonexistent in the canon setting. She also lacks any realistic, or at least story-relevant, character flaws — either that or her "flaws" are obviously meant to be endearing.

They also explain that there is some controversy around this definition of Mary Sue, but that's not relevant to this blog. However, I highly recommend reading the rest of the entry.

I could argue that a Mary Sue is a creature who only exists in fan fiction, but that's simply untrue. Published authors across the world have (successfully) inserted themselves into their narrative, much to the dismay of savvy readers everywhere. I would very much like to say that all Mary Sues (or Gary Sues) are amateurish accidents, but that's also untrue.

To avoid further paragraphs in which I essentially say nothing at all, I'll define my version of Mary Sue as follows:

Any character who the writer exclusively characterizes via a series of “what would I do in this situation” questions is a Sue.

I'm going to treat this as a bad habit that needs breaking.

I don't know of anybody who sets out to write fiction that includes themselves on purpose. Typically the Sue rears its ugly head as the main character is being defined. I can understand this. I've accidentally inserted myself into stories too, but they always turned out to be awful. I learned my lesson and moved on.

This is a real bother to authors, especially when you realize sixty pages in that your character is flatter than roadkill and twice as awful. The Sue Problem becomes worse when the author is writing opposite sex characters. Their assumption, “I would do this,” becomes even more obviously wrong when the girl characters seem to share the personality as the main character, his best friend, the guards, the bad guy and the King. This is a problem I have already discussed.

But all is not lost! Everyone has to make these mistakes before they can write something truly great. The best, fastest way to improve at writing is by doing lots of it.


Instead of constantly asking yourself, “what would I do?” you have to figure out who the character is (at least a little bit) beforehand. I know that Steven King likes to have his characters “reveal” themselves over the course of the story, and I enjoy this method too.

However, I like to have a vague picture of them when I'm writing, something along the lines of, “this guy is like this guy who was really annoying in Target the other day,”or “this woman is really like this actress I hate.”

I'm not basing everything off of a personal memory, but I like to have somewhere to start. After I have a good idea of the character on the page, I try to let them grow and have their own personalities, separate from their source material.

In fact, when I'm bored in school or work, I'll write down short descriptions of characters purely in terms of their personality and attitude. They have to be written in any fancy way. After all, they're for your own personal use.


Victoria

She's the kind of person who refers to her father as “my old man.”

She believes she is much prettier than she is.

She talks down to everyone around her.

She wears too much makeup.

She's flirting with me.


That's an actual note I wrote in my notebook during a class a few years ago. She was a jerk.


When you're writing characters, it's a good sign if you can define the character completely in a few pages, or even sentences. Take any fiction novel off the shelf at the bookstore, flip to a random page and read three paragraphs. You will quickly determine three things:


How well or poorly the book is written, in terms of prose and style.

What kind of person the main character is.

What kind of person the author is.


The other end of the Mary Sue spectrum is a slightly different, but nonetheless bothersome problem of Character Forgettability.

What this means is that instead of inserting yourself (or your friends) into your story, you've tried to invent a character and wound up with a shell. The symptoms of Character Forgettability include

Not having a strong opinion one way or the other on much of anything

He/she asks questions, replies, talks to others, but is less interesting than the surrounding characters

Doesn't show much emotion

If I'm spending the whole story scratching my head because I don't know who the main character really is, you might just be a redneck. Ur, you might just need to rethink the whole thing.

Last year I was writing a story. I was stuck with one of the characters; I had made him shout, yell, command and everything else I could think of to make him seem more like a character and less like a shell. I wrote one scene where this character expresses his worry and panic that his love interest might leave him. Midway through the panic, he bursts into tears. Although it sounds ridiculous, making him cry completely defined that character in my mind. After that, I knew who he was and he was much easier to write. This didn't happen until I was halfway through the story, which is actually quite bad, because I should have discovered this sooner.

For me, I realized, it's a characters emotions that define them the most. Just like in real life, you don't really know a person until you've seen them at their emotional extremes.

Write as much as possible, and fill your stories with as much character variety as you can manage.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Gathering the Magic

All throughout history people have been writing about magic. Some people liked it a little darker than others, and some people kept it whimsical and child-friendly.

There are many differences; where the magical power source comes from, who can use what, Black Magic (capitalized), what you have to do to make magic take effort, whether or not it requires ingredients, whether or not it requires a wand, whether or not it's gender-restricted, whether or not it's illegal, et cetera, et cetera.

When you boil it all down you notice that it's all kind of similar. Pretty much something supernatural happens and it chalked up to magic. Here's the dictionary definition(s) for your reading pleasure.

magic |╦łmajik|

noun

the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces : do you believe in magic? | suddenly, as if by magic, the doors start to open.

mysterious tricks, such as making things disappear and appear again, performed as entertainment.

a quality that makes something seem removed from everyday life, esp. in a way that gives delight : the magic of the theater.

informal something that has such a quality : their seaside town is pure magic.


One of the most important things to take away from these definitions are that magic usually contains some sense of wonder. This is something that some writers tend to forget making magic into this mundane thing which is hardly worth noticing.

