On the Increasingly Essential Frontier of Hybrid Mysteries – Fantasy, Science-Fiction, and Murder (Part 2/2 – Howdunit?)

The “hybrid mystery”, murder mysteries summoning the traits and tropes of other genres, offers unique capabilities to detective authors and readers, allowing the creative mystery author to enhance murder plots with the trappings of secondary genres, to inform plot, character, scenario, and solution with magic or fantastical science, and to give a new lease on creative life for other properties. If you’ve read Part 1 – Whydunit? and are convinced of the merits of the hybrid mystery, then you might be asking yourself: “but how can you write a genuine, authentic, and entirely fair murder mystery that utilizes the supernatural, magic, or science-fiction?” The answer, as it happens, is so simple it can be condensed into one word:


It’s as simple as rules. Laws. Guidelines. Commandments. Whatever you want to call them, rules are going to be the most important thing to a successful hybrid mystery. In actuality, understood rules are the most important thing to any mystery– or, even any story!

Consider a murder mystery where the victim is thought to have been stabbed in the back from behind. In actuality, the victim was laying on the ground on their stomach, and the killer (perched on a balcony four stories above them) dropped the knife from above into their back. Why does this work? We understand, to a degree, the rules governing our own world; we know intuitively that gravity exists so that when a knife (or any object) is in someone’s hands and they let go of it, in most cases the knife will be pulled downwards. Therefore, we know that the possibility exists of an object being dropped onto the victim from above.

Not only does understanding the rule of gravity create possibilities, but knowing rules also helps rule possibilities out. For instance, if the victim (up until the moment they were laying on the ground) were standing with their back against the wall, we know it’s impossible for someone to approach from behind and stab them. After all, the law of corporeality exists! A solid object will prevent another solid object from passing through it without the first being parted. This is how we understand the world to work.

All mysteries set in the real world function because we intuitively understand how the real world functions. The fundamental element is nothing more than understanding. Let’s take this a step further with a more involved example which utilizes the supernatural.

Consider a world where ghosts exist, but can only interact with the physical world if they are “channeled” by a person with spiritual acuity. This channeling gives the spirit complete control over the medium’s body, and even causes the medium’s physical appearance to transmogrify to match the appearance of what the human body of the ghost used to be.

In this world, a woman named Harley is on the set of a movie, and her role is to play a suicide victim named Morticia. She has a noose around her neck, but she’s also secretly wearing a safety harness attached to a catwalk above her, which holds her up by the waist so she looks as if she’s hanging by the neck, but in reality she’s entirely fine. A cloaked figure is seen prowling around the catwalk, and then shockingly it cuts the safety harness keeping Harley safe, causing her to drop and die from a broken neck.

The cloaked figure flees, turns a corner, but is immediately surrounded within 60 seconds. The cloak is removed, and the shocking face of the murderer is revealed: she is identical to Harley. The murderer identifies herself as Morticia, the fictional character Harley was playing in the movie! Even more shocking is that although everyone just saw her commit the murder, she claims to be entirely innocent.

To everyone’s surprise, all of her claims appear to be true. Although she is identical to Harley, blood and DNA tests reveal no biological relationship between the two, so she isn’t a twin or sister. And yet legally this woman doesn’t exist anywhere… So naturally, with the revelation that this must be a woman who stepped from the world of fiction into the real world, the detective is curious about her claims to innocence as well… If she’s innocent of the crime, how could this be possible, given what everyone saw, and that they’re 100% certain that this cloaked woman is the exact same person who cut the tethers to the safety harness (and for fairness sake, let’s say they’re 100% correct about this, and were not tricked or fooled in any way about this person’s identity).

Motive notwithstanding, you should be able to make a guess at the solution, so take some time to think it through if it hasn’t already occurred to you.

