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How to deal with supernatural elements?:

Hey all, this is my first post, so I'm sorry if it's in the wrong forum or the like.

I'm currently in the planning stage of a conspiracy thriller (Think National Treasure, but with less Nick Cage, or Deus Ex, if you've played it) set in the 1920s, with heavy pulp elements. I'm planning on including weird science and/or magic, since they're a significant part of the pulp genre. However, I'm leery of somehow ruining the "thriller" part of the conspiracy thriller.

I guess what I'm asking is, how do I make sure that supernatural elements don't overshadow the conspiracy (conspiracies?)? I don't want to complicate it too far, beyond the requisite complexity for a conspiracy, so I'm planning on staying away from things like time/dimensional travel. I'm just afraid that at some point the protagonist will be distracted from their hunt for the Knights Templar by trying to fight a wizard or something. I want the pulp elements to be a bonus, not really the focus. Thoughts?

 2 Neko LLX, Sun, 9th Sep '12 9:52:03 AM from Soviet America
Writer: Tokusatsu 5YrWar
Any Technology Signifigently Advance is Indistinguishable from Magic.

The Reverse is also true

Any magic is indistinguishable from Signifigently Advanced Technology.

So have your protagonist be adamant it isn't magic, it's SCIENCE. And there for he won't wont to go after a wizard, it's only a tool after all. But he may want to in the end turn over the scientific notes to the sciene community to mull over.
7 friends, a robot, and a spirit, will find a way to protect us...if it kills them.
 3 Kiefen, Sun, 9th Sep '12 11:58:29 AM from Germany Relationship Status: It's not my fault I'm not popular!
MINE!
Easy Solution:

If they don't play a significant role in your story: Just don't explain them and keep them shrouded in mystery. It wouldn't be supernatural if it would have a logic explaination after all.

Otherwise:

If you don't want it to take over the plot, avoid Deus ex Machina and establish magic as an exlusive "something some scholars claim to be capable of but in reality is untameable"

edited 9th Sep '12 12:07:11 PM by Kiefen

 4 Ars Thaumaturgis, Mon, 10th Sep '12 6:47:55 AM Relationship Status: I've been dreaming of True Love's Kiss
I'm inclined to suggest tying the magic to the conspiracies, and keeping it largely in the background. To these ends, I suggest ritual magic: magic performed by a group of people, a single effect taking significant time to accomplish and perhaps requiring certain conditions - be it a particular place (perhaps then leading to a race to beat the conspirators to that place) or a particular time (perhaps then leading to a pressing time limit for the protagonists) or particular items (perhaps then leading to a MacGuffin hunt).

This should, I think, allow you to keep the focus on the group: no one of them has much power, but together, as a conspiracy, they can enact their supernatural methods to great - and presumably terrible - ends. It also potentially ties nicely into the esoteric trappings that such groups tend to be associated with, I feel.

edited 10th Sep '12 6:49:52 AM by ArsThaumaturgis

 5 Wolf 1066, Mon, 10th Sep '12 4:19:53 PM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
You could also set arbitrary limits on what magic is able to do - can't work on living things or only works on living things or only on energy levels (i.e. fireballs, spontaneous combustion, freezing, overloading/draining electrical systems etc) or maybe magic can only affect the minds of other people, like some form of advanced hypnosis that does not require rendering the subject in a receptive/suggestible state and without talking to them (and can be countered with sufficient training).

Work out what you want your wizard to be capable of doing and what, if anything, (s)he needs to do it and how it is done ("Abracadabra" = Earth-Shattering Kaboom or needs full ritual, "coven" and paraphernalia) and work back from there to effectively eliminate anything else as a possibility. (i.e. if you want to have a fireball fight but not have people turned into toads or time travel/teleportation, have it that magic is purely the manipulation of energy.)

Make it subject to an expanded set of Natural Laws (Thou Canst Not Fuck With Space-time) or derive parts of it from existing laws (Conservation of Energy, Newton's 3 Laws etc). "Can't do that as it would break the law of Thermodynamics. I can, however, do this."

I've had to do the same in one of my stories to prevent magic from taking over the whole place and breaking the plot. With the limits on magic, technology is required to do things that magic cannot and people have still got to walk/ride/drive to wherever they want to go.

It's your magic system, you can put whatever constraints on it you please and as long as the constraints are applied consistently and there's a kind of "logic" to it, the reader's will accept it (it's not like anyone's going to be able to turn around and prove you wrong about magic, is it?)

Do it right and it'll seem plausible, an immutable in-universe law and people won't ask "but why didn't they just teleport right into the middle of the fortress and out again?" because they'll know it's impossible - without any lengthy Hand-Waving on your part.

In my universe, there's also a world of difference between what "human" magicians can do and deities can do - some of it because the humans just haven't worked out how to do it yet, but they know it's possible (because it's been done by gods/goddesses).

edited 10th Sep '12 4:29:04 PM by Wolf1066

Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
 6 Madrugada, Mon, 10th Sep '12 4:28:11 PM Relationship Status: In season
Zzzzzzzzzz
Read Jim Butcher's Dresden Files books. Magic exists, and is a major part of Harry's world. But most of the world he moves in is unaware or oblivious to it. Study how Butcher balances magic and mundane. Adjust the formula to suit your work. Be prepared to do a lot of tweaking and rewriting while you get the balance right.

edited 10th Sep '12 4:31:10 PM by Madrugada

...if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you for it.
I've met several "sorcerers" in Real Life. They all practice Ritual Magic and the effects are always Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane, so you can never say "magic isn't real" to these people because you can't prove it.

In my fiction, I do the same thing. All magic is subtle; it is far easier to control the mind that to alter the body. Magic is not flashy, though it may be theatrical; it is not obvious, though its effects may be extraordinary.
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Total posts: 7
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