When I was in college, organic chemistry was the hardest class I had to take. It’s infamous for causing biochem majors to jump ship, and for the first half of the semester, I wasn’t sure I would survive it, either.
The number of reactions you have to learn to make it through O-chem is astronomical. Every mixture of chemical compounds is a puzzle, and you can’t figure out what the products will be unless you know how each reaction step fits into the next. Trying to cram every chemical possibility into your head, well…it’s no wonder I didn’t exactly ace that first test. Then I learned the secret.
Chemistry isn’t about memorizing every possible reaction, not any more than learning language is about memorizing every possible combination of words that can make a sentence. The players might be almost infinite, but the rules that govern them are not. Learn the rules, and the whole game is yours.
I don’t remember much about organic chemistry anymore, but I think the same principle of rules holds true when it comes to fictional world-building. Some of my favorite paranormal worlds are the ones with consistent internal laws. J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter universe, Diana Rowland’s Kara Gillian Demon Summoner series, Ilona Andrews’ Edge series: The rules that govern their universes might be subtle and complex, but they’re there, and the authors never break them. Part of the joy of sinking into these books is discovering the rules, and then using that knowledge to try and figure out what’s going to happen next. When I’m in the hands of an author I trust, I can indulge in all the joys of speculation without fearing they’ll pull a plot bunny out of a hat in the final moment.
I try to take this to heart when I’m writing my own stories. Whatever rules I create for my fictional universe, they have to hold true throughout the book—and the series. It can be a challenge when the plot wants to go one way and the rules won’t allow it, but if it were easy, I guess I wouldn’t need all of this coffee and chocolate to do it.
What are some of your favorite fictional paranormal worlds?