Are Your Magical Characters Plausible?

On writing magic for an ordered universe.

Magical beings, of necessity, come to reflect on mortality, on interpersonal morality, and eventually create for themselves a personal, overarching set of rules that governs their use of magic.

You might not agree with your magical character’s use of magic, or with their internalized moral system, but it is impossible to write plausible magical beings without revealing their moral constraints.

Good Writing (Moral Magical Character):

Gresho spun the magic wheel up, and then cast a purple spell into the center. A whining, piercing cry, like the scream of a dying bird, emanated from the glowing ring.

“You’re going to get us killed,” Horo called over the sound of the spinning wheel.

“Then get off your duff and help, you lousy dwarf,” Gresho shot back. He heard a muffled snort, and saw Horo roll onto his side.

“I can’t walk yet. You leave me out of your old experiments.”

“I’m going to make you walk with magic,” Gresho said.

“It won’t work,” Horo snapped.

“This time it will,” Gresho said. The whine of the wheel subsided into a series of sharp snaps, and the heavy ring of magic fell with a clunk to the floor.

“No,” Horo grumbled.

“I got some twisted reeds from the witch,” Gresho said. He glanced at Horo, and saw that the dwarf had grown very still.

“I don’t want to walk again,” Horo said.

“Come and try,” Gresho said.

“That witch is a hoax,” Horo added.

“I sold half my life for it,” Gresho added. Horo twisted, and looked at Gresho.

“Does she know you’re a druid?” Horo demanded. Gresho smiled, and Horo snorted.

“You’re a dirty old cheat,” Horo said, pushing himself onto his hands, and dragging himself towards the heavy wheel.

Bad Writing (Amoral Magical Character):

Gresho threw the heavy wheel into the air, and sent a spark of magic into the center. The wheel made a whining noise, and then spluttered heavily.

“That won’t work,” Horo called over the thick squeal of the magic, “and you’re going to blow yourself up.”

“I’ll blow both of us up, if it fails,” Gresho replied. He watched the growing magic with his jaw tense, and his eyes strained. I hope this works, Gresho thought. “I want you to come and watch this,” Gresho called to Horo. The dwarf snorted, and wiggled deeper into the nest of blankets.

“I won’t have any part of your little trials,” Horo said snippily.

“You don’t have to get sharp about it,” Gresho replied acidly. Ungrateful little dwarf, Gresho added in his mind.

“I’ll never walk again, and my life might as well be over,” Horo said sourly. “Now, I’m going back to sleep.”

“I think you will walk again,” Gresho countered. As long as this works, he added in his own mind.

“It won’t work,” Horo said dully.

“I think it will,” Gresho said earnestly. He felt a sneaky smile trembling at the corners of his lips as the wheel of magic emitted long crackles, and then sank gently to the rush-covered floor.

“It won’t work; it will never work,” Horo said. The dwarf sounded pained. Gresho could not quell the urgent beating of his heart. His head felt ready to spin from his shoulders with excitement.

“I got some twisted reeds from the witch on the hill,” Gresho said. He stared at Horo hungrily; the dwarf made no sign he had heard. “You’re going to walk again,” Gresho added impatiently.

“I don’t want to walk again,” Horo complained.

“Come and try,” Gresho urged.

“That witch is a fake,” Horo countered. “Most of her herbs are only weeds.”

“I gave her a lot of money,” Gresho said. He ignored the throb of pain in his gut, where the witch had drawn out years of his life in payment for the reeds. Horo turned over, and stared at Gresho.

“How much did you pay?” Horo asked. Gresho grinned. Horo chuckled. “All right, I’ll try your magic,” the dwarf said, and he pushed onto his hands, and began to drag himself towards the heavy wheel.

It is very easy to accidentally write amoral magical beings. Remember that all magical beings operate within an active reflection on mortality, morality, and justice, and your ability to write believable magical characters will improve dramatically.