Willful Writer is back at his keyboard. Although frustrated by his writing teacher’s lack of appreciation for his efforts, he’s determined to succeed by writing the best fantasy story e-v-e-r.
He creates entirely new characters–a heroine, Fran Fantastica, and her magical pink cat, Angora. Fran Fantastica is a popular fan-dancer summoned to the palace to perform for the king. She is given a tour of the throne room, dining hall, and treasury. Each time Fran admires something she sees, Angora’s pink fur lights up with a puff of smoke.
“What’s that for?” Fran’s guide asks.
Fran shrugs. “Nothing. Angora enjoys doing that.”
Puff! goes Angora, sending pink smoke wafting through the air. Poof!
After dinner, Fran dances for the king and his magician adviser Warlo Wizard. Both men enjoy her act immensely. The king applauds enthusiastically. Warlo sets sparks sparkling from his magician’s robe and wand.
“Wow!” he says to the king. “When she dropped her fan, I sure wish her pink cat hadn’t puffed all that pink smoke.”
“Amazing timing,” the king agrees. “What a shame.”
“Most decidedly a shame,” Warlo says.
And although Warlo’s fallen deeply in love with Fran, despite being allergic to cats–pink ones being particularly conducive to sneezes–he finds that the king has moved more quickly by proposing to Fran and offering to make her his queen.
Poof! from Angora in delight. Puff! Puff!
“Oh!” says Fran in astonishment. “I do. I will. I’d love to.”
“Blast!” mutters Warlo and sets his beard on fire before stalking from the throne room in a very bad temper.
“So there,” Willful Writer announces while typing THE END. “I have written something that incorporates plenty of magic from start to finish, with a heart-filled love story as a bonus. If Ms. Sagacious doesn’t like this one, I’ll quit writing.”
“Willful, you should quit writing,” Ms. Sagacious says.
“But why?” Willful asks, forgetting his vow. “I included a lot of magic. Angora–ha, ha–is charming.”
Ms. Sagacious doesn’t laugh. “You included the cat’s magic to what purpose? What are its consequences?”
“Well, Fran’s going to become a beautiful queen. And Warlo will shave off his beard and pine from unrequited love.” Willful thumps his chest proudly. “But all that will happen in the sequel.”
“What about the magic?”
“I didn’t forget that magic should have a price. I’ll include that in the sequel, too.”
“No sequel!” Ms. Sagacious shouts, growing red in the face. “What are the consequences of it now?”
Willful, bewildered, ponders the question a moment before he looks up. “She drops a larger fan?”
I have a feeling that Ms. Sagacious is about to demonstrate the consequences of a bad answer to Willful right now. Let’s leave him to his doom.
Under this fourth rule, magic–if present–must affect the plot. It shouldn’t be only part of the backdrop. It shouldn’t be random, like Angora’s puffs of pink smoke. Its use needs to bring results–whether that’s what is intended or it’s disastrously unexpected.
In Disney’s animated film, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty’s fairy guardians are preparing for her birthday party. They disagree on what color her dress should be, and in the course of their squabble, they forget they aren’t supposed to use magic. They fall into a duel of blue versus pink. Puffs of colored magical smoke rise from the cottage chimney and betray Beauty’s location to the evil fairy Maleficent. Thus, their use of magic has consequences–dangerous ones–to the story.
When writing about magic, the consequences or results may link to the price the user will pay or they may not. But they must connect to the plot by affecting what happens next.
Without that direct connection, magic is simply a prop that will fail to achieve its full dramatic potential and lose what makes it special.