Morticia” is the spirit of Harley being channeled by the body of a spirit medium. As soon as you realize that only appearances change, but the spirit medium’s biology remains the same, then it’s easy to reconcile the “biologically unrelated but physically identical woman” with this conclusion. If this is true, however, then consider the fact that all of the witnesses are entirely sure that Morticia and the cloaked figure who cut the safety harness are the same person. So we now know that what was witnessed was Harley’s spirit cutting the tether that held up Harley’s body, to create a show of a murder that had actually happened some time earlier — after all, the only way for Harley’s spirit to be somewhere else at the time “the murder” occurred is if she were already dead. Therefore, cutting the tether didn’t kill her, as it was merely holding up a corpse, so no matter what anyone saw her do, Harley’s spirit is innocent of the murder of Harley’s body, by sheer merit of the fact that it is Harley’s spirit. She’s only guilty of intentionally muddying the waters of the real reason for her own death for unknown reasons.

No, I don’t think this is the only possible conclusion to draw from the limited information I provided, but what I will say is that this is an entirely fairplay solution (in theory). And yet it involves calling upon topics of ghosts and spirit channeling! These things do not exist in our world, but I carefully made sure you knew the rules: ghosts exist, but cannot interact with the physical world without being invited into the body of a vessel. This is a brand new set of rules that you now understand to be absolute fact in this world. All theories working within the restrictions of this magic are fair-play, and the solution doesn’t break any rules or rely on unknown information.

Now, of course, this would 100% be an unfair solution if I hadn’t primed you for the existence of spirit channeling. Why is it fair to assume gravity exists, but not ghosts and spirit mediums? Unless otherwise stated or demonstrated, all fictional worlds are assumed to (where possible) function exactly the same as our own.

That might seem like an obvious statement. Set your story in Victorian London or modern day New York, and you expect the physical laws as we know them today to still function yet the same, even if you throw in the unnatural element of ghosts. But consider the inverse: whether you set your story in Narnia, Hogwarts, or Middle-Earth, you still expect to see gravity! If you wrote this mystery story into the Harry Potter universe, it would not be fairplay, because the existence of spirit channeling is not an established fact of that world. Despite the existence of magic, where it is not known, the world is assumed to still function identically to our own, even if it is a fantastical world.

What we have here, therefore, are two fundamental principles that permit for fairplay mysteries to exist within the confines of a fantastical setting: we understand where it is the same as our own, and we understand how it is different, both explicitly and intuitively.

To look at a real example, Locked-Room International, an independent publishing company dedicated to translating impossible crime novels into English, recently translated Masahiro Imamura’s Death Among the Undead, in which multiple murders occur in a house besieged by the undead. Every victim is (apparently) murdered by a zombie, but in every situation it’s impossible for a zombie to reach them! So how were the murders committed?

In this novel, the zombies have a small set of rules by which they always abide:

1.) Zombies lack physical coordination and strength, and cannot run.

2.) Zombies have infinite stamina and never tire.

3.) Zombies are capable of issuing and following only simple orders.

4.) Zombies do not attack victims to eat, they attack to reproduce.

5.) Zombies do not attack each other.

No zombie may act outside of the confines of these rules. They are capable of no more than what they are explicitly said and shown to be capable, or which we can understand they are capable intuitively. No supernatural elements beyond the zombies exist. Thereby, the novel is injected with a supernatural plot point which is (theoretically) predictable, and follow guidelines which are rigidly observed and easily understood. Therefore, despite the presence of an element as unconventional as the undead, the novel still functions as an entirely fairplay puzzle plot detective novel simply because everything that’s introduced which the audience cannot be expected to simply know is expounded upon in an easily digestible manner.

You may be able to understand how this functions with simple supernatural elements like ghost summoning, or zombies. These are specific concepts, and thereby abide by specific rules. Similarly, it might be easy to understand how this rule-focused nature of plotting applies to concepts of science-fiction, as science-fiction by necessity is firmly rooted in an evolution of established, real-world concepts, and thereby follows the very same rules observed in our reality. But what about fantasy? What about magic? Is fantasy and magic not the antithesis to rules and guidelines, the very nature of limitless wonder?


