You get a magic sword! You get a magic sword! Everyone gets a magic sword!

Charles Yallowitz and I are doing a blog swap today. I asked him to give us a brush up on writing magical items into our stories. I hold this advice is good across the spectrum of speculative fiction. Upscale science fiction items will run into the same issues. Here is Charles' primer on magic items:


Thank you to Craig who has asked me to write about magical items and give some tips on how to use them. As you can guess, I primarily write fantasy stories and enchantments are classic fare of the genre. So this topic is up my alley and now I realize how often I use these things. Is that a good or bad thing? Well, it really depends.


You see, there are many schools of magic item usage and I’m going to mention two of the big ones. There are Lord of the Rings type worlds that have maybe a handful of very powerful objects and a few more mundane things. For example, The One Ring is a highly enchanted bauble that can rule the world. It’s a rare level of magic for an item since most other ‘magic’ items are swords that are more durable and sharper than normal weapons. Also they glow when orcs and goblins are around as long as the special effects people remember. The second world type is a Harry Potter style where nearly everything is magical. Brooms fly, letters yell at you, time travel is possible, and you get the point. Wonder why they even bothered learning spells at some points.


So you can see two levels of enchanted items here and that can have a heavy impact on an author’s world building. If these objects are everywhere then you need to have characters act accordingly. Not as much surprise or fear like you would see in a world where a person can go their entire life without running into magic. In my series, Legends of Windemere, there is a type of enchanted object called ‘Durable Gear’, which is nothing more than hardier items. They are easy to get, so nobody is wowed by them like they would be with a magic sword that summons a Titan. Even that second object isn’t extremely awe-inspiring to the older locals because I’ve established that Windemere has a lot of magic. That’s an important factor here. You really need to set the rules on how common these things are and if anyone can use them. There are authors who feel that only magic-users should be allowed to use enchanted objects, but I’m not one of them. Why have a wand of fireballs when you know the spell? Just my personal preference though and I’ll touch more on that later.


Keeping an enchanted object balanced is another issue that comes up. A warrior with a sword that does everything and there are no side-effects is a bad idea. If the item is simple and mundane, like a self-cleaning toothpick, then you can get away with no limits. Still, you should do something in regards to activation. The common choices are rather simple and self-explanatory:

1. Activation word that doesn’t always come up in conversation.

2. Limited charges and/or cool down time.

3. Requiring a trance or great focus.

4. Certain times of day or night.

5. Specific movements of the body.


That doesn’t include side-effects like insanity, memory loss, shortened life span, and whatever the author wishes to inflict on the user. For example, Nyx in my series is a caster who gets an enchanted bracelet that attracts an enemy’s blade and releases a stun blast on contact. She says ‘pineapple’ to turn it on and off, but it seals her magic for about a minute. So a knight with heavy armor will still be a problem for her since a groin kick, headbutt, and right cross are pretty weak against platemail. Again, I will harp on the rule that it’s the author’s choice on how to work with these items, which really only have to fit into the world.

Unfortunately, you’re going to find readers who hate whatever choice you make. Some people want high magic like in Hogwarts and others want limited magic like in Middle Earth. You also have many who claim magic items are tropes, clichés, overused plot devices, childish tricks, and what have you. Well . . . they’re right. Just like dragons, elves, swords, medieval settings, horses, heroes, villains, and everything else are clichés of the fantasy genre. I’m stepping into another topic here, but my personal opinion is that you’re always going to have something calling your work cliché. Magical items are a big target here because they’ve been a staple since the days of mythology. So there really isn’t a way to guarantee that you’ll use them in a way that isn’t called a trope because their mere existence can trigger this opinion. How do you combat this? Just have fun with your stories and do what feels right.


So we don’t end on a downer, I’m going to mention the first enchanted item I made for any of my fantasy series. Still on the fence of using it because I made it in high school. To be fair, it’s more than one thing. I designed a warrior who used five enchanted blades that were always strapped to his back. Each one was unbreakable, could reflect magic, and pass through armor like it was air. So, why did he have five? They were talking swords that were twice as smart as the warrior. They would argue about who he would use and the ‘losers’ would guilt trip him after the fight. He had them because he’d feel bad if he didn’t and I think I made them siblings. As you can see, you simply have to have fun with these things.


Author Links

Legends of Windemere Blog

Website

Twitter

Amazon Author Page


Note: I've read a couple of Charles' books and enjoyed them immensely. I recommend his short tale, Ichabod Brooks and the City of Beasts, as a great way to test drive his writing style.

 

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23 Comments

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23 responses to “You get a magic sword! You get a magic sword! Everyone gets a magic sword!

  1. Reblogged this on Legends of Windemere and commented:
    A fun topic for fantasy authors.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s the old consistency of logic, isn’t it. The magic has to make sense within the universe it occupies. Interesting to read the logic behind the choice of magic.

    On the subject of cliche, I’ve seen this argument before (in the vampire genre), but my argument was that if you remove too many of the tropes and icons you no longer have the genre or the character. (A vampire that doesn’t bite people and drink blood is no longer a vampire.) Take away too much fantasy and you might be left with science fiction or paranormal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Everyone has a different meter for that. I find it best to trust the author and just go with it.

      Like

    • Excellent point. You do need some of the old to connect with the genre. I’ve read a few stories where everything from a genre was taken away and it was just kind of ‘there’. At the very least, the setting and feel didn’t match what the author was saying. It kind of made them appear like they didn’t know what they were doing.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I had to laugh at the talking swords! 😀

    Loved the rant against cliche-haters. It’s like people frowning at food at a restaurant, because it uses common ingredients. “Oh, you used tomato for the tomato soup? How original.” (roll of eyes)

    Now I want a self-cleaning toothpick…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I agree about tropes and cliches. If you have a crime novel and don’t have law man or crime fighter of some sort, you have a mystery, not a crime novel. If its a psychological thriller, their has to be a disturbed person or two doing weird stuff or you just have a thriller. Doesn’t matter how unique you make your protagonist and your antagonist, they still have to meet some fixed expectations.

    Like

    • Very well said. It is funny when a person tries to remove a core piece of the genre because they think it’s a trope. The reason genres exist is because they have common themes. Otherwise that entire system wouldn’t be around.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m glad you brought this into the conversation. Fantasy gets the trope argument more than any other. A writer has to deliver on his/her genre. Since we can’t make everyone else happy, we need to make sure we are happy with the end product.

        Like

      • I agree. Romance probably comes in second, but seems to get a pass more easily. For that, you merely have to make the reader swoon or heat up. Fantasy is always under a microscope for some reason. Strange that for a genre with very few solid rules, several people are always saying how it should work.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on Lori Beasley Bradley my writing and commented:
    Very informative for those writing fantasy!

    Like

  6. Really enjoyed this post, Charles! What would a fantasy story be without its magical items? Irish mythology is full of them, and I love it!

    Great idea about the 5 sibling swords, btw, I can imagine you had a lot of fun with that…

    Like

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