Wordy Wednesday: Hill Auditorium

Hey there! Guess who’s back in her knee brace and getting her butt kicked by regular life?

That’s right: after only a few days of brace-free leg, I managed to re-injure myself (because obviously). On the upside, it’s not nearly as bad this time, so I’m still able to work and get around pretty well, and I’ll hopefully (FINALLY) be back into participating in my dance class by next week. Cross your fingers!

This week has been crazy busy, between Easter and multiple papers due and my LAST CHOIR CONCERT OF COLLEGE HOLD ME. Then this Friday is this event I’m co-chairing for the university that we’ve been planning all year and are flying in speakers from New York for and all kinds of stuff. And then I’m trying to arrange a fundraiser for Edinburgh for Saturday, and then Saturday night I’m going to the ballet (for class/work), and this is all on top of the normal weekend stuff I have to do, like homework and rehearsal and pretending I have a social life.

Altogether, this means I am incredibly exhausted and stressed out and constantly feeling like I’m not doing enough. However, a lot of really great things have also been happening lately (I got to see a couple of old friends for the first time in a few months! we won a major grant for Edinburgh! I’m almost done with the rough draft of Time Travel Heist Story!)–so I’m doing my best to take deep breaths and roll with the punches and remember that I’m doing all of these things voluntarily, because I like them, so getting stressed is counter-intuitive.

And yeah. I swear I really am enjoying my last semester of college! My classes are super interesting and I’m truly excited about the projects on which I’m working and I love Ann Arbor. (I’m just also really tired.)

And now that I’ve bored you with all of my life stuff: this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a poem!

**********

It’s a
deep breath
and the first step
onto the shiny, slick floor
overlooking so many seats
and the balconies,
all dressed in
red,
and the lights so bright
you feel like you’re
melting
into
a puddle, except also
they make you feel
strong

It’s the rainbow-shaped
arches of white lights
and the feeling of
so much history pressing
upon your chest, against
your fingers,
into your feet,
while you squint against the
stage lights to search for familiar
faces beyond the glow

And it’s this,
all of this–
the hesitation, the twist
to your stomach, as
the conductor raises
her arms–
it’s the moment before the
music crashes
around you and through you and
straight into you
and everything is so
absolutely
silent,
like all the
sound has been sucked
from the room

It’s this–
the moments I live for:
the stage and
the lights and
the anticipation
and the drumming of
my heart, waiting for
the music
***********

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Red Light

Hey there! Guess who’s out of her knee brace and back to regular life?

Other cool things that have happened in the past week:

  • Honors convocation! I was a James B. Angell scholar this year, after getting straight As for two consecutive terms. My family came out for the ceremony and everything. It was splendid.
  • Honors thesis is done! I turned in my senior creative writing honors thesis on Monday, which means I am now officially done with one of my classes for the semester! (You know, unless I earn honors on said thesis. Then I’ll have an end-of-semester reading in my future. Fingers crossed!)
  • Season two of Daredevil came out! Okay, so this has nothing to do with me, except that I am now binge-watching this in every free moment I get. Is it bad that my favorite part of this show is when Charlie Cox (Matt) slips up so you can hear his English accent?

Moving on: this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a poem.

**********

cars whoosh past in
a waterfall of stolen
breaths and whipping brown
hair–and the woman
beside me steps back,
steps away, flees to
the safety of the curb

but I love the feeling
of almost falling
over the edge,
so I step closer,
closer,
a game of chicken between the
roaring tires and my soft, worn ballet flats,
decorated with bows;
I’ve had them since I was
sixteen

and it’s this weird temptation,
this urge to shift
just a little closer,
just a little too far,
to change the entire course
of a life
in an instant

and I never would, obviously,
but I’m tempted,
I’m tempted,
until the light changes
and the recklessness,
the need for wildness,
passes as I hurry
safely
to the other side

you don’t realize
how fast the world moves
until you stand still
beside it
**********

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Towards Summer

It’s been a pretty decent week! Still taking things slow with my bum knee, but fun things are afoot. (See what I did there? Knee? Foot?) (I’ll see myself out.)

A friend who I’ve known for something like seven or eight years (but had never met in person before) visited Friday, which was amazing. And this morning Hannah and I bought our caps and gowns, which is just SO WEIRD HOW ARE WE GRADUATING IN SIX WEEKS WEREN’T WE JUST FRESHMEN? (Also the weather’s turned warm and thunderstorm-y, which is much appreciated because I am 5000% done with this winter.)

However, in the middle of those momentous occasions, something else exciting happened–and I am THRILLED to finally share with you that I’m going to be producing and acting (in a cameo role) in an original, one-act comedic play at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, this August in Scotland!!!

