Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

The Rules

Everyone calls it “world-building,” the set up by which your world functions. In thrillers, there’s a typically a little bit of license taken, for example, because the world, like life, is a bit more boring in reality than a thriller demands. For example, I just re-watched the under-known Ronin (1998) with its oddly quiet script and star-studded cast, and there’s this car chase. We’ve all seen this car chase – whether it was this movie, one of the Bourne films, or anything shot in San Francisco. To watch a thriller on the screen suggests that car chases are rampant in life – can you imagine the headlines or the news reports given the number of cars that pile up during The Blues Brothers epic scene? To read a thriller suggests that serial killers lurk in every neighborhood, you just don’t know which one.

Car chases, vampires, serial killers, and prophecies are the narrative staples that we work by, and writers seem as enchanted as readers do, given the overwhelming number of them in our literature. (I’ve just finished Kiersten White‘s Supernaturally, in which she treats vampires much like Joss Whedon – deadly, but much more run-of-the-mill dangers than special or spectacular).

I’m trying to avoid the obvious staples. Here are some of my rules.

In the first group, everyone can do magic. If you’ve got enough imagination, persistence, and drive, you can empower a talisman. Once you make your first, a teacher will show up to guide you through the other two so’s you don’t kill yourself.

In the second group, only special people can do magic by making contracts and giving part of themselves to the creatures or forces outside themselves.

The first group shares their knowledge, albeit subtly, and investigates like scientists. Their work is dangerous and slightly unstable. They focus their work through three talismans: the lens that makes things happen (like a wand, but nobody chooses a wand); the translator for analyzing and understanding; and the receptacle, for storing knowledge and organizing their thoughts. The longer the talismans are around, the stronger they become. It’s very rare that all three survive the death of their creators.

The second group is more secretive, more about oral tradition, and tends to go a bit crazy. On the other hand, they know what they’re doing more than the first group does.

The two camps have a history of conflict, if not instigated then certainly kept strong by the second group.

The world that the two camps come from is ours, twenty-first century, so I don’t have to create a culture – I just have to figure out how people who do magic of whatever sort live side by side with the rest of us.

What do you say? Is the premise of the world interesting? What else would you want to know?

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4 responses

  1. Mischief Managed

    Questions:
    For what purpose(s) do the groups use magic?
    Am I assuming correctly there are two magic groups and then there are just common people?
    If anyone in the first group can accomplish magic by strong drive and imagination, couldn’t all people?
    Is the third group of regular folk uninterested or do they not have a sufficient drive and imagination?
    Do they use the services of the magic ones in their lives?
    Or are the magic groups unknown to the rest of the population?

    May 10, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    • As far as the two groups are concerned, yes, there are the two of them and there is Everybody Else.

      The first group considers themselves open and democratic because, yes, anyone with the sufficient drive can join the club – typically by accident.

      The third group (i.e. the general public) simply don’t know about the first two because no one wants to draw attention to themselves.

      Mostly the people who use magic use it simply for their own ends, but it’s fundamentally just another tool. You can’t make people think or do certain things, you can only tilt the odds in your favor by modifying the context (i.e. encouraging your opposite to be in a good mood before you go in to negotiate a house sale).

      The general public who do find out don’t live very long because both groups police themselves rather firmly.

      I’m trying to work within the parameters of contemporary society where we don’t have magic and people basically don’t believe in magic, but that there’s a lot of it around. It’s not organized (a la the Ministry of Magic) and there aren’t schools. It’s all very individualistic and geographically distributed.

      May 10, 2011 at 7:00 pm

  2. clickerbug

    Debating whether to recommend you read “The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane,” by Katherine Howe. It’s not your genre. Not fantasy, per se, but explores what I’d call “historical magic.” (It assumes that the witches of the Salem Witch trials actually DID practice magic; also assumes that magic powers can descend through family lines.) Sorta touches the question of how people who do magic live in the same world as the rest of us. Not back then, but now.

    In short, think about the people who run the “magic shops” … and imagine for a moment that they’re really on to something. The rest of us pretty much discount and ignore them, which makes it easy to live beside them, unless they’re somehow dead set on getting their magic in our faces.

    While the screenplay I’m writing has nothing to do with the story in Howe’s book, I find myself drawing parallels between the research I’m doing on alchemy and the magic (herbs, incantations, etc) as found in the book. I’ve discovered a strange world of “real” alchemy out there, with books describing how to do it and everything. I feel obligated to read at least one for research, even though the occult kinda skeeves me out. Maybe that’s the proof that people who don’t do magic bury their heads in the sand about those who do. I never really wanted to know, until I was “forced” to (albeit by choice).

    Sounds interesting. Don’t know yet what else I’d want to know, without knowing the story.

    May 10, 2011 at 11:12 am

  3. EJ

    Yeah, I watched Ronin again in the last few months. I saw it in the theater soon after Stephen was born (must have been one of my rare nights out) and fell asleep through all the car chases and shooting.

    Liked it much better this time and recognized what you so eloquently describe as its quietude (despite said shootings and car chases). I also think I have aged and could appreciate the “maturity” of the cast this time.

    I like your magic premise. I think Luc and I are a perfect example of the two kinds of magic trying to co-exist. I am the first group and bumble through most everything with rare moments or cumulative keen magical insights/power. He is much more special, specific, and secretive than I and I am not sure from which coven or covenant, but it’s definitely exclusive. He will probably die gallantly protecting his secrets while I will inadvertently perish from stumbling into a situation in which my lack of consistent supernatural perception seals my doom leaving only a few mysterious blog/journals behind for my magical posterity. He respects my naive but organic powers and I revere and fear his laser-like wisdom. Sparks fly but they ain’t from a talisman…

    May 10, 2011 at 10:26 am

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