Wordy Wednesday: Heroic Amateur Characters

Hey there! I’m back in Michigan after a whirlwind weekend in southern California, for a family wedding.

My brother and I flew to Los Angeles Thursday night to meet our parents, who had already been there on vacation for a week. We spent Friday touring Hollywood and the surrounding areas and I literally teared up multiple times, because I am SUCH A HUGE FILM GEEK (if my Screen Arts & Cultures minor doesn’t give that away) and I’ve been dreaming about Hollywood for forever.


Friday night, we drove to Downtown Disney (outside Disneyland), where we watched the fireworks, toured the shops, and ate SO MUCH FOOD.

Saturday was the day of the wedding! We spent the morning at a beach in the San Diego area, where El Nino (aka: Really Big Storm of Doom) was rolling in. We watched a surf competition, binged on homemade ice cream, and got thoroughly soaked.

 

This photo is not in greyscale. It literally looked like that.

Then, Saturday afternoon and evening: the wedding! One of my cousins was getting married. Everyone looked gorgeous, the venue was beautiful, and one of the appetizers was mini grilled cheeses dipped in tomato soup. (Basically: best wedding ever.)


Sunday we hung out with relatives, explored the coastline a little more, and continued to eat way too much food.

Then, Monday we flew back to the frigid tundra that is Michigan. (Lol jk it is literally in the fifties today thanx global warming)

Things have been pretty busy since we got back too: Yesterday was Sammy’s ninth birthday! Today I had my senior audit (which means I am now 100% set to graduate)! Tomorrow is Ch1Con Chat and before that WE’RE ANNOUNCING OUR FINAL SPEAKER OF 2016 AHHH!

Aaand yeah. That’s what I’ve been up to. (Sorry this part of the post got so long!)

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

So, I’m currently in three literature classes. (If you’ll recall, I was planning on dropping one–or, you know, two–but that didn’t end up happening because they’re all fantastic.) One of these classes is spy fiction.

So far we’ve been focusing a lot on the early history of the genre (nineteenth and very early twentieth century stuff), but this week we started moving into the more modern spy novel, with The 39 Steps.

I love spy stuff. All of my novels so far have been mysteries/thrillers, and three out of five of them are explicitly spy stories. (The one I’m working on right now isn’t an outright spy novel, but draws heavily from the genre.) So when my instructor started talking today about the heroic amateur trope, I was in Thriller Writer Heaven.

The heroic amateur is essentially a vigilante. The “ordinary” character who sees that something is wrong and decides to take matters into his or her own hands in order to fix it. It’s someone acting without orders, generally breaking the law in “minor” ways in order to fix the larger issue, and going up against both the law and the villain in order to save the day. (Basically: think more Jason Bourne than James Bond.)

These are all pretty obvious characteristics, all of which I’ve used heavily in my own writing when utilizing the heroic amateur trope. However, my prof had a few others he’d picked up on as well. So, without further ado: Characteristics of the Heroic Amateur Trope. 

Well-Connected

Whether this means the character knows people in high places or is filthy rich (or both), the heroic amateur is able to do what s/he does because s/he has more resources than the average person. (Hence the “ordinary”–you know, in quotation marks–above.) Because the heroic amateur isn’t a member of an official spy network, s/he has to rely on his/her own resources in order to get the job done, from weasling information out of powerful allies to being able to pay for all the gadgets and traveling saving the world requires.

Batman is a wonderful example of this one. He’s both mega wealthy and knows all of the most powerful people in Gotham City, which makes it easy for him to piece mysteries together and to get his hands on the gear that allows him to be, well, Batman.

Working with the Law (to an Extent)

The heroic amateur tends to break a lot of laws in getting the job done. This is one of the most attractive traits of this character (the fact the s/he is above the law and thus can do things that those who do have to abide by laws–like the police–can’t do). There’s a lot of freedom and fun involved with this.

However, again: this character’s M.O is LITERALLY DOING ILLEGAL STUFF. No matter how talented a spy/vigilante/whatever the heroic amateur is, s/he still has to face the law at some point. (But obviously this character can’t go to jail because, like, that’s not a satisfying ending, right?) So this character has some sort of connection with the law enforcement. Maybe he befriends someone in the police (like Batman) or is someone in the police (like the Flash) or understands the law well enough to know all the loopholes (like Daredevil). Other good examples of this weird relationship: Taken, National Treasure, Sherlock Holmes.

Still, this relationship will always be full of tension. It’s a constant push and pull of the law enforcement being grateful that the heroic amateur is getting stuff done, but also being upset that the heroic amateur is doing illegal things and feeling obligated to bring him/her in. The law enforcement people are willing to work with the heroic amateur while everything’s going right, but they’ll stop supporting this person the moment things start going wrong.

Set Up as Foil to Villain

This is also such an important one. While protagonists are generally portrayed as foils to antagonists (basically: two sides of the same coin), this is especially brought into focus with the heroic amateur. Because the hero breaks laws (aka: does bad things) him/herself, it’s the author’s job to really showcase how the villain is a worse person in order for the audience to root for the protagonist.

So if the hero kills people (a la Jason Bourne), the villain has to kill more people, more maliciously. If the hero manipulates people (a la Jessica Jones), the villain has to be so, so, so much worse. Everything is set up as a comparison. Everything is set up in shades of grey.

