I really enjoyed watching Marvel’s recent release of Doctor Strange to the movie world, and it got me thinking about other things I’ve read or watched regarding the treatment of magic or magical powers in the superhero world. I remember discussing with my husband as we were waiting to see the movie how Dr. Strange’s powers evolved over the years from just being a guy who flew around and shot rays out of his hands to someone who had responsibilities to safeguard our dimension, with layered and more interesting capabilities to boot.
If you’re interested in creating characters who use magic in your work, I’ve found there are several considerations to make in order to come up with a realistic and understandable foundation that is likely to make your character and their powers more believable to readers. First, magic is a system, and like any system, it must have rules. The rules might not always be easy to understand by all, but they should be able to be learned and they should be in evidence when magic is used in your story. I’ve read some stories where magic is used more like the old concept of deus ex machina, where anything can suddenly happen for no reason to pull your character(s) our of the drink, which is just sort of sloppy, in my opinion, and will generally cause your readers to feel cheated. Obviously, the things that are possible in a world where magic exists will be different, but it should follow its rules in the same way that, physically, you would expect to have a pen fall to the floor when you drop it, or in cooking, when you follow the recipe to the letter, you expect to get that chocolate cake you wanted.
Also, you should give some thought to how a character can acquire magical powers. In some stories, the characters have to be born to it, which is a possibility, but to me it seems like a bit of lazy hand-waving, not too different from what I discussed in the last paragraph, so I advise you give it more thought. Can you learn through years of study in a hard to access library of one-of-a-kind books? Or did your character have a near-death experience and was brought back from the brink by a god or spirit who’s now interested in teaching them some magic? Did they live amidst a hidden or now wiped out culture who had traditions that they taught the character? In a way, this makes the idea more palatable to those used to the superhero tradition, since this is your character’s origin story.
Another thing you should probably think about is what powers the magic your character can do? Is it the arcane power that runs through the ley lines that criss-cross the earth in ancient tales that they tap into, or does your character use the power of nature to make things happen? Do they channel the elements to do their magic, or maybe they summon demons to do their bidding? Along with the rules we talked about earlier, this is another important element for the sake of believability, the idea that something can’t come from nothing.
Last, you should also consider what limitations there might be on your character. These fall directly in line with a lot of superhero stories where a hero has some sort of drawback. In the case of magic, I think it’s along the same lines as the rules we covered earlier, but sort of what happens at the extreme end. For example, if your character is an elemental mage who focuses on the use of water, what happens to her if she suddenly wakes up in the desert? Can she work any magic, or does she just have to hope her cell phone is charged and has service? Another example could be doing an extreme spell – yes, you might be able to manage the spell where you make the entire city forget about the ten story tentacled entity you summoned up, but if you survive it, you may be in a coma for the next year.
At any rate, I think that considering these things if you are thinking of adding magical characters as superheroes will enhance the understandability and believability of your story. Are there any other things you can think of that I forgot to mention? If so, please comment below and let us all know what you think.