Review Replies

I and my classmates in elementary school were repeatedly told something that paraphrases roughly to "for each person that asks, ten are confused." Therefore, I want to post my replies to any questions in the reviews where everyone can see them.

The system only allows one review per chapter per reader, and my forecast is that answering all the questions will take considerably more than this. Therefore, I have created this chapter for the purpose of answering such questions.

So here it is—the chapter where I will be replying to any and all reviews of any chapter that require such a response. (Author's note: While I do copy some of the review the help make the answer relevant, I do not copy all of it. Reading this will be somewhat more meaningful if it is considered in the context of the full review.)

(Another note: While trying to insert the new chapter on Magic and Technology, I accidentally erased most of this chapter. I will try to replace what I lost as best I can, but my memory will not be perfect.)


1. Replying to:

LittleLoser (Reviewed chapter 2)

I'll go with the question at S...Write on to that.


My response:

To refresh: Question S reads "Where does the energy to cast spells come from?"

I must refer to its Five header to help explain the answer. Question 5 reads "How does magic interact with the laws of physics as we know them?"

In this particular case, the "laws of physics as we know them" in question are the Laws of Thermodynamics.

First Law: Energy cannot be created or destroyed under ordinary circumstances. (There is that mass/energy equivalence thing to be considered, but you get the idea.)

Second Law: Some energy will always be wasted in any process.

Third Law: The only way to achieve perfect efficiency is to eliminate entropy (uncertainty and irregularity of where molecules are) and the only way to eliminate entropy is to use things at Absolute Zero, and this is impossible under the laws of physics as we know them.

In the overwhelming majority of cases, the casting of spells is a glaring contradiction of the First Law. At present, I have only one example I can give of a fantasy world where this is not the case—Eragon (for this purpose, my own world doesn't count). As Brom said (I don't have a page number, and this is probably paraphrased) "doing something with magic takes as much effort as if you had used your arms and back." In other words, Christopher Paolini has the energy come from the spell-caster's own body, or from other surrounding life, or from energy stored in gems. This is one of the reasons I like him—he has a source, he sticks with it, and he considers its implications; the main one is that swinging a sword is usually faster and usually easier that casting a spell. Magic becomes the second choice under nearly all circumstances.


2. Replying to:

Dust Cloud (Reviewed chapter 3)

Your story poses some good questions to fantasy authors. I do think, however, that it is somewhat limiting. I feel as though most fantasy authors would acknowledge that magic changes the way their world works-most of their worlds, medieval or not, revolve around it. Also, I don't know how much the laws of thermodynamics or any other scientific realities apply to worlds integrated with magic. I can highly recommend a story, Tales of the Sun Sin by Zozma, where magic is defined as the willful breaking of the laws of physics. So in this case, spell-casting breaking the first law of thermodynamics would be in fact necessary. You said yourself, magic changes things, and authors will always interpret it in different ways. The advice that you give in this story is specific to your own preferences, and does not by any means apply to every fantasy story.


My response:

I do not think that my questions and views are limiting, and I think that they at least can always be applied. I will try here to explain my views and my points.

My first view is that I always take things seriously unless I have a clear reason not to. As this applies to writing fantasy, this means that I do not view it as an excuse to goof off and do whatever. Things still need to make some kind of sense, and causation still applies.

Now, I will try to explain Question 5 better: "How does magic interact with the laws of physics as we know them." In other words, "How must the laws of physics be modified to accommodate magic?" Key word—modified, not ignored.

I went over this in the implications segment of chapter 2: magic, by definition, bends and/or breaks at least some of the laws of physics. The act of bending them is not where my problem is. Bending them is perfectly acceptable, so long as you explain exactly where the bends are, how big, and in what directions, and give a reasonable amount of thought to what other effects these bends might have. Breaking them is also perfectly acceptable, as long as you put them back together again, explain what they look like now, and give a reasonable amount of thought to what other effects your changes might have. In both cases, I would also greatly appreciate it if the bending and breaking-and-reassembling is done once and the laws in your world are fixed from that point. Or maybe not—you could say they are in flux, and this is also acceptable so long as it is explained how this came to pass and the effects are thought out.

