The appeal of magic in writing

I’ve read science fiction from an early age and always been enthralled by its possibilities.  Even if man can’t visit the stars in person just yet (someday I’m sure we will) we can go there in our imaginations.  Eventually science will follow and get us there.  However, at university I also read, as did most students of my age, the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings which led me on to more fantasy including one of my all time favourites, The Magician by Raymond Feist.  And then of course every other book in that long series.  For me one of the main appeals of those books has to be the use of magic.

As a writer I started with science fiction and then moved onto my Inspector Kirby stories (books two and three coming soon) which I would describe as urban fantasy with humour, or detective mystery stories with a little magic thrown in.  As I get older, although I believe science has and will have the answer to most things, part of me still wants to believe there might be a little magic in the world.  Something that is felt rather than explained, if that makes sense.

In the Inspector Kirby stories there are parallel worlds with gateways to ours.  In some ways these are alternative pasts, yet connected to our own history (I know, I know and you’d have to read it to understand, or not.  Afterall, it is magic).  However, as our world has advanced we’ve lost the magic, or to use the explanation in the books, magic has become spread very thin across the world.  In the story it all makes perfect sense to one of the main characters, Harold Longcoat (Inspector Kirby still struggles with it).  In my befuddled writer’s brain it both makes sense and doesn’t make sense.  Yes, I know that doesn’t make much sense either, but I can live with that, as my characters have to.

However, for me that’s part of the appeal of magic.  It’s there, but you’re not sure how or what it does etc.  If you did then surely that’d be science?  So I like to keep the mystery in the magic.  Now, I read a famous series of books where the main character, in every book, faced a series of ever increasing difficult challenges and then at the end when escape seems impossible, when his doom is inevitable he finds he has a magic power, that before he was completely unaware of and… TA RA!  I don’t like that kind of magic.  I stopped reading the series part way through.  To me it’s like cheating, whatever happens magic can be the answer.  So that’s what I mean about my magic making sense and not making sense.  It’s up to the characters to work their way out of problems despite the magic that surrounds them.

That’s the appeal of magic in writing to me.  That even as a writer of science fiction, there are “forces” at play other than those measured by scientific instruments.  It’s what you don’t know, don’t understand.  It’s that feeling that there is a little more just beyond you finger tips, if you could only….  That feeling you had as a kid when you got hold of a box of matches and a firework (yes, I am old enough to have done that).  Literally playing with fire, of not knowing quite what might happen.

So, I will continue to write my science fiction, however, I’m sure I’ll continue to return to my worlds of fantasy.  Perhaps I just want to believe there might be a little magic in the world waiting to be found.

As always comments are welcome.

Ian Martyn

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

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2 thoughts on “The appeal of magic in writing”

  1. I always thought I would be a science fiction author. My first completed book was a 200K word SF opus, which I sent to publishers and competitions without result. But I’d accomplished something – I’d written a complete novel.
    Later on, when a publisher requested short fantasy novels, I had a story already in mind. It was SF, but with a bit of a re-think, I turned it into a fantasy story, with magic replacing science. It still hasn’t seen the light of day, but is the prequel to my award-winning epic fantasy, The Prince’s Man, which would likely also have been a science fiction novel if that publisher hadn’t diverted me.
    I believe it’s important with magic to know exactly how a system works – how it functions, how people access it, what the limits are, and the costs of using it. That way you don’t go down the route of the books you describe, cheating the reader by suddenly ‘discovering’ a new magical ability. Very poor writing, that, and even poorer plotting. Never cheat your readers – they don’t come back.

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