The biggest difference between the hero and villain is their motivation. The driving force behind their actions decides, more than anything else, how the audience feels about them. So if your protag is doing everything for the greater good, in order to protect those s/he loves, the audience is much more likely to be okay with him/her stealing and lying and hurting (whereas, on the other hand, the villain is likely doing everything for the opposite reasons, like for personal gain or out of something petty like jealousy).

Some good examples of this dichotomy are, once again, Taken and National Treasure. The protagonists in both of those scenarios do terrible things, but they do them for what the audience perceives as the right reasons, and that makes all the difference between them and the bad guys.

And there you have it: some of the key traits of the heroic amateur character trope. Are there any others you can think of?

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: The Dark Lord and His Role in Fantasy

Last Semester of College, Part 4: Julia Continues to Be Exhausted.

Things wouldn’t be too hectic right now, except that I need to be on a plane tomorrow and I need all of my work for the next week done before then. And I haven’t started yet. And it’s almost 8:00 PM already. (Also, one is supposed to pack before traveling, right? Packing is a thing?)

I haven’t been up to much this past week. Mainly doing homework and doing my best to keep my head above water. (You know, except for that little, very exciting thing known as THE CH1CON YULE BALL.) (The Ch1Con Yule Ball was a live-streamed video panel of young authors the Chapter One Young Writers Conference hosted on Saturday.) (You can watch it here.) (Also you can enter the VERY COOL GIVEAWAYS we mention throughout it here.)

Oh, and I finished the first draft of my first full-length play on Friday! That was also a thing that happened. I’d been working on the play since November, 2014, so it feels really weird that it’s actually done now. (I mean, I still need to do many, many revisions on it, but the first draft! is no longer just in my head! So weird.)

(Okay, I take it back about not having much happen over the past week.)

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post. Specifically: a paper I wrote for my fantasy literature course this time last year, about “dark lord” characters. (Warning that major spoilers follow for the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings series. Read at your own risk.)

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In all of fiction, the most pervasive and iconic antagonists come from works of fantasy. These characters invade popular culture and transcend the stories from which they came; not everyone has read George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, but they probably have made jokes about how “Big Brother is watching you” (Orwell 2) in reference to the growing vigilance of the government in relation to technology. Likewise, even those who have never watched a Star Wars film can quote—or at least misquote—the line in which Darth Vader reveals his identity to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back. But what makes so many fantasy villains so memorable, especially in relation to their counterparts from other genres? In large part, it’s due to the Dark Lord character type, in which the antagonist is a figure of absolute evil: Characters who possess no chance of redemption, no trace of goodness. Characters who wipe the concept of moral relativity off the map. This type of character doesn’t work well outside of works of fantasy for the same reason it makes the antagonists who inhabit it so memorable: it isn’t realistic. Villains of such pure, unadulterated wickedness could not exist in real life—but are of course plausible in fantastical realities. Because these works bring the battle between good and evil to such extremes, they become striking. The relationship between characters of absolute evil and fantasy is reciprocal, as fantasy provides grounds for their existence and their existence makes fantasy one of the most consistently popular genres in literature, film, and beyond. By allowing authors to transcend the realistic in their portrayal of antagonists, fantasy offers the opportunity for the rise of absolute evil in the figure of the Dark Lord—found most memorably in such characters as The Lord of the Rings’s Sauron (J. R. R. Tolkien) and Harry Potter’s Voldemort (J. K. Rowling). This provides a safe space from which to approach the concept of evil, grounds for easier development of secondary characters, and a more readily apparent opposition between the dark side and light, all of which come together to allow fantasy to remain an iconic presence in fiction.