The above is a direct quote from Brandon Sanderson, one of the most famous fantasy/science-fiction authors of all time, and writer of such series as Mistborn and The Storlight Archives. Brandon Sanderson can be said to be to fantasy what Isaac Asimov was to science-fiction, popularizing new ways to read and write within the genre. One of his most notable contributions was his 2007 analysis of “magic systems”, the way in which fantasy authors make their magic insularly consistent by following either explicit or intuitive rules for how the magic works. He notes “if we simply let ourselves develop new rules every time our characters are in danger, we will end up creating fiction that is not only unfulfilling and unexciting, but just plain bad”, positing on the benefits of magic systems. Although he obviously did not have magical murder mysteries in mind, it’s spectacular how closely his ideas of magic in fantasy come to the mystery reader’s idea of fairplay.

In this analysis, he describes “Soft Magic” and “Hard Magic”. “Soft Magic” is those fantasy novels where magic does not have necessarily strict ideas about how it can be used, and instead exists to inject a sense of wonder intro the settings. However, he pivots into describing the kinds of magic he typically writes into his fantasy: Hard Magic. Hard Magic is any and all magic systems where the rules of magic are explicitly established for the benefit of the reader, “so that the reader can have the fun of feeling like they themselves are part of the magic, and so that the author can show clever twists and turns in the way the magic works. […] If the reader understands how the magic works, then you can use the magic to solve problems. […] It’s the characters’ wit and experience that solves the problems. Magic becomes another tool—and, like any other tool, its careful application can enhance the character and the plot”.

For example, in Bandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, the primary of the three magic systems is “Allomacy”. “Allomancy” is quite intricate and unbelievably specific in what can and cannot be done. The idea is that there are four groups of metallic elements — “Physical”, “Mental,” “Enhancement”, and “Temporal” — which themselves are separated into two groups, one for the base metal and one for the alloy. Base metals are “Pushing” (any ability that acts either literally or metaphorically “outwardly”) and alloys are “Pulling” (any ability that acts either literally or metaphorically “inwardly”). Each metal is also classified by whether it’s “External” (occurs outside of the caster’s body) or “Internal” (occurs within the caster’s body). This means you have 16 metals which you can tap into in order to manifest specific abilities. For example, Steel is a Physical-Pushing-External class, which gives the caster the ability to telepathically push nearby metals, whereas Gold is Temporal-Pulling-Internal, which allows the caster to see visions of their past selves, etc. etc.

Nevermind if you internalized all of that, the important thing to take away from this description is that the magic system relies on the “magician’s” (Mistborn’s) ability to ingest one of 16 different kinds of metal. At all times you know what these Mistborns are capable of, as long as you know what kinds of metals they have access to and can ingest. Nothing but these sixteen abilities are available to a Mistborn, and all of these abilities work consistently and reliably. In that way, magic functions as like a science.

In fact, not only does magic function like a science, but Sanderson does not discriminate between fantasy and science-fiction in his description of magic systems. In his essay, he names both Asimov’s Law of Robotics and the abilities of Spider-Man as examples of “hard magic”. Asimov has three clearly defined laws that dictate the behavior of robots, and those laws are rigidly observed. Similarly, Spider-Man has a rigid set of abilities (increased physical capabilities, the ability to shoot webs, the ability to cling to walls) which he has access to, he has no other abilities unless otherwise stated, and we know the capabilities of what abilities he does have. Although both examples are, narratively, born of science-fiction, Sanderson names them examples of “hard magic”.

In short, fantasy and magic has a precedent for telling stories involving heavily rule-dictated magic. If Mistborn and the world of Asimov are both considered hard magic, and Asimovian science-fiction murder mysteries like Caves of Steel can exist, then there truly is no reason why a similarly rigid set of laws involving magic (for instance, Mistborn) can’t also be utilized to establish a fantastical mystery story.

