I have a magic system which is based on the senses. As it stands each sense magic has its own name but my beta reader of the first draft has found the names confusing (the names are pretty terrible). Does each sense magic need its own name, or would it work saying the character used pain magic to do x,y and z? I'm concerned about having to repeat the word magic an awful lot with the second option.
I don't think they need names but I don't think names are bad either. I would suggest that if you have tons of different magic fields which are being used names may get confusing. On the other hand, if you have only a few magic fields that are being used names may be helpful. I would say that if more than 10 magic fields are used or if a magic field is only used once or twice it isn't worth naming.If there are only 3 or 4 magic fields or the field is used in most chapters then name it. These are guidelines not rules though.
The "repeat the word magic" problem can be solved based on the approach you want to take to your history or based on what fits the most in your writing style. Since I don't think there is a right answer to the question because it is up to you how to create your world here I listed some ideas:
- Describe the essence of the spell: if you want to use a hearing increasing spell, you can describe how his hearing evolves.
- I don't think that is the case, but you can use the words relative to the casting type like: enchantment, rituals, spells, incantation or charm.
- In dialog cases, a nice approach would be to create a spell like (note this quote is more like a ritual approach, but you can develop such for spells):
"I give you a claw I ripped from a rat, I give you the name and the name is lost, I give you the blood from out of my vein..." -Neil Gaiman, Sandman Overture
- Use names for some most used spells in combination with other of these ideas listed here and some of your own, note that names have a history and such history would help understand and fix the idea in the readers mind.
I would just like to add that English is not my main language and I can not tell how these ideas might be viewed in the linguistics aspect.
Here is an idea use alternative names for magic that your reader is already familiar with
Sight magic: can be called sorcery
Touch magic: can be called witchcraft
Hearing magic: Wizardry
Smell magic: the arcane
These names and similar names for Magic are different enough that they won't become repetitive and familiar enough but they won't distract the reader.
You could avoid overusing the word magic by naming spells intuitively.
Rather than stating "used pain magic to hurt the person"
You could use "cast a torture spell" or a dozen variants.
Focusing on the spell itself can be more succinct because you may not need to explain the affect. A reader would assume a "torture spell" is something that is unpleasant for the recipient. It also focuses more on what the characters are observing (someone in pain) rather than the intricacies of the magic behind it.
A clever reader would likely be able to determine which magical field a spell fits into, but perhaps not all characters would. This also gives you space for some spells that might be ambiguous as to which field they fit into, or even misleading (directing a small amount of pain in the eye could cause people to confuse it with sight magic?). This could be of particular interest if mages generally fit into a single field.
Another option is to name the magic fields with a hint as to what they refer to. For example:
"pain magic" -> "palimy"
"sight magic" -> "salimy"
"noise magic" -> "nalimy"
etc. (these aren't the best names, but you get the idea)
A naming convention can help (the "alimy" after the first letter), or keeping more of the word in the name (like "painost" for pain magic).