Way back when, the original idea for Ontyre was that it would be medieval world with axes and swords. Visualize, to a degree, Tolkien, but with female characters. I spent considerable time building the magic system and enhanced it over the years. The rules were law. There could be well thought-out exceptions to many things, but not to how the base magic system worked.
Then I became sick, almost died, and during my long recovery there came a remarkable shift in my approach to the fantasy I wanted to write. That move to a more modern fantasy world, from swords to airships, brought with it a major challenge to my magic system.
It was one thing to dictate the abilities of people, but quite another thing to apply magic to a world’s technology. We’re talking about mechanical stuff and you don’t want to know how much I know about that. The evolution of technology in Carrdia was close to about 1880 before magic was outlawed and mostly disappeared, but in Pannulus it’s more like 1920.
How was someone who was a mechanical moron supposed to apply magic to technology?
I wasn’t going to take classes on engine design or ask mechanics to explain the effects of raw magic on an engine’s air intake.
Early on I reminded myself about a few things:
(1) There’s a huge difference between believable and truly functional. It’s a fantasy world! Of course it doesn’t literally work, it requires magic to operate. That was a key piece of the puzzle. My approach wasn’t to design around magic, but to instead utilize it.
(2) As happened when designing the magic system, I knew I’d probably have to do a lot of inventing (I added to the periodic table, as it happens).
(3) No matter what I did it had to be consistent with the rules of Ontyre magic.
I knew early on that my crowning achievement had to be airships because, well, airships!
Still, rather than jump right in, I worked up to it by writing other technology into stories first to get a feel for it all. Magic is outlawed in Carrdia where it was limited to rare and illegal pistols. Late in the first novel I introduced more technology, but mostly from a distance, except a lift (elevator). There was also a mini-airship that now is a bit dated.
And then Pannulus happened.
Pannulus is more advanced than Carrdia so I started exploring technology there in short stories. Gas lighting in Bringing Light. Inventors working on the first engine in Opening Minds. All of it ultimately led to an airship (and my fear of flying) in Taking Flight. That story, which is available on the website, also introduced airship towers, docking clamps, observation decks, and so on.
The first Pannulus novel, which I’m currently working on, also provides a more in-depth look at the airship towers that have warehouse levels for serving the ships, but also restaurants and hotels. It also examines more how the terminal operates.
With the drafting of those stories behind me and needing to do editing (and keeping to my vow to update my world building), I wrote a 5-page paper on airships. To do so, I pulled together all that I’d learned from the stories, the research I’d done, and all my scattered designs.
I then filled-in the gaps, like what gasses are used in the ships, how big they are, what they’re made of, layouts, and (this one is huge!) how they navigate. This was a big deal in Pannulus where the Mysquanmic Vortex of concentrated magic affects almost everything. Again, I applied the rules of magic that were established so long ago.
A lot of this information isn’t needed for most of the stories, but once the background is established it makes consistency easier. Taking Flight, for instance, doesn’t require updating.
So, yes, all this represents a good reason to have a magic system, establish firm rules, and abide by them. I can’t count how many times when it would’ve been easier if I could have ignored the rules. My reward is that I not only have a unique magic system, but I have unique airships that the characters can talk about as if they were the most natural thing in the world.
A part of me has to be reminded they aren’t real and that was always the place I wanted to reach.