Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tuesday Guest Post: Rayne Hall


When writing paranormal and fantasy fiction, we writers can invent fantastic magical weapons. However, these weapons need to be interesting so they enrich the story, and believable so the readers can suspend their disbelief.
A weapon which can kill anyone, anytime,  is implausible and boring.

Here are some ideas how to create a magic weapon, inspired by real magic traditions from different cultures.  Your weapon probably includes some, but not all, of these ideas. Have fun!


* The weapon is made from a solid, natural material: stone, wood, or bone. The bone could be from a ritually sacrificed animal, from a human ancestor, from a hero or saint, or from a slain enemy.

* It may contain a crystal, or a  precious or semi-precious stone, because these are good at storing and intensifying magical energy.

* It has an elongated shape, like a wand or a staff. Indeed, it may be disguised as an everyday elongated object, such as a pen or a walking stick. The magician points it at the target, similar to aiming a gun.

* The weapon can be of any size, from a tiny jewellery pendant to a tree trunk.Small items have the advantage that the magicians can carry them on their body or hide them in their garments. Large items may be stationary and everyone knows of their existence and location.

* There is probably a religious connection. For example, the weapon may be sacred to a goddess or god, blessed in a temple, manufactured by monks, invented by a god, given to the hero by a goddess.

* It is probably old, perhaps inherited through generations.

* It can only be given - for example, in gratitude by the craftsman who made it, or granted by a priestess on her death bed.  It can not be bought with money.

* The manufacture of the weapon involved a ritual and a sacrifice. This may have been a human sacrifice. The weapon may have been dipped into the sacrifice's blood.


* Most magic works through the user's mind.  To activate the weapon, the magician needs to concentrate, perhaps think a certain sequence of thoughts.  The use of a magical weapon is never purely physical (such as pulling the trigger on a gun). It's the mental effort ath counts. This can create interesting situations when the magician needs to concentrate to use the weapon, but can't concentrate in the heat of the battle.

* The damage inflicted by a magical weapon may be invisible. It may kill without leaving visible wounds, baffling the doctors.

*  Magical weapons may act slowly. A person may get hit by a magical weapon and not realise it until hours or days later, by which time it's too late to seek help, and the person withers away.

*  The weapon may affect the target's mind rather than the body. For example, it may rob that person of the will to live, or of the courage to fight. 

* Many magical weapons work on one of the elements (earth, air, fire, water). For example, the weapon may kill by shaking the earth on which the target stands, or by heating  the air the target breathes.

* The weapon can hit targets which are hidden. Its energy can move through or around obstacles.

* The user needs training to wield the weapon. This probably involves training in magic (power raising, mental focus, directing energy), as well as training in the use of the specific weapon.  In the hands of an untrained person, the weapon may be ineffective, or may kill the user.


* Before use, the weapon needs to be magically  fuelled (the usual term for this is 'charged'). This may be done in a certain place (at a spring, in a temple, at a crossroads) or by a certain person (a senior magician, a crone, a priestess). The charge involves a ritual, which may be simple or complex, and is often religious in nature. Sometimes, a weapon can be charged by leaving it lying in running water, or exposed to bright sunlight, or to the light of the full moon.  If the weapon contains a crystal, it's the crystal that gets charged.

* After use, the weapon needs to be ritually cleansed. This may be a simple act such as rinsing in running water, or it may need a prayer, or a complex ritual at the temple. The cleansing and the re-charging are often done in the same ritual.


*  To be interesting, the weapon needs to have at least one weakness which causes difficulties for its user.

*  After being ritually charged, the weapon works only for a specific period - perhaps for seven hours, or until the next new moon. After that period has passed, it may become inaccurate or less powerful, or stop working altogether.

* The weapon may only work in the hands of certain people: initiates of the order, male virgins, or post-menopausal crones. This can create interesting situations, for example, if it works only in the hands of a male virgin, the enemy may send a seductress.

* The weapon depends on the user's attitudes and beliefs. What if the weapon works only for a user whose religious faith is unshaken? What if it only works for someone who is free from fear?

* In many magic traditions, the knowledge of names plays an important role. Perhaps the weapon works only if the user knows the target's true name.

* In some magic traditions, especially modern ones, visualisation is important.  Perhaps the weapon works only if the user can visualise the target's face.

* The weapon may work only if the user is in a state of altered consciousness (i.e. in a trance); this can be tricky in a battle.

* Magic spells often take time. The user needs time to raise magical energy  and to direct her will at the desired outcome. In an urgent fight situation, time  may be short.

* Magic requires intense concentration. Perhaps this weapon needs several seconds of total concentration before every shot, and this concentration can be hard to come by in the heat of a fight.

* The weapon may work only in the presence of a certain element (earth, air, fire, water). For example, the user must stand near an open fire, or the target must be close to running water, otherwise it won't work.

Enjoy inventing a magical weapon. I'd love to see what you come up with, and I hope you'll post your ideas here. I look forward to helping you refine your fictional weapon.

If you have questions about writing fight scenes or about magical weapons, feel free to ask. I'll be around for the next couple of days and will respond.


