Castles in the Clouds

‘There are no rules of architecture for castles in the clouds.’                                                                                                                           (G. K. Chesterton)

A gloriously true statement, which takes me back to my earliest ‘castles in the clouds’  – sketched in coloured pencil at around 8 years old – in faraway worlds, long ago or far ahead. From the drawn page, these edifices gravitated into stories and began to infiltrate the ‘landscapes of dreams’ …and never stopped. Forty years later, my first novel (Daughter of Hope, to be released by Musa in June) is laced with slightly more sophisticated versions of those childhood creations; a crystal-clad citadel perched on an impossible snow-covered mountainside, sheathed in spells…and a fortress darker than anything my youthful mind could have imagined, locked in a perpetual self-generated storm.

While the castles have no rules of construction, however, it became clear that the magic that supports them needed some serious definition if this world and its workings wasn’t going to have readers saying ‘What?’, ‘How?’ or ‘That’s ridiculous!’ Or even worse, left them so unconvinced – and unseduced – by the internal reality of this faraway world that they would throw the book aside (however one does that with an e-book).

Castle from the film version of 'The Neverending Story'

The Empress's Castle from the film of 'The Neverending Story'

This propelled me to finally nut out the spell-crafted workings of my characters and settings (in terms of type, magnitude, quality, special rules…and special exceptions). And the delight here was that in asking myself these questions – What are the qualities of each variety of magic? What do they draw on? What are the costs (how do they impact the user and the environment)? How are they used, and to what ends? What are their rules of operation,  and what happens if those rules are broken? – I learnt a lot about this world and its people and appreciate the delicate balance they exist in as never before.

To other fantasy writers, where do you start from with your magical realities? Do you build your spell rules in from the outset, or do you grow your understanding of them as your stories and worlds develop? Or do you employ a ‘chaos model’?

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10 thoughts on “Castles in the Clouds

  1. I agree with you that, whatever the reality your characters are in, it’s the cost to them and their reactions to it that will ground it in reality for the readers. Dragons, time travel, magic from another realm – all of these elements become real when we feel what the characters feel.

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  2. The economics of magic so to speak is a serious interest of mine. I try to build systems with logical rules that have inherent checks and balances. What is magic is a very important question to ask when writing fantasy and the answer is different in every book. Great post and your castle sounds so cool!!!

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  3. Thanks Arley. Yes, the element I needed to bring into this novel was ‘consequences’…as part of a system of magic, what are the consequences of its use…to the environment, to the user, to other people? Once this became clear, it added another whole aspect to the way the characters were interacting. All good fun! 🙂

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