Although I’m a bull-on-through writer as a rule, I’ve been spending some time this week backfilling. That’s what I call it when I make a decision in the story that requires me to change something or – usually – add something to an earlier chapter. It’s not unusual for me to have to do this while I’m working out plot or magic.
Magic is particularly tricky. I’m not a big fan of the Harry Potter style of magic, where the right wand gesture and the right words with the right genes do the trick, and nothing else does. Don’t get me wrong – within the series the magic is consistent, which is important. It’s just not how I see it, particularly in my writing.
When I consider magic, I think about power; that is, power as in turning on the light. That energy has to come from somewhere, and something has to be done to get it. You can bank it (in a battery) or you can pull it straight off the wire, but somewhere coal is burning or turbines are turning to make that light go on. It’s also like running a race, or lifting weight, or balancing a particularly chaotic balance sheet. It takes something out of the practitioner.
I read recently that some experiments seem to show that will power is exhaustible, and so is decision-making power. In other words, what goes on in the mind is not infinite, and takes a kind of power that needs to be stored up or drawn off the wire, and probably also replenished afterwards.
I also want the magic to make sense. Why could this one character do this, and another couldn’t? Usually there’s a link to another power present, such as the idea that the sovereign is the land, and not just the ruler of it. There have been cultures in our own world where the health and well-being of the king or queen is considered to affect – or result from – the health of the land. I like this concept of rulership as a sacred bond that confers power of a particular sort.
Yes, there’s an inborn talent that makes people better at it, and, as in most things, people who are better at something tend to be the ones who take it up. In a world where magic requires years of study (not unlike a degree in our world), those who haven’t got a natural aptitude for it are unlikely to put in the time and energy. So people who are good at it get better, and can do it.
But I also believe that most people in a world with magic should be able to do some – spells, cantrips, charms, enchantments, whatever – just as most people can draw or write. We’re not all good at it naturally, and we don’t all practice, or don’t have the right tools, or just aren’t that interested, but we can all do it.
So I’ve been backfilling details to avoid the “What?” reaction in my readers, and prevent Tomato Surprise (a solution coming out of nowhere). I’ve quite enjoyed it, and at the same time I’ve also been getting on with the last third of the story. I’ll keep you posted.