Creating Believable Magician Characters

Today we have a guest post by Rayne Hall. Rayne Hall is a traditionally published author, who has recently made the move to self-publishing for her latest dark fantasy Storm Dancer, which is only $0.99 on Amazon and definitely worth reading. She also teaches writing classes, which I highly recommend. She is an excellent teacher. You can find out more about the classes below, or on this site:

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.

1. Intelligent
Magic requires a sharp intellect, critical thinking, critical analysis, the ability to make difficult decisions, and a good memory.

2. Creative
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.

4. Patient
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.

6. Specialist
She is probably highly skilled in one particular area such as improving livestock, changing the weather, building wealth, protection, or healing.

7. Musical
Many forms of magic involve drumming or chanting; it helps if she has an ear for tunes and a strong sense of rhythm.

8. Spiritual
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.

9. Studious
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.

11. Introvert
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.

12. Ethical
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.

15. Psychic
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  
March 2012: Lowcountry RWA
April 2013: Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal:

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


Hannah said…
I love this. I don't have any magicians, but i want to write some now. I'm off to Amazon!
Anonymous said…
The recommended traits are great ingredients to provide your cast of magician characters with all manner of personality clashes!
I'm not disagreeing with your vision of magic, but I am wondering if we shouldn't also think about different sorts of magic than the trope of a skill learned carefully over a long period of training. What about a magic that doesn't follow the academic model? What about a magic that's wholly instinctive, that can't be quantified or fully controlled or its outcomes reliably predicted? What about a magic that can't be separated from madness, ritual, religion? I think that sort of magic might be interesting and compelling to read about, too.

Magic seems to be usually associated with control. I wonder about a magic that involves loss of control instead.
Tara Maya said…
@ Hannah. Great!

@ siebendach. I do like lists like this because even if I decide to have, say, an extrovert magic user (I have several, actually) it makes me think about it.

@ scott. Your comment made me think of the Viking beserkers, who would take drugs to let themselves go crazy right before battle. Some California Indians did the same thing, in order to turn into their totem animal. It was necessary to loose the control of the human and let the beast free to go crazy and intimidate others. We usually think of the martial artist in the Oriental tradition, who has years of training and control, but these other approaches to war (or magic or anything) are also very interesting.
Yeah, Native traditions and people like whirling dervishes are what I had in mind, and the berserkers is good, too. Maybe throw in the Malay idea of amok as well, and Dionysian rites. Hmm. I might write something long around this. It's an attractive theme for me, possibly because in real life I'm such a "one must have the proper training" kind of guy.
Rayne Hall said…
Hi Hannah,
I'm glad I've tickled your muse. What kind of magician would you like to write about?
Rayne Hall said…
Hi Siebendach,
Yes, personality clashes are fun in fiction!
Rayne Hall said…
Hi Scott,

I see your point, and I agree to a large extent.

The article's focus is on career magicians, people who work magic for a living (or semi-professionally). For those, careful training over a long period likely.

As you say, there are other forms of magic. Folk magic, for example, the kind of low key magic passed from mother to daughter, about how to make the barley ripen, how to remove a wart, and how to keep rats out of the larder. They wouldn't require long training.

Then there's also instinctive and even accidental magic, where someone works magic without meaning to, maybe even without understanding what they've just done. It can happen if someone who has significant natural talent focuses their intent on a specific desire, and if they have raised magical energy (for example by dancing themselves into a trance in a nightclub), and their emotions are churning, then a lot of factors are coming together and magic takes hold.

There are also gifted amateurs, blessed with strong natural talent, but without training. They may have learnt by trial and error, and so gained some control over their gift; or they may have declined to learn the craft which can leave them in danger from entities trying to get control over them.

Either way, they're not likely to be great magicians in the sense of 'professionals'. You can compare it with writing: some people have a lot of natural talent, and some of their writing has original power, but they're unlikely to be very successful unless they learn the writing craft. The most successful writers are those who combine natural talent with acquired skill; the same applies to magicians.
(The main difference is that dabbling in creative writing is safe; dabbling in magic can be dangerous).

Anyway, I agree that amateur magicians can be just as interesting to read and write about as the professionals.

Magic which can't be separated from madness, ritual, religion? Sure. Sometimes, magic is closely associated to one or two of those. Religious magic, in particular, is a subject which would need a whole article (a whole book even) to do it justice.


"amateur magicians can be just as interesting to read and write about as the professionals"

Well yeah. They're all made up, so the amateur/professional status is just costuming and setting, mostly. Who they are as people is going to be more interesting than what they do for a living, or their relationship to whatever fictional form of magic we choose for them.
Rayne Hall said…
It depends on the type of story you're writing, Scott.

If you're writing a romance between a magician and a werewolf, then the magic may be mere window dressing or subplot, and other things are more important.

But if the plot is about a teenager wanting to become a magician, or about a professional magician's conflict between ethics and desire, then their magic (including training, rules etc) are at the core of the story.

I'm not trying to dictate to you what kind of story you should write, or how to characterise your magician. The article is merely a list of suggestions for writers developing a professional magician character.

If none of it suits your projects, because you're not writing this kind of story, that's fine.