I got the news that the festival had approved our production while sitting in the exact spot at Espresso Royale where, a little under a year ago, I first put together my proposal for the project to present to the university student theatre troupe with which we’re now working. Since then, my life’s been a hot mess of grant proposals, and searching for a playwright and director and actors and all that, and trying to convince the university that this isn’t a crazy idea. But we’re doing this! We’re actually doing this!

The brilliant Skyler Tarnas wrote the script this school year and we’ve been in rehearsals for a couple weeks now–and I’m so grateful to all the people who have jumped on board with my (seemingly) impossible dream. WE’RE GOING TO SCOTLAND!

You can learn more about the show through our Facebook page here.

And now, what you’re actually here for: this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a poem!

**********

the drip, drip, drip
of the first spring rain
soaking into the pages of
the crumbling, yellowed novel
with my back against the
crumbling, greying cement bench
and the sky alive above me with
dancing lightning and
swirling clouds
and the whipping flag,
all red and blue, the white turned
damp, yellow, by the storm
and it’s spring, it’s spring,
it’s spring
–the clock tower strikes noon
and the raindrops drip on,
marching out the seconds
towards summer

six weeks
six weeks
**********

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

 

Wordy Wednesday: Tell Me Later

I’M BACK. How was your week? Did you even notice I was gone? (Don’t answer the second question.)

As mentioned, some friends and I went on a cruise for spring break last week. I’ve never done a real spring break trip before, but with it being senior year and all (and thus the End of Spring Break as We Know It), we splurged and found ourselves in the eastern Caribbean for a week (specifically: Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas).     We visited Grand Turk, Half Moon Cay, and Nassau. During the week, we went snorkeling along a coral reef, played with stingrays, went horseback riding on the beach and in the water, and swam with dolphins–along with eating a (probably literal) ton of food and swimming SO MUCH and spending an absolutely beautiful amount of time just laying out on beaches/the deck of the cruise ship.

This was homework for a class and I honestly did not mind.

 Unfortunately, because I’m me, I came back feeling all rested and happy–and then promptly on Monday my right leg stopped working. Like, legitimately: my muscles just stopped working. And by Tuesday evening, my knee had swelled to about twice the size a knee naturally should be (which is not at all unsettling, let me tell you).

Luckily a trip to the doctor revealed that there’s nothing really wrong with my leg–it’s just still a little weird after my knee injuries last summer, so all the activity last week was too much for it, and it decided to kind of just shut down on me. My muscles clenched up, which then pulled on everything, which then made it all swell.SO I am now back in my trusty knee brace and not allowed to do anything for a couple weeks. Which honestly is such a blessing in disguise, because I am exhausted and at the point where I will take any excuse to slow down for a sec to catch my breath.

Still, though, I loved my last spring break and I’m sad it’s over, but now AHHH IT’S MARCH WHICH MEANS I HAVE FUN THINGS TO ANNOUNCE SOON.

In the meantime: This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a song.

**********

CHORDS: G, D, A, C

INTRO
Tell me later what you’re thinking
’Cause I can’t read your mind
Right now this ship is sinking
And we’re running out of time

VERSE1
It’s amazing how fast the things go
Amazing how strong the winds blow
Time flies by like we’re having fun
Except we’re staring down the barrel of a loaded gun

It’s amazing how quiet the night gets
When the stars start talking as the sun sets
And you and I aren’t cannibals
But we’re starting to act like animals

CHORUS
And I don’t know where we are right now
But we’re crashing into the ground
And I don’t know where we’re going
Except we are going down

So tell me later what you’re thinking
If this ship somehow runs aground
Tell me later what you’re thinking
If we’re both still around,
If I am still around

VERSE2
It’s stupid how long the night is
When you don’t know where help is
And I could cry and I could scream
But that is becoming a running theme

It’s stupid how quiet you are
Like you’re wishing hard on a shooting star
And you and I aren’t selfish
But we’re starting to act real hellish

[Repeat CHORUS]

BRIDGE
Where’s the sun, where’s the breeze
One glance from you makes me freeze
The water’s deep, the air is cold
This whole routine is getting old

We try to bail each other out
Except every word is filled doubt
The water’s up to your knee
And I am lost at sea

[Repeat CHORUS]

ENDING
We’re sinking,
we’re sinking

**********

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Oh, and P.S. I got into the Denver Publishing Institute! So I’ve now been accepted early admittance to all three of the publishing intensives to which I applied. So now I’m freaking out, you know, juuust a little bit.

Wordy Wednesday: Beast and the Beauty

Hellooo from the other side*! (Aka I am writing this on February 24 but scheduling it to go up on March 2.) (Because by the time this goes up I will be on a cruise ship.) (Because senior year spring break.)

As I promised last week (or about five minutes ago, for me), I’ve got a special Wordy Wednesday for you today! We recently had to write a five-page adaptation of a classic fairy tale for my writing children’s literature class. Mine got a little (very) rushed at the end, because five pages is, like, nothing. But my professor liked it a lot and I haven’t shared any fiction on here in a while. So, I give you: “Beast and the Beauty.”

