Realistic magic?

Isn’t that an oxymoron? Like jumbo shrimp?

Well, no. Tal Valante tells us why while guest posting on Writers Helping Writers. She points out that without rules, your magician (or wizard or shaman or what have you hero) could simply magic her desire out of thin air or destroy her opponent with a snap of their fingers.

What’s the problem with that? No obstacles, no conflict, and thus, NO STORY. Valante gives three basic principles to help you solve the problem of endless and unlimited magic:

  • Conservation of mass
  • Conservation of energy
  • Entropy (or chaos and order)

Each of these three principles is based on the laws of physics – in short, nothing can be created out of nothing (think cooking: you have to have ingredients), energy is limited (it has to come from somewhere, see rule #1), and the universe seeks to remain in its natural state (an object at rest remains at rest, yada yada yada).

While her post is short, it’s pithy. And it not only applies to magic, it applies to all kinds of forces in fantasy and science fiction – although that really boils down to magic, no matter what you call it. 🙂

One of the questions my critique partners and other beta readers had for me was always about the rules of my world. How could this happen? What were the limits of the antagonist’s power? Why didn’t the heroine just do X or Y?

Reading Valante’s post earlier on would have helped me – I knew these things, but she distilled them into a simple message that crystallized exactly what I sought.


I just read a fabulous example of the application of those principles – S. E. Grove’s The Glass Sentence. Wonderful! Reviewers are comparing it to Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and rightly so. (Though I think Pullman does a better job with characterization.) It’s a whopper of a book at 493 pages, but its richly detailed world is unique and well-imagined. Shows how much you can do with a time-honored quest plot!

We Need Diverse Books

For those of you looking to broaden your reading horizons, the New York Public Library recently posted a list of favorite diverse books compiled with the help of its Teen Advisory Group. I’ve read a few, and I’ll be reading more of these. The best part is that teens themselves recommended them. #WeNeedDiverseBooks #amreading


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