The inclusion of magic is what leads to a work of fiction being characterized as fantasy, as opposed to some other genre. I am, of course, not referring to stage magic, which is simply trickery, but to something that is completely unscientific. It’s also worth noting that many fantasy stories cross over into other genres, such as mystery or romance.
When an author sets about writing a fantasy novel, they need to decide exactly how magic works in the world they are creating. That’s even true of urban fantasy stories, which take place in something closely modeled on our own world. There are a lot of decisions to make, and they are important. Fantasy readers are willing to accept the possibility of magic, but they expect it to behave consistently. If the rules of magic keep changing, then readers will be taken out of the story.
The first thing that needs to be decided is how many types of magic there are. A single type makes things easier for the author, but multiple types can make for a more interesting world. It really doesn’t matter how many types there are as long as they are well-defined and comprehensible to the reader.
Having come up with a type of magic, the next thing is to decide who can use it. Does it require an inherited ability? Does it require training? If someone casts a spell, does it require gestures? Is an incantation necessary, and how lengthy is it? What about physical aids, such as a wand? Or maybe some type of material component is necessary? How much magic can someone use in a short period of time before it runs out? There has to be some kind of limitation. All of these issues needs to be worked out in advance and then used consistently.
I think that one of the most important facets of magic in fantasy is how common it is. A world where everyone can employ some type of magic is very different from one where only a few unique individuals possess magical abilities. It’s also important to consider how common magical items and magical creatures are.
For me, the inclusion of magic is what makes writing fantasy so much fun. But I also take it seriously. I strive to be consistent in how magic is portrayed. Andoran’s Realm has spell-casters, alchemists, and witches, and they all come about their abilities in different ways. Furthermore, spell-casters have specialities that they concentrate on, such as fire magic. It all combines to make things more varied and hopefully more interesting to my readers. Or so I hope. 🙂