Worldbuilding: Magical & Mundane

There comes a point in creating a magic system you have to decide: What is magical and what is mundane?

When I say magical there I mean the sort of magic that is hidden and reverent. The sort of magic that is spoken about in whispers and veneration. This is the magic kept secret and passed down and down and down until it is as much myth as magic. The magic that, despite being as real as anything else, has passed into legend.

Then there is the other sort of magic, the sort of magic imbued in everything a character does. It is in the sweep of a hand and a muttered word to light a fire. It is in the quick stitches to fix a pair of socks. It is in the glimmering songs sung to a child. The second nature magic. The everyday magic. This isn’t the magic beholden to a wizard in a secluded tower.

This is not to say that the two are mutually exclusive– far from it. Instead, when creating a magic system for your world you need to find the line. Is your world the sort of place where you can hop down to the general store for a magically-imbued potion, or is it the sort of place where magicked healing is myth, a legend, something for your protagonist to search for?  Or can they go to the general store so some ailments, but others are far outside the reach of a local hedge witch’s power? It’s the middle ground– the magical mundane if you will.

My personal tastes run as magical as mundane. I love it when magic is within everyone’s grasp, not something confined to ivory towers, or blood, or some fated destiny. I’d much rather a story where magic runs through the world as immutable as life and death. Magic is not confined to that destined party of three who will save the world, it is with everyone, a force for all rather than a few. However, that’s just me.

To give yourself a grasp on where your line between the magical and the mundane is try a day long writing activity. Here is what you are going to do. For one day write down absolutely everything you do. Write down the minutia of your day. Seriously, if someone else was to read this account of your day, I would want them to think the phrase horrifying detail, then back away slowly.

At the end of your day, sit down with your list of activities and consider one of your WIP’s magic systems, then write down how a character would go about that in your world, what level of magic or mundane would they use for it.

For a quick example, let’s go with what is probably the first thing on people’s lists: waking up. My guess is you do this by an alarm clock or a phone or a combination of both. How do people in your work in progress wake up? Is it through mundane means, magical means, or magically mundane means?  I’ll use an example from one of my WIPs. Pulling from the victorian tradition of knocker-ups and combining it with some magic I’ve got some magically mundane ways of waking up. Rather than having people use sticks or batons to use slam onto doors to wake people up, used the fact that fire magic is prevalent in the area. The magicked up knocker-ups use itty bitty fireworks at windows to wake people up. Not the greatest job in the world, but not bad for a young mage in training.

You might be surprised at the solutions you come up with for everyday problems. How does your world deal with public transportation? Who makes bread? How is grain ground? What is your world’s sewage system? Is there a way to recycle? Where do clothes come from? Who mends them? Constantly ask yourself, could a character do this with magic? Then ask yourselves would a character do this with magic?  Are there systems in place for that? Is magic or mundane the answer?

I’m not saying that you need to include every single one of these in a story, unless you want to create a 10,000 page monstrosity of worldbuilding. However! Worldbuilding is in the details as much as it is in your hand drawn maps and your nation’s power structures. Worldbuilding is in the everyday. So if you want to show how magic permeates every aspect of life, than give us some examples. Show us the background of a rich, fully thought out world.

 

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Worldbuilding: Healthcare

If your character broke their leg how would they mend it? If they have a cough who would they see to heal it? If they had depression who could they talk to? Would they staunch their own wounds and hope for the best?

Healing can be confined to the few.

Healing can be given to all.

Your world, your rules.

Medicine can be easily accessible or it can be only for the the wealthy. There could be an underground for doctors and nurses. Healing could be taken from the people as a punishment. Medicine could keep people compliant– given out only as a reward. How does your government heal their people? Or does the government ignore the needs of its people?

Who has the power?

Sickness could shatter a person’s wealth as much as their health– keeping those without money from seeking out what they need. A cure could be too expensive for the common people. What do people sell to afford their life? What is the cost of just one band aid?

If you are writing a book with magic, is healing in the hands of magic-users or in the hands of scientists, or somewhere in between? Witches could brew up a potion to alleviate cramps. Wizards could charm a prosthetic to grow with a child. Mages could ward against malaria. Sorcerers could spell against seasonal affective disorder. Healers could treat gender dysphoria, sculpting bodies by magic.

Is the child mortality rate high? Is a pregnancy ripe with fear for the mother and the child? Is birth control accessible to all who need it? Is it available to people who are biologically female or male?  Hidden in back alleys, mages script a morning after spell because it’s disallowed by the crown. Witches create coven of midwives. Wizards draw protective runes across bellies.

