Wordy Wednesday: Make Those Suckers Cry

Hello from Tuesday! My programme’s taking us all to Wales for the next few days, so I’m writing this post while packing and trying to figure out what exactly counts as “fashionably late” for Bar Night. (The college is currently hosting two things: a service in the chapel for visitors and a party in the bar for students. This is clearly a good combination.)

Anyway: life here at Oxford has fallen into a bit of a routine, with afternoon tea when it’s someone’s birthday, overly excited trips to Blackwells when we need new books for class, and punting whenever it’s not too hot but also not too rainy (a weather condition it is difficult to come by).

Saturday, after getting back from Harrogate, some of us got Thai food for lunch and saw Boyhood at the Phoenix Picturehouse in the evening. Sunday we went on an Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland-themed walking tour of the city and I wrote a paper about the importance of hobbits in Middle Earth. Then Monday was classes and one of our formal Monday night dinners (complete with croquet and champagne), and today I went to class (where we discussed Christianity and linguistics in Tolkien’s work), had cream tea with about half the programme to celebrate a birthday, and bought Christmas gifts for my CPs. And now, in a moment, I’m off to Bar Night.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is another writing process post based off stuff we talked about in class. (Ish. Not as much as last week. But, ya know, I needed a way to intro this and all that.)

Warning: Harry Potter, Divergent, Hunger Games, Random Middle Grade Books, and Lauren Oliver Books in General spoilers abound.

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In real life, I literally will not hurt a fly if I can help it. In fiction, if a story (minus light, feel good stuff) doesn’t deliver at least one good character death, I AM NOT HAVING IT.

This is less because I enjoy my favorite characters suffering as much as that I am a masochist when it comes to my reading experience. I want to feel something. I want to laugh, I want to Feel the Awk, I want my heart to pound, I want my hear to stop, I want to accidentally “Awww!” in public, and yes: I want to cry.

Character deaths can be useful in accomplishing about half of these. I’ll let you take bets on which ones.

This is because different types of character deaths exist. Not, like: the antagonist poisoned one character and another died from a natural illness. (Although, of course, that’s also a thing.) It’s more like you can write deaths in different ways to accomplish different effects.

1. The Shocking Death

Unless a character already has a death sentence on his head (cancer, prophecy, etc.), chances are his death is going to be unexpected to the reader. This is why a character death will seem so much worse the first read through than in subsequent rereads.

Shock is an easy emotion to instill in a reader. You literally need only pull the death out of “seemingly” nowhere. JK Rowling used this type of character death frequently throughout the Harry Potter series. Basically: her character deaths worked essentially as plot twists, with only side focuses put on them for character development and to add momentum to the plot.

Unfortunately, putting your largest emotional focus for a death on its shock value makes it less emotional for a reader who knows it’s coming. (Story time: I didn’t read any of the Harry Potter books until several years after Deathly Hallows had come out, so I already knew about all the deaths and they didn’t affect me a ton. Except one. NOBODY. WARNED. ME. HEDWIG WAS GOING TO BITE IT. I have never cried so hard for a fictional owl.)

2. The “Pity the Living” Death

(I’m giving up on not making absolutely everything a Harry Potter reference from here ’til the end of time. Sorry not sorry.)

This is the type of death in which you draw the reader’s focus away from the actual tragedy of death itself and instead place the focus on the survivors. These are the characters left behind; the ones who must now grieve; the ones who must keep going despite what’s just occurred.

A solid example of this comes from Divergent, in which Tris’s mother sacrifices herself for Tris–but directly afterward, Tris has to keep moving and fighting. She has no chance to properly think through what’s happened or grieve. It’s the type of death that makes you feel more sympathetic towards, and worse for, those left behind than those who’ve done the leaving.

3. The Unfair Death

This is the death where the character has done so much and tried so hard to save herself, but she dies anyway. Or someone else has been trying hard to keep him alive. Or she had so much more to potentially give the world. Or he quite simply didn’t deserve to die in the manner that he did.

Suzanne Collins does this type BRILLIANTLY in Mockingjay, when the rebels kill Prim. The entire reason that the plots of all three books in that trilogy exist is that Katniss wants nothing more than to protect her sister. Then, in the end, what it takes to end the conflict–what would finally make the world safe for her sister–is her sister dying.

4. The Accidental Death

This is similar to the Shocking Death, but different in the fact that it’s random. I feel like a Shocking Death generally involves an opponent of some kind. Maybe your character’s in a battle or she’s been duking it out with her arch nemesis. An accidental death, on the other hand, is something that just happens to happen. He steps into the street without looking or there’s a peanut in her salad. It’s a reminder to the reader that life is fragile and anything at all can happen.

This type of death presents itself a lot more in stories for younger readers, I’ve noticed. Primarily middle grade and chapter books. Good examples come from Walk Two Moons and A Taste of Blackberries.

5. The Sacrificial Death

This is my favorite type of character death. It’s the one in which the character goes into a dangerous situation knowing she won’t be coming back back–knowing she doesn’t necessarily NEED to do it, only someone else will get hurt if she doesn’t–but she does anyway. Lauren Oliver does this beautifully in both Before I Fall and Delirium. There’s just something so beautiful and haunting and intriguing about sacrifice.

Of course, all character deaths have some amount of each of these elements mixed in, but when writing a death, it’s generally a good idea to have an idea for the type of emotional response you’d like to evoke in the reader.

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What types of character deaths have you noticed? What types make you react the most? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia

Story Time: I MET JK ROWLING

Friday I pulled on the dress that had been hanging in the corner of my dorm room for the past several days and slid my feet into my favorite, battered pair of grey Converse. I applied my mascara with extra care while my hair hung damp against my shoulders, fresh from a hurried shower.

