Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 21, 2017

Email: “Rules” of Literary Magic

Greetings Master Malstrom,
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Reading your new articles for the day and wanted to share something with you relating to your paragraph below:
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Good stories create a world of rules within itself, and the story is just an adventure through those rules. Much of the time, those rules are character emotions and personalities. If I were reading a fantasy book, you’d better explain to me the rules for how magic works. If you do not, nothing makes sense because the author is just throwing shit out there. It becomes a bad story.
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I noted you’re point on establishing the rules of magic within literary fiction because I also felt that way for some time. I like rules, because if there are rules then they can be manipulated and “play” can happen. However, a couple years ago I watched a video that argued counter to that point in a very compelling way, so I wished to share said video with you as well.
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The video is by the YouTuber MrBtongue, and I can’t recommend his other videos enough. (A shame he’s gone dormant.)
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The following link is time-stamped to the part he specifically advocates for keeping magic an unknown quantity, but if you care to watch it in full, and again, can’t recommend it enough, you can use the second link below:  https://youtu.be/VHrTTgmB_3w?t=311
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Of course that works well for a novel or movie, but in a game, where one “plays”, rules are far more helpful, so figuring out how to let a player manipulate a system without defined rules is a whole other problem.
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A Reader
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The guy is a moron. Tolkien had a lifetime invested in researching these ancient myths and systems. A book doesn’t have to explain to you the consistency, but it is there in some way unrevealed to the reader. Tolkien would be a terrible example for that argument due to how studious his research was on ancient myths.
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One could try Alice in Wonderland but that was made by a mathematician. There are many logical puzzles going on in that story.
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If I showed off a smartphone to someone a hundred years ago, they would perceive it as magic as they would not understand how something like that could occur. Just because the reader perceives the magic to be ‘breaking reality’ doesn’t mean it is ‘breaking reality’ in the writer’s mind. Once you figure out the ancient myths, Lord of the Rings loses its charm and becomes seen as little more than cogs and wheels.
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Ask a game developer how different it is playing games than when he was a child. He cannot experience games as magical as he sees all the systems and cogs going on beneath the surface. In that same way, a writer doesn’t see the same novel a regular reader would or an artist doesn’t view the same painting as a non-artist would. The most fascinating is to listen to classical music with the ears of someone who writes music. Thrilling.
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