Sorry for pestering you with questions lately, but I could once again use your advice. I have a world with two factions at war with each other and a magic system based on magical pigments. One side uses written words to alter people/things in specific ways. The other can transform people/things into the thing they’ve drawn. Both have pros and cons: the written magic is more flexible, quicker, and requires less drawing skill, but the drawn magic is more powerful and less taxing. But since they both have different strengths, I’ve begun to wonder why each side doesn’t learn the enemy’s magic to be able to choose between both kinds depending on the situation or on individual talent/innate power. Is my premise flawed or can I make it work ?
Hey Camille, Oren here, great to hear from you again!
That sounds like a fascinating conflict. I love it when factions with different magic systems fight; it’s just such a great way to create contrast. It’s also great that you’ve thought about the differences between the two systems.
As to why they haven’t learned each other’s magic yet, there are two broad ways you could handle that.
1: They Haven’t Had Time Yet
In this scenario, the two factions are only just starting to interact, or perhaps it’s the magic systems that are new. Either way, the different styles of magic will likely propagate eventually, but that’ll take a while. Not only will the two sides seek to safeguard their magical secrets, but if one group is an expert in written magic, it’ll take them time to learn how to use drawn magic effectively, and vice versa.
You can see this dynamic happen with technology in real life. My favorite example is conflict between the Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire and various nomadic peoples like the Huns, Avars, Pechenegs, and so on. At first, the Byzantines used a primarily infantry, melee-based army like the Western Empire of old had used for centuries, while their new enemies favored mounted archery. After a century or two, the Byzantines had also adopted mounted archery. It took time to learn both the techniques and the actual technology to make this possible.
2: Something Inherent in the Magic
If the first option doesn’t fit with your story, then you can build a limiter into the magic itself. Perhaps written magic requires a special ink that can only be made in Country A, while drawn magic requires communion with animal spirits that only live in Country B.
How you portray your magic will determine how believable this approach is. For example, in Avatar: The Last Airbender, we only ever see firebenders in the Fire Nation, earthbenders in the Earth Kingdom, etc. This gives the impression that each bending type is only born into a specific population, though there’s no explanation of how or why.
Conversely, if you show that anyone can learn either type of magic with enough time and practice, readers will start actively wondering why the two sides don’t use both kinds of magic. At that point, option one is probably the only way for you to go.
It’s possible you could use some kind of social prejudice, but that has some hard limits. Sure, people from Writing Magic Country might look down on drawn magic, but if drawn magic has practical applications, it’s only a matter of time before someone tries it anyway.
Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your writing!