The Dark Lord paradigm is partly so effective due to the fact that the majority of fantastical works are produced for children. Because it brings evil outside its naturally realistic context, the concept becomes less frightening for children. It no longer directly affects them, but simply characters about whom they care; it’s the difference between empathy and sympathy—the latter of which allows children to keep their distance while still learning about the malevolent. Likewise, because the paradigm pushes evil to extremes, it makes it easier to recognize, examine, and understand. Young children are not yet able to comprehend the shades of grey that contribute to the battles waged in real society, so a black and white fight between good and evil puts these concepts into a context they are able to wrap their minds around, then disseminate upon real conflicts to the best of their abilities. In essence, the existence of the Dark Lord allows children to approach the concept of evil from a safe space. This is more obviously evidenced in works such as Harry Potter, as it is a children’s series, but also was part of Tolkien’s decision-making process when writing the Lord of the Rings series. While he wrote the trilogy for adults, it is sequel to his earlier children’s fantasy The Hobbit. So, although The Lord of the Rings is much darker and more complex than The Hobbit, the original world-building that went into Middle-Earth was designed for children. Traces of this are evident throughout The Lord of the Rings. For example, in the very first pages of The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien describes hobbits as “a merry folk” (The Fellowship of the Ring 2), “smaller than Dwarves … [height] ranging between two and four feet” (The Fellowship of the Ring 1) with faces “as a rule good-natured rather than beautiful, broad, bright-eyed, red-cheeked, with mouths apt to laughter, and to eating and drinking” (The Fellowship of the Ring 2). Because Tolkien wrote The Hobbit for children, he needed a protagonist with whom the reader could connect while still being old enough to reasonably take on the plot of the novel. So, he developed a fantastical species in his hobbits that can most easily be equated to children. Hobbits even “dress … in bright colours … but seldom … [wear] shoes” (The Fellowship of the Ring 2), like the majority of children do, or at least wish they could. The child, or child-like, hero is important in stories featuring a Dark Lord antagonist due to the underdog status it gives its protagonists. The Dark Lord is not only physically larger, but generally older, more experienced, and surer of himself. Often it seems as if the character that should go head to head with the Dark Lord is the guiding figure that mentors the young protagonist, such as Gandalf or Dumbledore, not the protagonist his or herself. It is the difficulties the protagonist must endure and the occasions to which he or she must rise, however, which define the story and make the eventual victory over the Dark Lord so worthwhile. Interestingly, a similar “growing up” as that of The Lord of the Rings from The Hobbit takes place throughout the Harry Potter series, as Rowling’s conflicts likewise become darker and more complex on par with Harry and his friends as they age. Despite this, the final showdown is between The-Boy-Who-Lived and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named: a classic battle between good and evil. While the rest of the Wizarding world has descended into shades of grey by the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—Ron abandons Harry and Hermione out of jealousy; Snape reveals he is a double agent; the Malfoys want nothing more than to keep their family intact—the series, in the end, is still centered on the black and white.

The existence of a Dark Lord character also opens the door for these shades of grey in secondary conflicts. The Dark Lord generally has some sort of minions who are equally as evil, albeit less powerful, as him or herself, from Sauron’s Orcs to the most dedicated of Voldemort’s Death Eaters. However, other antagonistic characters show more complexity, and generally this complexity grows in relation to how well these characters reflect the goals and/or personality of the Dark Lord. For example, in the Harry Potter series, Rowling introduces Peter Pettigrew as a manipulative, sniveling man who has “always liked big friends who’d look after [him]” (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban 369). However, due to Harry choosing to spare his life, Pettigrew later feels that he owes Harry, and ends up dying in the process of saving Harry from the Death Eaters in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Thus, Pettigrew represents a lesser evil than Voldemort’s absolute that develops over time due to how he views Voldemort and Voldemort’s directives in relation to his own moral code. The absolute evil of the Dark Lord creates a space wherein characters of lesser degrees of evil can exist, giving the reader the opportunity to further examine the nature of evil, witness varying forms of evil, and ultimately decide where he or she believes the dividing line between good and evil to be. It also lends a more realistic touch to a conflict otherwise defined by its fantastical elements, because while a Dark Lord character could not exist in the real world, these secondary antagonists likely could.

Another reason for the lasting presence of Dark Lord characters takes shape due to the form through which these antagonists oppose their protagonists. More than simply presenting a cut and dry, black and white divide between good and evil, the existence of an absolute evil draws attention to the other differences between the protagonist and antagonist as well. While in real life, the leaders of two sides of a conflict will often have similar personality traits but differing views that make them butt heads, when dealing with a Dark Lord character a distinct opposition arises in personality in addition to views. Due to the lack of moral relativism imposed by the concept of an irredeemably bad character—thus eliminating the more realistic antagonist who believes what he or she is doing is for the best, albeit in opposition to the protagonist’s views—the conflict is no longer about which side the protagonist believes to be right, but which side inherently is right. In order to intensify this divide, the Dark Lord character commonly represents not just views, but personality traits with which the hero diverges. For example, both Voldemort and Sauron crave power, while both Harry and Frodo shy away from it and prefer peace and tranquility. As Dumbledore says, “perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 718). These are stories not simply about what is right and wrong, as far as what characters stand for, but stories about what is right and wrong as far as what characters are. This comes across even further in the climaxes of these stories, as the Dark Lord loses power and the hero unwittingly gains it—only to choose to give it up in the conclusion in order to live a quiet, peaceful life; it’s the opposition between selfishness versus selflessness, cowardliness versus courage, and isolation versus—to borrow a term from The Lord of the Rings—fellowship. The Dark Lord presents himself in these morality tales that in many ways less ask the reader to decide what he or she believes to be right or wrong, but rather show what he or she should believe to be right or wrong.

