The “What If?” Exercise

Time for me to play a little game with myself, and you get to follow along.

I have a novella I wrote for a contest some time ago kicking around in the back of my mind, because most of the feedback I got on it was “Expand this!”  I sat on it for a while, and now I’m tossing around ideas.

It was a fantasy story with a touch of magic involved, but given the space constraints, I never got into how the magic system worked, and I lampshaded the fact that I never explained it.  Not a crime when you’re trying to tell a good story in about 10,000 words, but if I want to rework it?  I need a real system.

So…what if magic was powered by starlight?  Not an entirely original concept, I know, but run with me, here.

Things I can extrapolate from that:

  • Magical practitioners would likely spend part or all of the night awake.  If magic use was uncommon in this world that I’m playing around with, then we’ve got a ripe opportunity for a secret society.  On the other hand, if magic were commonplace, it’s possible that vast bulk of this society would be nocturnal, with only certain jobs needing to be performed during the day.  (Farming comes to mind as the most notable exception.  Plowing and planting by starlight might be difficult!)
  • Well, what is the sun but a star that’s really close, you say?  Psssh.  Sunlight’s too powerful–or, alternately, because there’s so much of it readily accessible to a practitioner, it could be dangerous to use because it would be easy/tempting to draw more power than the person’s skill could handle.  (Also my world could have a different sun, or more than one!  But let’s set that aside, because it’s another kettle of fish.)
  • So what forms could this magic take?  Let’s use scrying as an example.  That’s often depicted as looking into a mirror or still water to see elsewhere, or elsewhen.  But in my system, it could only be done at night, when the scrying surface reflected the stars.  Which leads to my next point…
  • …Limitations.  Wielders of starlight would be helpless to perform magic during the day (or, alternately, it would be dangerous to), but they’d also be hampered by the weather at night.  Cloudy skies?  Too bad!  So where would they live?  Somewhere with little rain and clear nights…like a desert, to choose the first thing that popped into my head.  Not the only option by any stretch, but it certainly fits the nocturnal theme–if I made it a hot desert, then it’s pretty believable that people might be more active at night, when the temperatures are more comfortable.

“What if?” is one of my favorite questions as a writer.  Asking that gets the ball rolling, and every answer leads to more questions, until you’ve got full-fledged concepts to play with.  Now I’ve got choices to make, and a story to revise.

2 thoughts on “The “What If?” Exercise

  1. Sounds like you’re on to something! You had me at “secret society” of starlight wielders. I love that they would only be able to do magic at night — makes it all the more mysterious. Being hampered by inclement weather sets up interesting plot complications. Like you said, the sun thing does pose a little problem, but maybe sunlight isn’t magical for them because its magic is already imbued in everything in their world. Or something like that.


    1. > Maybe sunlight isn’t magical for them because its magic is already imbued in everything in their world.

      I like it! I definitely hadn’t thought of that. We’ll see what shakes out when I have more time to sit down and flesh out this world.


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