I do not need to see the fantasy world work like Earth—that would defeat the whole point. I need to see "this is how this world works, and here's why." I need to see logic still apply somehow. I am willing to accept it not using the same assumption set as Earth, but when this is done, I want to see what the new assumption set is, and how people and society will change as a result.

Bending and breaking the laws of physics is fine; ignoring them, on the other hand, is not. In other words, my problem is not with breaking the laws of physics—my problem is breaking them without any explanation or without a functional one. Or worse yet, without any thought given to the effects and consequences. The former is much more common than I would like, but the latter is seen as well—my main example for this one is D&D (which fulfills the first for clerics, but is guilty in the case of wizards and their variants). The ignoring consequences takes the form of implying that magic weapons and such may be found lying around by adventurers, but creating them is awkward and draining.

To reply more directly to the review, glaring violations of the laws of thermodynamics are acceptable. The unacceptable incidents are the glaring violations that are not explained and justified. Defining magic as willfully breaking the laws of physics is acceptable under this standard—highly unorthodox, but still perfectly acceptable.

I hope this helps.


3. Replying to:

Marie Silver (Reviewed chapter 3)

You definitely pick out points writers should be aware of when dealing with magic but I think you could go further with it. For example, you could look at types of magic. Some writer's use elemental magic, others can pretty much do anything and some only have an area that their character is an expert in. Also there are other ways to pay for magic use; I've read stories where magicians sacrifice limbs or lives to perform magic. I would expand the points you've made further and use examples where available.


My response:

This all comes back to Question 1: "What is magic?"

Dust Cloud's review above mentioned Tales of the Sun Sin, where magic is defined as willful violation of the laws of physics. My first reply mentioned Eragon, which defined magic as the channeling of energy obtained from living things through commands in an Ancient Language which was long ago blessed with such power.

In my own world I use multiple definitions; the main ones are sorcery (channeling, by mental effort and control, energy from one's own body and shaping this energy into a coherent spell), weaving (setting up, by mental effort, a gradient along which energy can flow to an intense point and there shaping the energy into the form of a spell) and wizardry (modifying a spell into a form which may be stored in one's body for later use). There are plenty of others I could name, from my own world and elsewhere, but these are sufficient.

In all fantasy books and series-es I have read so far, the following definition has shown a large degree of relevance: "Magic is the alteration of physical reality or perception of it by mentally controlled energy." That is the single overarching definition I use in my own world, and my thinking has undoubtably been shaped in great measure by it—magic requires energy, and energy must come from somewhere (Question S, which started a lot of this).

However, I see now that the major, applies-everywhere definition must be modified to "magic is the manipulation of physical reality or perception of it through mental effort or decision." I do not foresee further alteration, but I did not foresee the alteration just given either. I will also modify Question A to allow for multiple separate or semi-separate definitions used simultaneously (that one I also did not see coming, but realize in hindsight that I really should have). I will also work in a question somewhere about how magic-users "pay" for the spells they cast.

On examples: they are coming. As stated on the table of contents at the end of the intro chapter, I will be using both Earth and my own world for answers to the list of questions. These are meant as food for thought, and possibly as models for the kind or style of answers that I believe will be most beneficial.


4. Replying to:

MikiSweety (reviewed chapter 5, since moved to chapter 6)

Nice job. The ideas about magic and how it works in fantasy novels could potentially be very useful towards writers. Or, frankly, writers like you. For me, however, the thought processes behind the world and the magic I create is wholly different from yours.

The major disagreement between you and me is your statement that magic is the key to fantasy, the most important thing. For me, however, fantasy is a suspension of belief, an alternate reality used to connect the dots with our own reality. I absolutely agree that magic affects the world and can not just be thrown in, but for me, it is not a focal point. It is a device.

