Whenever I listen to Writing Excuses and they talk about making magic systems and worlds from mundane ideas…my brain interprets this as a challenge. So when they said in passing, “you could totally make a city or a world or a magic system centered around book-binding”…well, I bit.
My first inclination was to approach this from a D&D perspective, because magic in that world is cast through words and spell books. One could easily make “bookbinding” a literal thing, where you are actually magically binding a force or spell into a book.
In a completely unrelated conversation, when something I was about to say just vanished from my head (don’tcha hate that??)…I wondered aloud where all those thoughts go. Maybe there is an Aether of Lost Thoughts, where all Lost Thoughts go when they disappear from your head. Maybe this Aether is “hungry”, and at times will actually steal thoughts away before you can think them?
And then I thought, what if you could pluck these lost thoughts out of said Aether, and say, bind them into books?
But somehow you’d have to do this without actually thinking the thoughts, because…well, it’s not a Lost Thought anymore if someone thinks it, is it? Plus, maybe Lost Thoughts are also those thoughts that people push away because they’re too disturbing or awful or messed up to contemplate…like what you’d really like to do to that annoying relative or what sort of damage that really sharp knife could cause…stuff that kind of half passes through your head just before you mentally slap yourself. Those could be pretty dark. Spending too much time letting those kinds of Lost Thoughts pass through your head could drive you insane.
So perhaps the purpose of book binding is to get those thoughts out of the Aether without harming anyone in the process.
Then I liked the idea of drawing out Lost Thoughts with music. Perhaps there could be two classes of book-binding magical practitioners: Minders and Binders. Minders would be the ones trained to “listen” to the Aether, locate troublesome thoughts, and draw them out. Binders would be in charge of setting down onto paper what the Minders draw out. At first I thought about making a sort of music language, but that got too complicated. I think perhaps what the Binders would be doing is drawing, maybe something like Celtic knot work, complex patterns, fractals, etc. And because every Minder and every Binder is different, the music used to call and the drawings used to capture any given Thought will be wildly different, even if the Thoughts themselves were similar.
This gives the added advantage of these books not being “readable”, in the traditional sense. Random Villain X isn’t going to be able to come along and read a whole bunch of dark, dangerous thoughts out of these books…at least not easily.
Unless Random Villain X is a Minder. I imagine some Minders would eventually figure out not only how to draw out Lost Thoughts, but how to channel them into spells. And perhaps Binders can do other things…like transcribing a speech onto paper in such a way that the speaker and audience would both forget what they’ve just said and heard. Or changing memories by writing them down.
Perhaps a rivalry has built up between Minders and Binders over the years, despite the fact that they need each other in order to keep the Aether safe. That could be a starting background conflict for a story.
I have several story snippets that could be combined with this to make a story…but that’s a process that could take some time.