Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Magic and Magical Immunity

I've been fighting with a particular series of scenes in the work in progress for about a week. It's a big, pivotal sequence of events (the Approach to the Inmost Cave/Ordeal part of the book), so it has to be right, but it's felt all wrong. I figured out yesterday that the reason was that I was doing it wrong. The events were happening in the wrong place, and being in the wrong place changed the events. So I did some research to figure out the right place and did some re-planning, and the scene started playing out in my head. But then last night I realized that was still the wrong place, and there was only one location that makes sense thematically. Now I have to imagine how that would work. It's coming, but it's not quite there yet.

Now I believe I'm due for yet another Enchanted, Inc. question/answer post. I had a question about how the immunity reversal works, but I think I'm going to expand that to talk about how the magic and immunity thing works in my world. This is going to get really spoilery for all four books, so if you haven't read the whole series and have plans to, you might want to stop here and come back tomorrow.

The idea of magical immunity pretty much came from me being a brat -- or rather, a long-time fantasy reader who is well aware of the cliches of the genre. I'd come up with the idea of mixing elements from fantasy and chick lit to do a fantasy taking place in a familiar modern setting, including the corporate world and modern friendships and dating life. It made sense that my main character would be a newcomer to the magical side of things because the discovery of magic is a good way to have something change to kick off the story and having a newcomer allows you to fit in the explanations and world building without resorting to "as you know, Bob" type of clumsy exposition of people telling each other things they already know. I wanted the sense of discovery and wonder that comes from a newbie. Besides, the very first germ of an idea that kicked it all off was my joking wish as I headed to work one morning that in that morning's e-mail I'd get an offer for my dream job. That became a magical job, and from there a series was born. Because that was the spark, I wanted to include that moment in the book.

But about half the fantasy novels ever written are about someone seemingly ordinary (or even less than ordinary) who then finds out that he/she is actually a wizard/long lost royalty/the destined, chosen one (see Potter, H.). I thought it would be boring for my twentysomething single gal heroine to suddenly find out she has magical powers. It's been done so many times. Then the contrary part of my brain snarkily said, "What if she finds out she has no powers at all?" And then it occurred to me that being utterly non-magical might be useful. Meanwhile, I'd had an idea simmering in my head of doing a book about a small-town Southern girl going to New York and being kind of the anti-New Yorker -- the person who still notices odd things that New Yorkers take for granted, who smiles and speaks to strangers on the street, etc. The two ideas came together with a click that was practically audible. The magical immunity was almost a metaphor for common sense and outsider status, which fit with the small-town girl who hasn't been jaded by the city and who can still see the "magic."

When I was writing the first draft of the first book, I was still working a lot of the magical system out, so sometimes I'd find myself raising and answering questions on the page. During the job interview scene where they reveal the existence of magic to Katie, I found myself wondering why there weren't more magical immunes, where they come from and what happens to them, and I guess I'd seen one too many "ask your doctor about this magic pill" pharmaceutical ads on TV because it popped into my head that with an overmedicated society, if medication affected the ability, it would become rare. And if you're seeing people with wings and gargoyles coming to life, you're probably being medicated. Then as soon as that remark was made in the scene, I realized it would have to be something that would happen to Katie in a future book because once I raised the possibility of losing the ability she thought finally made her special, it would have to happen. I haven't talked about this in the books, but I suspect that what happens with that potion and with the drugs is that, unknown to the pharmacologists, what's really happening with these drugs is that they put just enough magic in the bloodstream to make magical veilings work, and that way these people don't see the weird stuff anymore. The drugs also do all the other things with brain chemicals to have other effects even on non-magical/non-immune people, so they work for them, too.

The idea that there was a close link between magical immunity and magical ability came in the fourth book. I decided it was probably the same gene, and whether it was turned off or on would make all the difference. In that book, I'd originally planned for another character to be the local wizard, and when I was halfway through the book, I decided that was obvious and boring (Mom figured it out when she was reading my first draft). So, I decided to really complicate matters by making it be Katie's brother, and I was able to justify that decision mentally with the genetic theory that made it possible to have both immunes and wizards in the same family. From that, I decided that the grandmother was also magical, so she got caught in the trap they set to catch the wizard that also ended up catching the brother. There's probably something to do with recessive genes and pairs of genes and all that that makes it more likely to get immunes when a wizard breeds with a non-magical person, but I haven't delved that deeply into it.

Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that it's magic, so it doesn't necessarily follow earthly rules, and this is essentially a comedy, so it's not meant to be taken all that seriously. I figure that covers a multitude of flaws and holes.

I think I've now addressed all the essay-worthy questions in my queue, so ask away if you've got any more. The ground rules are: No questions about plans for future books or that I might address in future books, no questions about when the next book is coming (that's not something I can do anything about), and questions should lend themselves to an essay kind of answer, not be just a nitpicky detail thing (though if I get a bunch of those I may do a post answering lots of short questions). Questions can be about characters, the world, events that happened in the first four books, etc., with the above guidelines in mind. I would say that aside from obvious things like "what will happen in the next book?" the first guideline above is more for me to worry about, so if you've got a question, ask, and it's up to me to decide whether that falls into the "for future books" category.

1 comment:

Chicory said...

That was a great essay. I have a question. You know how the shadow company hired someone to turn Philip into a frog? Well how likely is something like that to happen in your world and how hard is it to find and arrest the perpetrator? In a case like that, does just the actual spell-caster get punished (assuming they're caught) or does the person who does the hiring also get arrested?