I wished I’d remembered to paint my nails. I chugged a cup of English breakfast tea. I stuffed Fellowship of the Ring (my current reading for class) in one pocket of my backpack and my bright pink umbrella (because English weather) in another.

Then, I carefully lifted my stiff, freshly-purchased copy of crime writer Robert Galbraith’s new novel The Silkworm from my shelf. I slipped a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone atop it and placed them in the nest I’d made in the main pocket of my backpack with my pajama shorts and a V-neck. I slipped a cardigan over them, careful to tuck it around the corners.

I locked my door behind me and, with it, left my own personal Hogwarts—Oxford—for Harrogate.

Harrogate is a spa town in northern England known for a café called Betty’s and the fact that they play host to approximately a thousand and one festivals per year. (This number has not been scientifically verified, but I’m sure it’s accurate).

The current festival is the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival. And Robert Galbraith—pseudonym for the already rather pseudonymous JK Rowling—was scheduled to appear “in conversation” with Val McDermid Friday evening.IMG_4601

Tickets for the event had gone on sale back in March, two days after Hannah and I were supposed to find out if we’d been accepted to study at Oxford for the summer or not. Only our programme had gotten behind with their decisions, so we had to take a leap of faith in choosing to try to get tickets.

I got up at four AM that Monday and bundled myself in a massive fleece blanket on my futon. Fingers trembling with nerves, I called the box office number via Skype the second the tickets went on sale—only to get a busy tone and have the call hang up. Same story the second time. And the third. And the fourth.

Heart doing its best to thump its way out of my body, palms sweating and the most creative swear words known to man racing through my mind, I called endlessly until finally (FINALLY) ringing echoed through my laptop speakers.

Then I punched the air. And I purchased two tickets to see JK Rowling from a very kind English woman who seemed confused as to why an American was trying to get to an event in England. Then I freaked out alone in my room, because at that point it was still only like five thirty in the morning and Hannah (like all sane human beings that side of the Atlantic) was still asleep.

But I had two tickets. For me and one of my best friends. TO SEE JK ROWLING.

If only Oxford would get around to telling us whether or not we’d be spending the summer there.

Over the course of the next couple weeks, I spazzed almost nonstop about the fact that I’d maybe/hopefully/probably/maybe not/but maybe yes/but maybe not/but maybe YES be seeing my idol live in July. And, thank God, Oxford did eventually accept the two of us.

So Hannah and I freaked out some more, and made plans and booked train tickets, and then finally there we were: Harrogate, England. Sitting on the steps of the Royal Hall, reading The Silkworm while the author did whatever Joanne Murray does when she’s not actively being either JK Rowling or Robert Galbraith.

IMG_4603We were first in line to pick up our tickets from Will Call when the doors to the building opened at six thirty, which left us a half hour to kill (Get it? Kill? Like crime fiction? I’m so punny) before the auditorium itself opened to audience members.

We drank massive glasses of ice water and Diet Coke while giving our bladders pep talks to hold out ’til the end of the night. Under our breaths we sang “Tomorrow” from Annie and “Goin’ Back to Hogwarts” from A Very Potter Musical. We snapped awkward selfies and commented on how diverse the people streaming around us were, in both age and dress.

IMG_4606Then the doors opened and we found we weren’t just going to see JK Rowling; we were going to see her from the ground floor—towards the FRONT of the Grand Circle (comprising the back half of the seats), even.

We settled in and snapped more pictures. Hannah and I alternated between me shrieking, “Hey, Hannah. JK ROWLING IS IN THE SAME BUILDING AS US RIGHT NOW,” and her moaning, “Julia. I CAN’T BREATHE.”

They closed the doors. “Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, it’s happening.” I glanced between Hannah and the stage. Hannah. The stage. “IT’S ACTUALLY HAPPENING.”

“I. CAN’T. BREATHE,” Hannah wailed.

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Val McDermid came out. She made the audience laugh and applaud and hold our breaths. Then, almost as if she were trying to shock us all into cardiac arrest with the suddenness of it, she proclaimed, “Please welcome to the stage: JK Rowling, or Robert Galbraith!”

A stiletto appeared from behind the curtain, followed by a long leg clothed in the most fashionable of pantsuits ever worn (Rowling’s “Robert Galbraith” attire).

And, probably to no one’s surprise but my own, I burst into tears.

I’m not a crier. I’ve met some of my favorite authors before. I’ve talked with Veronica Roth and had my picture taken with Ally Carter; I’ve emailed with Lauren Oliver and watched Rick Riordan on a panel from the first row.

But as much as I adore those authors, none have shaped my life, and the lives of those around me, as much as JK Rowling. And it just seemed so incredible in that moment that she existed, she actually existed, and she was real and alive and a human being living in the same world and time as I was. This woman who has done so much for all of us.

It was like seeing Shakespeare or Jesus. (Okay, not Jesus, but you get the point.)

“Hannah,” I whimpered, leaning towards her and pinching the bridge of my nose. “Hannah, I am literally crying.”

“Julia,” she replied, “I AM TOO.”

A glance around the audience revealed we were not the only ones. JK Rowling probably would have gotten a standing ovation just for being in the same room as all of us if it weren’t for the fact we were all too overcome with emotion to successfully balance on two feet and clap at the same time. (Even clapping was difficult with the way I kept needing to wipe my eyes.)

The conversation between Rowling and McDermid began. Rowling poured water for both of them. They bounced snarky one liners and endearing praise off one another. McDermid told the story of how her publisher had sent her The Cuckoo’s Calling in hopes of getting a review off her to feature on the cover—since they needed a way to get people to read this random debut author’s work—and Rowling laughed about how she’d had to send a thank you letter as Galbraith, which was difficult since the two of them are good friends. (She sent a second thank you letter as herself after the news of her identity broke a couple months later.)

