Tag Archives: Harry Potter

Writing Reality – Or Escaping It

A quick thought for today:

Writers write what’s real. They try to connect with some reality in the readers’ experience, and inspire emotions that complement the work they write. They try to represent the world as it truly is. That is one theory of writing’s purpose, anyway.

The problem is, reality really bites.

I wanted to improve as a writer this year. I gritted my teeth and tried to dredge up something of reality – bad experiences as well as good (though I’d be the first to admit my own real problems may barely phase anyone else.) I wrote down some stuff that for me was ‘dark.’

Then a lot of awful stuff happened in the world (some of which is obviously in the news, and some of which is just learning things about people you never wanted to know.) Then my ability to capture the true darkness in words falls so far short.

Because it’s so hard for me to face the depths of darkness. And I don’t want to do it.

Some writers can – dive into the depths of evil and show it for what it is to the world. And this is important. But is it what I – who shrinks from true evil and know its true strength is far beyond my own- am meant to do?

Then I escaped into the movie Casablanca – a fictional world which pretends to represent reality but in actuality stereotypes and simplifies it – and was drawn in. The story took me away. It ended on hope.

And now I believe there can be two types of creators/writers – those who don’t flinch from portraying problems and showing the ugliness of reality. And those writers who help escape from reality, and use fiction to remind us what it’s like to hope.

In real life, Harry Potter may’ve never escaped his cupboard. He may’ve been abused his whole young life, or been so psychologically scarred he could never function in any world. Frodo might’ve never gotten out of Mordor. Elizabeth Bennet would’ve end up penniless and husbandless, dependent on the mercy of Mr. Collins in her old age.

But, instead, these stories provide hope and escape, and show me a way to touch on reality without giving into the full terribleness of it.

 

What do you think?

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Filed under On Writing, Randoms & My Life

J.K. Rowling is Not Dead – But Why Does She Want You To Know What Harry’s Up To?

Hogwarts Coat of Arms, by Jmh2o. CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1

Hogwarts Coat of Arms, by Jmh2o. CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1

J.K. Rowling, as the infamous Rita Skeeter, wrote a follow-up to Harry Potter. Harry has a new scar. He and Ginny might be having problems. Ron’s hair is thinning, while Hermione’s hair is – still not behaving. And so on.

Heresy, you might cry. The Harry Potter series is finished. Who does this J.K. Rowling person think she is, going back and adding stuff? This is just as bad as the time she declared Ron and Hermione should’ve never gotten married, and that Harry was Hermione’s One True Pairing after all. She went and wrote a whole sappy epilogue, naming each and every one of their children, and why did she do that if it was all a mistake?

Does an author have a right to do this – this is the question.

The Stakes:

This is a legitimate argument. This is legitimate because it’s a question that faces all authors and readers – is the printed word the final word? Or can the author go back later and say she or he did it wrong, and really it all should’ve turned out completely differently? Or, most shockingly of all, should we bow to the readers, and agree that whatever the readers feel happened is what really happened, even if it’s completely delusional?

This is essential because on one hand we’ve got English teachers refusing to explain literature, and asking us what we think happened, because it’s our feelings and our mistaken understanding of whatever it was Shakespeare was really getting at that really matters… and then on the other hand we have fans endlessly hounding authors for every little detail of their fictional world. What is truth? Who gets to decide? (And doesn’t this line up with some other of our culture’s debates over truth or the lack of it?)

The Harry Potter series illuminates this dilemma perfectly, in a way perhaps no other series ever has.

My Too-Simple Solution

Take the Ron/Hermione/Harry debate. If you want to get Harry Potter fan riled up, do bring this up. I met a couple random strangers on a sunny evening in Paris, and this was a topic we debated, because we all knew about Harry Potter. And most people will take sides, as to whether the books support either pairing. But that’s not the fundamental question. The fundamental question is – can an author go back and change something she wrote down as actually having happened? In this case, say Ron and Hermione’s relationship was a mistake?

Here’s what my position was that sunny evening in Paris. Basically – what the author wrote should be it. The printed word is what the reader experiences, so a couple verbal sentences tossed off in an interview shouldn’t be able to contradict anything. Now, if the author wants to go and write another sequel, and explain how things didn’t quite turn out as well as the previous book presented them, well then, go ahead. But respect your work and stand by it otherwise.

This seemed entirely reasonable to me at the time, but now I realize it’s not quite that simple.