Every element of these stories is colored by the Dark Lord’s existence. Harry Potter is not Harry Potter without Voldemort; The Lord of the Rings is not The Lord of the Rings without said Lord of the Rings. It’s interesting that when given the opportunity to create antagonists of absolute evil, many authors choose it, and their stories become some of the most popular not just of their genre, but of fiction altogether. In a way, believing a character to be irredeemably evil makes it easier to oppose him or her. In The Lord of the Rings, several members of the Fellowship have a friendly competition in which they compare how many members of Sauron’s army they’ve killed; this is fun, cheeky in the context of the work, because no matter what, the Orcs will never become good. Likewise, it’s easier to stomach Harry and his friends—children—killing their opponents throughout the Harry Potter series due to the fact that, not only are they fighting for their lives, but the men and women against whom they are fighting generally fit Voldemort’s vision of absolute evil. Still, it says something about humanity, that in these tales of great battles, in which the heroes slaughter countless bad guys, authors choose to write antagonists who are not human—at least not realistically so. In this way, authors such as Tolkien and Rowling go one step further in their morality tales, sharing a vision of goodness that does not condone violence except as the last resort. As the prophecy in Harry Potter states, “neither can live while the other survives” (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 841). Characters throughout Rowling’s series try to help Voldemort, but he resists goodness, choosing instead to cement his Dark Lord status and, inadvertently with it, his imminent doom. Thus, while fantasy allows a figure of absolute evil to exist, in the end the Dark Lord must die, and more than anything else, it is this—the fact that good can and will defeat evil, no matter how strong—which makes these stories so popular. By allowing authors to transcend the realistic in their portrayal of antagonists, fantasy offers the opportunity for the rise of absolute evil in the figure of the Dark Lord—found most memorably in such characters as The Lord of the Rings’s Sauron (Tolkien) and Harry Potter’s Voldemort (Rowling). However, the general traits of the genre also assure the fall of such a character, and this provides a safe space from which to approach the concept of evil, grounds for easier development of secondary characters, and a more readily apparent opposition between the dark side and light—all of which come together to allow fantasy to remain an iconic presence in fiction, and Dark Lord characters as equally of iconic characters.

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Bibliography

  • Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-four, a Novel. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1949. Print.
  • Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Arthur A. Levine, 1999. Print.
  • Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine, 2007. Print.
  • Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Arthur A. Levine, 2000. Print.
  • Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine, 2005. Print.
  • Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine, 2003. Print.
  • Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Arthur A. Levine, 1999. Print.
  • Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: A.A. Levine, 1998. Print.
  • The Empire Strikes Back. 1980. Film.
  • Tolkien, J. R. R. The Fellowship of the Ring. 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994. Print.
  • Tolkien, J. R. R. The Hobbit, Or, There and Back Again. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966. Print.
  • Tolkien, J. R. R. The Return of the King. 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965. Print.
  • Tolkien, J. R. R. The Two Towers. London: HarperCollins, 2012. Print.

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Thanks for reading!

~Julia

 

Wordy Wednesday: Right There

So, I’m doing a lot better this week. Still really tired and everything, but stuff has already begun to settle down a little (THANK GOODNESS).

A huge upside of this is that I actually got to do things that weren’t homework/work-related this weekend, like throwing a costume party with my roommates on Friday for Hannah’s birthday (HAPPY BIRTHDAY!) and dancing super awkwardly at the Michigan Quidditch team’s Yule Ball on Saturday. So that was very fun and much needed and it’s kind of nice to be tired from something other than staying up until two AM doing homework, this week.

I went to the party as Super Girl, because why would you ever give up the opportunity to wear a cape.

However, things are about to get crazy again, because I’m going out of town for a family thing soon and, as part of that, I’m of course missing over a day of classes. Sooo here’s to enjoying the calm between the storms. (Upside: the family thing is going to be super fun and is happening in a place much warmer than Michigan currently is?)

ANYWAY. This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a poem.

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I am
so close that
it is a word
on my tongue,
in my throat,
clenched between
biting nails and
sweating palms,
right there
right there
right there,
contaminating
every breath
and heartbeat
and blink
until the entire
world looks like
it is a bated breath, waiting,
anticipatory,
searching for
the exact right
second, millisecond
to
spring from
its cocoon

Maybe if I
run hard enough
I will learn how to
fly
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Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Comparing Literature to Film

It has been such a long week.

I keep reminding myself that I just have to survive this first month or so of the semester, then everything should hopefully be a little easier for a while. But, honestly, things are really tough right now (like “I am on the verge of bursting into tears multiple times a day out of stress” kind of tough), which is something I haven’t had to deal with in a long, long time. (Basically: not since freshman year Spanish class.)

But also, all the stressful things I’m dealing with right now are going to lead to really fun things later on–I just have to get to that point. So I’m dealing with them. And I’m taking deep breaths. And I’m doing my best to remember to enjoy the little successes in the midst of everything else.

And, on the upside, in the past week and a half since the semester started, I’ve learned to super appreciate sleep?

Anyway: This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post. (I knew I could count on you to vote for that!) This is a paper I wrote for my literature-to-film adaptations class last semester, so it’s a little long and not entirely focused on literature, but I think the differences between books and movies are really intriguing, and ultimately tell you about literature as a medium. (Which, you know, ultimately helps you with writing.)

Spoiler warning for anyone who somehow does not know what happens in The Great Gatsby. (And sorry that the formatting on this is a little rough! I don’t have time to make sure it translates properly from Word to WordPress, unfortunately.)

