What is magic, and what is it not? That may sound like a dumb question but stick with me. Let's start with what magic is not.
It is not a band-aid for plot problems. It is not a cure-all for when you write yourself into a corner and can't figure out how to fix it. It is not a deus ex machina. If you want magic to serve in that capacity in your fiction, by all means do so. Just don't be surprised when readers used to books with a little more thought to them file yours as DNF (did not finish) on their Goodreads profiles.
So what is magic? I love this quote by Aleister Crowley:
Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.
(Illustration: It is my Will to inform the World of certain facts within my knowledge. I therefore take "magickal weapons", pen, ink, and paper; I write "incantations" — these sentences — in the "magickal language" ie, that which is understood by the people I wish to instruct; I call forth "spirits", such as printers, publishers, booksellers and so forth and constrain them to convey my message to those people. The composition and distribution of this book is thus an act of Magick by which I cause Changes to take place in conformity with my Will.)If you don't know who Crowley was, don't worry. We'll get to that in a later post. Let's take a look at the quote. Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will. To me, that sentence means everything when it comes to magic. (Some use the k to distinguish stage magic from what we're talking about. I'm neutral on that, spell it however you want.) You want to be a writer. It is your Will to be published, so to cause a small, half-formed idea to Change into a novel - not just a novel but a publishable novel - you employ Science - everything you've ever learned about plotting, characterization, grammar, sentence structure, setting, subplots, themes, all the tools of the trade - and Art - the rhythm of language, the spontaneous ideas that come to you while engaged in something as mundane as washing the dishes, the barely remembered snatches of dreams that fall onto the page, the altered mental state that occurs when you are deep in the story and time and space have lost all meaning. We weave a spell as we write and yes, there is structure to it. Shape and form. Rules, even. But there is also art.
Aside: don't let anyone tell you it's not art because it's genre. I have no time for snobs and you shouldn't either.
Back to magic: I was writing about magic before I figured out writing itself was a form of magic. I honestly can't remember what it was that drew me to magic. Some people like to write about vampires. I've done that too. For others it's shapeshifters. Also done that. But it's magic I come back to, magic that endlessly fascinates me, for whatever reason. When I decided to use magic as a central feature in my first novel (trunked, never to see the light of day), I didn't want to be half-assed about it so I started doing research. I didn't know much but I knew I didn't want to use magic as that deus ex machina get out of jail free card, so I needed to understand how stuff worked. I needed to get a handle on the science before exploring the art.
In subsequent posts I'll get into the elements, various types of magic, famous magicians both in real life and fiction. I also plan to talk about another powerful form of magic - music. And of course my thoughts on combining science and art to create magic in your fiction that will leave readers, ahem, spellbound. (Sorry, easy joke.)
If you can think of any topics you'd like covered please feel free to say so in the comments.