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Show Don't Tell: Magic

Magic is the lifeblood of any fantasy story, the mysterious force that can captivate readers and transport them to worlds beyond their wildest imagination. As a writer, it's essential to understand how to effectively show, not tell, the reader about the magic that exists in your fantastical realm. Doing so will create a more immersive and engaging experience for your audience. In this post, I'll share five strategies to help you avoid info-dumping your magical system while painting a vivid picture to your reader.

One: Describe the Effects of Magic

A powerful way to show magic in action is to focus on the effects it has on the world around it. Rather than telling the reader that a spell causes a plant to grow rapidly, you can describe the tendrils unfurling, leaves emerging and blossoms bursting forth in a dance of colors. This creates a vivid image in the reader's mind and allows them to experience the magic alongside the characters.


Telling: Jareth cast a growth spell on the withered plant, making it flourish.

Showing: Jareth whispered the ancient words, his fingers tracing intricate patterns in the air. Before his eyes, the withered plant trembled, as if infused with a new breath of life. Green tendrils snaked from the soil, unfurling into vibrant leaves that reached toward the sun, while blossoms erupted in a riot of colors, painting the once barren landscape with life.

Two: Convey Magic Through the Senses

One of the most effective ways to immerse your reader in your magical world is to engage all five senses. Describe the sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations that accompany the use of magic, in addition to the visual elements. By doing this, you can create a multi-sensory experience that transports your reader to the heart of your enchanting realm.


Telling: The air crackled with energy as the sorceress prepared to cast her spell.

Showing: The sorceress drew in a deep breath, her voice lilting and melodic as she incanted. The air hummed with anticipation, a symphony of electric whispers that danced upon the skin, raising goosebumps in their wake. The scent of ozone filled the room, tinged with the acrid tang of burnt herbs, as the sorceress's hands wove patterns in the air, leaving trails of shimmering light that danced and twined like ethereal serpents.

Three: Use Metaphors and Similes

Metaphors and similes are powerful tools to show your reader the magic in your world. They can help create vivid imagery and draw comparisons to things your reader is familiar with, allowing them to grasp complex magical concepts more easily. It can also serve as a world building tool to show what kind of similes your character thinks of.


Telling: The mage controlled fire effortlessly.

Showing: The mage's fingers danced like a seasoned conductor, commanding the flames as if they were a fiery orchestra. Each flick of his wrist sent tendrils of fire swirling through the air, intertwining and separating with the precision of a choreographed ballet.

Four: Reveal Magic Through Character Reactions

How your characters react to magic can offer valuable insight into your magical system without resorting to lengthy explanations. By observing their awe, fear, or even indifference, your reader can infer the relative power or rarity of certain magical abilities.


Telling: The villagers had never seen a healing spell before.

Showing: The villagers clustered around, their eyes wide with awe and disbelief as the healer's hands glowed with a soft, golden light. Gasps of astonishment echoed through the crowd as the healer's touch mended broken bones and sealed wounds, leaving only smooth, unblemished skin in its wake. Children clutched their parents' hands, trembling with excitement, while the elders exchanged hushed whispers, sharing stories of long-forgotten magic returning to their world.

Five: Integrate Magic into the Worldbuilding

Incorporating magic into the fabric of your world can help demonstrate its intricacies without resorting to info-dumping. Show how magic has shaped the culture, environment, and daily life of the characters, allowing your reader to understand the system through context and observation.


Telling: Magic was a vital part of their society.

Showing: The bustling market was alive with the hum of magical energy. Enchanters peddled trinkets imbued with protective charms, their shimmering auras visible to the discerning eye. A nearby apothecary's shelves brimmed with bottles of potions, their contents swirling with iridescent colors that promised cures and enhancements for every ailment. Above it all, an intricate network of floating walkways crisscrossed the sky, held aloft by unseen forces as mages and merchants navigated the city's elevated thoroughfares with practiced ease.

As you can see, it takes quite a bit of words to properly show magic, but the effort is worth it. The engagement and immersion of your readers will reward every minute spent agonizing over the right verbs, similes, reactions and effects of your magic system!

Happy writing! And remember, we all get better one word at a time.

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