When I first started Miasma, I really wasn’t thinking much about magic systems. A magic system is essentially how the magic works: What does the character need to do to create his magic? What is the cost when he uses his magic? Instead, I was thinking more about the effect of magic. Since I wanted to show how people misused magic during a war about the time of the Civil War, I wondered what kinds of horrific things people could do. There might have been some people who would have done experimentation, really to just see what they could d0. That made me think of the Nazis, and there were photos online (looking at them once was enough). The result was this:
The skeletal remains were along the back wall of the room, stacked like firewood. Like they were unimportant. The three men tried not to look too closely, but it was difficult not noticing that some of the remains belonged to children.
The bones were human, and yet, they weren’t. Deformities twisted and reshaped each bone in ways that were too horrible to imagine. A skull with the eye sockets smashed too close together. A femur that ended in an odd-claw-like shape. Fingers that turned into talons.
The entire scene ended up coming out on revision, but when I started thinking about the magic system, I returned to the images of Nazi Germany — and Hollywood. Just look at any alien or monster movie and you can see what the imagination comes up with. Some of it you’re probably glad it’s only on film! Then I came across this free ebook of “Visceralization,” and I started thinking about what if they needed to picture what they wanted in order to do magic? That could have some gruesome possibilities — anyone remember the Star Trek episode of Charlie X? There’s one very disturbing image of Charlie’s power in there.
However, as I started writing, the magic system mutated. Everyone in the story has magic does their magic the same way, with pictures — except for the main character. He does his a little differently, and it allows him to do some things that no one else can do. Never mind how much trouble some of this is going to get him into …