Calling All Non-Magical Beings

So, you’re writing a fantasy. Your wise, noble magic wielders could face down Voldemort without batting an eye, and your magical creatures could kick that were-vamp dragon’s ass. What could possibly be missing?

Um, would the puny human characters please step forward?

All too often fantasy writers are so excited about the world-building and the magic systems that they forget to develop their non-magical cast. And this is SO important to creating a powerful, engaging book. Your main characters likely interact with non-magical folks on a regular basis, and those non-magical people can influence how readers view your MCs. You can’t afford to let the non-magical secondary characters become simple one-dimensional cut-outs—not when you have the opportunity to do so much more.

Remember, unless they’re getting RSS feeds now on Mars, we’re all humans. We can relate to non-magical folks in a special, immensely personal way. We’ve never known anyone who can actually shapeshift, command the elements or shoot death rays from their finger tips. But we do know people who have stood firm against incredible odds, who have made remarkable sacrifices for friends or have been too afraid to act when they must. That’s the intimate reality that your non-magical characters can share with readers.

Remember how you made your magical MC wise and brave? Find ways to create scenes where a non-magical character is wiser or braver than your MC. Allow them to learn from each other and grow from the encounter. You’ll discover depths to your novel that you never knew were there.

You guys know I’m a huge Robert Jordan fan, and he creates awesome, endearing soldiers who don’t have any magical ability what-so-ever. Even though they’re stuck in a cast of incredibly gifted characters and should be way out of their league, they deliver some of the more touching, poignant and uplifting moments.

For those familiar with Sarah Rees Brennan’s Demon books, Alan and Mae are also strong characters without innate magical abilities who hold their own with their gifted siblings.

The next time you’re plotting about how to give your MC even more power, stop and think about how you can leverage the little guy, too.


  1. I think you touch on a great topic here. I also write fantasy, and since my MCs now all have something special about them, the 'ordinary' people have sort of faded into the background. There's simply no room for them on the front lines anymore; they'd be mowed down by the monsters my MCs are facing.

    And I don't like that.

    Now, I suppose it could be argued: what does one mean by 'normal?' For example, one of my characters is an ordinary mortal but has access to a supersuit, thereby technically leaving the realm of 'normal.' Another of my characters is an ordinary human, but she only shows up in memories and dreams (killed early on).

    The way I solve it is through the small encounters. My MCs are meandering around during a rare moment of peace and strike up or overhear a conversation with ordinary people. Whether it affects them directly or indirectly, they almost always walk away from the experience changed somehow, even if it isn't immediately apparent. I don't know if it's the best way to solve the problem, but I'll figure out a balance eventually.

  2. Fantastic question about what normal means, Will! Your approach sounds very similar to the one I use.

    Perhaps another way to think about it is to emphasize the aspects of those characters that ARE “normal” – their fears, failures and everyday triumphs. I like your phrase “small encounters,” because it really captures how you can use those moments to alter tone and pacing, and truly instill change in your characters.

    Another thought: maybe the Achilles heel for one of your monsters could be a trait that only one of your “normal” characters has.

    Finding balance is always the challenge and the fun. By the way, I think your dream-walker character sounds amazing! Love that idea.