Saturday, September 03, 2011

Creating Believable Magician Characters

Today I've the pleasure of bringing you a guest post from author and instructor Rayne Hall. Rayne writes dark fantasy and horror, and has published more than 20 books under various pen names in different genres. Her stories have earned Honorable Mentions in The Years’ Best Fantasy and Horror. I was fortunate enough to be part of her Writing Fight Scenes workshop and loved it. She's a fab teacher. So when I heard she was open to guest blogging, I knew I had to bring her to Romance Magicians.

Creating Believable Magician Characters by Rayne Hall

Does your story have a magician - a shaman, a sorcerer, a necromancer, a ritual wizard, a theurgist, a miracle worker or a witch? The traits which make them effective magicians shape their personality. Here are ten tips for their characterisation. Your magician should have most - not necessarily all - of these character traits.

Although I'm using the female pronoun for this article, everything applies regardless of gender.

1. Intelligent

Magic requires a sharp intellect, critical thinking, critical analysis, the ability to make difficult decisions, and a good memory.

2. Creative

Magicians need to adapt existing spells and rituals to new situations.

3. Self-disciplined and focused

A magician needs to be able to concentrate and shut out distractions, even under difficult circumstances. A good magician possesses enormous self-control and is able to resist temptations. She is probably the kind of person who can stick with a diet and never goofs off to play computer games until the current job is done.

4. Patient

The study of magic requires endless practice and repeats, most of them boring, so impatient people drop out of the training before they achieve much. A good magician can spend hours sitting still, watching a candle flame or listening to the sound of the wind in the trees if that's what the spell requires.

5. Highly trained

Mere talent is not enough. Magic requires intense, prolonged study and practice. If she's a powerful magician, she has probably studied magic for many years.

6. Specialist

She is probably highly skilled in one particular area such as improving livestock, changing the weather, building wealth, protection, or healing.

7. Musical

Many forms of magic involve drumming or chanting; it helps if she has an ear for tunes and a strong sense of rhythm.

8. Spiritual

Most forms of magic are linked with religious practice. Your magician may be devoutly religious and begin every ritual with a prayer. Even if she's an atheist, she probably engages in spiritual practices such as meditation.

9. Studious

Magicians are always keen to learn more - expanding their own skills range, acquiring new spells, understanding other forms of magic, exploring natural and philosophical subjects. Whenever she can, she seeks instruction in some subject or other. She can often be found with her head in a book, and if your story is set in a pre-literate period, she listens avidly to bards and storytellers.

10. Well-organised and methodical

The best magicians always have information and ingredients at hand and know where to find them, and they have their equipment assembled before they begin the ritual. They keep careful records of the ingredients and exact wording used in every spell, and they measure the results.

11. Introvert

Most magicians like quietude and solitude. Given the choice, your magician probably prefers spending time alone in nature over partying with noisy crowds. After a night in close company with many people, she needs a day alone in nature to recharge her energies. She may even be a loner.

12. Ethics

Magic gives a person enormous power, and requires moral judgement to apply this power wisely and for the good. All magicians have ethic codes of conduct, and they take them seriously. These may be based on their religion, the principles of their form of magic, the rules of their coven, or their individual conscience. Modern magicians often follow the principles 'Harm none' and 'Don't interfere with someone's free will'. Some consider it wrong to accept money for magic. In other cultures and periods, other rules applied. If writing about a fantasy world, you can invent rules. You can create powerful conflicts if your magician's goal conflicts with her ethics. Perhaps the only way to help her child/rescue her lover/save the world is to do something against her conscience and against her magic's rules. Even the villain of your story, the evil sorcerer, abides by strict ethical rules. You can have fun inventing them, for example 'Be kind to animals' (hurting humans is ok), 'Never harm a minor' (wait until they're eighteen), 'Never sacrifice a virgin girl' (deprive her of her virginity first).

13. Sharp senses

Your magician probably has keen eyesight and good ears, and her senses of smell, touch and taste are more refined than those of most people. This natural ability has probably been refined over years of practice. Now she can recognise barks by how they feel in the hand, and identify crumbs of dried herbs by their smell.