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Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel of dashed hopes and the American dream, The Great Gatsby, is an accurate one, in many senses. The film brings all the important players to the screen, from Nick to Gatsby to Daisy; it draws attention to the symbolic importance of the green light at the end of the dock; and it shows the extravagance of Gatsby’s wild parties. However, it also changes the way the story is told. In particular, the film strives to make narrator Nick Carraway a more active player in the plot, which makes sense, since movies allow less opportunity for internal monologue and the role of voice than novels. The filmmakers seek to do this, in large part, by erasing F. Scott Fitzgerald so that they may rather insert Nick in his place. Setting Nick in this authorial role—not simply narrator, but someone who has the ability to pick and choose what he says, how he says it, and, to an extent, how the viewer perceives it—additionally, naturally changes the way Nick tells the story. And this changes The Great Gatsby on a principle level. Nick no longer is whispering the story of his friend Gatsby into a void, but shouting it—via words on a page—to a specific audience. He does not write the story voluntarily, but at the urging of his psychiatrist, and the psychiatrist is not interested in Gatsby; he is there to figure out how to help Nick. Thus this change, in essence, makes the story no longer about Gatsby, but Nick himself—and, because of this, the story no longer comes across as generally objective, but extremely subjective. Nick’s emotion, his pain over all that transpired in New York, tints—and arguably taints—everything. While of course this is also true for the novel, it happens to a much lesser extent there, due to Nick’s lack of awareness to the fact that someone is paying attention to what he says. The novel version of Nick has this magical ability of disappearing into the story, melting into the shadows in order to throw focus onto the characters who are more crucial to the plot. On the other hand, the film version of Nick finds a way to insert himself into every situation so that he is always present, everything is at least vaguely about him, and it is clear that he ultimately is aware that he controls what happens in the story. Thus, by utilizing Nick as not only narrator, but author as well, Luhrmann’s film adaptation of The Great Gatsby changes not only how Nick phrases things, but ultimately what these things mean—as exemplified by a seemingly minor change in the opening monologue—, and this therefore transforms who Nick is as a character.

This decision to allow Nick to edit the story he tells becomes apparent almost immediately in the film, as his famous opening monologue begins as voiceover. However, the monologue is condensed—and thus changed—from the version found in the novel. Tweaks and deletions abound in the opening monologue, but one of the most intriguing changes is one that actually does not make it through to the final cut of the film. Rather, screenwriters Luhrmann and Craig Pearce made the change in the screenplay, then rescinded it—returning to Fitzgerald’s phrasing—in the actual film. This change is small, seemingly inconsequential: the removal of the words “and more vulnerable” in Nick’s opening line, otherwise written and spoken as, “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice…” (Fitzgerald 1). In the screenplay, the line appears simply as, “In my younger years my father gave me some advice” (Luhrmann and Pearce 1). However, these three words greatly alter the viewer or reader’s perception of the story that follows. The fact that Nick admits to having not only been vulnerable when he was younger—but “more vulnerable,” as in he is still vulnerable, only less so, now—serves multiple purposes. Besides the obvious fact that this tells the audience to think of the past Nick as weaker—and the present Nick as someone who has learned from that weakness, although he is aware that he is not perfectly strong even now—, this phrasing also evokes a sort of sympathy.

None of the characters in The Great Gatsby are generally likeable, but this opening line makes a strong stride towards endearing Nick to the audience, and he is the sole character to truly get this sort of treatment. Everyone else comes across as impenetrable. In this way, it is Nick’s self-awareness, as much as his awareness of others, which makes him such a good narrator. The Great Gatsby is a naturally reflective story, as even in the novel, Nick spends his time looking back on the past and making judgments about it; while he claims, in another portion of the opening, to be “inclined to reserve all judgments” (Fitzgerald 1), he spends the entire novel making judgments about those he knew, what happened, and the various roles he played in it all. Even his last moment with Gatsby is a judgment on Nick’s part, as he states:

“They’re a rotten crowd … You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.” / I’ve always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end. (Fitzgerald 154)

Here Nick judges the Buchanans and their friends, as well as Gatsby and ultimately himself. He is glad he paid Gatsby a compliment, less because of what it says about Gatsby—as Nick hastens to add, he “disapproved of him from beginning to end” (Fitzgerald 154)—but because of what this comment means about Nick. It makes him feel like a good person, the fact that he unknowingly complimented a man just hours before his death, even if at the time he did not entirely believe in his own words. Luhrmann and Pearce transplant this section word-for-word to the screenplay, with the exception of the phrase “because I disapproved of him from beginning to end” Fitzgerald 154)—a change which, in opposition to the exclusion of “and more vulnerable,” works to draw the focus more to Nick’s judgment of himself rather than his judgment of Gatsby, and thus to Nick’s judgment of himself in general. It is decisions such as this that draw attention to the fact that it is this ability of Nick to judge himself that ultimately makes him who he is as a character and narrator in the novel and film.