(Warning that this story contains some mild language and stuff!)

**********
Once upon a time there was a beautiful girl named Rose. She was a high school senior—all golden hair, skin from the “after” segment of a Proactiv infomercial, and sparkling blue eyes. And, most importantly (at least for this tale), she was a fierce competitor in the Provincial County Annual Beauty Pageant (err, “Scholarship Competition”).

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall. Who’s the fairest of them all?” she could frequently be heard saying to any reflective surface within her sightline.

“For the last time,” Mindy Sue (who wore very reflective glasses) could likewise frequently be heard saying, “I am not a mirror, I am a human being, and—” But Rose was also known for having a very short attention span for anything that was not herself, and she’d generally moved on by that point.

Mindy Sue would just push her glasses further up her nose, sigh, and pronounce, “She’s such a royal pain in my ass.”

“Yes, well, that’s generally what happens when you’ve won Princess of Provincial County the last three years in a row,” her twin brother, Henry, would say from where he had his nose buried in a Sudoku book. You see, Henry was a math nerd and he didn’t like his skillz to get dull during the twenty-three hours or so between each AP Calculus BC class, so he liked to practice other math-related activities in his free time.

Both Mindy Sue and Henry weren’t exactly what one might call “traditionally attractive.” They weren’t even really “nerd chic.” In fact, on the day on which our story begins, Mindy Sue was wearing an oversized orange t-shirt (which truly is not an attractive color on anyone), flared jeans that didn’t quite reach her ankles, and beat up white tennis shoes that, if polled, nine out of ten grandmothers would likely agree they would be embarrassed to be seen wearing. Henry, on the other hand, wore a faded t-shirt featuring that one X-Men character no one cares about, jeans that, while they fit him fairly well, were not even properly faded or distressed (nor were from a name brand), and scuffed black off-brand high-tops that showed off his truly beastly-sized feet. (Okay, so maybe Henry didn’t look that bad. But he certainly didn’t deserve to breathe the same air as someone as beautiful as Rose.)

Just then, the bell rang, and the twins parted ways with another annoyed sigh from Mindy Sue (she sighed quite a lot) and a distracted, halfhearted wave from Henry, whose nose was still buried in the Sudoku book.

At the end of the school day, after play practice (for Mindy Sue) and mathletes (for, well, you can guess who), the twins trundled home. Their family was solidly middle class, with a nice split level in a nice subdivision, all of which was wholly nice and ordinary and often made Henry dream of something more. (“I want to be where the people are,” he could often be heard murmuring to the MIT pendant tacked above his desk.) However, on this particular evening, at dinner the twins’ father fidgeted in his seat and couldn’t bear to touch his second slice of meat-lovers’ pizza, which was so wholly unordinary (and not nice) that Henry even looked up from his copy of Mathematician Monthly to ask, voice quavering with a rush of concern, “Dad, why aren’t you touching your second slice of meat-lovers’ pizza?”

“It’s nothing,” said Mindy Sue and Henry’s father.

Mindy Sue rolled her eyes dramatically. “Well clearly it’s not nothing. Goodness, Dad!”

“Don’t harass him,” said Henry, the ever understanding and supportive child.

“Please,” said Mindy Sue, “I’m older. I understand these things.”

“For the last time,” Henry groaned, “you were born five minutes before me! That does not make you wiser in any statistically probable—”

“I LOST MY JOB,” their father burst out, more to get the twins to stop squabbling than to actually share his upsetting news.

The teenagers stared at him. The pizza—normally their favorite meal—threatened to make a return trip out of their mouths. “What?” Mindy Sue said, an outraged glint in her eye.

“I got caught stealing from the breakroom and I lost my job,” their father repeated—and, quite comfortable sharing news now that the first part was over, he added, “Also, I need what money we have left to finish paying off the mortgage on the house, or everything we own will be repossessed, so you guys are on your own for figuring out college now. Sorry. Henry, would you mind passing me another slice of meat-lovers’ pizza?”

Mindy Sue stared at him, gaping like a fish. Henry, on the other hand, was ever the dutiful son so he passed their father another slice of meat-lovers’ pizza and immediately began thinking about how to make enrolling at MIT next year still a statistically probable possibility.

“What do you mean,” Mindy Sue finally spluttered out, after their father had ingested another two and a half slices of meat-lovers’ pizza, “that we are on our own for figuring out college now?”

“I’m sorry,” their father said, “but what’s happened has happened. I can’t afford to send you two to college anymore. If you want to go, you’re going to have to find a way to pay for yourself.” And he ate another slice of pizza.

“I’m doomed,” Mindy Sue wailed. “DOOMED, I TELL YOU.” She flew from the room.

“Eh.” Henry shrugged. “I’ll figure something out.”

“I always knew there was a reason you were my favorite,” said their father. “You know, besides the obvious ‘younger sibling’ thing.”

