When world building, you should understand how your own rules work so you know how to apply them when new circumstances crop up. It isn’t enough to “just make up stuff.” A few years ago I made the decision to move my fantasy world from medieval to mechanical and learned how true this is.
Keep in mind that in a fantasy world you’re melding the world the reader knows with the one you’ve constructed (familiar and unfamiliar). Too, if magic fixes everything it becomes boring. Therefore, (hopefully) you’ve built it with limitations.
The rules you apply to your world are as firm as gravity on Earth.
Gravity is a good example. It also applies to Ontyre where magic alone isn’t sufficient to enable flight, and where, at some point (like when I advanced the world) someone thought to create airships.
Airships require an engine. Engines create sparks in an enclosed space where there’s air. Air contains raw magic, which is a wild force and was a disaster according to the rules I created.
My choices? (1) Get rid of raw magic, (2) remove the dangerous connection between raw magic and enclosed sparks, (3) make an exception to the rules of magic, or (4) figure out how to make an engine work in my world, one that’s also recognizable to readers in this world.
Needless to say, the first three choices were the easiest. I chose #4. Maybe not the best choice for someone whose engine skills don’t extend far beyond where the oil goes.
As I often do, I pondered the problem while cursing my stubbornness, read a little on how Earth engines work, and built (on a superficial level) an engine in Ontyre.
Too, as so often seems easier for me, I posed the problem in a short story about two inventors: Gorn who’s more hungry to obtain power than build it, and Draven, who’s the obsessed engineer. Inadvertently caught between them is Gorn’s often disregarded girlfriend, Mercie (who suspects she’s found someone who possesses the answer).
In Mercie’s POV…
Gorn’s sagging features hinted pity bestowed upon an inferior’s ignorance. “Still, Mercie, constructing the first-ever engine is a complex task far beyond fluffing pillows.”
Behind her, Draven sighed. “Her work is performing humanitarian efforts, Gorn. There’s more—”
“Don’t defend me, Draven.” She pointed at the plans. “I didn’t ask you to turn me into an engineer, Gorn. The least you could do, rather than imply I’m stupid, is provide a simple explanation.”
His lips parted several times before sounds emerged. “I … I never…”
“We’ve much to—”
“Humor me, or am I insufficient treasure for that?”
Hands on his hips, he stared at her, his eyebrows flirting with sinking low. His height was insufficient to allow staring down at her short frame so he tilted his head back and looked along the length of his nose.
She raised an expectant brow. He was not going to dismiss her again.
“All right.” He gestured at the board behind him. “We’re struggling with the air intake, which the engine requires. There’s much contained in air besides oxygen and nitrogen. For instance, there’s also natural and raw magic. Natural magic isn’t the problem. For our purposes it’s rather benign. Wizards safely draw off it’s power quite often. The problem is raw magic, which is a chaotic force and the reason—”
“Flames cannot be enclosed without sufficient precautions.” She smiled and batted her eyes to add unspoken sarcasm. Behind, Draven snickered.
“Um, yes, Mercie, that’s correct. We haven’t been able to create a system for separating them, you see, short of a wizard sitting on every engine built. Once the raw magic is trapped within the engine there’s no way to expel it quickly enough before it explodes and casts chaotic spells.”
“Don’t they shield flames, like in lanterns?”
His face softened to expressionless. Had she caught him by surprise? “That’s true, but they’re stationary fixtures that don’t have to produce thrust. We can’t get around having to produce a spark, but a spark in an enclosed environment with a steady flow of raw magic means disaster.”
I could have ignored the problem and hoped no one would notice. Maybe most wouldn’t have, but eventually someone would have—and then my world would have crumbled.
The benefit of adapting an element in the world I created is that the world was enriched in the process. If I’d created the rule but not understood the why of raw magic’s reaction I couldn’t have worked out a solution.
The solution? I don’t want to tell everything, but it has to do with utilizing the natural magic that’s also in the air and present in the confined space with the raw magic.