Rayne Hall writes dark fantasy and horror. She has published more than twenty books under different pen names in different genres, and her stories have earned Honorable Mentions in 'The Years' Best Fantasy and Horror'. She holds a college degree in publishing management and a masters degree in creative writing, and teaches online classes.

Even if you've never wielded a weapon, and don't have a clue about magic,  you can write an exciting fight scene and create believable magic. Rayne will show you how, in her workshops on 'Writing Fight Scenes' and 'Writing About Magic And Magicians'.

The next workshops are:

Writing Fight Scenes, June 2011: www.romance-ffp.com/event.cfm?EventID=303
Writing Scary Scenes, July 2011: www.writersonlineclasses.com/?page_id=534
Writing About Magic and Magicians, Ocrtober 2011:www.celtichearts.org/workshops.html


Debbie Herbert said...

Thanks for this excellent article! I'm approaching a scene where I want to have a magic crystal activated by a half fairy that will save the good fae from the bad fae . . . and that's as far as I've got with the idea! I was thinking maybe the crystal was a relic leftover from where angels were tossed from heaven and this crystal fell with them. Don't know specifically how the crystal has this potential.

Rayne said...

Hi Debbie,
What a fascinating idea! Crystals can store magic - or, more specifically: they can store the energy which empowers magic - so I think your plan is plausible.
Here are some thoughts to consider: Who charged the crystal, and why? What kind of magical energy does the crystal contain? Is it general magical energy which can serve any kind of magig? (This is the most likely situation, but it may not be ideal for the plot). Or does is it charged with a specific kind of magical energy which can only be released by a specific person, in a specific situation, at a specific time, or for a specific purpose? (this may suit the plot better).
How can this magical energy be released?
Could it be abused? Could it be used as a weapon? Could it be used for evil?
How do your good guys plan to use it? How do your bad guys plan to use it? What would happen if the crystal fell into the wrong hands?
Who knows about the crystal? Where is it kept? Who guards it? How is the knowledge about the crystal passed on through the generations?
What does it look like? How big is it? Is it a natural crystal (a mineral which occurs naturally on earth)? If so, I suggest a form of quartz: clear quartz, smoky quartz, rose quartz or similar.
What must be done in order to release the magical energy? (Is there a specific ritual - e.g. maybe in a full moon night the crystal must be held in the right hand while the left hand touches the chest over the heart while the user says a certain prayer and seven virgins holding hands form a circle around the user - or whatever suits your plot).
I hope some of these thoughts inspire your creative ideas.

Cornelia said...

What a fun, interesting, detailed and helpful blog post. Thanks so much. I really enjoyed that and it's got me thinking.

Rayne said...

Hi Cornelia,
What did it get you thinking about? Are you planning a story with a magical weapon in it? Are you willing to let us have a glimpse of your idea?

siebendach said...

In addition to affecting the target's mind, a magic weapon may affect the wielder's mind. And I'd like to point out that not all magical weapons are necessarily "good" ones. If the evil general has a sword that makes him unkillable, it's a good idea for the enemy to enlist a thief to steal it from him --- but the unfortunate thief may find out too late that the sword is not only more evil than the general, but has evil plans of its own.

Rayne said...

That's a cool idea: the villain has a magical wonder weapon that allows him to do terrible things.
And the good guys need to steal or disable that weapon before he slaughters the innocents or destroys the world or whatever dastardly plan he's hatching.
I think a magical weapon in the hands of evil is very exciting. Lots of fiction potential! Are you planning to develop this into a story?

V.R. Leavitt said...

Excellent post! Lots of great info here that can really add intensity to any fantasy fight scene. Thanks for posting!

Carole Ann Moleti said...

I found this post most helpful. I am currently writing an urban fantasy. The heroine is a bumbling but righteous young witch who, over the course of the story, overcomes lack of confidence and fear of using magick.

The hero is also a witch with a dark stain in his past who has no trouble in a fight, sometimes causing harm to innocents.

They come into balance at the end, though the conflicts between them drive much of the story action. They are destined to fight together against roving gangs of vamps and weres (not the sparkly kind--this is dark fantasy).

I am writing the final battle scene where the heroine wears a white cloak which secures at the neck with a crystal amulet. I still need to research the best type of crystal for this character, but this will give her energy, focus, and strength in the magickal battle. The hero will wear a black cloak, also secured with a crystal suitable for him.

These crystals will be powerful and have the potential to do serious harm. Again, I have to research properties, charging etc. I am also doing some research about the ritual preceding the battle that will faciliatate the energy and connection between the heroine and hero.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

PamelaTurner said...

Thanks for stopping by everyone and thanks for the great comments. Of course, special thanks to Rayne for posting these insightful articles. :-)

Rayne said...

Hi Carol,
Here are some ideas for you to play with.
Are the crystals actual tools/weapons? Or are they fuel tanks for magical energy? Either is possible, but you'll need to write it differently.