Rowling admitted she hasn’t read widely in fantasy, but has been reading crime pretty much her entire life and she’s a big fan of the classics. She referenced the TARDIS in comparison of something (I wish I could remember what) and Hannah and I looked at each other and FLIPPED. OUT. She spoke on length about her writing process; how she must research and plan everything in excruciating detail in order to be able to get words on the page. How she’d wanted to write crime fiction for ages, but needed the proper plots and characters to come to her.

When the Cormoran Strike series did come to her, it was with the plot of the second book—The Silkworm—which she called the most complexly-plotted novel she’s ever written. The first bit she thought of was the opening of Chapter Forty Eight (which I am now dying to read).

She told us how she wrote The Cuckoo’s Calling first because she wanted to introduce Strike’s world in simpler terms than would have been necessary with The Silkworm. She talked about how she’s already halfway done writing Book 3 and halfway through plotting Book Four, and while she does have a loose plan for the Cormoran Strike series, she does not know how many books she’ll write, except that she would like to keep writing them until she no longer physically can.

One of my favorite parts of the conversation was a story she told in which she was researching the café in the opening chapter of The Silkworm in London. She wanted Strike to order the Full English Breakfast but she wasn’t entirely positive what that would entail at the café, so she dragged her husband there and made him order it while she quietly took notes from across the table.

In the middle of this, a man barreled through the door and shouted, “I’ve just heard JK Rowling is writing in here!” He glanced around the café at the startled diners, grinning like a mad man. His eyes landed RIGHT. ON. HER. as he said, “But I wouldn’t recognize her if I saw her anyway.” Then he walked right out again and no one ever realized it was her (MUCH to her and her husband’s relief).

The conversation was wonderful. They told jokes about each other and talked about their inspirations and favorite books. At one point while Rowling and McDermid were talking, I became aware of the weight of the book in my lap. It was so incredibly heavy; a pleasant sort of pressure. I glanced down at The Silkworm and traced the title with my pointer finger.

JK Rowling was right there, in front of me. Maybe one hundred feet away. And I was holding her words, and so much had changed since I’d first heard of the Boy Who Lived, and it was absolute insanity.

I closed my eyes and tried to memorize every detail of that moment. The weight of the words and the way JK Rowling was laughing at something Val McDermid had said and how my soft cotton dress brushed against my legs. The heat of all the bodies around me and Hannah watching the stage so intently and the glow from the half-closed laptop of the woman sitting two to my right. The ornate decorations that made up every surface of the theatre and my heartbeat at my throat.

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Hannah confessed afterward that she had actually, literally forgotten to breathe at several points while Rowling was on stage.

The conversation ended with another round of crazy applause as Rowling strode off stage right, waving to the audience. Then they told us that if we stayed in our seats, we’d have the opportunity to meet her in a bit and get our books signed.

“Julia,” Hannah said, right on cue. “I CAN’T BREATHE.”

While we waited for our row to get called to join the queue for the signing, a Theakstons employee came around with little holographic stickers, placing them in each of the books opposite the page Rowling would be signing.

“What’s that for?” a woman sitting to my left asked.

“It proves this is a genuine JK Rowling signature,” the employee replied.

I ran a finger over the sticker in my own copy of The Silkworm. My heart pounded in my ears. I resisted the urge to cry AGAIN.

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Soon enough, it was Hannah and my turn to join the queue. I hopped from foot to foot as we waited, and attempted to get a picture with Rowling in it at the other end. (I failed at this endeavor, because I’m pretty sure there are house elves who are taller than me and we were never allowed to take pictures while we were within Sane Picture-Taking Distances of her, including during the conversation.)

(But still. Rowling is SOMEWHERE at the other end of the photo below.)

IMG_4622Just like it had seemed sudden when Val McDermid had brought Rowling on stage for the conversation, it was almost too soon when I found myself handing my book to the Theakstons employee standing at the head of the queue—then stepped in front of Queen Rowling herself.

Because I am an absolutely brilliant human being, I hadn’t been able to settle on what to say beforehand, despite the months I had to prepare. It’d just never seemed quite like it was actually, really, truly going to happen. (Plus, I figured I only had a few seconds and there was nothing I could say she hadn’t heard before.)

At the least, I figured I should be able to manage a grateful, “Harry Potter changed my life,” or, “You’re my idol.” Something cliché but meaningful.

Nope.

Out of nowhere I was standing before her and she was signing my book and my time was almost up and I couldn’t get over the fact that JK ROWLING WAS HOLDING, AND TOUCHING, AND SIGNING MY BOOK, and my mouth fell open and I had to say something—and I gasped out without thinking, “Thank you so much for writing… so many… great… books…!?”

Like it was a question. Like she was just any old writer. Like her books were just “great,” the way I also regularly describe naps and pizza.

Bless her heart: JK Rowling met my eye and smiled and said, “Thank you!” as if this was totally original (you know, in a good way) and actually a worthy way of putting what she’s done for my generation.

I grinned and nodded dumbly. I was numb to my fingertips.

Then I shuffled out of the way as Hannah moved into place before her and I let the Theakstons employees guide me from the table. But I kept glancing back, glancing back, as the woman who had shaped so much of so many people’s lives fell further away.

A moment later Hannah joined me at a small table set off to the side towards the other end of the queue, and we stared at my copy of The Silkworm. A lump hardened in my throat at the thought of touching it.

IMG_4625We cried a little, and hyperventilated a lot, then hurried out of the Royal Hall before we could make even bigger fools of ourselves.