One such example of a fantasy-set murder mystery utilizing Sanderson’s first law is Renkinjutsushi no Shoushitsu (Vanishing of the Alchemist), the second of Konno Tenryuu’s fantasy mystery novels. In Vanishing of the Alchemist, a murder is committed in a fantasy world in which magic follows precise laws of give-and-take, turning “magic” into a science. Despite known as the real-world science of alchemy, this is a magical phenomenon in which Alchemists are capable of supernaturally transmogrifying one form of matter into a roughly equal form of matter. With a murder committed in a location that is apparently impenetrable except to Alchemists, and the Alchemists having no reason to commit such a murder that is immediately suspicious to them. Despite the implication this is a crime that would only make sense for a regular human to commit without the use of magic, what actually comes of it is a solution that intimately relies on its fantasy setting with one clear rule: to use alchemy you must give up something of equal value to create the object you desire.

Ultimately, everything comes back to rules. You can either show the rules in action, give the reader a little glossary explaining the rules, or exposit on them in the narration. However, if your story so calls for it, it isn’t even necessary to provide this information outright; you can instead bake discovering the rules into the story.

For instance, Japanese science-fiction mystery author Houjou Kie’s Kotou no Raihousha (Visitors on a Remote Island) has a very unconventional premise, even among hybrid mysteries: rather than giving you a set of magical rules and then creating a problem around those rules, Visitors on a Remote Island instead operates by having totally inexplicable crimes committed by a metaphysical being beyond their perception. The mystery, instead of figuring out how murders could occur within a set of fantastical laws, is about figuring out what the laws are. What can or will the creature do? What can or will it not do? The mystery is in applying the Ellery Queen-esque method of deducing traits of the killer to the bizarre premise of deducing the precise behavior patterns and capabilities of a supernatural entity.

In this way, Visitors on a Remote Island still functions internally on a set of rigid, understood rules, but these rules are not yet known to the audience. It is in the discovery of those rules where the mystery lie. Making part of the puzzle the detection of an unknown rule or set of rules is yet another method of employing the rule-guided mechanics of hybrid mysteries in ways a traditional mystery novel would never permit.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t give the author free reign to do whatever they want. When the solution is arrived, everything should still retroactively make perfect sense, and not break any rules. Consistency is key with magical rulesets.

But, of course, telling you to write with rules in mind is only a small part of the making of a hybrid mystery. How do you decide on what your rules should be?

The popular wisdom with mystery writing is that you start at the end, with the solution, and then move backwards to retroactively erect the plot and cluing around that. But when everything exists in respect to a set of rules, can you really do that with a hybrid mystery?

To the best of my knowledge, there are two basic methods of priming yourself to write a hybrid mystery.

Method 1: Setting First

When you think about it, whether to write a mystery set in outer space or a fairytale world is a choice every author makes every time they set out to write their mystery story. Not consciously of course, but the understanding is you are deciding to set a story in the real world, taking your knowledge of the real world, and twisting it into something that can suit a mysterious murder. When you really break it down, writing a hybrid mystery is no different, with the only stipulation being that you create the world: you’re still merely taking your understanding of the setting (the world), and twisting it into a mysterious problem.

Once you realize that the process of writing a mystery is practically untouched regardless of whether you choose to set it in the real world or a fantasy world, the process becomes less daunting. After all, you always make a decision about what world your mystery takes place in, and the formula is the same regardless of what the answer is.

With that in mind, to write a hybrid mystery “setting first” is as simple as deciding you want to write a fantasy novel, you design the world to your liking, create a magic system with defined capabilities and limitations, and then once you’re done the process is identical to writing any other mystery story. You look at what’s left, and think about how a killer would try to get away with murder within the confines of the setting in which you’re working, and then work backwards from there to the

This is probably the most “intuitive” way of writing a hybrid mystery. When you’re writing out the limitations of your magic system, you’re not writing them in respect to a planned mystery plot. You are instead merely writing “what limitations sound interesting to me”. It’s creatively liberating but also the highest responsibility of all the starting points.

