Why I don’t believe in magic

Cartref: the world where magic and science collide.
Cartref: the world where magic and science collide.

In his immortal book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, William Pirsig tells of an incident he experienced as a high school composition teacher. He told a classroom full of students to begin writing–something, anything. They couldn’t think of anything to write. He then suggested they write about something in the room. They still couldn’t think of anything to write. He then pointed out a wall and said, write about something on that wall. They still couldn’t think of anything to write. It was when he pointed out one very small, specific thing on the wall that they were able to write.

When it comes to writing, limitations are a good thing. Often when we feel like we have nothing to write about, could it be that instead we have too much to write about? Since reading about this incident in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I have consider the value of limits and toyed with the idea of an entire book that takes place in one weekend, or perhaps in one town or maybe even one house. Limitations foster depth, because without limitations our writing becomes too broad.

That’s why I don’t like magic. If you have been following my blog and the blog of my fellow writer and (former) student, Tiffany Collier, you know that our team is creating a literary world called Cartref. One of the smartest–and one of the most argumentative–rules that we agreed on is that this world could house both science and magic. In our small group we have fantasy writers and we have science fiction writers. And despite what the world may believe, ne’er the twain shall meet. My biggest argument I have against fantasy is that it makes things too easy, and in a sense, that’s what makes writing it hard. If you are looking for a way to breathe underwater, poof, use magic and you can. If your character is about to be thrown into a volcano and needs to escape, hey, there’s always magic to help. And if the character is brutally killed and lying in pieces on the ground, a little magic can bring him back together. Too easy. Too hard.

On the other hand, science, even science fiction, requires logic. You set the rules early on, and even if you are writing about the far, far future where people are disembodied brains living in vats of chemicals, at least you have set the standard for the whole story. If a reader finds it too far fetched, then they can go read a Star Wars ripoff (which is space opera, a form of fantasy, not really science fiction).

In any case, we are sharing our stories about Cartref and having some interesting discussions. The whole experience is going to be fun and educational for all of us. And we are close enough friends that I don’t think there will be too much bloodshed.

But I still hate magic.

2 thoughts on “Why I don’t believe in magic

  1. I can understand why you hate magic. But I think magic has its limitations, too. I think if magic is always the answer to solving all the problems in the world it will have that too easy feeling. I’m not a big fan of magic in stories really, but I do think it can be nice in certain cases. Magic just can’t always be the answer. It has to fail. If magic doesn’t fail, then it seems to go beyond magic and become something else. A very nice post. Really made me think.

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