Except, of course, that’s impossible after meeting JK Freaking Rowling, so out on the street my shock seemed to finally start to wear off—at which point I began laughing hysterically and couldn’t stop for like thirty minutes, until we were all the way on the other side of Harrogate’s town center, searching out a restaurant because we were STARVED, and the two of us had convinced everyone else in town we were lunatics.

While we scarfed our pizza, Hannah and I alternated between recounting the evening again and again, laughing and crying and generally freaking out, and sitting quietly in the fading glow of all that had occurred. We couldn’t get over how beautiful and smart and kind Rowling was. You get that a little from a distance, through interviews and on the page, but you don’t realize quite how incredible a person she is until you meet her. She is truly, fully deserving of all her success. And I am so glad she is the one who shaped so much about our generation.

When we got back to the amazing airbnb place we were staying at (seriously, check it out if you’re ever in Harrogate), we continued to freak out to anyone who would listen (primarily my mom, who had the misfortune of picking up my Facetime call), then decided to reread some Harry Potter before sleeping.

Lying there with a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone open before me, rereading Harry’s beginnings and remembering the first time my gaze had traced over those words, my eyes burned and filled with tears yet again.

To put it simply: JK Rowling broke me.

But I smiled as I drifted off to sleep, dreaming of Butterbeer and Quidditch. And that was the day I met JK Rowling.

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~Julia

PS. Crime author Sarah Hilary happened to be staying at the same airbnb place as us and we got to talk with her over breakfast, Saturday morning. She’s super nice and I can’t wait to read her debut novel! It’s called Someone Else’s Skin and sounds amazing. Check it out.

I Am Not Beautiful

Currently, a tag is going around Facebook in which a friend challenges you to post five pictures of yourself that make you feel beautiful, then tag five more friends to take part. I’ve been watching this make its rounds for the past week or so with the knowledge that it would inevitably, eventually find its way to my timeline.

I glanced over the photos friends had tagged me in to see if I was pretty enough in any of them. I scrolled through the snapshots on my iPhone, from London and Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon.

None of them were quite right. My bangs were sticking to my obnoxiously high forehead in one; my eyeliner had smudged in another. This one showed off my too-big teeth and that one upon closer inspection was nothing but an advertisement about the never-ending invasion of zits across my face.

I dreaded the day someone challenged me, because it was embarrassing. No one wanted to see me post five pictures that made me feel beautiful. I didn’t deserve it. I was trash. No one would like the collage and it would sit awkwardly on my timeline above the photo of my signed book from meeting JK Rowling with its one hundred+ likes (because only the heartless don’t like JK Rowling).

Then, sure enough, yesterday Facebook sent me the notification that a friend had completed the tag and I was next.

I stared at my laptop screen. I wasn’t going to pass up the challenge, because that might be even worse than not completing it—who knew whether it was better to let others know I was aware I was not beautiful or to make them believe I was clinging to some inane hope that I might be.

I ran a hand through my always-knotted hair. I pressed my palm against my greasy forehead.

I decided to complete the challenge as quickly as possible. Like ripping off a Band-Aid, maybe it would be slightly less painful (and awkward) if I put the collage of photos up right away. No thinking too much or second-guessing every zit and misplaced hair.

So I clicked over to the photos I was tagged in and began searching again.

I chose the pictures carefully, in hopes of making a statement about beauty. Maybe not one others would notice, but one I would be aware of: that beauty is not necessarily about the state of your skin or how well you’re smiling, but about how you feel in the moment and the things you do that make you feel empowered, and happy, and alive. Because choosing photos about traditional beauty was definitely out and I had to get through the tag somehow.

I chose a selfie in which three of my friends and I are crowded together on the lawn at a OneRepublic concert this summer. The mud’s seeping through our blankets, staining our shorts, and our cheeks are red from the heat. One friend is sticking her tongue out. We all burst out laughing the moment we put the iPhone down.

The next photo is a group shot from a formal dinner last week here at Oxford. We’re all in the type of nice dresses you wear to cocktail hours and the theatre, holding glasses of champagne (or apple juice for us non-alcohol drinkers) while our heels sink into the lawn. Great white clusters of flowers sway in the breeze behind us and the gorgeous old walls of our college close us in, keep us safe, create in this place and moment our own private world. We are classy and young and eternal. We are the luckiest people in the world.

Another photo is of me looking down at a birthday cake and laughing with one of BD’s Mongolian Grill’s infamous tin foil hats shoving my bangs haphazard across my forehead. My face is lit with the glow from the candles. Not visible in the picture is the way my family’s gathered around me, full from a good meal and healthy and happy and laughing: the best birthday present anyone can ask for.

Another is a selfie of me and my best friend at Panera last summer. My hair’s a mess and it’s overexposed, but my eyes are really blue and said best friend looks adorable. We took the photo because we were happy there. We wanted to remember.

The last is after my final show senior year of high school, Urinetown, in which I played Little Sally. I’m in costume, smudges of brown makeup, mimicking dirt, covering all my exposed skin and a good deal of my clothing, with my hair up in ratted, sweaty pigtails. I was exhausted and sick and had been crying irrationally a few minutes earlier from it being closing night, but I had also just killed it on stage and I was in the midst of signing a program for my dad (because he’s made me sign one after every performance for as long as I can remember) and I was so, so happy. And sad. And happy.

And I realized as I went that these are the photos that make me feel beautiful. They aren’t the shots my brother’s taken with his professional camera—the ones where my hair’s doing what it’s supposed to and the lighting’s just right. They aren’t the shots in which I’m made up to like an old Hollywood star for prom or I’ve smiled on cue in a studio.