The next day, Henry dutifully hung flyers around the school, offering to tutor students in math. He waited beside his phone all evening for calls begging him to teach the lowly miscreants of Provincial County High how to solve for x, but his phone rang no more than usual (which is to say it did not ring at all). After a second night of this, he was ready to give up in despair—but then, on the third night, a truly shocking thing happened: his phone rang.

It took him a solid three rings to figure out how to answer the call, it happened so infrequently.

“Hello,” the person on the other end of the line said, “it’s me.”

“Me who?” he asked. “Is ‘me’ like a nickname for Mea from English class?”

“No, you dolt,” said the voice. “It’s ‘me,’ as in Rose, the three time champion of the Provincial County Beauty Pageant—I mean ‘Scholarship Competition.’”

“Oh no,” Henry said. “No, no, no. I’m not tutoring you.”

“Rumor has it that if you don’t, you won’t get to go to college,” Rose said.

“How do you know that?” Henry said. “Wait, right—your family owns the company that fired my dad for stealing from the breakroom. Ugh.” Henry fondled his MIT pendant. He was so close to getting out of Provincial County. “Fine. Whatever. Sure. I’ll tutor you.”

They met the next afternoon in Henry’s favorite spot: the calculus classroom.

In place of greeting, he asked, “So what do you get out of this anyway?”

“The Provincial County Beau—Scholarship Competition says I can’t compete this year if I don’t get my grades up,” Rose confessed.

“Well, how bad are they?” Henry asked.

“All Fs,” said Rose. “But that’s F for phenomenal, right?”

“Please tell me you’ve hired an English tutor as well,” was his response.

“The point is,” the young beauty wailed, “if I don’t get my grade up in algebra, I’ll never get to regain my title and be a princess again!”

“You do realize winning the beauty pageant does not make you a real—”

“Shut up, Harry.”

Henry shrugged and began tutoring her.

He taught Rose all about imaginary numbers and integers and other things that begin with the letter I. He also slowly taught her about the important things in life, like how glasses and mirrors are two different things, the names of all the X-Men, and how to do Sudoku. By the end of their tutoring, Rose had a C in algebra and a much better grasp on #lyfe. She also had quite a crush on Henry (whose name she had finally bothered to learn around their second month focused solely on how to draw x, y graphs), which was good because he’d also learned to look past appearances and had fallen for her as well. After all, the beauty was much more bearable now that she knew who Professor X was. One might say she was even transformed.

Henry got into MIT with a hefty scholarship (which is good, because it turns out tutoring one person doesn’t pay all that well), Rose won the Provincial County Scholarship Competition for the fourth year in a row (thus reinstating her as Princess), and, with Rose enrolled in beautician school just down the street from Henry’s dorm, they lived happily ever after. (Oh, and Mindy Sue got a scholarship to Julliard. It turned out all of her dramatic sighing paid off, too.)

**********

Thanks for reading! (Here’s hoping I make it back to Michigan without a sunburn and/or Zika Virus?)

~Julia

*You’re welcome for the multiple cliche Adele references in this post.

 

Wordy Wednesday: Characteristics of a Trickster

It’s been a really long week. A good week (but definitely a long one).

Midterms are in full swing and spring break begins tomorrow night, which means that I’ve also had the fun of trying to prepare to go off-line for a week. (Internet? Where we’re going there is literally no internet connection ever period end of story.) (Also known as: cruise ship.) And now all of my professors have decided to assign extra work over break too, which means I need to read three novels, a couple hundred pages of a text book, write two papers, prepare a fifteen minute presentation, and work on both a dance combo and my choir music–in addition to completing grant applications, getting caught up on doctor appointments, doing Ch1Con work, trying to get caught up on internship/critique partner work, and, like, sleeping at some point. (Although, really, what is sleep?) (Seriously, it’s been so long since I felt rested that I have no idea.)

Still, I’m excited for break and, as mentioned, this past week (despite midterms and everything) has been really good. Last Wednesday I had a writing workshop with an alumnus that was super beneficial for my honors thesis, and in the evening my mom and I went to Susan Dennard, Veronica Rossi, and EK Johnston’s book signing in Lansing. I spent the weekend up north skiing with my family. Monday night we had the first rehearsal for the play I’m working on (again: I promise more info on that soon!). Yesterday I sent out my honors thesis for critique. And today I found out I was accepted priority admittance to New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute. (Ahhh!! Not at all sure if I’m actually going, but it’s so nice to have the option.)

Aaand yeah. That’s about where I’m at right now. Very tired and more than a little stressed, but also pretty happy with how things are going. (Sorry for those monster paragraphs.)

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

*****

In my history of children’s literature class, we’re discussing the trickster figure right now. We studied the trickster in my fantasy lit class last year as well (I talked about it here), but studying it again is really reminding me of how much I adore this character trope.