Accordingly, the exclusion of “and more vulnerable” then begs the question of why the filmmakers thought to remove it in the first place. Based on the general paraphrasing of the opening monologue, the easiest answer is that they initially cut it to save time, which is a more limited resource in films than novels. However, three words do not take long to state; in fact, actor Tobey Maguire’s recitation of “and more vulnerable” takes less than a second—more specifically, seventy-three hundredths of a second. Likewise, the majority of the paraphrasing distributed throughout the monologue works more to reduce Fitzgerald’s wordiness rather than to change the meaning of the writing. For example, Nick remembering the advice his father gave him transforms from: “‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had’” (Fitzgerald 1) to the less wordy: “‘Remember, not all the people in this world have had the same advantages as you” (Luhrmann and Pearce 1). It’s about streamlining, not steamrollering. Thus, the deletion of “and more vulnerable” must have been very purposeful, and the next most obvious conclusion is that the writers must have believed that their version of Nick—the one who is aware of his audience and his control over the story he weaves—would not admit to this vulnerability. A Nick Carraway who does not want the audience to know that he was, and continues to be, vulnerable is one who closes himself off from the viewer. He judges others, but not himself. Whether due to a lack of trust or simply a lack of sincerity, this lends itself to a Nick who, if the rest of the adaptation were to follow suit, would be as unsympathetic and ultimately unlikeable as the rest of the cast. Although Nick indeed does function as an audience surrogate in the novel version of The Great Gatsby, this role expands when he becomes the author of the story. Since he is in control, it is important for the viewer to feel safe in his hands, as if he will be honest and forthright about all that transpired. The viewer must believe the story in order to connect with it and learn from it, and that’s only possible when the viewer believes the person telling it. The viewer needs Nick to not only be vulnerable, but to readily admit to this vulnerability, in order to buy into everything else. This means that the phrase “and more vulnerable,” in essence, is a promise, upfront, to the viewer of what is to come.

Of course, it does appear the filmmakers realized this while recording the voiceover with Maguire, because amongst other changes to the opening monologue between the screenplay and film, “and more vulnerable” also reappears. While Nick’s character still transforms between the page and screen due to his increased role, as author, his vulnerability—and thus his ability to judge and therefore become relatable to the audience—remains intact. This decision works in the filmmakers’ favor, as Nick’s willingness to judge also plays into one of the story’s deepest-running themes. What Luhrmann captures best in his adaptation is that The Great Gatsby is a story of want: Desperate, contagious, inescapable, insurmountable, uncontrollable want. As the screenplay and film versions of Nick tell Gatsby, “[Y]ou can’t repeat the past” (Luhrmann and Pearce 140). The Nick of the present, the one telling the story in the psychiatrist’s office, has not forgotten this lesson. Thus, he decides how to tell the past in order to shape the future into the one that he wants. He has witnessed the effect of the green light at the end of the dock. He knows where Gatsby’s passionate, un-satisfiable type of want inevitably leads. Thus, where the novel ends on a note of hopelessness, the filmmakers are aware of their opportunity to end the story differently, and so choose to give a hint at something more—a slightly more positive ending that might better appeal to the movie-going audience, which is generally broader than the contemporary audience which reads classics such as The Great Gatsby. It is at this point, with the story of Gatsby completed and all the focus narrowed in, tight and center, on Nick, that Luhrmann’s film veers from its accuracy to the novel to truly charting its own territory, even if only for a few seconds. Nick does not tell this part. The voiceover narration has finished and the source material has run out. Here the film moves from the subjective first person point-of-view to a third person one actually far more objective than the perspective shared in the novel. Finally, the filmmakers grant the viewer the opportunity to see Nick from a distance, rather than from inside his head. They show here, explicitly, how Nick is choosing how he remembers the past. While not all of the changes Luhrmann makes improve The Great Gatsby, or even arguably work, this one does. The camera follows Nick as he finishes typing a manuscript titled Gatsby. He has finally become a writer, as he always wanted to be. He binds the manuscript, ready to leave the past behind. With a pen, almost as an afterthought, he decides to add the words “The Great” to the title. He chooses to remember Gatsby in this way. And with the binding of the manuscript, like the closing of a book, Nick leaves the past behind in order to move on with his life. He is aware of his vulnerability, but willing to embrace it, learn from it, and live with it. Nick judges himself, but also grows from these judgments. Although time might bear him back “ceaselessly into the past” (Luhrmann and Pearce 224), he has made the decision to meet it head-on. By utilizing Nick as not only narrator, but author as well, Luhrmann’s film adaptation of The Great Gatsby changes not only how Nick phrases things, but ultimately what these things mean, which therefore transforms who Nick is as a character. In this case, he is vulnerable, judgmental—and, in consequence, actually a more hopeful Nick Carraway.

*****

Bibliography:
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Scribner Trade Paperback Edition ed. 1925. Print.
Luhrmann, Baz and Pearce, Craig. The Great Gatsby. 2013. Screenplay.
The Great Gatsby. Dir. Baz Luhrmann. Warner Home Video, 2013. Film.

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Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Last First Day

It’s my last first day of school! Or at least the last first day of my undergraduate career.

I already had my first class this morning, and it was a fun one. Fingers crossed the rest of the classes I’ve registered for turn out to be awesome as well? (Or maybe don’t, since I probably should drop at least one of these literature classes. Because I am going to die if I keep all of them, I’m pretty sure.)

The end of my break was nice. I finally got over the food poisoning on Sunday (so I can eat dairy again!). I hung out with a bunch of friends and family. Aaand I turned in my applications for all the publishing institutes and got a bunch of work done relating to a couple other projects.

Next up: Get more work done on those projects. Get a very fun Ch1Con announcement up today. (I meant to do it yesterday, but it was that or un-bury my bed from under all my luggage last night, oops.) Go to a couple more classes. And maybe actually get a chance to write? (Wonder of wonders, I know.)

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a poem. (But also: New semester, new WWs? I haven’t gotten to do a writing process post in a million years! Maybe vote for that one of these weeks so we can get a little more variety on the blog?)

