Shana Abe: Writing Realistically About Magic

Shana AbeShana Abé has a lot of experience writing about magic. Her bestselling Drakon series was all about dragons and shape-shifters. And her new YA novel, The Sweetest Dark, features a heroine with her own magical powers.

How does Shana write about magic and make it feel real? And how can you do the same? We were thrilled when Shana stopped by Figment to share her thoughts on writing realistic magic.

Check out Shana’s post below and then enter our writing challenge! You could see your story featured on the Figment homepage! 

What’s realistic about magic? If anything, writing convincingly about the supernatural is a paradox: How do you turn myth into truth?  The answer is pretty simple, actually. To make the unreal real, a writer must create universally recognizable parameters, limits, and situations, ones everyone can relate to.

I think the best way to do that with magic is to make it more “human.”

One of the most important aspects of writing good fiction is vibrant characterization. Your readers have to be able to connect to your characters, to feel for them—both the heroes and the villains—or else your story falls flat. So if your characters have magical powers, no matter how great, remember that they must still have flaws. Weaknesses. Otherwise, there’s no conflict, and no reason for anyone to keep reading.

Unless you’re writing about a god (all-powerful) or an android (unfeeling), your characters have to suffer and they have to confront failure in order to grow, just like all of us. That’s where the realism comes in. Obviously, magic’s a great cheat against failure, and it’s definitely fun to use it that way sometimes. But make sure you don’t rely on it too often, or suddenly all it is is a cheat—and cheating your readers is never a good idea. Remember, your magical characters have to feel just as genuine to your audience as the more mundane ones.

I like to have my characters pay a price for their powers. It might be emotional, or physical, or even spiritual. For example, in The Sweetest Dark, Jesse can’t transmute anything into gold without agonizing physical pain. In The Time Weaver, Honor can only Weave through time if she gives up tiny pieces of her soul.

No matter how you craft it, you want your reader to be asking herself, “Would I be willing to suffer like that for that power?” Because that’s the moment when a very different sort of magic takes over: the character becomes real.

Very few fabulous things come to us in life that we don’t pay for in one way or another; keep that thread in your writing and watch how your characters struggle with it, then blossom. As a writer, there’s nothing more satisfying than knowing you’ve created a character, a story, that leaps off the page and settles into the hearts of your readers.

Shana Abé shares more thoughts on writing realistic magic.



Writing Challenge

The Sweetest Dark by Shana AbeInspired by Shana’s advice on writing realistic magic, we’ve got a writing challenge for you! In 200 words or fewer, write a character sketch that explains your character’s magical skills—and the price he or she has to pay in order to use them. Tag your story MagicChallenge. The challenge runs until Wednesday, April 24 at 11:59 p.m. ET. Figment editors will be reading all the entries and we’ll choose our five favorites to be featured on the Figment homepage!

The contest is open to all users. Please read the promotional guidelines for full contest rules.

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6 thoughts on “Shana Abe: Writing Realistically About Magic

  1. I am writing about gods (mostly Greek pantheon) and even as powerful as they are, they suffer and confront failure, too. Much of the failure is their own failure to meet the standards they set for themselves. I have put limits on their powers in ways that I believe are realistic and help explain why, if god(s) exist, they don’t answer every prayer in a timely manner no matter how good and innocent and hard-working the person praying is.

  2. Hi! I was wondering if the winners have been announced and I missed it? it seems like an unusually long time for a contest to be judged (but maybe I’m imagining things). thanks!

  3. I am a starting author, I haven’t published my book because I am writing the second part of it. anyway in this book there is magic. Characters have limitations and there are also Gods. Right now the problems I am facing are that some of the chapters have descriptions that I think are over the top… as in creatures that can completely change the makeup of a landscape. then again those are the gods themselves that are capable of this. but still where should the extent reach?

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