14. Descended from magicians

Magical talent is often, though not always, genetically inherited. Perhaps her parents and siblings are also magicians, or perhaps her revered great-grandmother was a famous witch.

15. Psychic

Although magical and psychic gifts are separate matters, many magicians have a some psychic abilities as well.

16. Day Job

Few magicians can make a living from their magic. Most have day-jobs. Surprisingly many modern magicians work in the healing arts: nurses, doctors, aromatherapists, complementary medicine practitioners, massage therapists. Others are employed in scientific or engineering fields (using their analytical minds) or they work the arts (using their creativity).

All magicians are different. You can choose which of those traits suit your magician's character profile and your story's plot.

If you have questions creating magician characters, if you want feedback for an idea, or if you need help with an aspect of magic 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
March 2012: Lowcountry RWA
April 2013: Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal

Rayne's other workshops include 'Writing Fight Scenes', 'Writing Scary Scenes' and 'The Low Word Diet'. For an updated listed of her upcoming workshops, go to Rayne Hall's Workshops


Carla Swafford said...

The traits of an author too.

Thank you, Rashda and Rayne, for a great post.

Rashda Khan said...

Thanks Rayne, I learned a lot from your post :)

Heather said...

I'm reading the Dresden Files series now, and with each trait I kept saying, "Yep - That's Harry."

Thank you Rayne and Rashda for this great post.

Rashda Khan said...

OMG, I love reading the Dresden Files series...great characterization! :)

Rayne Hall said...

Questions, anyone? I love answering questions. :-)

Heather said...

Me, me, me - in my manuscript, my heroine tries to ignore her magical abilities because (a) she's scared her power will change her (i.e. the "ethics" component) by leading her to take the "easy way out" and use magic (I tried to address this with an adverse physical reaction to the power), and (b) when she's lost control of her power, someone has always been hurt.

I'm torn about how she would view those around her who have not shied away from using their magical abilities. Would she judge them negatively for making a choice different than hers? Would she envy their freedom? What are your thoughts?

Louisa Cornell said...

Awesome post! Thanks Rayne and Rashda for bringing Rayne by! And count me as another fan of the Dresden Files!

Rayne Hall said...

Hi Heather,

This is an interesting question, thanks!

If your heroine has a significant amount of natural magical talent, but avoids using it, she's in danger.

Or rather, other people are in danger from her.

A human with a latent gift is a potential tool for evil.

Evil forces (e.g. Satan, or demons, depending on the belief system in your book) are looking for humans like her, to use as tools. If she doesn't control her gift, they will!

Perhaps this has already happened. I find it interesting that you mention this: >when she's lost control of her power, someone has always been hurt.<

What if this wasn't just an accident that she lost control?
She never really had the control. What if a demon grabbed the control and directed her magical powers to its own purpose?

As a latent magician who doesn't control her talent (because she tries to ignore it and because she hasn't learnt how to control it), she is likely to be 'under attack' from evil forces a lot. This can manifest in bad magical things 'just happening' through her. She may also be aware of approaches from the dark side, as certain evil entities try to recruit her to commit to their causes. This can go on for years. It feel emotionally and mentally disturbing (she's variously upset, confused over whether this is really happening, in denial, guilty, tempted, and believing she's going mad). The physical symptoms are nausea in the stomach and throat, and a churning in the upper chest. If these attacks are prolonged or frequent, before long, she'll seek help!

So, to your question of how she feels about magicians who use their powers: It varies on how they use their powers. She may feel admiration for one, contempt for another, also distrust, fear, resentment. Above all, she'll *envy* them their serenity. She sees how comfortable they are with using magic, and compare it to her discomfort about not using hers.

Before long, she'll seek out a magician whom she considers 'good', tell him about her gift, and how it sometimes manifests without her will, and how bad she somethings feels as if demons were trying to use her.

He'll advise her to do the sensible thing: Get magical training to learn how to control the power.

(If she still refuses, it's her own fault. Of course, fictional characters often make stupid choices and have to live the consequences; this makes good stories)

I hope these thoughts inspire some ideas for your WiP.


Rashda Khan said...

I have a question: does ritual always have to be involved? Or could the practice of magic be more spur-of-the-moment and instinctive?

Thanks in advance :)

Heather said...