If they're 'fuel tanks', then wearing as a cloak pin is fine. Any shape will be fine. They may give the wearer an intense boost of energy and magical power, and depending on the wearer's personality, they may be the kind of energy the wearer is likely to need. For example, if the heroine is scatterbrained, she'll use a crystal which enhances mental focus and concentration. Someone with cowardly tendencies may use a courgage-giving crystal, and so on. The most likely way to use this would be to place the palm of the non-dominant (left) hand on the crystal, feel the energy tingle through the palm up the arm into the whole body, and use the dominant (right) hand (or the wand in the right hand) to direct the magic by pointing at the target. In this case, the crystal can give an intense boost to any spell or magic action. You can choose almost any type of crystal and almost any kind of charging ritual; whatever suits your story and characters.

If the crystal is a tool or weapon (do actually do things, not just to intensify them), it will be used more like a small wand. It's probably shaped like a small wand (elongated). I think it unlikely that it will be used to fasten a cloak at the neck, because then it would have to be removed for use, which would cost precious moments in a fight. More likely, it's worn as a pendant on a long thong around the neck. The user holds it in the dominant hand and points it at the target. In this case, the type of crystal and type of charge are important.

By the way, are they really wearing cloaks in the battle? If it involves real physical fighting, cloaks are highly impractical. They get in the way of the movement. Anyone going to battle would leave the cloak at home. Anyone suddenly forced to fight would drop the cloak at once. So maybe they wear cloaks, and when the fight begins, they strip off the cloaks by removing the magical pin? Maybe this is a much-practiced move to get rid of the cumbersome garment and grab the weapon in a single second?

I hope some of these ideas are useful, or inspire your own, better, ideas.


Debbie Herbert said...

Thanks for the thought-provoking questions Rayne. I was thinking the crystal lay dormant for years and can only be activated by my MC - she fits in with their legend of someone who will protect them by activating the crystal. Originally thinking it served as a force field of some kind or it could be the equivalent of a fae nuclear bomb - stored potential in there used as a threat to kep the enemy from attacking.

Rayne said...

Hi Debbie,
The concept of stored potential in a crystal is plausible. Go for it.

Rayne said...

Hi Debbie,
I've been thinking a bit more about your heroine and the crystal. If she's the one who's destined to active the crystal, she probably has a strong affinity for crystals. Some people have this (I do). This affinity for crystals may show in different ways, some of which may fit into your plot: she may practice crystal healing, or she may love wearing gemstone jewellery, or she may be a geologist, or a jewellery designer, or she may collect fossils as a hobby, she may pick up pebbles wherever she walks, she may have collected pretty stones when she was a kid, she may find it soothing to hold certain types of crystals whenever she feels upset or drained, she may have crystal clusters as ornaments in her home, and so on.
This affinity with crystals makes her ability to release stored superpower in that angelic crystal believable.

Steve Brady said...

Hi. Two recurring ideas got my attention; that magic powers require mental training, and that omnipotent weapons, or any such magic objects, ruin the story.

I suspect that the magical training of the mind is a modern idea, and runs a risk of anachronism. Because we're raised and live in a scientific culture, to operate in a magical worldview requires a substantial shift of perspective. Thus neo-pagans, higher yoga practitioners, etc. emphasize trances, mental exercises, etc. In a magical culture, such as pre-scientific Earth or a fantasy world, magic is often second nature and it is science that requires a paradigm shift.

An omnipotent object is a disaster in a role-playing game, or a novel where a tactical victory is the climax. Yet the misuse of omnipotence is an enduring archetype, as in the fool with 3 unlimited wishes who's lucky to end up where they started.

Also, an all-powerful object can be the end in the story instead of the means. This is so in my own WIP. So is the former concept; the final battle over the object takes the form of a dysfunctional but non-violent lovers' quarrel.

Rayne Hall said...

Hi Steve,

Sorry I didn't see your post earlier - the great Blogger Outage played havoc with blogs.

You've raised some interesting thoughts.

How interesting is an omnipotent weapon in fiction? In the hands of the hero, an omnipotent weapon can kill the story dead. But in the hands of the villain, it creates delicious possibilities of threats, stakes, and challenges for the hero. (Although even then, giving the near-omnipotent weapon one small flaw could be useful).


An omnipotent weapon in the hands of the hero can kill the story. But in the hands of the

Rayne Hall said...

Regarding the 'mental' aspect of magic, I imagine that magicians in earlier periods used their minds as much as modern magicians do. However, they probably didn't think and talk of it in the same terms as we do. They wouldn't talk in New Age lingo of 'raising energy', 'altered state of consciousness' and such.

There's a danger that, in writing historical fiction, we attribute modern magical ethics, modern magical philosophies, and modern magical methods to historical magicians.

I remember reading an (unpublished) novel in which magicians of ancient Egypt practiced magic according to the principles of late 20th century Wiccan witchcraft. The author had researched how magic worked by reading New Age books, and since Wiccan magic was the best documented form of magic, she assumed that was how all magicians thought and operated.

Magicians in ancient Egypt had different practices and different ethics, and would have explained their workings differently from a 20th century Wiccan. Although they entered altered states of consciousness and raised power and directed energy, they wouldn't have called it such. And they certainly wouldn't have quoted the Wiccan rede. ;-)