Worldsmyths



Alternatives to "casting a spell"

Ahryantah

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on: November 07, 2018, 01:33:08 PM
Hopefully I've put this in the right forum.

So in the fantasy story I'm currently writing, some of my characters have magic, though they don't call it magic, and not calling it magic is kind of a Thing for them. Their powers are innate, and anyone who has these powers must be trained to use them properly. The magic users themselves believe their powers come from the gods, but that's just a belief and there is no interaction with any gods or higher powers (or even any indication they really exist) in this story. Magic can be used for different things, but it's all innate (they draw on what they call their "essence"), so there's nothing like magic words, gestures, wands, crystals, etc. Just a focus on what they want to happen and a mental manipulation of reality (using their essence as basically a power source) to make that thing happen. What can be done and how successfully it's done depends on a combination of training and natural talent of the user.

My problem is that I want to get away from the more common terminology when it comes to magic. For example, in my world there is no magic that can turn someone completely invisible, but there is a specific manipulation that can cause the shadows to deepen around the user, so that they become unnoticeable/hard to see. So I could write something like, "He cast a spell to draw the shadows to him." But I don't want to say that using the words "cast" or "spell," because to me not only do they not quite fit with what's actually going on, but the characters themselves do not think of what they do as magic and so probably wouldn't use terminology that calls to mind the use of magic.

But I'm having trouble coming up with alternate terminology that I think fits more with the world/magic system but would also not be totally confusing to the reader (I could just make up words, but I'm afraid that would prove an ongoing stumbling block to the reader, even if they get what's going on through context). So does anyone have any suggestions for good replacements? Especially for "spell." I have a couple alternatives in mind for "cast" that might work, but I'm totally stumped on "spell."
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bdcharles

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Reply #1 on: November 07, 2018, 01:54:42 PM
So I could write something like, "He cast a spell to draw the shadows to him." But I don't want to say that using the words "cast" or "spell," because to me not only do they not quite fit with what's actually going on, but the characters themselves do not think of what they do as magic and so probably wouldn't use terminology that calls to mind the use of magic.

But I'm having trouble coming up with alternate terminology that I think fits more with the world/magic system but would also not be totally confusing to the reader

It seems that this is in a way a manifestation of the show-not-tell question. Even if you had spells, and traditional magic, would you necessarily use those words? Take Harry Potter: how many times do we read that Hermione or whoever "cast a spell" and how many times do we read that she "flicked her wand, cleared her mind, and spoke the words she knew by heart." Or whatever the description is. Point being try writing just focusing on the minutiae of what your m-word user is doing. Assume that after some familiarity with your world the reader will "get" that it's sorcery, and you can boil it right down to workaday body language and prop use and so on - character-in-action. It actually makes a far richer reading experience anyway, imo.


Penguinball

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Reply #2 on: November 07, 2018, 02:30:34 PM
The word manifested is good, instead of casting a spell she manifested her will and the shadow deepened, or something like that. Maybe some phrasing about visualizing the wanted effects and Willing them into being?


Ahryantah

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Reply #3 on: November 08, 2018, 04:16:42 PM
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It seems that this is in a way a manifestation of the show-not-tell question.

Well, no. My question is more mechanical than that. I don't need Writing 101 advice about show vs. tell; obviously I'm not literally writing "casting a spell" every single time magic gets used in the story. To take your example, in Harry Potter, despite the number of different ways the use of magic is described, a spell is a spell. In my story, despite the number of different ways the use of magic is described, a spell is a ...? That's all I'm really looking for. Something to replace the word "spell" so that it's divorced a bit from "standard" magic terminology. I guess I didn't make that clear enough in my original post.
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Ahryantah

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Reply #4 on: November 08, 2018, 04:20:10 PM
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The word manifested is good, instead of casting a spell she manifested her will and the shadow deepened, or something like that. Maybe some phrasing about visualizing the wanted effects and Willing them into being?

I was thinking of something along those lines while I was writing the post, and that could definitely work. Everything I could come up with sounded so awkward and artificial, but that might just be a failure of imagination on my part. Thanks!
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Raiynagh

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Reply #5 on: November 08, 2018, 05:17:01 PM
I keep having a character "form" spells, because of how my magic system works.  Also "craft" and similar things.  "Form" sounds not unlike yours, or one can "release" a spell if they're holding it in their mind?