Is mental health seen as a stigma? Do empaths work as counselors guiding their patients? Or are people left to suffer in silence, their minds betraying them, while pretending nothing is wrong?

Consider what sort of world you want to build.

What sort of world do you want your story to unfold in?

 

Let’s Talk Names

Imagine, if you will, a person. This person has hope and dreams. This person has a past and a future. This person has a style and a voice. This person is one in several billion.

This person is… a person.

This person is your character and they need a name.

Imagine, if you will, a person. This person has hope and dreams. This person has a past and a future. This person has a style and a voice. This person is one in several billion.

This person is… a person.

This person is your character and they need a name.

If you could listen in on my writing process you would know that some video game boss music is playing right now and it is apt. Nothing puts me in more of an exhausted haze then trying to name the characters I will spend years with. This post may have something to do with a character’s fourth name change in five years. Nothing sounds right! I gave naming power over to one of my sisters and just told her to pick something because I’ve hated every version of her name.  She’s pleased she named a queen. I’m pleased I don’t have to think about it any more. It’s a win-win.

However, we can’t always outsource our naming responsibilities.

Let’s talk about reality for a moment. We don’t choose our name. At least not in the beginning. You get a little older and you can do whatever you want, but there at the beginning the naming falls into your caregiver’s hands. For something that is so pivotal in our lives, it isn’t our choice, not really.

With naming comes histories, expectations, and futures all rolled into one.  It’s a lot packed into just a few syllables. Consider your name. What does it say about you? Perhaps even more interestingly, what doesn’t it say about you?

I’m going to take a moment to deconstruct the name I’m most familiar with– mine. You’ll see most of it up in the website bar. Here it is in all it’s glory: Nicole Faith Getson.

I’ll start with the last name. Getson. There aren’t that many of us around. The story is that Goetz needed to be softened. Changed. Melted into the melting pot. The family adopted a different, Americanized version of the name. Goetz turned into Getson.

On to the middle name. When the first act of your life is almost dying, you end up with the name Faith. There are a whole category of these sorts of names. Names that mean things: Faith, Chastity, Honor, Charity, Grace, Hope, Justice, Patience, etc.. Virtue names echoing a puritan past. These names are a far cry from some names used in the past. If we were actually were Puritans in 1600s my name would have ended up being Safe-On-HighHere is another fun fact about my family: we aren’t particularly religious. When people hear my middle name, I get strange looks. Yes, indeed, I’m a walking misnomer! (Hi Mom! *waves* I can already feel your phone call. Talk to you soon. While I’m in the parentheses here, I’ll go ahead and paraphrase this phone call from my mother for you: “You can have faith in many things other than a higher power, including yourself.” Thanks Mom!)

Let’s move on to the first name– Nicole– the name most people everyday know me by. The name that is shouted to get my attention. Something I’ve learned over the years is that people assume my nickname is Nikki. It’s not. It’s Cole. If you need my name to be shortened, please refer to me as the combustible rock, thanks. Yes, yes, I know that is spelled coal.

I have the added bonus of a masculine nickname as a woman. My name takes people aback. I hear refrains of: “Are you sure it’s not Nikki?” The many years living my life assures me that no, that is not what my name is. I’ve also been told on multiple occasions that I am not a Nicole.  Every once in awhile a person will then rattle off a list of names that seem more like me. Emily usually ranks high on these lists and I am not sure why.

Please do not do this to people.

I REPEAT: DO NOT DO THIS TO PEOPLE.

A baby naming book is within arm’s reach of my desk. It hangs out on a side table beside my desk. It’s always there, hovering just out of my sight line, lurking, waiting for the next character for me to name. Waiting for me. Staring at me. Coming for me. This is why sometimes instead of trying to come up with names I send an email out to my Naming of Random Things Think Tank (PATENT PENDING) and they get to come up with a side character’s name, because I just cannot.

*boss music crescendos*

Names are a touchstone to a character. It’s often one of the first things we think of when considering a character it helps encompass all that makes them… them.

A character of mine changes his name half a dozen time over the course of one of my books. Being a poster child for identity crises, he uses these names to reinvent himself over and over and over. Each name settles him into a different culture and life. He switches his family name from first to last and back again. He changes how the vowels are pronounced. He changes where the emphasis is, all as he figures out who he is and where he fits into the world.

There is also a lot to unpack in a name. People don’t appear one day at the beginning of their most interesting plot points. They were born and given a name, maybe they changed their name, maybe they have a nickname, maybe they gave up their family name, maybe and maybe and maybe… there are so many options here that give a glimpse into both a character’s backstory and the world.