When designing a magic system, a delicate balance to try and strike is making it open enough to permit creative applications of the powers, but restricted enough to not allow users to get away with anything. A good example of a simple but well-designed magic system to study is martial arts cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Aside from the Avatar, all “Benders” in the Avatar: The Last Airbender universe are capable of manipulating one of the four classical elements (Air, Fire, Water, Earth). Each element is a magic system unto itself, with disparate rules and limitations. For example, Earthbenders’ ability to control rocks and stone increases proportionally to their physical strength and stamina, and they are only capable of controlling “pure” Earth, so things like metal or mud are more difficult or outright impossible to Bend. The main Earthbender in the show, Toph Beifong, is also blind, and uses her bending to sense seismic disturbances, which allows her to see with a form of subterranean echolocation. This also creates interesting dynamics where she can sense pulses (like heart rates) of anyone touching the ground, and when standing on solid ground she is as good as anyone with working eyesight. She’s capable of sensing pure Earth in the air, but with less precision, and when flying in the air or standing on softer or less purified ground she loses her ability to see altogether. At all times, you know roughly what Toph is capable of, and although “controlling the ground” is a seemingly intense ability with a lot of applications, there are also clearly-defined limitations that restrict the Earthbender’s ability to use it.

This magic system in Avatar: The Last Airbender is a fantastic one to study, because it’s both simple enough to easily understand, but intricate enough to allow the writers a lot of creative room in how they apply the magic. It also follows Sanderson’s second law of magic systems “EXPAND, DON’T ADD”, which merely posits that a good magic system should grow organically from what exists, rather than arbitrarily add new elements that don’t fit, for complexity.

Knowing that manipulating fire is merely a form of controlling a certain type of kinetic energy means that it doesn’t totally come out of left field when a Firebender learns to manipulate lightning as well, and it’s perfectly natural when it turns out “Bloodbending”, manipulating the blood inside of another person’s body, is a forbidden and lost art of Waterbending. This also shows how a dynamic magic system can facilitate good mystery-writing: these unexpected applications of once-understood abilities are natural additions that can also be manifested in the form of tricks in mystery-writing. If, for example, you had a murder mystery in which it turned out the Firebender utilized the power of Lightning, based on your understanding of the magic that wouldn’t be “a cheap cop-out”, it’d be a surprising evolution of the rules as they were established.

This is one of the many benefits of starting with the magic system, and working inwards towards the murder, is that a magic system being created without respect to a planned murder allows for it to feel more organic, and by extension feel less like it was “designed” for your plot. This also doubly has the benefit of the magic system not being restricted specifically to the one mystery you end up writing, allowing you to set many different stories within the frameworks you’ve created.

I hugely recommend checking out the Avatar: The Last Airbender series for anyone looking to study competent existent magic systems as a starting point for this kind of approach to writing a hybrid mystery.

Method 2: Prompt First

This method essentially relies on you having an idea for one of (1.) a type of trick you’d like to play or plot you’d like to tell with a particular supernatural artifice, or (2.) a type of supernatural artifice from which you’d like to generate a plot, and then you erect the magic system and its limitations around that. In a way, this is also very similar to the popular method of “starting at the end”.

For instance, you may say something like “I want to write a mystery story in which time travel is utilized to write an alibi”, or “I would like to have a mystery involving gravity being momentarily shut off, but the upwards motion of an elevator disguises the lack of gravity from the detective”. From there, you merely erect a magic system or setting with rules and limitations that facilitate the puzzle you intend to create. You take the elevator prompt, and can reverse-engineer a scenario to tie it all together by asking yourself questions about the prompt. How do they shut off gravity? They’re on a space station, so gravity can be shut off. Why do they shut off gravity? To get access to an otherwise inaccessible location. With the benefit that because a spaceship is technological, the existence of an elevator is also perfectly natural.