They are the photos in which I’m with people I love, because they are beautiful—through and through—and being around them makes me feel beautiful. They are from doing things I love, and seeing the payoff from working hard, and knowing so firmly in a moment that this is what happiness feels like, and this is what you should strive for in life, and it does not get better than this and that is a perfectly acceptable thing.

I am not “beautiful.” My forehead is too high and wide. My eyes are a non-color and too squinty and different shapes—left smaller than the right. My teeth are too big and yellow. My left eyebrow never seems to know what it’s doing and I will never give up war on the cowlick right in the middle of my hairline. I have been in a constant state of breakout for years.

My legs are too short and my feet turn in. I am flat-chested and my neck would make a giraffe jealous.

I could go on and on about all the things I despise about myself, both outwardly and inwardly.

But the challenge did not ask for photos in which I was beautiful, of which there are none. It asked for photos in which I felt beautiful.

And honestly, it was difficult to limit myself to these five.

And maybe I didn’t get as many likes on the collage as my prettier and more outgoing friends. But I did get a few, which is great. And even if I hadn’t, it wouldn’t have mattered, because the challenge didn’t ask for pictures others would find me beautiful in. It only asked about me.

This is the brilliance of the Facebook tag. It seems simple enough at first: share the five photos in which you are prettiest. But this surface meaning falls away when you look closer at the words. Completing the tag is not a statement of confidence in your own beauty, but in your ability to feel worthwhile and happy and kind.

We might not all be beautiful in the traditional sense, but we can all feel beautiful.

And maybe I still want someone to tell me I am beautiful—to compliment my figure and eyes. To tell me they wouldn’t change a single thing about my appearance or personality.

That’s okay. It’s okay to want something it is not yours to have.

But it’s also okay to be happy with what you do have, no matter how flawed. And I am happy with my greasy skin since (supposedly) it’ll keep me looking young. I am happy with my flat chest when I want to go running and I don’t have to change into a sports bra. And I am even happy with my stubby legs, because they make sitting on a cramped airplane, you know, actually bearable.

I am happy. I feel beautiful. I am happy.

I would like a picture of this moment.

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: The Guiding Figure

It is currently 12:05 AM my time and my programme just got back from spending the day in Stratford-upon-Avon. (Well, most the day. We didn’t leave until like 2:00 PM, so first a group of us went to the Grand Cafe for cream tea, which was obviously touristy and delicious.)

In Stratford-upon-Avon, we got really nasty fake butterbeer at a shady off-brand Harry Potter/Doctor Who-themed store by Shakespeare’s Birthplace, then toured Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, sorta visited Shakespeare’s Grave (we reached it after the church had closed for the day, but we still walked around the grounds a bit), grabbed dinner across from the Thames, then finally saw the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Two Gentlemen of Verona (which was excellent).

All this to say: I’m sorry I’m posting technically on Thursday yet againnn, but Wednesdays are crazy here. I love them. But they’re crazy.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

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In class Tuesday, we were discussing the different elements of the medieval journey narrative when we stumbled across the role of what our professor called the “Guiding Figure.” Because we’re studying the Inklings, the immediate examples we talked about were Gandalf and Aslan. Basically: the Guiding Figure is there to keep the protagonist on course throughout his or her journey, both outwardly (the physical journey) and inwardly (the character development). So, for example, Aslan guides the Pevensies across Narnia in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe while teaching them Important Life Lessons along the way.

The goal was to discuss the Guiding Figure’s role in only the medieval journey narrative, but of course the trope appears in more types of stories than just that–especially coming-of-age ones (so basically All Young Adult Fiction Ever).

The interesting thing about the Guiding Figure in YA is that s/he’s general not some wizened old wizard who is special purely for being a wizard or, you know, God in lion form. Instead, the Guiding Figure almost always manifests itself in an honest-to-goodness teacher.

This works well in YA, because most YA protagonists are in some sort of situation an older character has already survived and returned to for the pure sake of helping out the new generation, whether it be high school or the Hunger Games. The job of the teacher is to impart wisdom on his/her pupils. Got some life lessons to share amongst all those geometry problems and history texts and hand-to-hand combat strategies? Boom. Guiding Figure.

The Guiding Figure role can be a fun one to fill, because you get kind of an Auto Beloved character out of it. Who doesn’t love Dumbledore’s rambling speeches or Haymitch’s drunken insults-laced-with-advice. Everyone remembers Gandalf and Aslan.

But it’s also a sad role, which was something we discussed in class I’d never thought through before. Because, eventually, the Guiding Figure has to go away.

The journey (whether it be YA or the medieval sort) is not his/hers. It’s the protagonist’s. And in order for the protagonist to fulfill the unwritten contract that is Your Protagonist Must Develop Over the Course of the Story*, the Guiding Figure has to stop being an active influence.

Eventually, they have to stop telling stories. Stop giving advice. Stop leading the way. Then, it’s up to the protagonist to prove that s/he truly learned the lessons taught.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Aslan dies on the Stone Table and it is up to Lucy and Susan to understand his lessons of love, sacrifice, and hope in order to bring him back. In practically all the Harry Potter books, Dumbledore must be otherwise occupied at the point of the climax in order to allow Harry the freedom to exercise the lessons he’s learned and prove his worthiness in learning them in order to defeat whichever annoying, magical being he’s up against this time.

And in the greater arc of the Harry Potter series itself, Dumbledore must die–not because Voldemort’s assigned Draco to or he’s gone and gotten himself cursed anyway, but because Harry must learn to face the world completely torn loose from his Guiding Figure in order to gain the distance to finally make the decisions concerning his own values necessary to defeat Voldemort.

