View Full Version : Untitled story, a basic plot structure that needs a lot of tweaking

October 19th, 2014, 02:25 AM
To give a brief explanation of my story. In the world people have magic abilities that root themselves in nature. Some people can be trained in a magic field and others are born with magic abilities. There are also some magic that cannot be taught and one can only be born with the abilities already in your blood.
The main character is an Arcanist, a group of people who can manipulate the energy in the area around themselves. Also in the story there is technology but the way it works is through mages rather than an electric system. An example is a train-like system that runs through all the cities on the continent. The compartment for passengers floats on a man-made river, it stays afloat using a water mage in the center, then a mage in front and back does the stopping and moving together.
The story starts off with two separate countries that share a continent and are currently at, what would equal in our world, to a cease fire. There are borders and at the ends of these borders are shared zones where both countries can use the land. The western side is run by a council like government and the eastern is controlled by a dictator named Trevus. Trevus and Alex are brothers, which you learn more about as the story progresses. Without getting in depth the basics of what happen are, Trevus breaks the cease-fire by invading a border town and destroying it. He also takes control of a mountain castle as it holds a share military that was made to keep the peace.
Alex works nearby the border town and after attempting to help some people he has to leave as they are over run. He recognizes some of the invading troops because of the uniform they wear as from the mountain castle so he decides to go to that castle to visit his old friend who trains the military to see what is going on. Alex goes to the castle, is allowed in, and talks with his friend who is the king and trains the military. He explains to Alex that the border military has sided with Trevus and he is basically a prisoner in his castle. They walk the castle and Alex is led to a room with a pool of lava in the center. The king tells Alex they are leaving the castle. The king is a fire mage so he manipulates the lava and uses it to surround himself. He tells Alex to shield himself and stay close.
They escape the castle and leave the mountain. They stay at an inn in a nearby village, while sleeping Alex is visited in a dream. Alex is brought to a forest which is completely shrouded by trees and branches. There is an old man; this old man is revealed to be an ancient. He tells Alex that Trevus is sinning against the planet. Trevus has discovered a magic that allows him to manipulate people and to mutate them into creatures. He is going to use these creatures to overrun the West Country. The Ancient cannot leave the forest, he is like an imprint of himself within the forest but he cannot exist outside the forest. He explains to Alex that when Trevus uses this magic it puts a strain on the planet and kills the ground where it occurs. The ancient imbues Alex with his powers.
When they wake Alex convinces his friend they must go north to Trevusís kingdom and stop him. On the way they discover Trevus created this magic using a machine, it draws massive amounts of magic from the planet and uses it to mutate people. They hear rumors of the machines as they go through Trevusís country. Through their travels they meet another character who has abilities which allows her to create machines and give them life.
. I know there will be some questions that arise because I wrote this at work but ask away and if you see a hole please donít be afraid to point it out. Grammar and spelling in this post do not reflect that of my story I want to point out. I also know there's a lot of work to be done since I have no completed a full outline. If you are interested in anything I brought up let me know, I could not go too in-depth at the time of posting since I am working but I wanted some feedback.

October 22nd, 2014, 03:52 PM
At first glance, the system seems workable to me. Having technology powered by magic is always fun. As a rough outline, I don't see anything that 'breaks' the plot or magic system.

My biggest plot question is: why does the Ancient chose Alex as his 'avatar'? What makes Alex special? A more minor question: how is the peace-keeping military convinced to join Trevus? Particularly without the group's king backing Trevus?

John Galt
October 22nd, 2014, 07:27 PM
I don't see anything that's inherently a red flag. I like that you thought about the world in relation to the magic system, though I think you could take this further:
Schools that train in the magic (not to say that the plot actually needs a university, nor am I saying to try and be Pat Rothfuss, but if you can be trained in it, there's usually a school).
Crime and gangs which abuse the magic.
Religions that (in most cases) fixate on the magic.
And naturally, a class system (given that some are born 'with it' and others gain it through work. The 'natural' mages would assert themselves as a social greater. They may not be on Earth, but they're still human.)
Evolution of animal/plant life.
You don't need to include ALL of them, but you should think them through and perhaps present a few in passing (assuming none fall part of the plot); it, in my opinion, makes the world feel more plausible, so to speak.

The plot itself sounds pretty ordinary, but compelling characters would liven it up enough. "The evil emperor is destroying the world" type thing, from what I gather.

The "fire" mage isn't manipulating fire when he manipulates lava; lava is molten rock and differs from fire. And why is there a castle on the side of a volcano?
Energy manipulation can mean anything, and without limitations, the magic system is a tool for deus ex machina. In theory, Alex could heat/cool objects, remove/apply gravitational energy, magnetize objects, kill people by directly manipulating their energy, manipulate energy carried by light, etc. I know this isn't sci-fi, and even if you're using a soft system, but I think it's important to be aware of these possibilities both to maximize their output and convey appropriate limitations. This is more technical: according to mass-energy equivalence, any gain in any form of energy causes a gain in mass (I think it's 80/90 megajoules equals 1 microgram gain). If Alex were to, say, force an enormous amount of non-consequential energy on an object, he'd increase its weight and its inertia.
And, by the way, ALL objects of mass have energy; so if you were going to put Alex in a dark room and have him think "I can't use my abilities" or something like that, he would be able to use his energy manipulation as he is of mass (rest energy).

I presume "magic" is just a form of energy here, so Alex could, if he stood close enough, stop the machine from working. If all mages need to draw in magic energy, Alex could stop any near ones from doing so.
I don't know how you intend to elaborate/limit the system. The amount you can do with a magic system is directly proportional to the understanding of the reader, so you'd need to communicate his limitations.

Good luck and happy writing.