The benefit of this method is that everything is taut. Because everything exists in respect to the intended trick or solution, there is less “fat to trim”, so to speak. Everything that exists, exists because it is meant to, and has a place where it fits snugly, like a jigsaw puzzle or a nice tapestry. The draw-back of such a method, however, is that because everything merely exists to facilitate one single idea, trying to retroactively inject new plots into the framework will tend to be difficult, if not impossible.

A rule of thumb, then, is that if you intend to write a series of hybrid mysteries, starting with the setting and working to the murders from there will be the ideal way to go. You leave yourself plenty of room to work with, and that kind of room will facilitate more plots. However, for one-off works, starting with the one idea and reverse-engineering the rules from there will make everything feel tighter and complete, which perfect for a standalone narrative.

While it’s difficult to be totally comprehensive in one blog post, this is the best advice I think I can give on how to begin writing a hybrid mystery. It’s all about knowing how to figure out and communicate your rules to your audience. Whether your story involves people who control fire, zombies, time-travel, or even worlds made of pudding, it can be a valuable addition to the hybrid mystery pantheon. As long as you can remember rules, rules, rules, your fantastical murder should work out just fine.

Keep in mind the following seven takeaways from this post:

  1. Unless otherwise stated or demonstrated, even fantasy worlds function like our own. No supernatural elements may exist except those the author suggests, explains, or demonstrates.
  2. Your ability to create a solution around fantastical elements is directly correlated to how well your readers understand the fantastical elements (Sanderson’s first)
  3. Expand, don’t add. Find new interpretations of old rules, but don’t create new rules arbitrarily. Insular consistency is key. (Sanderson’s second)
  4. Rules don’t need to be explicitly stated, but where they aren’t stated they need to be intuitive and the audience needs to be able to deduce unknown variables, factors, or mechanisms of the world.
  5. Starting with a magic or fantastical setting created without respect to a single mystery allows for more potential mystery stories to take place within the same setting.
  6. Inversely, starting with a prompt for a concept or solution makes isolated stories feel tighter.
  7. A good magic system is one which is simple enough to be understood, intricate enough to permit for a variety of applications of established abilities, open enough to allow for creative exploitations of abilities, and closed enough to have defined limitations. Study successful fantasy stories with “hard magic systems” to see how this delicate balance is handled by fantasy genre authors.

These seven rules of thumb should make for good starting points for any author looking to delve into the world of hybrid mysteries. I hope that between this and the first post, I’ll be seeing more and more fantastic hybrid mysteries from established and up-and-coming authors alike. Happy reading, and happy writing.


7 thoughts on “On the Increasingly Essential Frontier of Hybrid Mysteries – Fantasy, Science-Fiction, and Murder (Part 2/2 – Howdunit?)

  1. ellora @ The Cozy Owlet January 8, 2023 / 4:59 pm

    Love this thinking (and I suppose it explains why I’m such a big fan of hard magic systems). All of the fantasy / sci fi I enjoy starts with some kind of solvable mystery based on the rules of the world… (even if it devolved into action and.or politicking which I also quite enjoy).


  2. TomCat January 10, 2023 / 6:50 am

    Something tells me your explanation of “magic systems” would have been so much easier had you used Death Note as an example. I’m not very well versed in fantasy with a limited knowledge of hybrid mysteries, just that it has a ton of potential, but Death Note (a supernatural mystery-thriller hybrid complete with Great Detectives) comes with a rigid set of rules the characters get to explore and toy around with. It’s the first thing that came to mind when reading “hard magic.”

    However, I’m still not entirely convinced fantasy hybrids can work as well as horror or science-fiction mystery hybrid. The limits and constraints on futuristic technology or living corpses seem a lot easier and natural to explain than with ghosts or magic spells. You can intuitively grasp the physical limitations of zombies (like Spider-Man’s power set) or what technology is capable of doing (see Jack McDevitt), but, when dealing with truly magical elements, the writer also has to explain why those hard rules can’t be broken – otherwise you’re simply muzzling or muting the fantasy elements. I know this is an overly simplification, but a fantasy hybrid needs to explain why the wizard couldn’t have locked the door using a magic spell or why a homicidal ghost could not have simply walked through the wall. I don’t see that problem with horror and science-fiction mystery hybrids.