Tricksters are not just incredibly entertaining and empowering, but also really effective in children’s literature (because tricksters, in a lot of ways, reflect childlike characteristics). In fact, the majority of popular children’s protagonists (especially MG and YA) are tricksters.

But what makes a character a trickster? Check out some of the most common characteristics below.

Underdog

Arguably the most important element of the trickster is the fact that he or she is an underdog. Whether this means the character is literally small in stature, or rather of a lesser station in life (underprivileged or younger than everyone else involved or something else along those lines), the trickster will always come from a place that puts him or her at a disadvantage to succeed, in direct comparison with the opposing force.

A really good example of this is Katniss Everdeen. She’s physically smaller than most of her opponents in The Hunger Games and comes from the poor end of one of the “lesser” districts, which means that she’s both underfed and under-trained. Basically, looking at the Hunger Games from a traditional perspective, Katniss has very little chance of winning compared to her opponents.

This is really good in terms of storytelling, because it means that when the protagonist does succeed, it’s all the sweeter. While we probably see it coming as readers (because, duh, the “good” side is going to win), it’s still just out there enough to keep us on the edges of our seats.

Intelligent

This is how the trickster succeeds: not with brute strength, but with cunning. Slyness. The trickster is smart. S/he knows his/her limitations, how to read situations, how to plan elaborate schemes and think on his/her feet and manipulate the situation towards his or her advantage.

Another great example of the trickster figure is Harry Potter. While he might not be quite as book smart as Hermione, he’s street smart (you know, Wizarding Street Smart). He doesn’t defeat his opponents by overpowering them physically, but by figuring out more about the situation than they do and using that to his advantage.

(For instance: In Deathly Hallows, he figures out who the Elder Wand belongs to and is able to defeat Voldemort by using that information to his advantage. Voldemort, on the other hand–who technically is more powerful–does not figure that out. Because he values the power he has over thinking through delicate and complicated plans. And he ends up accidentally killing himself due to this.)

Hardworking

The trickster figure is dedicated towards succeeding in his or her goals–and, as part of that, is incredibly hardworking. Really, it’s the combination of cunning and work ethic that allows the trickster to succeed. Because no matter how smart you are, you won’t get anywhere if you’re not willing to put in the work to see things through.

A prime example of this is actually Loki, from the Marvel cinematic universe. While he’s far from the protagonist of the films in which he appears (and ends up failing because of that), it’s impossible to deny how much planning, work, and conviction goes into his plans.

(Just a Little Bit) Cocky

This is probably the trait that makes tricksters so attractive to readers. Tricksters might be underdogs–they might not even be confident internally–but they appear so confidence outwardly that you’d never know. Tricksters might be smart, but more than that they’re witty, constantly throwing out sarcastic one-liners. Tricksters might be hardworking, but they do it without breaking a sweat; they make things look easy.

Peter Parker/Spider-Man is a wonderful example of this. He has so much going against him, and definitely seems like an underdog when he’s being Peter, but as soon as he puts on the Spider-Man mask, it’s like he comes to life.

This is why superheroes and spies and characters like Katniss and Harry Potter are so integral to our cultural consciousness today. Because they’re underdogs, but they succeed anyhow. Because everything is against them, but they face each new situation with a smirk and a snarky retort. Because they know how it feels to be at a disadvantage–to feel like the world is crumbling around them–and they show us the results of never giving up and never giving in.

And in the end, they slay their dragons (err, Dark Lords). And there’s nothing better to read than that.

*****

Since I’m going to be out of town next week, I’ve got a special Wordy Wednesday planned for next Wednesday. Vote for the week after, though!

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

 

 

Wordy Wednesday: Writing When Busy

I’m writing this post Tuesday night because tomorrow I have two classes, a writing workshop, a midterm exam, and I’m going to a certain Ch1Con keynote speaker‘s book signing an hour away. Sooo yeah. Time and I will be mutually exclusive on Wednesday.

ANYWAY, though, quick update on the past week: I got to see both Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Deadpool over the weekend, and they were both great. (I also reviewed Deadpool here.) For Galentine’s Day on Saturday, my roommates and I had friends over for waffles and a good time was had by all. Oh, and yesterday (Monday) I got the really amazing news that I GOT ACCEPTED EARLY ADMISSION TO THE COLUMBIA PUBLISHING COURSE UK.

Basically: I am going to be spending the month of September learning all about the British book publishing industry at Exeter College, Oxford University through Columbia University’s Journalism School. And I got the news while in the middle of punching out at the end of my shift at the bookshop and I literally burst into tears in the middle of the dictionary section, so there’s a good chance there are now some customers who are very concerned about my love for words. (Which is actually not all that off-base, but like, yeah.)

This is the first year Columbia’s putting on a version of their publishing course in the UK, and it’s such a dream come true because, well, I’m pretty sure the entire world knows at this point how obsessed I am with Oxford. But AHHH I’M GOING BACK.

