Hello! You don’t have to wing it at all; you can put as much - or as little - thought into your spells as you like.
The spells in the Harry Potter books are all words and phrases derived from classical languages (mostly Latin):
Confundo. Closely derived from the word ‘confound’ which can mean ‘to cause confusion’ (NB: the ‘u’ and the ‘o’ of ‘confound’ have been switched around to create the word ‘Confundo’.).
Protego. Can be translated as ‘protect’ from Latin to English.
Engorgio. ‘Engorge’ means to swell something with blood, water or other fluids.
Even when J.K. Rowling isn’t using true Latin words, she manipulates English words to ‘sound’ Latin or linguistically archaic.
I’m going to put ideas under three headers: Verbal Commands, Action Commands and Additional Items. I believe a combination of all these is a decent start to creating your own spells, but you are certainly allowed to focus on one or the other if you’d like.
Most spells require some kind of chant, title or mantra to activate the power’s potential. Here are some things to consider when creating verbal commands.
As stated before, there is a sound to the spells in Harry Potter: Expecto Patronum, Wingardium Leviosa, Sectumsempra, Reparo, Alohomora. The spells are either one word or two and the influence of classical languages is apparent.
Really think about what you want to call your spells and what kind of emotion you want to evoke with them. You don’t have to make the words/phrases outlandish or as a totally new language. You can take inspiration from languages in the world around us and invent them as you need to, providing you do so respectfully and within reason.
So, ‘each spell is three words’, ‘each spell must include an element’ or, ‘each spell must rhyme’.
Whilst they’re not ‘spells’ per se, the best examples I have to explain this are the techniques from the NARUTO series. Generally (although there are exceptions), most all of the techniques are followed by ‘no jutsu’ which means ‘art of..’. For example, Kage Bunshin no Jutsu (Art of the Shadow Clone) or Kuchiyose no Jutsu (Art of Summoning).
That’s a very basic look at it. There are then further commands and additions to the techniques, such as with the summoning art:
- Kuchiyose… Kirikiri Mai! (Summoning… Whirlwind Dance)
…or should the art rely solely on one element release:
- Fūton: Kazekiri no Jutsu (Wind release: Wind Cutter Technique)
Just as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter spells are restricted to one single word, or two word phrases, the commands in NARUTO follow a consistent pattern and word order, which among other things, contributes to the technique’s success.
A word of note: this example is not here to encourage you to put all of your spells into Japanese…! Remember, in Japanese, the commands are as literal as they sound in English (so, for example, Sabaku Kyū is Sand Binding Coffin). The general point is, these ‘spells’ (or rather, techniques) have naming conventions which you can take inspiration from to make up your own verbal commands.
So, presumably, these spells will be ineffective or bring the wrong kind of result if not pronounced in the correct way, for example, Hermione stressing, ‘It’s Levi-ohh-s-ah, not Levi-oh-s-arr’ (and Harry saying diagonally instead of Diagon Alley, heheh).
Generally, setting limits is a good way to know how much play space you have. Here are some things you can consider when coming up with limits to verbal commands:
- Order of words;
- Speed/pace of speech;
- Tone of words, etc…
It’s not all about shouting the right lines; magical characters, or characters with special abilities often have specific movements or actions to contribute to their technique’s success.
So in Harry Potter, the wand acts as an instrument to channel magical powers. The way I see it is… it refines and controls all of that magical potential to keep it constrained and usable.
A particularly unskilled witch or wizard may struggle to conjure spells without a wand, and when a broken wand is used, either the spell doesn’t work or it works in the wrong way.
Do your spells require an implement to focus the magic/energy being used? Ask yourself:
- What is it called?
- What does it look like?
- What materials make up the implement?
- How important is it to the spell’s success?
- Are all of the implements identical, or unique to the user?
- How is the implement wielded?
- What size is it?
- What are its limitations?
Wand movement is an important part of spell casting in Harry Potter. Moving the wand too abruptly or lazily has an impact on how successful the spell will be.
Comparatively, in NARUTO, characters often perform hand seals as a way of measuring out the amount of chakra they need to perform the technique. It’s a general rule that skilled shinobi are able to use fewer hand seals to create the same effect as they have a greater power.
What kind of movements/stances must your characters adopt to safely perform a spell? What kind of movements/stances give them the best advantages in battle?
Potions, talismans, plants, magical objects… what other kind of things do your magical characters use in order to create/concoct spells?
There are all sorts of items and weird things rumoured to have been used by witches for the act of spell-casting. This is another thing you can consider when thinking up spells; the words or names associated with these things can be good material to work with when coming up with incantations.
Phew. That’s about it. I think I might have included things you didn’t ask for, as I wanted to cover all avenues… but I really hope this helps…!
Best of luck, Anon!