*********

Let’s talk about first days
and last days
and how sometimes they are
the same thing

Let’s talk about how hellos
become goodbyes
become hellos
and how I feel like I’m spiraling and
falling towards nothing and
drifting in space;
like there’s nothing to
hold onto
but also no place
to land

Let’s talk about how some things
are both happy
and sad
and wonderful
and awful
and how I am so full of
everything and
nothing
that I could
implode

Let’s talk about how I could
suck myself into nothingness

Let’s talk about how I could
explode in a burst of
color

Let’s talk about being
twenty-one and
scared and
excited and
boiling over with
anticipation
anticipation
anticipation

Let’s talk about anticipation
that is about to
break

Let’s talk
**********

Thanks for reading! If it’s also your last first day of school (or first or last of anything), best of luck! Let’s rock this thing.

~Julia

2016 New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year! Like last year I’m writing this post on the last day of the old year, but scheduling it to go live in the new year.

2015’s been a pretty great year. Of course, some bad stuff happened (some bad stuff always does), but the good things definitely outweighed it and I’m grateful for the past twelve months.

With that in mind: Resolution Time.

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How I Did with My 2015 Resolutions

1. Have at least one adventure a week. Accomplished. A lot of them were small, but I had at least one a week and it was really nice.

2. Intern somewhere this summer (or get a regular summer job). I ended up doing both! I worked at a bookstore for the first half of the summer (while interning remotely), then interned in person in NYC during the second half. It was one of the best summers I’ve ever had. (And I’ve continued to work at the bookstore and intern remotely since school started back up.)

3. Volunteer. Accomplished! I’m still not volunteering as much as I’d like to, but I’ve started doing things with some local organizations (like 826Michigan) and I’m really enjoying what little volunteer work I do get to do. (Aaand you should totally check out 826Michigan, by the way. They do really important work and are a bunch of amazing people. Just saying.)

4. Pass all my classes with at least a 3.5. Accomplished! I actually managed to get a 4.0 all three semesters I completed in 2015 (winter, spring, and fall). I still want to try to bump my GPA up a little higher, but it’s much healthier-looking now than it was going into 2015, thank goodness.

5. Work out at least three times a week and keep doing my daily situps. Ehhh. EHHH. I really failed at this one. I started off strong–I even was up to biking thirty miles a day at one point over the summer–but then I got injured and ended up spending two months in a knee brace, and it looks like I’ve had a partially torn muscle in my shoulder for like a year and a half now (although I still haven’t had a chance to go to a doctor about it), and life has gotten so crazy busy that I just haven’t had the ability to keep working out regularly. Here’s to healing and getting back into shape in 2016.

6. Take better care of myself in general. I did pretty terribly with this one. (See Resolution #5.) As well as stopping exercising, I also stopped eating well, like, at all. Like basically all I eat these days is cheese and carbs. I’ve taken to spending entire days curled up in bed with my laptop, only ever leaving my cocoon of blankets to grab junk food or order takeout. My body is ready to murder me. I definitely need to revisit this resolution in 2016.

7. Make new friends. Accomplished! I met some pretty awesome people in 2015. (Hi, guys! Love you.)

8. Get better at running Chapter One Events, LLC. I’m honestly not sure if I accomplished this one. Some days I want to say yes; some days I want to slap myself for the days I want to say yes. I’m still figuring all this stuff out, learning and growing as I go, but I’m starting to think there will never be a time when I feel fully on top of things (and that’s okay).

9. Clean my room. Oops.

10. Read fifty two books. ACCOMPLISHED. I actually read sixty-seven this year! Eighteen were full manuscripts for my internship; nine were books for literature classes; and the other forty were just for fun.

11. Travel a lot. Accomplished! I went to Chicago several times for Ch1Con-related things, up north skiing with my family, spent Independence Day in D.C. with my family, and of course interned for two months in New York City (during which I went on weekend trips to Ocean City, NJ with two of my critique partners and to the Hamptons with Hannah). I’ve also had lots of day trips around Michigan (like that time some friends and I spent Halloween in Hell). It was nice getting to see so much of the country this year.

12. Let what happens happen. I’m still struggling a lot with this one. If 2015 proved anything, it’s that I’m very good at making rash decisions and being stubborn to the point of it being unhealthy. (Like that time I tried to just power through my knee injury for a week before realizing all that was doing was making it worse. And then, I repeat: two months in a knee brace.) Sometimes being rash and stubborn is okay, though. And it’s okay to hold on. Some good stuff is coming out of those decisions.

*****

2016 Resolutions

1. Get straight As my last semester of undergrad. I’m not sure how possible this one is, because I’m currently registered for eighteen credit hours and next semester is going to be my busiest since college began. But it’s also my last and I want to go out with a bang.

2. Read at least fifty-two books. If 2016 is anything like 2015, this should be more than possible.

3. Have at least one adventure a week. This was a really good goal to have last year.

4. Get outside more. I spent a lot of time outside this summer, but that dropped off as school started back up and I miss the sun.

