Tuesday, September 20, 2011


(by Rayne Hall)

Photo Credit: Dreamstime_xxl_19705302

You can create exciting plot complications if the magician who casts a spell gets it wrong.

Here are some ideas you can use in your fiction. Although I've used the female pronoun, everything applies to magicians of either gender.

* The magician summons a spirit (e.g. a demon) to do her bidding - but that spirit is malevolent and more powerful than she expected, and she is unable to keep it under control.

* The magician creates a protective circle around herself which shields her from the summoned spirits and from evil - but then she accidentally steps out of the circle.

* The magician recites a complicated spell ... but she misremembers a word or mispronounces a syllable, and the outcome is not what she intended. (This happens only with forms of magic which rely on the precise wording, for example, ancient Egyptian magic. It doesn't happen with forms of magic where the intent is more important than the word, such as Wiccan witchcraft.)

* The magician wants something intensely, and doesn't mean to cast a spell ... but she has unwittingly raised magical energy by dancing or drumming, and her intense desire turns into a spell... one which she comes to regret bitterly.

* The magician, roused to righteous anger, casts a harmful spell (a hex or a curse) on someone... but the harm returns to her, and she suffers the same fate. (In some forms of magic, it is said that the harm returns threefold, or hundredfold.)

* The magician casts a benevolent spell to help someone... but by helping one person, she is harming another (e.g. by helping a friend succeed at a job interview, she robs someone else of the chance), and the harm returns to her.

* The magician casts a spell on the spur of the moment, which at the time seems the right thing to do... but afterwards, she realises that what she has done is unethical, or has unwanted consequences.

* The magician summons a god into the circle .... but gods don't take kindly to humans who boss them about. Although they may lend a helping hand to the magician who invites them, they may punish the presumptuous ones.

* The magician raises magical energy to fuel a spell (for example, by dancing, drumming or chanting)... but she raises more than she intended, and the spell magnifies out of proportion. She may intend to light a candle, and instead set the house on fire. She may intend to bring an afternoon's sunshine, and instead bring ten years of desperate drought.

* The magician may desperately try to concentrate on the spell, because magic works through the mind... but in a situation of acute danger, she can't concentrate. The more urgently she needs to concentrate, the less she is able to. Perhaps the gun-armed killers are already breaking down the door, or the sadistic villain is torturing her lover in the same room, and the distraction means she can't summon the concentration she needs to work magic.

* The magician casts a spell for what she wants to happen... but she forgets to specify how. For example, if she's desperate for cash, she may cast a spell for a hundred thousand dollars, and a week later she learns that her beloved sister has died and in her will left her that amount.

* The magician casts a spell for what she wants to happen... but she forgets to specify when. The results come years later, when she has long forgotten about the spell, and when the results are no longer desirable.

Magical mistakes can seldom be undone. Trying to undo a spell may even mess things up further. A sensible, experienced magician will always think carefully before she works magic, considering the necessary preparations, the ethic implications, and the possible consequences - but the magician in your novel may not always be careful and sensible.

The fiction potential of magical misjudgements and screw-ups endless. I hope this article has inspired your creativity.

If you have questions about magical mistakes, or want feedback for an idea, or if you need help with a magical mistake scenario in your WiP, please ask. I'll be around for a week and will answer questions.

Rayne Hall teaches an online workshop 'Writing about Magic and Magicians'. Create believable magicians (good and evil), fictional spells which work, and plot complications when the magic goes wrong. Learn about high and low magic, witches and wizards, circle-casting and power-raising, initiation and training, tools and costumes, science and religion, conflicts and secrecy, love spells and sex magic, and apply them to your novel. This is a 4-week class with 12 lessons and practical assignments. If you wish, you may submit a scene for critique at the end of the workshop.
The next dates for this workshop are:
October 2011: Celtic Hearts RWA www.celtichearts.org/workshops.html
March 2012: Lowcountry RWA www.lowcountryrwa.com/online-workshops/
April 2013: Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal: www.romance-ffp.com/workshops.cfm

Her other workshops include 'Writing Fight Scenes', 'Writing Scary Scenes' and 'The Low Word Diet'. For an updated listed of her upcoming workshops, go to sites.google.com/site/writingworkshopswithraynehall/

Rayne has had more than twenty books published under different pen names, with several publishing houses and in several languages. Her latest novel, Storm Dancer, is a dark-heroic fantasy about magic and demons.


Barton Paul Levenson said...

In "Eyes of the Dragon," his first venture into epic fantasy, Stephen King has a particularly horrifying example. (Surprise, surprise.) In this world, invisibility is the toughest spell imaginable, suited only to real experts. The best most mages can do is to become "dim," meaning not, as in Britain, "stupid," but unobtrusive, so people don't notice you and don't remember later that you were in the room.

He tells the story of a mage who tried the spell and got it wrong. Instead of becoming invisible, his nose was suddenly eleven feet long, and filled with fingernails, and he was insane for the rest of his life. Ugh.

That's the problem with magic--it's really too powerful to play around with. Dangerous. Thus the Old Testament prohibitions.

Kristie Cook said...

Great ideas! My mind is taking off with them. Thank you for sharing.

Nina Pierce said...

These are all wonderful ideas. I've got an idea rolling around in my brain for a witch series. These are all great places to jump off from. Thanks!

Rayne Hall said...

Hi Barton,
Do you think the Old Testament prohibitions about using magic are mostly because magic is dangerous - or might there be other reasons?

Rayne Hall said...

Hi Kristie,
Which of these ideas have grabbed you particularly? Are you going to develop any of them for your own fiction? (If yes, I'd love to read the result!)

Rayne Hall said...

Hi Nina,
A witch series sounds great. What kind of witchcraft? Wiccan/New Age type, or traditional witchcraft?
Featuring the same witch in each novel, or a different protagonist for each?
Which of the ideas in my guest blog do you think would work best for the series?

Rayne Hall said...

Questions, anyone? If there's anything you want to know about magician characters, composing spells, ethical conflicts for magicians, different magical systems, or something like that, or if you want feedback for an idea, please ask. I like question. :-)

PamelaTurner said...

Sorry I'm late, but thanks again for guest blogging, Rayne. :-)