Modern Fiction is More Than the Printed Word

Because we don’t live in a world where our experiences are limited to the printed page anymore. It’s not a singular experience between the covers of a book, or an episode of TV viewed once, or a movie you only caught in theatres. No, nowadays our stories can be watched and re-watched, and we can compile characters lists, and lists of tropes, and make vast encyclopedias of every little detail of a work we love. And we create, most importantly, fan communities. And somehow author’s works are not mere stories, but worlds, and these world spill beyond whatever medium the story was originally told in.

Obviously, this is all thanks to the internet. And Harry Potter’s popularity has been fueled by the internet in a way few books before it ever were. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published in 1997. And during the late 1990s, traffic on the internet was growing by about a hundred percent a year. How much of that traffic was on Harry Potter fan websites and communities I’m not sure, but there was a good chunk of it that drove the fan experience.

So the readers’ experience with Harry Potter likely goes beyond the printed page. We’d debate and predict endless theories of what would happen, and view each others’ fanart, and look at fanfiction. And this runs right up against another darling literary concept, and drives this whole debate.

Killing ‘Death of the Author’

There’s a lovely little concept known as ‘death of author’ – in other words, it’s the idea that an author’s own interpretation of their work is no more valid than anyone else’s. Whatever their intentions are, it’s not important, so endless debates over the author’s intentions are meaningless. What matters is what the reader gets when reading it. Authors tend to not love this idea, of course, not in the least because in theory someone could declare what you wrote means the opposite of what you meant.

This is a concept J.K. Rowling seems to have devoted her Harry Potter series to fighting. Whether this was intentional, I’m not sure. But it’s plain as the nose on your face that she doesn’t believe in it.

Obviously, she does think she has the creative ability to add details to the story after the fact, whether it’s by announcing Dumbledore is gay, or Ron and Hermione’s relationship was a mistake, or hinting Harry and Ginny may not be completely happy. She happily feeds her fan communities the details they clamour for. And you know what? She’s always done that – she’s always extended the world of Harry Potter beyond the printed page.

Between the releases of her books, she used to post elaborate puzzles that led to clues for the new book’s title, or hold polls as to which question about the book she should answer. And then, when the series was done, she granted interviews to a couple of webmasters of incredibly popular Harry Potter websites, to fill in all the details that the series hadn’t addressed. Including, incidentally, her opinion at the time on Harry-and-Hermione (that believers in that ship were ‘delusional.’ How times change!) Lastly, she’s created Pottermore. That’s like spitting in the face of ‘death of the author.’ This author is definitely alive!

Does this give me hope? Does it give me the authority to tell readers what I really meant when I wrote those ebooks you see over to the right of my blog? You know, I suddenly find leaning towards the readers’ side. Because, come to think of it, I don’t always want to know every single details about these fictional world. And some of these details I would like to know – I’d like to experience them on the printed page, finding them out through the eyes of another character, rather than from the mouth of the author herself. That almost collapses the suspension of disbelief, injecting the reality of the author too firmly onto a fantasy. That’s not what I’m advocating for.

Oh dear, I’m going to argue for, of all things – balance. Once again. You need to leave the reader with some freedom to own their own experience in a book. But you don’t have to hand over the reins.

 

What do you think? Who should get the final say? And do agree J.K. Rowling is dealing a blow to death of the author?

 

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Filed under GENERAL Bookish Thoughts, Harry Potter

Breaking the 10 Simple Rules for Writing a Novel

Maybe check if you’ve got paper first…. (Writer John, by Onomatomedia. (Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0))

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. — W. Somerset Maugham

 Well, while surfing the net I stumbled across a lovely article advising people on how to write a novel in 2012 – you know, if that’s your New Year’s Resolution or something. And some of the advice is good. You really shouldn’t try to write a book based on what topic you think is “hot” right now (vampire novels are probably going to get stale pretty soon, by the way), or get distracted about what the “proper” way of going about writing is. But while lists like this usually bring up some decent points, there are always a couple rules that can be ignored or broken without hurting the novel too much.

For example, I’ve read numerous books that included the phrase “laughing eyes” or “warm eyes,” and have been guilty of using such phrases myself. Now, I don’t RECOMMEND you use the phrase, and I should probably re-edit several passages where I use the phrase. But I’d just like to point out that some editor probably noticed the poor author used a hackneyed phrase on page 282, and the book got published anyway. Remember, Twilight included the sentence, “He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare,” and it became a best-seller. My point is – you can’t predict this kind of stuff.