5. Do a publishing intensive (or intern somewhere). I’ve been looking forward to attending one of the summer publishing institutes since I first learned they existed and I’m so excited that I’m finally about to be at the point in my life when I get to go to one. (You know. If I get in.) If I’m not accepted to a publishing institute, then I want to spend my summer interning somewhere.

6. Get a grownup job. Scariest goal of the year (and also the most necessary).

7. See the world. I have tentative plans for several big trips in 2016 and I really, really hope they all work out.

8. Make new friends. As always, I think this is a great goal with which to go into any year.

9. Develop healthier habits. I feel so disgusting all the time right now and that needs to change. I want to get back into working out and eating well. I want to feel good again.

10. Apply to grad school. I’m still not positive what kind of graduate program I want to do (hence why I’m taking a gap year between undergrad and graduate), but I know that I really want to get a masters. I love learning. There’s no way I’m done after this.

11. Finish writing the first draft of Time Travel Heist Story. I’m so in love with this story. I’ve been having trouble getting much work done on it since NaNoWriMo ended, but I need to find the time.

 12. Remember to breathe. I’ve got a lot of stuff going on right now. And while I’m pretty happy about all of it, I do also have a tendency of working myself until I’m too stressed to function. I’m going to do my best to be better about this in 2016. (Also to remember that it’s okay to have fun sometimes.)

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So, those are my resolutions. What are your resolutions for 2016?

Happy New Year!

~Julia

 

 

Wordy Wednesday: Sick

Well, it’s been an interesting week. I had a lovely Christmas with my family, with lots of food and movies and games–then I drank some spoiled cream in my tea at dinner on Monday and I’ve had food poisoning every since. (Like, that cream full-on poisoned me, with throwing up and a fever and not being able to sleep for the past two days.) (It’s been super fun.)

On the upside, being sick forced me to take a break from working all day yesterday for the first time in a very, very long time. It was much needed and appreciated.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a poem.

*****
Pages smooth and cool,
heavy with ink, all stacked together—
afternoon sun making dust motes dance,
warm cheeks and a quiet house—
if I have to be sick,
this is the way
I like to spend it

*****

Thanks for reading, and happy-almost-2016!

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Want

The semester is officially over! Thank. Goodness.

It’s been a whirlwind few days of cookie-baking and movie-watching (and email-sending and meeting-having and application-doing and research-researching–but still).

It’s so nice being off classes. Like, as much as I enjoyed my classes this semester, and as much as I’m looking forward to my classes next semester, it’s nice to finally have some time to get caught up and relax. (Also nice: Straight As, including an A+ in Mexican Cinema. Hecks yeah.)

Aaanyway: this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a poem.

**********

Shaking.
Wanting something so badly,
I am shaking.
Haven’t felt this way
in so long that I
no longer thought
it was possible.

Please,
please
please.
Let me manage it,
let me make it,
let me trace my path
back to the place where everything
felt like a lightbulb turned
to full wattage—but where
I was a phoenix, not a burn victim.
Let the answer
please
be yes.

*********

Thanks for reading! (And merry two-days-until Christmas, if you celebrate!)

~Julia

Oh, and PS: I’ve got a new movie review up on [art]seen! Hannah and I went to an advance screening of The Danish Girl. Check it out: http://arts.umich.edu/seen/2015/12/21/review-the-danish-girl/

Other cool thing that happened: I won an ARC of Ally Carter’s new book See How They Run! I haven’t had a chance to finish reading it yet, but it’s super good so far (and now in stores), so you should deeefinitely go get a copy if you’re into twisty (but not too dark) YA thrillers.

And now I swear this post is done. ‘Later!

Happy (Belated) Blogiversary!

Hey! So I suck and completely missed the blog’s fourth anniversary last week. (In my defense, December 18th was in the midst of finals this year.) (Also Star Wars happened.)

It’s so unbelievable to me that this little blog has now been around for FOUR WHOLE YEARS. Like I started this thing when I was a senior in high school, and now I’m a senior in college, and what even.

So much has changed since then, but one thing hasn’t: how absolutely, impossibly grateful I am to everyone who has ever read a post on here.

This is the blog’s 484th published post and I’ve been able to reach that kind of mind-numbing number because of your support. You are amazing. Thank you.

And three more times, in honor of four years: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Here’s to another great four years?

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Still Miss Yesterday

Hey there! I’M HOME FOR WINTER BREAK. Of course, I still have a term paper due Friday and a take-home final due Monday. But at least I’m working on these with Sammy curled up at my feet?

I also took a break from schoolwork yesterday to send a bazillion emails and wrap a bazillion gifts and eat a bazillion carbs, so things are going pretty well.

ALSO, over the weekend I had a new post go up on [art]seen, the event review blog I write for at U of M! I previewed Star Wars. Check it out here.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a poem.

**********

Yesterday I found myself
a place I’d been a thousand times
but I didn’t recognize a
single face there

It was still the same street,
with the same displays,
same concrete, but still
something felt different—
I realized it was me

And I’m not sure I like that,
not sure I want to see
what happens next in this
growing up thing

Last week I was,
who I’ve always been.
How is it possible now
I was someone different then?

And the world keeps changing
and it’s really scary,
and as happy as I am with today,
I still miss yesterday.

**********

Thanks for reading! (Finals are done on Monday. See you on the other side.)

~Julia