World Building & Magic Tropes – Let's Mix it Up

3 posts in this topic

This thread is a mix of a few things all stemming from my notice of cliches built around Magic Systems and World Building.

My Hopes For This Thread:

  • To discuss everyone else's opinion on how they feel about tropes/cliches in Magic Systems and World Building.
  • To challenge the fellow writer's out there to begin thinking differently when creating; to not settle for what's easy.
  • To learn who out there thinks in similar ways as myself but also to learn strong oppositions.

What This Thread is Not For:

  • It is not a place to get defensive. I want myself and others to be challenged by this thread. Allow yourself to open up to opposition. This doesn't mean you shouldn't defend your stance – we want that. Just don't be upset on opposing views nor defend little things simply to defend your honor.
  • It is not a place to attack someone. The last thing we want is someone presenting an opinion to have it attacked belligerently. This is a discussion and debate, not a place to over-react or criticism.

So without further ado, let's start by talking Elemental Magic.

The one thing that begun this thought process was in something I noticed in many writers abounding with desire to write fantasy. Can we move on from Elemental Magic? Don't get me wrong. I love the elements. I love the magic built around elements. Mistborn is basically elemental via metal. I am also obsessed with Avatar/Korra. But seeing "Here's my version of Earth, Air, Water, Fire." in every place you look gives me negative emotions about it. I think elements are key to magic. I think having magic perhaps based on only one element would be extremely awesome. But it feels contrived at this point. Not to mention, most writers are trying to take Elemental Magic and give their own spin on it. In turn, we only get a convoluted mess of a system that has too many powers for someone without a spreadsheet to get a grasp of.

What is your take on this?


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Well, I still like Elemental Magic. It doesn't give me a "wow", but I don't feel like I've seen it too many times. There is one idea about it that I don't like though - it's how often the fifth element (if there is one) appears OP, be it a spirit or pure energy, a combination of the other four (like in W.I.T.C.H.). I prefer systems that have more Eastern take on it, meaning five equal elements. In China tradition there are earth, metal, water, fire and wood, and they are all connected somehow; in "Naruto" the fifth element was lightning and again, there was equal connection.

Meaning, that while I loved the way magic was executed in "Avatar/Korra" (martial arts), I was very displeased with the Avatar himself/herself. I just hated that the protag. would have so much more power than any other bender, and when Avatar State and energybending came to play... Meh, I was skipping to watch Zuko rather than Aang. I didn't even finish "Korra".

On the side, a system focused on just one element sounds interesting, too. I don't exactly think we got it in "Mistborn". I mean, yes, powers require metal, but I would say there are based more on magnetism, and we also have time manipulation, body enhancement... For me, it doesn't add up to just "metal". A system truly based on just one element would be more like various user controlling various aspects on the given element, e. g. for water some could use ice, some liquid, and some steam. Plus, there could also be some who would be able to make it change the state, but not control it in any of them. Or something like that.


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I'm on board for retiring four-elements magic. 

It's all based on this archaic idea that everything in the world is made up of the four (plus miscellaneous) elements. Several older Earth cultures really believed that. And if you're writing about a world where that's true, then you should totally base your magic system around that. 

But if that's really the world where your story takes place, you need to really structure the whole world around that concept. Avatar did a great job with this. Four elements, four nations. Symbolic connections to the four seasons. Each element is related to emotions, attitudes, and social mores. Guru Pathik's philosophy about connectedness, and the illusion of separation, adds even more depth.

But most writers don't use the four elements like this. They just need a magic system, and the elements, being the oldest trick in the book, are the first thing that comes to mind. They're a convenient excuse to not come up with anything original.

And, for the sake of the conversation, I'm only complaining about the classical water/earth/fire/air arrangement. Any "elemental" system that isn't based on those four (like the Scadrian metallic arts) is not part of this problem.


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