The second disagreement is how we seem to create our magic / world reality. I make stuff up, stuff that pops into my head or stuff useful for the story I want to create. I build my stories first with the characters or the plot or the possibilities / ideas I want to experiment with. THEN I build my world around it. I don't ask these questions, and I don't answer them… I see no need to categorize or put as much thought into magic as you do So in that way we are different. BUT when I lay down a rule, I DO make sure things follow that rule. Yet I simply do what makes sense to me.


My response:

I have always been very strongly oriented towards the details, but I recognize that most people aren't.

Personally, I always need some sort of plan; I don't think spontaneously enough to make it up as I go the way you seem to be talking about. I need a bit more predictability than that.

I identify magic as the central aspect of fantasy because I can't separate the two terms. There is historical fiction, there is alternate history, there is science fiction. If the setting has no magic, then how is it called fantasy?


5. Replying to:

Eve Amare (reviewed chapter 2, since split into chapters 2 and 3)

Though I understand number five from your "Five Questions," I am afraid I am unsure how to do this with Gratis in Petal of Blood. I know I have to work into my story a bit of the history of Magic in Gratis (and I am working on that now, actually), but I am unsure how to make it more real . . . help?


My response:

You answered question Q with "everyone has at least some magic talent." From here, I see two ways to go:

1. Magic is ubiquitous in the world, as an inherent side effect of living things.

2. Magic is, for whatever reason, restricted to humans.

To resolve this, I refer to a product you refer to called Liquid Sun, a drug which dampens magic powers. This product makes much more sense if you go with option 1: Liquid Sun is perhaps derived from a plant or insect venom? Probably plant, since it seems to require ingestion.

This also implies an answer to question X (magical materials). Since all living things have some sort of magic, there would naturally be many different magical materials and substances that they produce. People only need to figure out how to extract and/or process it to obtain the desired product.


6. Replying to:

Lord Slayer (reviewed chapter 5, since moved to chapter 6)

I am curious to know, though, what is your take on incantations?

In most of the works I've read, incantations tend to be an integral part of the system and is almost always in some obscure/ancient and forgotten language, usually in latin, pseudo-latin or gibberish. However, when creating the magic of my own world I tend to lean more towards the anime-approach to magic and magic-like abilities, that is, simply calling out the name of the attack or spell in the caster's native tongue and then firing; point-and-shoot magic, as I like to call it.

Yes, I do use the ancient language pseudo-latin on occassion, but only for names, and the "ancient name" of a spell is usually used for purposes of categorization than for day-to-day use (rather like how in real life all living things have both a common name and a fixed scientific name). A full blown incantation is only used for stylistic/dramatic effects (in terms of adding more to the story), or for more powerful spells that require a greater amount of mental focus towards the spells, and they are always done in the story's common language.


My response:

I generally divide magic into two basic categories: "blasts" (what you called "point-and-shoot magic") and "complicated stuff."

Blasts are quick and simple to cast, and generally used very frequently. Their speed and convenience allows them to be used in the middle of combat, with the tradeoff that spells of this type are stereotypically draining in some way. In stories I write, most magic is of this type, and I don't have characters bother with incantations at all; if any are used, they are superfluous to the casting and serve merely as a mental guide for the caster or a way to show off. In both cases, the story's common language is the only way for incantations of this type to make sense.

Complicated stuff is exactly what it says. It generally takes a long time to cast (several minutes at least, but the most important thing is that, unlike blasts, spells of this type are far too slow to cast in the middle of most fights) and often involves hard-to-get material components. Complicated stuff is for major dramatic spells: summoning a demon, for example, or certain kinds of curse. I tend to have incantations of this type also be in the story's main language, and usually poetical in some way, under the premise that doing them in gibberish risks losing the audience.

Actually, this is my attitude toward gibberish in general: character names are one thing, but if you feel compelled to put something else in a language your audience doesn't know, at least provide a translation immediately afterwards. Otherwise it just complicates things and makes the story hard to read. And even putting gibberish and then a translation is still more complicated than putting in the translation directly.