Like in real life, when you eventually have to leave the safe environment that is high school and your childhood home and the friends you’ve known since you were born (you know, if we’re living the same life) in order to grow and figure out who you truly are–away from those assumptions and expectations and safety nets,–eventually Harry must also leave Dumbledore behind. Katniss must leave Haymitch. Lucy must leave Aslan and Frodo must leave Gandalf.

And like when the system shoves you out of high school into the big scary world that is either Holy Crap I’m in College or Even Holier Crap I’m in the Workforce, it’s almost always involuntary within the context of the story. Just something that happens. It’s painful and the protag is not happy to be testing his/her wings. But those are growing pains. The protag will learn to fly.

So where does that leave the Guiding Figure?

Generally: either dead or in a position much more frustrating (and boring) than the protagonist’s.

The Guiding Figure is there every step of the way along the journey, then has to step back and watch everything unfold from a distance when it comes time for the climax. S/he has to watch his/her pupil get hurt, contemplate giving up, experience all manners of traumas. S/he has to simply stand there and hope that the lessons sunk in, s/he’s prepared the protag enough, and things will turn out in favor of their side of whatever conflict the story’s about.

So it’s a sad role.

But it’s a bittersweet sort of sad.

As part of a novel I worked on back around sophomore year of high school, I wrote a letter from the founder (Petra) of the Super Secret Spy School (Petra’s Driving School) my protag (Nora) attended, explaining the concept of being the founder of something.

Being a founder is really similar to being a teacher. They’re both types of Guiding Figures. In the letter, Petra explains that “the founder’s legacy lives on not in being the best, but in providing those who follow with the ability … to be better.”

When the protagonist does succeed in saving the world, it is with the knowledge that it wouldn’t have been possible without the Guiding Figure’s help. And the Guiding Figure knows that all the love and hard work s/he poured into the protagonist has paid off (you know, as long as the Guiding Figure has actually managed to cling to his/her life until this point, because for SOME REASON authors have a tendency of liking the clean cut that comes with murdering their Guiding Figures I’M LOOKING AT YOU JK ROWLING).

A teacher doesn’t take up that position with the hope of earning fame and glory. S/he does it with the hope of inspiring others to earn those things.

And generally, like in the case of Harry Potter, a Guiding Figure’s already had his/her own share of adventures by the time the protagonist comes around. Now it’s just a matter of passing those lessons along and guiding the next generation the next step up the path.

After all, as Dumbledore says in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, “It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.” And as the Guiding Figure of Harry, Dumbledore is able to guide the Boy Who Lived to the sort of conclusion that leaves Harry able to be a Guiding Figure for the next generation. Who will guide the next. And the next.

**********

Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia

PS. Sorry if this is super long and rambly. I’m exhausted. I’ve now been writing this on and off for four hours now. I’m not even sure if I’m still writing in English. I am terrified of reading this in the morning.

*Sorry I’m giving so many things Important Capitalized Titles in this post. (In my defense, it is now going on three in the morning and I’m actively using half my brain to resist the urge to make tea, since the only kind I have in my room has caffeine. So basically this is the Extent of My Writing Abilities at the moment.)

OH PPS. I FORGOT TO MENTION THAT I AM SEEING JK ROWLING ON FRIDAY DIDN’T I OMG SOMEBODY HOLD ME. (<–Also, grammar. That is another thing I have forgotten.)

This Is Home

I just got back from spending the weekend in London! Saturday we “saw” the Changing of the Guard (far too many people there to truly see much), walked around, made a stop at St. Paul’s Cathedral, then saw Once at the West End (which was INCREDIBLE; I can’t even with the concept and music and EVERYTHING).

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Sunday we toured the Tower of London, walked along the Thames, toured the Globe, and watched the World Cup Final at a pub full of very passionate Argentina fans (while quietly rooting for Germany HECK YEAHHH).

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We then caught the bus home and actually made it back with enough time to get a few hours’ sleep before needing to be up to work on homework and go to class Monday morning.

Basically: I am in awe of the fact that I currently live close enough to London to just pop over whenever I feel like it. (I may also be about to spend way too much money going to West End shows every chance I get.) (Like I just dropped over fifty pounds on a ticket to Shakespeare’s Richard III with Martin Freeman and I am not at all sorry.)

It was funny, on the bus ride home, because I fell asleep while we were still in London and when I rubbed my contacts back into focus upon waking, it was as we pulled into Oxford. And even though I’ve only been here a week, I absentmindedly pressed my forehead to the double decker bus’s cool window and smiled as High Street smudged past, because I was home.

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I spent my entire childhood in one city, so I never realized how multiple places can feel like home at once. But as I’ve seen more places and spent more time in them, more and more have begun feeling like home as well. So now it’s not just the house I grew up in, in the middle of the Michigan suburbs, but also a vacation rental in Orlando, and a dorm room in Ann Arbor, and the streets of Chicago and New York. It’s walking beside the Thames and writing this blog post in a dorm room with a dove cooing in the fireplace behind me.

It’s playing cards in the Eagle & Child and punting under the Magdalen Bridge. It’s ogling all the gorgeous old buildings and complaining about the wifi. It’s staying up too late because this dorm room is too big and quiet, and rolling my eyes at the tourists even though I was one of them just a year ago. It’s drinking a thousand cups of tea a day and having the first The Hobbit movie open in another window as I write this post (because even though it’s nothing like the book, hopefully it’ll help me a little with the paper I have to write about Middle Earth).

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It’s missing my hometown and dog and friends and family every hour of the day, but missing this place every hour I am away from it as well. It is knowing I will have a warm bed and peace and quiet to return to after adventures.