Thanks Rayne - this helped A LOT. I am now reworking my ending. Thank you, thank you!

Rayne Hall said...


Rayne Hall said...

Hi Rashda,

I've written a detailed reply earlier, but Blogspot deleted it because of some technical glitch.
It seems the comments are working again, so I'll try again in a moment.


Rayne Hall said...

Trying again. (Reply for Rashda)

Ritual adds power to a spell. It's not always necessary, but it helps. It's like giving your car more fuel so it can travel father.

A typical ritual focuses the magician's mind (concentration is important for a spell). It raises power to fuel the spell (for example, through drumming or dancing.) Often, it also includes a prayer or invocation (asking a deity or spirit to lend a helping hand), and puts the magician into an altered state of consciousness (e.g. she goes into a trance).

This ritual can be very short (seconds) or very long (hours).
An experienced magician doesn't need as much ritual as a novice does. The more experience she has, the quicker she can focus her mind and raise the power.

However, she may still use a detailed ritual if it's an important spell requiring a lot of power, or if she wants to impress an audience (e.g. worshippers at a temple, or a private client, who would be disappointed if the magician performed a quickie).

Spur-of-the-moment spells are possible, but dangerous.

One of the purposes of the ritual is to give the magician time to reconsider the spell. At least once during the ritual, the magician confirms that she does indeed want this outcome and that she is willing to take the consequences.

With an impromptu spell, there's no time to think through the consequences, and the consequences can be bad (which is, of course, good for fiction, lol).

For example, a female magician sees an desireable bloke and immediately fancies him. In a state of erotic arousal, she casts a spontaneous love spell to ensnare him.

Later, she realises what she's done: She has broken her vow never to interfere with another person's free will.

And worse: The bloke is an evil guy who abuses women. Now he's obsessed with the magician, and pursues her for the rest of her life, never letting her go...

Again, wonderful fiction potential.

Since impromptu spells don't allow time to raise power, they need to draw on power from elsewhere. Some of it can come from within the magician herself. Some may come from an intense emotion she feels at the moment (fury, desire, jealousy). Some can come from the environment (stone circle, ley lines, ancient tree). Or perhaps she has created magical energy without intending to, for example, by dancing wildly during a night out in a club, she may have raised power and even put herself into a trance, which is fertile ground for magic.

It's even possible to cast an accidental impromptu spell.

Let's say, the heroine is a magician who's having fun dancing in a nightclub, and she has danced herself into a blissful trance. In this state, she's a powder keg. All it needs is a match.

If she suddenly wants something intensely (e.g. that handsome bloke at the bar), and if she articulates that wish in her mind, and if she dwells on it.... boom!
It has become a spell.

Disaster may ensure, and the fictional possibilities are delicious.

I hope this helps.


Clare McKay said...

This was a great article. Thanks. I've just finished a contmeporary book with a character descended from an ancient magical people (earth/Ley Line magick). My problem is in pitching I call him a witch, and the editors don't seem to like a male witch. He's a very hunky male, and in the book he says that wizard is too Harry Potter for him and warlock is kind of Hollywood. He doesn't like any of the names, but he prefers witch. Any suggestions or solutions?

Rayne Hall said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rayne Hall said...

Hi Clare,

You're spot on: a witch is a witch, regardless of gender. Witchcraft is a system of magic used by both men and women.

However, many people associate the word 'witch' with a female magician (usually one with a hooked nose and a wart on her chin, lol). They may be confused or even put off by a male witch. Of course, you could educate them :-) but this requires that they read the novel, and if they don't get to read the novel because the hero's a witch, it's a Catch 22.

So, let's think of another term.

Wizard is out, you say. It's more suitable for a ritual magician anyway.

Warlock is definitely out. Ignorant people assume that it's the male form of witch, but it's really something quite different. Calling him a warlock might get your book ridiculed by people in the know.

I'd be inclined to call him a 'magician' which is a nice catch-all term. Since this is probably too long, how about the short form, 'mage'?

(Not magus, though - that's again something different).


Clare McKay said...

Thanks, Rayne,

I think mage is a good solution - manly and magical.

Rashda Khan said...

Thanks Rayne! Uber helpful insight :)