Onto what you’re actually here for: this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

In case the above description of my life didn’t give it away, I don’t have a lot of free time these days. My planner looks more like a pen threw up in it than a legitimate schedule and I can’t remember the last time I felt truly relaxed. (It was probably sometime this summer. Or in elementary school? One of the two.) However, I’m still doing my best to carve out a little time to write here and there, and it’s slowly (hopefully) adding up to finished projects. So: this is how I’m getting there.

Get People to Make You Write

One of the really nice things about being a creative writing major is that, no matter what else is going on, I have to set aside time to work on my writing each week for my classes. 

For example, this semester I’m completing a short story collection for my honors thesis and writing a picture book for one of my children’s literature classes. 

Sometimes I don’t feel like working on these projects. Sometimes I would rather take a nap. (Okay, so that’s basically all of the times, actually.) But because these are assignments for class, I don’t really have a choice but to put in the time on them–and it’s a relief to know that when I am enjoying working on them (which also is basically all of the times), I don’t have to feel guilty, because they’re actually quantifiably productive projects.

Steal Time

My schedule’s a little crazy this semester with the back-to-back activities, but I am lucky enough to still get a few free minutes between most of my classes.

My (and I’m assuming most people’s) natural inclination is to spend that time on my phone. However, that can also be useful writing time, when I’m excited about what I’m working on. Even just a few minutes here and there can add up to a lot, over a long course of time.

Write as a Reward

I’ve hit the point where there’s no such thing as being Caught Up on everything I need to do. That’s college for ya. And that can make it hard to justify writing to myself, because I always feel like I should really be doing something more productive instead (see above).

However, if writing is important to you, then it is a productive activity. But priorities and balance are also important things. So I’ve taken to setting goals for each individual day, with the knowledge that I can’t do everything on my overall to do list in a single day. And when I finish my daily goals, instead of freaking out about getting started on the next day’s goals, I spend what time I have left that night on writing.

A lot of the time, this one honestly doesn’t work out for me. A lot of the time I’m still up past midnight working on homework and work-work. But on the days when I manage to get everything done earlier, writing is the best reward.

Set Goals

This is an obvious one, but setting goals can be such a great motivator. For the play I finished a few weeks ago, I’d first begun working on it way back in November, 2014, but had been having a lot of trouble finding the energy and time to make it to the end. So, the writing was going veeery slowly.

Then a few months back, I decided I was going to finish it in time to enter it in a writing competition with a due date in February. And even though actually getting anything out of the competition is a massive long shot, having that very concrete deadline to work towards worked wonders on my motivation. After over a year of dragging my feet, I managed to finish the play in time.

Having something you’re working towards can make the need to write feel so much more concrete and like something you should be doing (not just want to). And that can make such a big difference.

*****

So yeah, those are my tips for how to write while busy.

What’s your advice for making time to write when you’re busy? Feel free to share it in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

 

Wordy Wednesday: First Person POV in Literature vs. Film

As far as weeks throughout this semester have gone so far, this isn’t too busy of one. Somebody forgot to tell my body that though and I am absolutely exhausted. (Hooray.)

I spent the weekend getting caught up on schoolwork. This week so far has mostly been more of the same–but Monday I had the honor of reading a short story aloud at the Cafe Shapiro event at the undergraduate library for the third year in a row (photo and monstrously long caption available on Insta!) and met for the first time with the company of the play I’m producing (more details on that coming soonish).

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post. This time ’round: a paper about the differences in the first person perspective between literature and film, which I wrote for my (you guessed it) literature to film adaptations class last semester. Spoiler alert for both the lit and film versions of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Double Indemnity, and Shawshank Redemption.

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Every story adapted from page to screen offers a different challenge. Truly, any element of a written text could come to present itself as a challenge to filmmakers. However, altogether, arguably one of the most difficult types of stories to adapt from page to screen is that of the first person narrative. First person narratives are popular in prose, as they allow the protagonist to speak directly to the reader—thus giving the opportunity to share inside information, thoughts, and feelings—and, through this, they allow the reader to more easily and fully connect with the protagonist. The reader sees the world through the protagonist’s eyes, so the reading experience generally feels more intimate and immediate; it’s the difference between reading a memoir versus reading a biography. This becomes a problem when filmmakers choose to adapt these stories to the screen, however, because films cannot strictly be first person experiences. The viewer does not view the world through the narrator’s eyes, but as the roving camera, an extra, non-diegetic person in the room of whom the characters are unaware. A popular method of solving this challenge is by translating the internal monologue of the page into voiceover narration on screen. Three stories studied this semester—Stephen King’s Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity—all translate their first person perspectives into voiceover narration for their onscreen adaptations, and thus also transfer the inside information, biased perspectives, and more personal understanding of each story, in order to ultimately create deeper and more meaningful films.

