Congrats guys! If you've stuck with me through this worldbuilding series you're almost done building your whole new world. This is the last post before you're on your own to explore, develop, and discover how your characters and plotline fit inside of what you've created. If you're new here to Writing It Wells, don't worry. You can comb through all the great things you've missed in this series here. Take your time and enjoy creating. There's plenty to write!
In part 4 of our worldbuilding series, we're covering Advanced Topics. This refers specifically to building magical systems and languages. These are the pieces that, while not always necessary, can bring your writing to the next level and set you apart from other writers in the same genre.
Principles of Magic
When you begin planning out how your magic is going to work, keep these 4 principles in mind:
In these next three charts we will be going over what types of magic systems are available for you to use and develop.
Okay, now that you know what types of magic are available, it's time to consider the practical applications. Think about the following questions while you brainstorm. Keep in mind that this should be within the context of the magical type you've chosen.
1. Who can do magic in your world?
It's probably not a huge leap to say that your protagonist can do magic if you're choosing to include it in your novel. If it's not your protagonist, then it is probably your antagonist or the "ruling" character. Maybe it's someone your protagonist has to protect. Perhaps it is even broader than that. Your society at large may be able to do magic because it's the norm. Or maybe only certain groups of people can. This can be kept secret, like in Harry Potter or Beautiful Creatures, or it could be a widely known fact like in A Darker Shade of Magic.
Whoever you choose to have carry the burden of magic consider why they were blessed with their powers. Were they taught? Was it genetics? A mystical heritage? Is it because of religious or spiritual manifestations? Because they can afford it? Do they belong to the governing class? Or is it because of a curse or prophecy?
2. What does your magic do?
Once you know who is able to do magic, consider what your magic actually does. Refer back to the charts to give you a starting point but take your time to develop things and put your own personality into it. Think about what precisely it can do. Are there people of varying skill levels? Can the power grow or are bearers born with as much power as they will ever have? Are people aware of their powers? Can they control them? What limits do they have?
If you need some ideas, check out Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Beautiful Creatures, A Darker Shade of Magic, A Great and Terrible Beauty, Shadow and Bone, The Night Circus, The Magicians, The Wizard of Oz, Sabriel, The Chronicles of Narnia...the list goes on and on.
3. What is the source?
Now that you have an idea of how your magic works, you need to figure out the source. All magic must originate from somewhere. It also had to start somewhere. How do people replenish their power? What depletes it? What is the limit until they are tapped out? Can their powers be taken away? Can powers be bestowed or given? Are there any circumstances where the magic won't work? Is there anything that can stop it or cancel it out? Are people aware of these origins and sources? Refer back to the chart to find which form is appropriate for your type of magic.
4. How is the magic performed?
Lastly, consider how your magic manifests in tangible forms. Does it require certain objects or rituals? Does it come naturally or does it require intense periods of training or study? What conditions are needed to use it? What is the cost of using magic? What happens to the magic and its effects over time? At what cost does the magic have on its user? Does it require speech, writing, or memorization/recall? Does it comply with the bearer or does it have a will of its own?
How to Build a New Language
There's a lot of back-and-forth out there about how to do this properly. Few writers ever get this right, and when you're up against writers like J.R.R. Tolkien it's almost reason enough to quit while you're ahead. While some writers settle for choosing a different dialect or a an already existing language, other more adventurous writers strive to do more. If you fall into this second category you may be looking for some guidance about how to go about it. While I can't promise you'll strike literary gold, I can give you some pointers about how to get started.
The Great Debate: Should I take what's already in existence or completely start over?
The consensus seems to be that it depends on what you intend to do with your story. If your world is completely different then the one we all know, then go for it! If it takes place in a world akin to ours, then the best option is to mix and match languages already on Earth.
The main thing to figure out while developing a new language is to pin-point how in-depth you need to go. If what you're looking for is to bring some interest into your story, then perhaps all you need is a new dialect or even a character with an accent. Mark Twain did this exceptionally well in his work.
Sometimes the situation needs a little more originality. Take Game of Thrones for example. Here we see several made-up languages that work like Dothraki and High Valyrian. These languages were created by mixing languages that already exist in the world. Dothraki is a combination of Estonian, Inuktitut, Turkish, Russian, and Swahili. High Valyrian is like the Latin of George R.R. Martin's world. It's the mother language, which even has derivatives such as Astapori and Meereenese Valyrian. These languages are considered to be the most successful "fake" languages since Tolkien's Elvish.
Another good example is the Na'vi language from Avatar. It's grammar is based off of Polynesian languages and uses consonants such as ejectives and word-initial velar nasals that do not occur in Western languages, while omitting common Western sounds like "b", "d" and "g".
Now there is a lot more that goes into language-building than what I've covered here. I'm no expert in this area, so I'm going to provide some links for those of you who feel called to learn more.
For those who need more examples, check out this complete list:
For a more in-depth walk-through of how to create an original language:
Background information on language and how it spreads:
More helpful tips:
Keeping these tips in mind, you should be able to build realistic systems of magic and believable languages to add to your worldbuilding experience. With these tools at your disposable, you'll be able to engage your readers and delight them with a fantasy experience they'll be rooting for till the end.