It is being so in love with a city it hurts, because you know you will have to leave but a part of you is already so tied to it, you’ll have to cut that part free to be able to leave at all. It is belonging to so many cities and people it seems impossible you will ever be whole again, but also comforting to know you will always have a place in another one when you need somewhere else to go. And you can always come back.

It’s dreaming of coming back before you’ve left.

My hometown. A vacation rental in Orlando. A dorm room in Ann Arbor. The streets of Chicago and New York.

Oxford. Oxford. Everything about Oxford.

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This is home.

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Old Lipstick

I HAVE INTERNET ACCESS ON MY LAPTOP! After spending basically every free moment since I arrived Saturday at Oxford struggling to find a USB to Ethernet adapter, I’ve finally got one. And it is beautiful.

The last time I had internet access on something with a halfway decent keyboard was two weeks ago yesterday, back in the bowels of the Michigan suburbs, USA. Now I’m sitting in a fancy schmancy dorm room at a beautiful college at Oxford University, Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom, EUROPE. Obviously: a lot has happened since I last wrote a Wordy Wednesday.

I’ve been to Amsterdam, and Paris, and London. I’ve eaten all manners of food, and met all sorts of awesome people, and gotten sick in a country where I didn’t speak the language, and climbed the Arc de Triomphe, and saw Anne Frank’s house, and visited a fake Van Gogh museum, and ate tons of really delicious French bread, and basically ALL THE THINGS. Today our program took all of us out to Winchester and Chawton to see where Jane Austen is buried, and where she died, and where she lived, and also–oh yeah–supposedly the Great Hall that used to house THE Round Table.

And it has been incredible. And lovely. And as much as I miss my family and friends and home, I’m also really going to miss Europe when I go back to the States at the end of August. (Considering going to grad school now literally just so I can come back to Oxford for longer than a month.)

I have so many pictures and stories to share, but right now, it’s after midnight for me and I’ve got a couple books to read and a paper to write and some places to explore before I leave for this weekend’s trip (back to London!)–so: sorry, but my gushing with specific details is going to have to wait for another post. (SERIOUSLY THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR BEING SO UNDERSTANDING ABOUT THE WONKY POSTING THE PAST FEW WEEKS!)

In the meantime, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a poem I wrote while cleaning out my bathroom drawers at the beginning of the summer.

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The taste like chalk,

consistency rubbery dry;

color orange-red, vibrant.

Dance recitals, ten years,

and stage lights baking it

to my lips.

Tube of cheap grey plastic,

clear rectangular top;

name written in careful thin tip

Sharpie by Mom’s careful hand

at the base, a side per part.

And now the lipstick twisted

from its tube, naked

on a Kleenex on my

milky pink counter,

and the last application

on my lips, tongue;

smudgy and strong

in my nose.

Close my eyes and the bathroom

lights are stage lights;

five years old,

the beginning of the show–

it’s long over now.

Time for a new tube, color, flavor

of lipstick.

Wash it from my hands

and stare in the mirror

at my lips and the twenty-year-old

behind them.

A ballerina somewhere in there.

**********

Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia

Because Dreams Do Come True

So I’m going to attempt to type this on my phone, which is awkwardly plugged into a converter plugged into a plug strip tucked between my mini fridge and massive desk, because I do not currently have internet in my dorm room, but Vodafone gave me free unlimited data for the next couple days as thanks for buying my UK SIM card through them. So yeah. Bear with me, here.

We made it safely through our stays in Amsterdam, Paris, and London (although the Parisians did give me a nasty cold–probably as thanks for my lack of ability to even pronounce, “Do you speak English?” properly). Now, we’ve arrived at our home base for the summer: Oxford!!!

Everything is gorgeous here. The buildings, nature, accents. I can’t get over the fact that THIS IS MY HOME AND SCHOOL FOR THE NEXT FIVE WEEKS. I keep thinking how it was only a little over a year ago that I came to Oxford for the first time and fell in love and promised myself I would come back someday. And it’s crazy how sometimes dreams do come true.

Hopefully I’ll get my internet working sometime in the next few days (now THAT would be a dream come true). In the meantime, classes start in the morning and I’m really nervous but also incredibly excited. I’m studying the Inklings of Oxford (aka C.S. Lewis and Tolkien and that whole bunch) and it’s so surreal that this class is taking place right in the middle of where they actually lived and worked and wrote. My inner Narnia nerd cannot handle it.

I’m going to attempt to get some sleep, but fingers crossed, please, for me getting proper internet soon. Thanks for hanging in there all through this crazy summer! Love you!

~Julia

P.S. How can this even be real life?

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Wordy Wednesday: Interview with Susi Greganova

I’m now in Europe (or, you know, will be at the time this post goes up)–which means this week’s Wordy Wednesday is one of our many wonderful interviews and guests posts for the summer!

Please welcome one of the amazing writers I’m lucky enough to call my friend, Susi Greganova!

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Super Susi

What project(s) are you currently working on?
Right now? Managing my exams, planning out my life, and a cliché warm family novel which I´m only writing for myself so I can calm down and concentrate on learning. But the moment I have time, I´ll start work on a psychological thriller (The Shadow People), an epistolary novel dealing with child development (Hi T), and a middle grade adventure novel partially set in the cyber world (The Quest). There are also a lot of poems that I need to sort out and edit.

What are you planning to study at college?
Nooo clue. My dream course is PPE at Oxford, but that costs too much. But I think I´ll still apply for it in October. In the meantime, I´ll probably study “law and economics”.

Any fun summer plans?
Figuring out what to do with my life. And I want to do Camp NaNoWriMo and finish a novel. And…yeah. Have crazy fun adventures. (Or study for my exams if I don´t pass them in June. :/ )

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
England because it´s my favourite place in the world. Or just all around the world so I can see everything.