First person pieces of literature thrive on their narrators to convey information to the reader. The narrator has multiple responsibilities, from keeping the reader invested through his or her voice—whether humorous or philosophical, emotional or stoic—to sharing information in order to convey the story to the reader in the most interesting and entertaining manner possible. For example, Double Indemnity begins with the line:

I drove out to Glendale to put three new truck drivers on a brewery company bond, and then I remembered this renewal over in Hollywoodland. (Cain 1)

This sentence is a great example of voice, as it alone establishes the unpolished suaveness of Cain’s protagonist without ever once explicitly saying anything about him. It is this sharing of information that makes narrators so useful, as they are able to convey what is happening to the reader much more concisely than if the reader was to have to figure it out on his or her own, through implications and dialogue. Voiceover narration functions differently from the internal monologue of textual works, due to the fact that movies involve a greater number of senses than literature—not only does the audience use their eyes, as they do when reading, but they also hear the story, through dialogue, music, and more. Due to this different functionality, even films that qualify as first person experiences are still more impartial than their related pieces of literature, as while voiceover narration and the existence of the narrator in many—if not all—of the scenes helps the viewer gain an understanding of the world through the narrator’s perspective, visually, the camera still is a separate entity from the narrator. This difference comes into sharp exposure in the film adaptation of King’s Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, called simply Shawshank Redemption, as the film moves between scenes that contain narrator Red—and, in correlation, his voiceover narration—and scenes that track his friend Andy instead, scenes which contain information to which Red is not privy, and thus which do not contain voiceover.

Despite this difference in function, however, voiceover narration still takes after written internal monologue by existing primarily to convey information. For example, in the screenplay for Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, narrator Charlie explains through voiceover how he had “hoped that [his] sister Candace and her boyfriend Derek would have let [him] eat lunch with their earth club” (Chbosky 4) while heading for her table in the cafeteria—to which Candace gives the very concise reply of, “Seniors only” (Chbosky 4). Without the voiceover narration, this quick and simple exchange between the siblings would not produce the desired effect; rather, the filmmakers would instead have to create a longer, more involved scene, in which Charlie and Candace might discuss the fact that they are siblings, the fact that she eats lunch with her boyfriend and their earth club, and how she does not want her dorky younger brother to sit with them. Plus, a scene such as this could easily grow cumbersome, as it would not feel natural for characters to outright share this sort of information in a conversation with one another, because they would already both be aware of these facts. So, Charlie’s voiceover narration streamlines this process. In essence, voiceover narration is the difference between telling the viewer about the siblings, versus showing the viewer. If overused, this can come across as a cheap narrative device; another work studied this semester, Adaptation, refers to this problem. However, if used in such a manner as to advance the plot and save time without losing characterization or world-building—such as how The Perks of Being a Wallflower uses it—voiceover is an effective shortcut in conveying information. This also, as in literature, allows the more explicit sharing of important information, rather than requiring the viewer to interpret a scene in an effort to gain the same knowledge, which could lead to an incorrect conclusion.

Additionally, as these three works exemplify, voiceover narration makes the viewer a co-conspirator in what is happening. Because it feels as if the narrator is speaking directly to the viewer, it makes the viewer feel as if he or she is part of the action, and like he or she has insider information about the world and protagonists of the film. Shawshank Redemption does a particularly brilliant job of this, as narrator Red explains the ins and outs of Shawshank Prison. For example:

Most new fish come close to madness the first night. Someone always breaks down crying. Happens every time. The only question is, who’s it gonna be? … It’s as good a thing to bet on as any, I guess. I had my money on Andy Dufresne… (Darabont 15)

Here screenwriter Frank Darabont departs from the beginning of King’s novella in order to take a moment to develop Red’s character. He takes into consideration the fact that—by losing how Red’s voice underlies every word of the novella, due to the nature of literature—his character naturally then becomes harder to develop as deeply in the film. This section of voiceover shows how Red is knowledgeable about Shawshank Prison and has spent a significant amount of time there, through use of words like “always” and the fact that he bets on someone’s suffering like it is a joke; essentially, he has become desensitized to the horror of the first night. This also gives the viewer a deeper understanding of both Red and life at Shawshank Prison. Because he is the narrator, the viewer naturally relates to Red—even more than the viewer would were he simply the protagonist; as narrator he is not only protagonist, but also guide through the world. The viewer has no choice but to trust him. So, it is easier to find Red sympathetic than the other characters—and if this is how even Red treats these circumstances, the viewer quickly learns that Shawshank Prison must be a terrible, calculated place. As this shows, voiceover narration tends to present itself as opinion in order to convey facts, or vice versa, and this once again aids in streamlining the process of disseminating information to the viewer.