It's like how people take amazing things for granted today that a hundred years ago would have been miraculous: People taking a ride from one side of the world to the other on a giant metal bird. Communicating instantly with people who live on entirely different continents. A global network of people who can exchange information almost instantly.

And do you know what we use this technology for? Sending videos of dogs farting and people falling off skateboards.

Sorry about the rant (borrowed from a comedian whose name I forget).

Magic shouldn't be boring but that's how it's portrayed in some books. It's got no snap; it has no crackle.

My dear readers: It has no pop.

As I mentioned in another blog, I find that magic is more satisfying when it's difficult to achieve. To paraphrase Robert Frost, the things worth doing in life aren't easy. I believe that this philosophy should be applied to magic as well.

“But William!” you begin to argue, “I thought Magick was supposed to make things easy! What's the point of writing magic in a story if not everybody can do it?”

I like to think of magic like if you crossed a screwdriver with an automatic shotgun; it's useful as a tool but dangerous as hell and you probably shouldn't let your kids play with it.

I hate seeing stories where every minor character has some kind of godlike magical power. I think it reflects a certain amount of laziness in the mind of the author. I mean, a lot of problems are going to pop up if everyone in the world can teleport at will without any kind of repercussion. This is one of the reasons Harry Potter's brand of magic succeeded; there was always something that could go wrong. Always. If an inexperienced wizard tried to disapparate, they could get stuck in a wall or splinch themselves into different places. These kinds of rules are what keeps magic from being too easy. This brings me to my next point: Accountability.


Just like the real world, most people only follow rules as long as there's a punishment for disobeying them. I learned this as a child, but most people alive today have yet to learn this simple lesson. If you get caught driving too fast, you get a ticket. If there were no police then people would drive as fast as they wanted everywhere (though in some places they already do). Streets would be incredibly dangerous places. When you're writing your story, what's keeping the characters from magically exploding an entire village? Or turning everyone into pigs and frying them up?

Now, I'm not saying that you need to have a magical DMV in your story who annoyingly tightens their grip on all things magic (though that premise might work as the main plot in a story). Let me paint a picture for you.

You've got a villain in your story who is incredibly powerful. In fact, you've only shown him exercising his endless power over every other character. As far as the reader knows, there nothing he can't do. What's stopping him from ripping the planet in two? Or at the very least teleporting into the hero's bedroom and killing him in his sleep? This is where another vital part of magic-making comes into play: The power source.


In video games this is typically called mana. I don't know why it's called that, but it's essentially a pool of magical energy that you draw on for spells. Once you're out of mana, you have to find a way to get it back.

Although it serves its purpose in video games, mana doesn't make as much sense in a story. I guess you could have your characters cry, “I'm out of mana!” after a fight, but to non-gamers this phrase doesn’t make much sense. Authors have a variety of tools at their disposal for giving magic-users a source of magic. They can be almost anything, but the list includes:

Holy power: Usually a thinly-veiled reference to God or angels. Can also be a more abstract “light” that the character receives from on high.

Demonic power: From the spirit world, from demons themselves, or received as a previous bargain made with a demon.

Elemental power: From those four incredibly overused elements, Earth Wind Fire and Water.

Trinket power: From an item or items carried by the hero. This could be their armor, a necklace, a sword, etc.

From-gods power: Think of Hercules, his power is just a “gift” until he angers the gods.

Well of Power: There's a ton of magical energy that is drawn by the character somehow. It doesn't even have to be nearby to be used.

Tradeoff power: The character is incredibly tired afterward, sometimes to the extreme. Or they become dehydrated as they spell, or they age, or someone in their family dies, or their soul is sucked away.

Ceremonial power: This is the kind of crap that I detest. I hate reading about seances, chanting, pentagrams or anything else that requires Hollywood Voodoo. Usually used by the bad guys, but sometimes by the good guys. If I encounter this stuff in a book, I will deeply consider stopping.


Then there are stories where it doesn't cost a thing to create magic, it's just very hard for the character to do. Theoretically a person could be so good at magic that they would never have to stop, except maybe for sleep. In Diana Wynn-Jones's books, her characters don't have a limited amount of it, but it's typically very hard. Sometimes it even requires ingredients or a ceremony or something. It's so hard to do that people mostly rely on professionals to do it. Even the bad guys sometimes use more conventional means of getting their way (imprisonment, bullying, espionage, murder and so on.)

On the other hand, Harry Potter has a great system where the difficulty of the spell is based upon how hard the wand-motion is, plus a strange Latin word. Later on, we even learned about nonverbal spells, which were almost impossible for most of the characters. Without wands, the characters were completely unable to use magic. I thought this was an interesting tradeoff and it worked well for the story.

The point I'm trying to make is that you need to avoid making your characters superhuman; look at Spiderman: Even with his super-powers, he's still one of the most (relatively) weak heroes in all of comics.


It's seeing him overcome almost impossible odds that make him so endearing (that and his witty banter.)

If you don't follow these suggestions, you risk making your main characters into a Mary-Sue, but that's a topic for another day.