My wizards fight. They fight against armies and they fight against other wizards, and they fight against hordes of unnatural critters. But there’s a problem with magic. It is hard for a reader to predict what the characters are capable of. This can be good for getting a weak protagonist out of trouble, but its the ultimate Deus ex machina (i.e. Its a lazy writers way to resolve an otherwise irresolvable plot situation, to surprise the audience, to bring the tale to a happy ending.) Ultimately it is unsatisfying just to have your wizard pluck a hitherto unknown spell out of their grimoire, or to find some inner strength in the nick of time.
I wanted my readers to know the rules before the battle. I don’t want to cheat my way out of a tricky situation. If the good guy is weaker then they better have a damn good plan. My protagonists are the underdogs, but they are smart underdogs.
When my main protagonist, Sam, faces his first battle with the main antagonist, Unmind, he has no time to come up with a cunning plan. Instead, he just throws everything he has against his opponent in a predictably inefficient and ineffective manner. He only has three spells available to him and two of them are basically throwing fire. Once the spells are cast, he is just a farm boy against a seasoned warrior with bulging muscles and a massive sword.
Hit the pause button.
What would you do?
Hopefully you find the resolution satisfying. It is both unpredictable and obvious. Afterwards I hope the reader would say “That’s exactly what I’d do.”