Creating Believable Magician Characters
by Rayne Hall
Does your story have a magician - a shaman, a sorcerer, a necromancer, a ritual wizard, a theurgist, a miracle worker or a witch? The traits which make them effective magicians shape their personality. Here are ten tips for their characterisation. Your magician should have most - not necessarily all - of these character traits.
Although I'm using the female pronoun for this article, everything applies regardless of gender.
Magic requires a sharp intellect, critical thinking, critical analysis, the ability to make difficult decisions, and a good memory.
Magicians need to adapt existing spells and rituals to new situations.
3. Self-disciplined and focused
A magician needs to be able to concentrate and shut out distractions, even under difficult circumstances. A good magician possesses enormous self-control and is able to resist temptations. She is probably the kind of person who can stick with a diet and never goofs off to play computer games until the current job is done.
The study of magic requires endless practice and repeats, most of them boring, so impatient people drop out of the training before they achieve much. A good magician can spend hours sitting still, watching a candle flame or listening to the sound of the wind in the trees if that's what the spell requires.
5. Highly trained
Mere talent is not enough. Magic requires intense, prolonged study and practice. If she's a powerful magician, she has probably studied magic for many years.
She is probably highly skilled in one particular area such as improving livestock, changing the weather, building wealth, protection, or healing.
Many forms of magic involve drumming or chanting; it helps if she has an ear for tunes and a strong sense of rhythm.
Most forms of magic are linked with religious practice. Your magician may be devoutly religious and begin every ritual with a prayer. Even if she's an atheist, she probably engages in spiritual practices such as meditation.
Magicians are always keen to learn more - expanding their own skills range, acquiring new spells, understanding other forms of magic, exploring natural and philosophical subjects. Whenever she can, she seeks instruction in some subject or other. She can often be found with her head in a book, and if your story is set in a pre-literate period, she listens avidly to bards and storytellers.
10. Well-organised and methodical
The best magicians always have information and ingredients at hand and know where to find them, and they have their equipment assembled before they begin the ritual. They keep careful records of the ingredients and exact wording used in every spell, and they measure the results.
Most magicians like quietude and solitude. Given the choice, your magician probably prefers spending time alone in nature over partying with noisy crowds. After a night in close company with many people, she needs a day alone in nature to recharge her energies. She may even be a loner.
Magic gives a person enormous power, and requires moral judgement to apply this power wisely and for the good. All magicians have ethic codes of conduct, and they take them seriously. These may be based on their religion, the principles of their form of magic, the rules of their coven, or their individual conscience. Modern magicians often follow the principles 'Harm none' and 'Don't interfere with someone's free will'. Some consider it wrong to accept money for magic. In other cultures and periods, other rules applied. If writing about a fantasy world, you can invent rules. You can create powerful conflicts if your magician's goal conflicts with her ethics. Perhaps the only way to help her child/rescue her lover/save the world is to do something against her conscience and against her magic's rules. Even the villain of your story, the evil sorcerer, abides by strict ethical rules. You can have fun inventing them, for example 'Be kind to animals' (hurting humans is ok), 'Never harm a minor' (wait until they're eighteen), 'Never sacrifice a virgin girl' (deprive her of her virginity first).
13. Sharp senses
Your magician probably has keen eyesight and good ears, and her senses of smell, touch and taste are more refined than those of most people. This natural ability has probably been refined over years of practice. Now she can recognise barks by how they feel in the hand, and identify crumbs of dried herbs by their smell.
14. Descended from magicians
Magical talent is often, though not always, genetically inherited. Perhaps her parents and siblings are also magicians, or perhaps her revered great-grandmother was a famous witch.
Although magical and psychic gifts are separate matters, many magicians have a some psychic abilities as well.
16. Day Job
Few magicians can make a living from their magic. Most have day-jobs. Surprisingly many modern magicians work in the healing arts: nurses, doctors, aromatherapists, complementary medicine practitioners, massage therapists. Others are employed in scientific or engineering fields (using their analytical minds) or they work the arts (using their creativity).
All magicians are different. You can choose which of those traits suit your magician's character profile and your story's plot.
If you have questions creating magician characters, if you want feedback for an idea, or if you need help with an aspect of magic in your WiP, please ask. I'll be around for a week and will answer questions.
About Rayne Hall
Rayne Hall teaches an online workshop 'Writing about Magic and Magicians'. Create believable magicians (good and evil), fictional spells which work, and plot complications when the magic goes wrong. Learn about high and low magic, witches and wizards, circle-casting and power-raising, initiation and training, tools and costumes, science and religion, conflicts and secrecy, love spells and sex magic, and apply them to your novel. This is a 4-week class with 12 lessons and practical assignments. If you wish, you may submit a scene for critique at the end of the workshop.
The next dates for this workshop are:
October 2011: Celtic Hearts RWA www.celtichearts.org/workshops.html
March 2012: Lowcountry RWA www.lowcountryrwa.com/online-workshops/
April 2013: Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal: www.romance-ffp.com/workshops.cfm
Rayne's other workshops include 'Writing Fight Scenes', 'Writing Scary Scenes' and 'The Low Word Diet'. For an updated listed of her upcoming workshops, go to www.sites.google.com/site/writingworkshopswithraynehall/