Hi Gang. Craig with you again today and I’m about to bite off more than I can chew. I write what I call speculative fiction. This is the stuff that requires a suspension of disbelief from your reader to enjoy the story. It’s a broad area that encompasses science fiction, fantasy, paranormal/supernatural, horror – and those are just the broad categories.
It occurred to me that most of these genres have special items in them that enhance the setting and help the hero succeed. Honestly, I could write a book about this stuff, but this is a blog post. Let’s throw the bones and see where this winds up.
Looks like paranormal/supernatural. It’s as good a place to start as any. Truth be told, there is a lot of drift between the speculative fields, and if you’ve ever read steampunk you might have found elements of all of them. But, paranormal it is, so away we go…
When it comes to creating magical items, there are no rules, not even guidelines really. I’m going to call these simple concepts. When you create a special item, here are some things to consider:
• Enhancing the world you are building.
• Balancing the scale between ultimate power and limitations on usage.
• Resale value.
Sometimes you don’t even need a special item, but it can really enhance the background of your story. Plenty of vampires have been dispatched with a simple wooden stake over the years. (I said they were points of consideration, not requirements.)
If you want that special something in your story, it should assist with world building. In paranormal tales, that usually means an artifact. A supercomputer could actually detract from the mood you’re trying to create. Paranormal tales are full of bones, teeth, holy relics, and other such items for a reason. Put some thought into what this thing looks like while you’re deciding what it does for your hero.
The biggest part of special items is balancing that scale between ultimate power and limitations on usage. This can be done by having the item be unique, and hard to find. There’s only one holy tooth of St. Something-Or-Other, and to get it you have to break into the Vatican. The difficulty, rarity, and risk helps establish that this cat’s bicuspid is pretty special. There weren’t a lot of people capable of pulling Excalibur from the stone for example.
If the wand has to be made from the heartwood of a golden tamarack, someone is going to have to travel out West, trek into the forest and do a lot of physical labor to make it. It helps establish the value and difficulty and makes it more worthy.
Don’t let your special item solve the problem. That should come from within your hero by facing and conquering some inner demon. The item should ease the path or be helpful in some way other than that. Using your amulet of Nuke The Eastern Seaboard might solve the problem, but two paragraph stories aren’t much fun for readers.
There are a lot of ways to make acquisition difficult, from expense to rarity. They’ve even been broken into pieces and require multiple quests to obtain the whole item. Some could require a ritual to perform their function and that might not be easy while the undead army is charging forward.
You can have a world full of magical items, but those should be less helpful. The never ending pack of gum might be cool, but probably isn’t going to help with the big story problem.
When I mentioned resale value up above, that’s what really grabs readers. Think of it this way: If there were such a thing, would you want it personally? A grungy old tooth might not have much real-world appeal. What if it were a towel of perfect hair? It helps your heroine get past the velvet rope into the club where all the witchy things are going down, but every time she dries off with it she has perfect hair. A lot of people might want that on the other side of the page. Heck with a flying broom, I want one that will clean up bulldog hair on its own. Maybe it can do both?
Costuming might be just me, but I like items to do double duty when they can. (Similar to world building) I enjoy letting my acolyte step outside in a new outfit that tells everyone the hero is here. The acolyte is gone and the master has arrived. There’s no reason the fireproof armor that lets your hero walk through hell itself has to look like a jumpsuit. It could look like a tux and turn all the girls’ heads. In a way costuming is close to character building.
I suppose the secret behind those bullet points is to make your magical items do double duty – triple duty if you can pull it off. The only one I never skip is balancing the scale.
I’m about to hit 800 words and could write 8000. We’ve covered the basic stuff here, and maybe it’s best to flesh out additional things in the comments section. Do you put a lot of thought into magical items in your paranormal tales? Do you like to read stories that include these items? Do you want me to expand into science fiction and fantasy?