To take another example, a widely quoted review of Lord of the Rings complained both the work AND the characters were “anemic and lacking in depth.” You know how writing advice goes on and on about how you can’t have flat characters in your work? Well, as much as I love Lord of the Rings, I can’t claim the characters are the deepest things the literary establishment has ever seen. That, and the book goes through pages upon pages of description, poetry, and random characters that pop up and are never seen again. A classic? You bet.

Lastly, I’m going to mention Harry Potter. These books captivated me as a kid. I still have fond memories of them (though, sadly, I can’t love them as I once did). But some of the plot twists in them don’t exactly make much sense. The first book practically ends in a deus ex machina, just after a couple of kids get through protections that are supposed to keep the evilest wizards alive out. And the fourth book – tell me why the whole caboodle with the Triwizard Tournament really was the easiest way to get Harry to Voldemort? That’s still one of my favourite parts of the series, by the way.

So I feel better about the chunk of the list I’m planning to ignore. I’m not going to start outlining every story I write, because my mind doesn’t work that way. Shoot, I don’t even outline blog posts or university papers. I’m not going to shoe-horn a sex scene into every book just because it’s a “part of life.” And I never, ever have a title for my works till I’ve written a good part of them.

I guess my point is, readers and publishers overlook many, many faults in novels. Writers get nervous, because there’s absolutely no way to predict which faults they’re going to overlook. Perfectly reasonable, but you can’t let that stop you, and you’re never going to achieve perfection anyway. Just keep writing.

 

Ever read a novel yourself that broke all the rules but was fantastic anyway?

 

(Yes, finishing my current work-in-progress is one of my aims for 2012, but I really don’t need to finish another novel. I need to get the ones I have finished in publishable shape, and submit them. I’ve got so many stacks of writing, because apparently I find writing itself far more fun than the mundane reality of trying to get a book published. But in 2012 – who knows?)

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Filed under Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, On Writing, Twilight

Fantasy Round-up

Lately I’ve had people ask how I get inspiration when writing, and one big part of it is – reading other books! Good books show what works, what techniques are out there, and what tropes exist (obviously not for the purpose of blatant copying, that would be pointless). Bad books show what fails horribly, and gives me hope that I can at least do better than that. Since one of the genres I dabble in is fantasy, I thought I’d examine some of the ones I’ve read here.

So, after devouring Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter (no need to recommend them – there’s obviously huge names in fantasy and worth reading), I turned to the rest of the epic fantasy world in an attempt to find something just as good. Either I just got a lot more picky, or nothing could measure up, because I wasn’t really satisfied with what was out there. Feel free to disagree:

–         The Sword of Shannara: This was a lot like Lord of the Rings, except lacking something (Tolkien’s genius?). I did like some of Terry Brooks’ (the author’s) later books a bit better – The Scions of Shannara and Antrax.

–         The Belgariad: I got a little annoyed at how the plot just made the characters run from country to country mostly just for the sake of describing strange new places. I did enjoy Belgarath the Sorceror though, since it was pretty much a condensed version of the original story. I tried the Sparhawk trilogy by the same author, but it bored me and I never finished.

–         The Wheel of Time: This is a very well-known and popular series by Robert Jordan – but maybe a little too long and detailed (I know, I know, the details are why people like it). I think I reached the fifth or sixth book before giving up, and I was a little tired of the frequent mentions of naked women (???).

I found more children’s fantasy books that I enjoyed, actually.

–         Diana Wynne Jones: This is an author who’s written a wide variety of books all in the fantasy vein. She’s just got absolutely unique plots. She also mocks some of the clichés of the fantasy world, with books such as Dark Lord of Derkholm and The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. I really loved: Hexwood (somewhat dark), Howl’s Moving Castle and Archer’s Goon (absolutely unique).

–         Artemis Fowl: A very unique hero (or anti-hero, I guess), who steals fairy technology and has to defend himself (a highly original plot). I loved the first two books, and found the series petered out from there, though they are still entertaining.

I have to mention the Chronicles of Narnia here, since they were the first fantasies I ever read and are responsible for sparking my interest in the first place. Puddlegum, in The Silver Chair, is great.

Note: I haven’t posted any of my fantasy writing up here, but maybe that’ll change. 🙂

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Filed under Misc. Books