Magic and Limitations

I’ve just finished reading Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. It’s my first Sanderson book and dang, it was good (the review comes out in SEPTEMBER because I’m just THAT FAR AHEAD – maybe I need another month-long reading hiatus…).

In any case, I’ve got some thoughts about it.

First, a while back, I read some articles about Sanderson’s Laws of Magic (or writing or something) and I believe it’s his third law that talks about how limitations are always more interesting than abilities.

Steelheart is a total exploration of limitations vs. abilities. Abilities are actually LESS important in the story than are the limitations of these Epics.

Which is super interesting to me. So far, in my limited fantasy reading, a lot of effort goes into figuring out abilities and less goes into figuring out limitations. It feels an awful like like characters – a lot of effort is put into figuring out what they’re good at and less effort is put into figuring out their FLAWS, and it’s the flaws that make the character interesting.

Fortunately, I’m at the beginning of my writing career and I have the time to begin to integrate all this knowledge, which I love, because perhaps I can really hit a homerun of a debut novel by learning and incorporating the things that make good writing.

In my Tamerna novels, I’ve definitely spent far more time trying to figure out how the magic works rather than trying to figure what DOESN’T work or how it’s limited. Today, though, I think I FINALLY had a breakthrough in that magic system (Thankfully the story is shelved right now while I practice a few other things on a different story). I think I’ve finally figured out a way to classify the magic system that makes sense and builds in limitations, plus immense cost to build or grow it. I still need to figure out more cost (I’m currently stuck in a mana/regen type situation that I’m not totally satisfied with).

In Steelheart, it seems that the use of the abilities slowly pulls them down into some kind of pit of hardness or heartlessness, which is definitely costly.

In my current story, the Kru’Nah story, I don’t think that magic will figure greatly into the story because it’s only something that certain Priests have, but I haven’t worked out what it does or how it figures into the story. It’s possible that I could leave it supervague, like in LoTR, but I think it would be better to work it out more – figure out how and why they get it and how they can use it. At some point, I will need to know that, but right now, I haven’t the foggiest idea.

I’m really looking forward to getting to dive into some more of this worldbuilding and figure out how to make a fully functional magical world. More research is definitely needed (shucks, more reading) and some really good thinking sessions (and probably brainstorming).

So, for now, if you haven’t read Steelheart and you like fantasy, I highly recommend it. My review will say as much. Whenever it finally comes out.

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Image by Junah Rosales from Pixabay