October 22nd, 2014, 07:43 PM
John, I very much agree with your discussion of energy and the importance of limiting magic systems (and communicating the limit to the reader). However, I took the description of Arcanists to be manipulating magical energy, not electrical or atomic energies. As magical energy is an invention of the writer, it can do precisely what s/he wants it to do an nothing else.

We'll have to wait for clarification on what type of energy was intended from mmuscarnera. I took some notes for myself to review with my own work, however ;)

John Galt
October 22nd, 2014, 07:58 PM
The 'limitations thing and communicating them to the reader' was from Sanderson's Laws. Very useful.
Energy cannot be created nor destroyed but merely converted from one form to another. If magic is an energy, heat could become magic and magic could become heat. Come to think of it, everyone that uses magic to do X is, technically, manipulating energy.
I see what you mean Xan. The magic could be absorbed over time through air, water and food (like sediments of metal is in the water in Mistborn).
Glad you found my techno-babble useful, Xan :-D

October 22nd, 2014, 08:45 PM
The 'limitations thing and communicating them to the reader' was from Sanderson's Laws.
I think I've read that, but a long time ago. Refreshing memories is always good. And Mistborn... good series.

I'm not sure I agree that "if magic is an energy, heat could become magic and magic could become heat.' Magic is fantasy, and thus can have whatever properties the author supplies it with. It need not bend to modern physics at all. Though it is certainly more fun, imo, to bring as much realism into magic as possible (hence things like Fullmetal Alchemist's philosopher's stone, where the energy has to come from somewhere). But we are getting pretty nit-picky now.

Nippon Devil
October 22nd, 2014, 10:59 PM
John is actually treating this the way I would treat it if it were one of my story ideas. Sci-fi or fantasy, the reader needs to be introduced to this strange world, and every detail enriches the experience. Matters not if it's magic, society, or the scar on protagonist's left cheek. Though I do think he overlooked the bit where the magic is rooted in nature. Maybe a fire mage can control lava because he can control heat/thermal energy? The write up on magic is so sparse it's kind of hard to properly comment on it.

In all honesty, I was never a big fan of critiquing the idea of a story. Most stories sound identical when written in a single paragraph, but can look quite different once they reach the length of a novel. My advice would be to just start writing. You'll have a better idea of what needs to be done once the story stops being an idea and is something people can actually read.

October 23rd, 2014, 12:30 AM
I completely agree with nippon, just sitting down and seeing where the story goes is one of the great pleasures of writing in my opinion, and I think you will be pleasantly surprised with where your characters will want to take your story when you start writing them (I know that this has happened to me more times than I can count ^^)

The plot sounds fun, and gives you all sorts of opportunities to show off magical counterparts to modern day conveniences (I was getting very strong avatar: last airbender vibes during the train description, which is awesome ^^). I also think the magic has a lot of potential, not least for its social implication as John was saying earlier. A really fantastic series which focuses on the social hierarchy in a magical world is Trudi Canavan's 'Black Magician Trilogy', particularly the first and second book.

Where the plot goes should be interesting, but I think some very important questions you need to ask for plot advancement are things like:
How did the tyrant discover/create this new technology
Why is he attacking now
Who is resisting him (outside of the main hero group), and how
Why, apart from the obvious end of world scenario, does the hero want to stop him
What obstacles will the hero face, physically, mentally, and emotionally
and realistically, how long will it take? (this one is important just to give yourself a time limit, else these things can go on forever and ever XD)

Anyway, looks very interesting, and can't wait to see where it goes ^^

October 24th, 2014, 03:58 PM
This sounds like an interesting one, not so much for the plot that's been outlined (because summarized plots are always going to look a bit thin), but for the discourse it opens up about magic/energy.

There's an poetic discourse that could be included on the relationship between science and a naive, pre-enlightenment power, how something might be lost or weakened when it's completely rationalised.

On the other hand, yours does slightly cry out to be rationalised because the distinction between energy and what you call magic seems to be a bit shaky underneath. My only worry would be that if you're talking about magic and energy in the same breath, you really have to explain how they are consistent. For example, if magic is taken to be a bolt of light that shoots out of someone's fingertips (for the sake of example), if you never mention energy that's fine, but if you do that means the light is energy, or has energy, because in order for it to be describable as light, it has to be electromagnetic radiation of a certain visible wavelength (~400-700nm). Similarly, if Alex is able to move an object without touching it, the magic there is a physical force he's applied remotely, which needs to have a source.

Now, I don't want to sound like a scientific absolutist, but if what your magic boils down to is energy without the science, then I'd suggest the inconsistency needs to be a deliberate choice you've made (possibly for the reason mentioned, ie an exploration of the validity of empirically indefensible world views).

Anyhoo, just my two pennies worth. Be interested to see how this pans out. Good luck!

October 29th, 2014, 06:55 PM
Just out of curiousity, what is the balance spectrum between Tech Mages(electricity and technology manipulators) and the Arcanists'? I ask because as I read through your post, by the time it reached the Old Man, I felt as though the story was begging for...a Final Fantasyesque ultimate avatar figure, representing the Arcanists. But if that happened, a physical manifestation of the planets powers in some form to "defend itself", then the Tech Mages might require something of an equivalent countermeasure.

Usually when I create magic systems, games, or whatever, I try my best to make sure everything is balanced to some degree. Or that their is a hierarchy in the power structure, starting with simple things at the lowest level, and then progressing to more power/area of influence/abilities and endurance etc.

Just some food for thought. Sounds like a good idea. One other thing that occurs to me as I write this is segregation. Is each nation made up of one or the other groups? like country A has acranists only, and country B has Tech Mages only? if not, how is that division of the population dealt with. This is where an interesting prologue might come in, describing events in the past or whatever had led up to the current situation.

Good luck!