Mynoris

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Reply #6 on: November 08, 2018, 05:21:26 PM
Some words I've heard in various fantasies are: invoke, channel, spin, weave, and will as far as the 'action' used to create the effect.  So, you're right, spell is a little harder to find a substitute word for.  Manifestation or just power can work.  Using 'effect' would be a rather neutral word to use that doesn't lean towards science or magic.  If they believe it's from the gods, they might even consider them a Blessing or Gift.  ie. She invoked a Blessing.  He channeled a curse.  The effect of darkness was woven over the hiding place.  Etc.
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bdcharles

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Reply #7 on: November 08, 2018, 06:01:39 PM
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It seems that this is in a way a manifestation of the show-not-tell question.

Well, no. My question is more mechanical than that. I don't need Writing 101 advice about show vs. tell; obviously I'm not literally writing "casting a spell" every single time magic gets used in the story. To take your example, in Harry Potter, despite the number of different ways the use of magic is described, a spell is a spell. In my story, despite the number of different ways the use of magic is described, a spell is a ...? That's all I'm really looking for. Something to replace the word "spell" so that it's divorced a bit from "standard" magic terminology. I guess I didn't make that clear enough in my original post.

I apologise if I came across like I was teaching you to suck eggs; however I don't know your work and therefore have no idea of your skill level or what your writing is like. Anyway if it's just synonyms you're after, my first thought is to look at what you wrote: "Just a focus on what they want to happen and a mental manipulation of reality" and "there is a specific manipulation that can cause the shadows to deepen". The word "manipulation" jumped out at me as one that could work, and the fact that it appears a couple of times ups its usability factor, in my eyes, for you. But if you want something more in line with the general magic theme, I quite like bewitchment, sorcery, wonderment, marvelcraft, thaumatics, the obscure arts, divinations, and so forth. Plunder the new age and modern wicca canons, and non-western magic systems. Much may also hinge on your subgenre; I wonder whether mages in a medieval type world would use a modern term or something more archaic like a "glamour" or a "glamouring" (I'm partial to that word but I suspect it is used elsewhere so ... maybe not). It also depends on the nature of the magic. It's innate, you say, so maybe its name could reflect that; an "expressing" or something. There are sure to be lots of possible stand-in words from lots of different areas of life - work, war, relationships, religions, and so on. Just my thoughts anyway - hope they help but feel free to ignore if they don't work for you.


kherezae

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Reply #8 on: November 09, 2018, 10:51:34 AM
Do you have any examples in mind from other magic systems that don't really use the word "spell"? For instance, in Marie Lu's The Young Elites books, the main character's power manifests as strings she can see connecting everything, and she pulls on/manipulates the strings as necessary. It's never described as casting a spell, so much so that it's weird to think of it that way, but when it boils down to it that's basically what she's doing.

In Mistborn they ingest metals and burn the power in them, then use the power to Push or Pull on whatever attribute is allowed by that metal. This might be Pushing or Pulling on emotions (dampening or inciting them), or on their physical senses/abilities, or on metal (sort of like really powerful, specific magnetism).

In the Stormlight Archive there are various magic systems, but the main one that comes to mind is Lashing, which is sort of like gravity manipulation. The character draws in Stormlight as fuel, then Lashes themselves or an object to another object, changing the way gravity works for that object. By Lashing themselves to the ceiling, for instance, they can fall to the ceiling and then walk there.

In Shadowhunters, they draw runes on themselves, and each rune imbues them with a different ability. Stamina, or healing, or enhanced sight, etc. It's also possible to draw runes on other things and use the power that way.

So as others have said, if you're using 'manipulate' and 'manifest' to describe what they're doing for yourself, perhaps it's as simple as that. If they don't think of what they're doing as casting spells, then kind of cut that step out entirely. Do they see it as interacting with nature directly? Would something as simple as "(S)he drew the shadows in around her/himself," work? Or if you want it to be more explicit, something along the lines of "(S)he reached out with the power welling at her/his core, finding the slippery energy of the shadows and coaxing them in to surround him/her." ?

My personal preference is for streamlining the magic use as much as possible, so that might be coloring my suggestions. I really enjoy magic systems that steer away from "casting" and "spells" in favor of something more unique and/or something that is a natural extension of what we do.