    So I remain a little skeptical, but willing to be proven wrong whenever a really good fantasy-mystery hybrid comes my way to show its possibilities.

    By the way, the ghost world you described in the Harley case is pure nightmare fuel and more horrifying than a zombie apocalypse. That reality would result in World War Ghost where the dead, outnumbering the living, fight over living bodies to possess in order to be “alive” again. You would need to explain in such a story why that hasn’t happened. See my problem? But have rambled on long enough.


    • TomCat January 10, 2023 / 7:27 am

      No, wait. I’ve some more rambling to do. To come back to your ghost world example… a story like that also needs the explain what, exactly, is the nature of the ghosts in that world. There are multiple interpretations to their existence. For example, their ability to possess people suggests a religious nature, but you can also go with a strictly naturalistic interpretation. Consciousness is a complete fluke and anomaly in the universe that should not exist, which survives the physical body and slowly fades away over time. That would give the ghosts the impetus to possess people in order to survive, but then you’re back at the question why not everybody on the planet is possessed? Can only a small percentage of surviving consciousnesses possess people? And why? Is it an ability linked to intelligence, personality or something else? And is there an expatriation date on these stronger ghosts, because, after a long enough time, they’ll outnumber the living. What happens to the consciousness of the people they possess? More importantly, what’s the effect of the everyday possibility of getting possessed and possible erased out of existence on civilization? Just imagine if there was a virus that turned everyone, everywhere, who died into zombies and how drastically that would chance people and society as a whole. Just on the practical side, you need armed guards at every hospital to put down patients who just passed away.

      Ok, I’m done now.


      • l. Stump January 10, 2023 / 8:08 am

        The ghost system was ripped from Ace Attorney, where the idea is a ghost can only enter a body if the spirit is deliberately invited by the Spirit Medium, which is what I said in the post (a Spirit Medium channels them). This means that the “possession” is started and concluded entirely at the will of the spirit medium, and the ghost has no influence on when it starts or ends unless they arranged a time specifically with the spirit medium while they were still alive.

        As for “what the ghost is” this gets into a typical issue with new fantasy authors where they feel they need to explain down to the grain what every little element is. Knowing that it is “a spirit” is sufficient, and every possible interpretation of what that entails is applicable as long as it fits within the rules of Channelling. This is something I should’ve mentioned in the post, but “you don’t need to explain everything about everything if it doesn’t actually change anything about anything” is definitely a good rule of thumb for fantasy writers. Sometimes it’s good enough to just say “spirits of dead people exist and can be channelled by people who arbitrarily/genetically are born with the ability to do so”.


    • l. Stump January 10, 2023 / 8:18 am

      Also, to have hard rules doesn’t muzzle or mute the fantasy elements at all. Fantasy exists in very much a different form now than it used to, and magic systems dictated by rigid rules are much more common in America and Japan than they used to be.

      As for “why can’t the magician simply lock the door”, the answer would be… The magic doesn’t permit that.

      For example, in Mistborn, a Mistborn cannot lock the key because pushing or pulling uses the force of the Mistborn’s weight, and doing that would by necessity send the key flying out of the keyhole, or even break the key.

      In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Metalbending doesn’t exist until it’s discovered by Toph Beifong near the end of the series, so nobody in that universe has the ability to even magically move a key (because it’s not one of the four classical elements).

      The magic system simply doesn’t permit it to occur.


      • TomCat January 10, 2023 / 10:18 am

        I’m afraid my imagination ran away there for a moment, because had forgotten about the necessity of a spirit medium. That would prevent a lot of messiness and muzzling, but really need to see for myself to judge how well they measure up to horror and science-fiction mystery hybrids. Time will tell.


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