I write an Urban Fantasy series. And this questionnaire came over my tumblr.
So, let's talk about magic in my Urban Fantasy 'verse, where werewolves drive trolleys and teach New England Transcendentalist lit classes, where vampires are the shadow government, where biker mages deal with Nightside threats and where Cthulhu and other Great Old Ones seek readmission to our world (which is handy for the buses and closer to the shops)
(covers link to buy pages)
How is it learned and executed?
Magic is learned through schooling. A human child who exhibits power is tracked by the local wizards, until age 9-12. Then they are tested. This looks like any ordinary school testing. It is decided whether or not to train the children then. A child with some magic who is not promising (or of the wrong ethnicity) will be left to wither, becoming a No-Talent. No-Talents aren't human enough to live with normal people and aren't magic enough to survive on the Nightside.
"No-Talents like me go out one of three ways: a spike in the vein, pickled in the bottle or ripped apart by something Nightside. I wasn't guessing the first, but those who knew me had their bets on the other two."
A child from a family of wizards will begin training in the cradle, especially fire mages. They tend to have a bit of a head start on those whose magic isn't a dominant trait. But it evens out by their twenties.
There is a strong hereditary component in magic. Many women are breeder witches, who are encouraged to have a lot of kids, starting quite young. They often have talents as doulas and healers, and all learn other forms of magic to practice and teach the kids. Moira McKay, a powerful Scottish breeder witch has 13 children, including 2 combat mages (one the first to retire in a century, the other the most powerful of his generation), a breeder, a necromancer, and others. She herself is a powerful talismonger in her 90s. Male breeders are more uncommon, but there are some.
Because of the high risk, male combat mages are expected to bank sperm each year. Female ones are required to have two children after training and before being assigned to a unit. Most combat mages don't have the right personalities for families, or even long-term partners, so the kids end up being raised by a breeder sib.
Kids are encouraged to get their basic learning out of the way. Magic training begins about 12-13, and is mostly extra-curricular. At 15, combat mages are encouraged to get a GED or equivalent and start actual combat training. (those who delay until high school graduation, or worse, college, run the risk of losing all their power) Breeders are encouraged to have their first child about 17.
Execution is simply bending mana to the user's will. Some need more ritual than others. Some store spells in objects for later use.
How is it accessed?
Will power, primarily. Imagine the ward, draw it in the air with your finger and open your eyes to see the pretty blue lines you made. Take aim, conjure the fire in your mind and scorch your target flat. Visualize your desired person, and talk to them. If they have a dab of mana, they'll hear. Visualize a double of yourself and send it to visit (sending a fetch) relatives clear around the world.
Does it have a will of its own?
Mana is much like the Force. It can nudge a user, or even compel her, but he also controls it. The mana works as an aphrodisiac bringing a couple together and smoothing the way for them to get together physically. But the couple can fight it, and do on several occasions. The magic isn't sentient, but it flows with events and shapes them at the same time.
Is it restricted in space and time?
It is to a degree. Spells have a limited range and duration. If you throw a small fireball, it will go only a certain distance, set stuff on fire and burn out. You cannot pull magic from a different time. However, mages from all over the world can send their power to a specific spot if needed.
What does available magic do?
Whatever the user needs it to. It can show the future, be used in battle, summon or banish demons, control the Fae (if briefly), move objects, make things visible or invisible, and travel between planes.
How does it relate to the character, plot and theme of the book?
Our lead is a No-Talent. So she has to deal with the derision of the magic folk she works with. Not having magic makes her job harder. She has enough to use magical objects, like banishing talismans, and to be aware of the magical world around her.
What is the cost of magic?
Magic is energy. Casting takes energy out of the caster, even if they are mostly channeling the power around them. A hard session leaves a caster hungry, thirsty and tired. Combat can also leave them jacked up, as if on stimulants, and very horny.
What can it not do?
It can heal, even if one is at death's door, but it cannot bring back the dead. It cannot make solid objects. It is energy, and converting energy into mass is a pain.
How long does it last?
Most of the spell effects I've been working with are short term things: fireballs and such. Wards and illusions can last for weeks, months or even years, depending on the caster. Visions tend to be fairly brief, (DJ has about 2-5 seconds' worth of precognition, set about 2-5 minutes ahead) Banishment tends to be permanent, until the creature finds another path back in.
Who can use it?
Anyone who can access the mana. That means mostly those born into magical families, but some born to human parents as well.
How do others react to it?
Magic users tend to be delighted about other mages, to a degree. Combat mages, especially itinerant ones, are not welcomed by law enforcement. Some are old-fashioned and stodgy and secretive. Others are "Welcome aboard for a wild ride." Humans for the most part won't see magic, even when it's staring them in the face. They don't know the signs that someone is a werewolf. People see what they expect to much of the time, and nobody expects pixies zipping around a McDonald's.
Then again, combat mage. He carried it around him like Marines carry their attitude or really wealthy people wear their money. He’d dialed it back after the entrance, but the power just rolled off him.
I’d seen mages that powerful before. They’d walk down the street and people would get out of their way without even seeing them. If you asked the passerby later, they’d have said it was body odor or something. Most people didn’t know magic when they saw it or felt it.
Excuses are almost always made when something large happens.
Jackson nodded. “You’ve tangled before then?”
I just pointed to my face. “Chernobyl. 1986.” We’d covered up my failure with the tale of a nuclear-power-plant accident, but people had still died. That was on me, all the deaths, and the magic, not the radiation, had rendered the place unlivable.
Why haven’t people with this power taken over the world?
They have. The humans just don't know it yet. The ones in charge are often born to human parents, so they regard themselves as humans who can do magic, instead of mages first. This is deliberate. It fosters a benign policy toward ordinary people--our parents, sisters and brothers--and keeps the monomaniacal ones from revealing the Nightside and turning humans into cattle (and some of that is the plot of the book i'm currently working on)