Double Indemnity is also an interesting example of the nature of trust in a narrator, as, through the voiceover narration, protagonist Walter Neff literally steps the audience through the story of how he murdered a man for personal gain. Through his voiceover, he lets the audience in on the crime, like he is telling them a deep, dark secret. In the novella, he tells his story to an unspecified audience—essentially, the generic idea of the reader—while in the film, he tells the story as a recorded confession to his friend and colleague, Keyes, whom he has duped up until this point. Despite the more specific target audience of the narration in the film versus the novella, it still feels as if Neff tells his tale directly to the viewer, and because of this, the viewer trusts Neff’s interpretation of events. This leads to the story essentially outsmarting the viewer, as Neff leads the viewer in one direction—with his self-assured narration about what he thinks events mean and how they will turn out—while the truth, taking place beyond his limited, biased perspective, slowly crafts the story in a different direction, and ultimately leads to his downfall. As Keyes states in the screenplay, “You can’t figure them all, Walter” (Wilder and Chandler 131)—and Neff certainly has not figured all the times others would outsmart him. Likewise, Charlie of The Perks of Being a Wallflower presents a biased perspective of the events that unfold throughout his story, as he blocks memories and, most memorably, blacks out during a fight in the high school cafeteria. Also likewise, Red of Shawshank Redemption doesn’t figure out Andy’s plan to escape until Andy has already disappeared, thus correspondingly keeping the viewer in the dark. This biased perspective is more difficult to utilize in films than in prose, due, once again, to the less biased perspective of the camera. This means that one of the viewer’s two involved senses intrinsically receives the story as unbiased. So, accordingly, the filmmakers must then put more work into creating more biased—but not too obviously so—voiceover narration in order to keep the viewer under their thumb.

On the other side of bias, however, is the relentlessly positive nature of the fact that including a narrator in film, like in literature, creates a more personal experience of the story overall. While this gives a narrower, more biased view of the world, as the audience generally only experiences events from one, first person perspective versus from a third person perspective, this also gives the audience a more intimate view of that one point of view. This allows the audience to become more deeply invested in that character’s life, leading, arguably, to a more emotionally charged, and thus more enjoyable, film-going experience. For example, without voiceover narration, the audience would not get to hear Charlie’s thoughts as he and his friends enter the tunnel at the end of the film, stating:

I can see it. This one moment when you know you’re not a sad story. You are alive. … And in this moment, I swear … we are infinite. (Chbosky 95-96)

These lines are so important, as they are the lessons Chbosky most hopes to relate to the viewer with this story. These are the types of thoughts that would not feel natural to say out loud, but also are difficult to convey without words. Voiceover narration allows them to exist. It is these types of intimate thoughts that lead to the audience really rooting for Charlie to get better and survive, and similarly for Red to find freedom and happiness. The audience even roots, odd as it is, for Neff to get what will ultimately leave him at peace, whether it be to get away with murder or to give up his opportunity to in order to share how cunning he is with the one man whom he wants to make proud. Voiceover narration, like internal monologue, grounds the story more firmly around one central character, with the rest as the supporting cast in his or her life. Even in Shawshank Redemption, wherein arguably the true protagonist is Andy, as the plot revolves around his time in Shawshank Prison and ultimate escape, in the end the story does turn out to be about Red—his thoughts about Andy, what Andy means to him, and how that relationship inspires him to seek a better life.

While voiceover narration differs in many ways from the internal monologue of literature—again, primarily stemming from the fact that film engages more than one sense, thus dampening the power of each singular sense within the overall experience—these two, similar devices certainly share in their ability to convey information, develop character, and draw the audience more deeply into the world. While literature requires either one third person or first person narrator per scene to directly guide the reader through the world, films allow a greater variety and combination of experiences, wherein, even with a narrator, the viewer still physically sees the world through a technically objective perspective. Where literature can only be objective or subjective, film is the combination of objective and subjective experiences. Thus, by utilizing voiceover in order to translate the first person narratives of their literary counterparts to the big screen, Stephen King’s Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity all deepen their characters, streamline the dissemination of information, connect the audience with the protagonist, and more in order to ultimately create deeper and more meaningful films—ones that, in conclusion, stick with the viewer in a way that, as Charlie would say, feels “infinite.”

*****

Bibliography

  • Cain, James M. Double Indemnity. New York: Vintage, 1992. Print.
  • Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. 2012. Screenplay.
  • Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Print.
  • Darabont, Frank. Shawshank Redemption. 1994. Screenplay.
  • Double Indemnity. Dir. Billy Wilder. Paramount Pictures, 1944. Film.
  • King, Stephen. Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption: A Story from Different Seasons. Thorndike, Me.: Thorndike, 1982. Print.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Dir. Stephen Chbosky. Lionsgate, 2012. Film.
  • Shawshank Redemption. Dir. Frank Darabont. Warner Bros, 1994. Film.
  • Wilder, Billy and Chandler, Raymond. Double Indemnity. 1944. Screenplay.

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Thanks for reading!

~Julia

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

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Thanks for reading!

~Julia