Favorite food?
Spaghetti

Favorite drink?
Aloe Vera juice

Favorite dessert?
Chocolate mousse (fun fact: I used to be The Official Queen of Chocolate Mousse on a message board once)

Favorite season?
Autumn

Favorite activity outside of reading and writing?
Jazz dancing…or just generally daydreaming/imagining stuff

Favorite movie?
Johnny English

Favorite TV show?
The Green Green Grass

Favorite Youtube channel?
AVByte

Favorite website?
Figment

Favorite board game?
Monopoly

Favorite language (other than your native one)?
Italian

Favorite sport?
Football

Favorite candy?
I don´t know if anyone knows them, but I love Milka Choco Mix bags which are basically little bags full of chocolate drops as well as jelly sweets or mini Oreos.

Favorite instrument?
Piano (i.e. the only one I can play)

Coffee or tea?
Coffee…but I really like tea too

Ice cream or froyo?
Froyo

Movie or TV show?
Movie

Morning or night?
Night!

City or country?
City

Cat or dog?
Dog

Rain or shine?
Rain!!

Camp or hotel?
Hotel

Stay in or go out?
Go out

Casual or fancy?
Casual

Handwrite or type?
Handwrite for poetry, type for prose
**********

Thanks for letting me interview you, Susi!

You can find Susi at the following links:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/susi.greganova?fref=ts&ref=br_tf
Figment: Super Susi
ask.fm: http://ask.fm/SusiGreganova#_=_

Thanks for reading!
~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Interview with Kira Budge

I’m now in Europe (or, you know, will be at the time this post goes up)–which means this week’s Wordy Wednesday is our first of many wonderful interviews and guests posts for the summer!

Please welcome my fabulous critique partner and friend, Kira Budge!

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Kira Budge

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a sophomore at BYU-Idaho studying English: Creative Writing and a novelist, primarily of YA fantasy. Additionally, I’m the Associate Online Administrator of Ch1Con, a writing conference for teens. I play cello, foster kittens, and obsess over British TV in my spare time.

What kind of writing do you do?
Mostly YA fantasy novels, though they tend to straddle the line towards sci-fi. I write other stuff too, but nothing as seriously as that.

What project(s) are you currently working on?
I’m finishing up edits on What It Takes to Deal, a YA contemp, to prepare it to be sent out to agents.

What are you studying at college?
As seen le above, I’m an English: Creative Writing major! Because useful.

Any fun summer plans?
I WENT TO CH1CON HECK YESSES.

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
Britain. All of the Britain.

What’s your favorite kind of book?
I have lots of kinds of favorite books, but I tend to have a thing for YA sci-fi in particular, or at least I have recently.

Favorite food?
The food kind.

Favorite drink?
HOT CHOCOLATE.

Favorite dessert?
More chocolate. (Sorry Jules.)

Favorite season?
Summer.

Favorite activity outside of reading and writing?
Ummmmm… watching TV? Being generally useless?

Favorite movie?
Snow White and the Huntsman.

Favorite TV show?
Doctor Who!!!!

Favorite band/singer?
Linkin Park.

Favorite Youtube channel?
Pemberley Digital, but I love so so many more!

Favorite book?
This question is an unfair one, at any and all times. It’s a tie between Harry Potter and the Hunger Games. It always is.

Favorite website?
I don’t know about favorite, but the one I apparently go to the most is Goodreads.

Favorite board game?
Ew. Board games.

Favorite videogame?
Ew. Videogames.

Favorite language (other than your native one)?
Spanish? Latin? One of those.

Favorite sport?
No.

Favorite candy?
Chocolate.

Favorite pie?
Apple. Or cherry. Or blueberry. Or chocolate.

Favorite instrument?
CELLO. YES. I PLAY CELLO.

Coffee or tea?
Neither. I’m Mormon. *smiles cheesily*

Ice cream or froyo?
BOTH. (Probably froyo, though, for real.)

Movie or TV show?
TV show.

Morning or night?
Night.

City or country?
Small town. Those other places are icky.

Cat or dog?
CATTTTTTTTTTTTTT.

Rain or shine?
Rain. Sun hurts my eyes.

Camp or hotel?
Hotel, baby.

Stay in or go out?
Stay in all of the times.

Casual or fancy?
…. either. Depending on the situation. I like to do both of them.

Edward or Jacob? (Kidding.)
I see your kidding and raise you a TEAM EDWARD for the books and TEAM WHY DO THESE MOVIES EXIST LAUTNER IS SO MUCH HOTTER for the movies.

Hot or cold?
Hot. I am allergic to cold.

Handwrite or type?
No one in potato can read my handwriting, not even me. Type.

Paperback or hardcover?
I think paperback. But I’ve never actually thought about this question before. Hmm! Good one, Jules!

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Why thank you, Kira! And thanks for letting me interview you!

You can find Kira at the following links:

Twitter: @KiraBudge
Thanks for reading!
~Julia

Talk to you in two weeks!

Hannah and I leave for Europe tomorrow! I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING. I’m so excited and scared and nervous and excited and I have no idea how I’m going to sleep tonight.

I’m going to miss you during the next couple weeks before we get to Oxford, but I’m also thrilled to share all the awesome interviews and guest posts I’ve got scheduled. (Thanks to everyone who sent one in!)

Fingers crossed I’ll have wifi access and downtime here and there so I can post on Facebook and tweet and reply to emails. But if not, I hope you have an amazing two weeks, and–pending survival of all this tourism we’re going to be up to–I’ll talk to you when I’m settled at my new dorm!

Love you! <3 Bye!

 

~Julia