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5 Tips for Mixing Magic and Romance in a Novel

Author Sangu Mandanna shares what worked for her when combining elements of two genres into one story.

My newest book, The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches, is a contemporary romantic fantasy about a lonely witch, a quirky found family, and a remote house by the sea. It’s a story that combines the fantastical with the reality of human relationships, including romantic relationships, and I do believe that there’s an alchemy in that combination that hits a lot of readers’ sweet spots. (It certainly hits mine!)

(Sangu Mandanna: On Writing Her First Novel for Adults)

Maybe that’s the kind of book you’d like to write, too. Bearing in mind that this is what works for me, here are my five best tips for mixing magic and romance in a novel.

1. Find Balance

Balance in all storytelling is key. A book that’s all action and no character development, for example, is far less powerful than a book that uses action scenes to punctuate and enhance the development of its characters. But there’s a whole spectrum of possibility!

You could split action and character growth evenly, or you could skew further toward one or the other. I think that works in much the same way with magic and romance. Figure out how you want to balance them: evenly? More romance, less magic? More magic, less romance?

There are no wrong answers here. The only important thing, in my experience, is knowing the answer that works for you.

2. Build Untangleability

“Untangleability” is my extremely untechnical term that means exactly what it implies: the impossibility of untangling a thing from another thing. When you mix magic and romance in a novel, it works best when they work together. The magical worldbuilding and the romantic relationships shouldn’t feel like dissonant elements of a story; instead, they should work so seamlessly together that the story would fall apart without one or the other.

Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches_Sangu Mandanna

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In The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches, for example, the plot hinges on the magic, Mika’s talent, and the rules witches must live by. The magic affects the way Mika’s relationship with Jamie develops, in both good and bad ways, and they probably wouldn’t have a relationship at all if it weren’t for the magic. Conversely, without Mika and Jamie’s relationship, the shift in the magical community and the outcome of the children’s magical futures would be drastically different.

3. Keep Secrets

Any story with romance in it has the potential for secrecy, and any story with magic in it has the potential for secrecy, so just imagine how much fun you can have with a story that incorporates both! Secrets can build tension, create conflict, bond characters together, and so much more.

Maybe one of the love interests is magical and the other isn’t? Maybe one knows about magic and the other doesn’t? Maybe both love interests know a magical secret that means it’s them against the world? Secrets can come in all sizes and shapes, and they’re a great staple in a writer’s toolbox.

Mandanna, 9:1

4. Promote Diversity

Simply put, a homogenous cast of characters is boring. If everyone in your story comes from the same kind of background, lives the same kind of lifestyle, and has the same privileges and struggles, where’s the conflict? Where’s the fun? Where’s the pleasure for readers who are different? I think this is true for all fiction, but particular in the fantasy and romance genres, which have been pretty white, straight, and homogenous for a very long time.

Include characters of color, queer people, and disabled people in your novel. Treat them with respect. Give them space to have all the virtues and flaws of any other character. It’ll make your story so much brighter.

5. Share Joy

And finally, have fun. There is so much room for imagination, whimsy, joy, and laughter in romance and fantasy. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Enjoy the weird, wonderful story you’re writing!

I hope this helps, and happy writing!

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