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.

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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.

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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: 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: The Trickster Figure

Here we go. Last couple days of the semester!

Yesterday was my twenty-first birthday, which I celebrated with lots of unhealthy food and people I love (and just a little champagne at midnight, because while I am far too much of a control freak to ever want to even get buzzed, I’m cool with a little celebratory champagne).

My last final of the semester is tomorrow, then I’m freeee. Finally. I loved my classes this school year, but I need a break.

One of the classes I took (and absolutely adored) this semester was Fantasy Literature. We read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. We dissected excerpts from The Lord of the Rings, short stories by Ray Bradbury, and an episode of The Twilight Zone. We watched Pan’s Labyrinth, Doctor Who, Star Trek, The Matrix. Basically: it was amazing.

More than anything else, what stuck with me from this class were our discussions about the Trickster Figure.

We used the term in relation to the Jungian archetype, and defined it as being someone–usually of some sort of lesser status (a child, or someone from a lower class, etc.)–who defies the rules of society in a way that is cunning (and often entertaining). For example, a classic Trickster Figure is Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

The other thing our professor pointed out, though, was the way Tricksters weren’t always that obvious. In fact, most Fantasy protagonists fit the role (as well as a lot of YA protags).

Take Harry Potter, for example. JK Rowling describes him as being kind of scrawny and gangly. He isn’t amazing at magic (although he is good at the things he works hard at) and he’s not super charismatic. But The Boy Who Lived does manage to defeat He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named–by tricking Lord Voldemort.

Likewise, Katniss survives the Hunger Games by outsmarting the Capitol and Tris’s whole superpower of divergence is built on her, you know, diverging from societal norms.

As a society and a generation, we’re in love with the Trickster Figure. The person who’s always one step ahead–unbreakable. We flock to see superhero and spy movies. (And speaking of Tricksters, who doesn’t adore Tom Hiddleston’s Loki?)

Why? You can argue that there’s something exciting about the act of deception. Secrets and cunning and that moment a superhero pulls off the mask. But what does that say about us? The fact that we seem to be so addicted to that excitement?

My first inclination is to say it means we’re bored with the mundanity of everyday life. We’re too set in our rhythms or too scared/tired/whatever to break the rules, so we live vicariously through the Trickster Figures’ adventures.

But while this might be true to an extent, I think more than that it comes back to Robin Hood.

People didn’t start telling the stories of Robin Hood because they were bored or scared. They told the stories about him because Robin Hood, as a character, was empowering.

After all, I doubt any of us want to live through the Hunger Games or go wand-to-wand with Voldemort. But seeing someone–and not just anyone, but an underdog–go up against something so terrible, and succeed, shows us that we could succeed against the antagonistic forces of our own lives too.

All this to say: I think Trickster Figures are awesome. And I’m happy they’re something everybody’s into right now. And while we already have a lot of Tricksters in the books and movies coming out these days, I want more.

After all, I doubt I’ll ever stop loving that squirm in my stomach I get every time a superhero reveals his/her identity to someone s/he loves for the first time.

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Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Liebster Award Tag (3rd Time’s the Charm!)

Aaand Kira has nominated me back for the Liebster Award! I’m assuming as revenge for how often I nominate her for these tags.

You can find Kira’s wondrous post (responding to my nomination) here.

Rules of the tag:

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back to their blog.
  2. Answer 11 questions from the person who nominated you.
  3. Nominate other bloggers.
  4. Give those bloggers 11 questions to answer and let them know they’ve been nominated.

**Since I’ve done this tag twice now, the most recent being last week (oops), I’m skipping nominating other people. But if you’d like to complete the tag yourself using Kira’s questions, go for it!**

Kira’s Questions:
1) If your life was a book, what would it be titled? [from Janna]
At the moment: How Did I Eat So Much Pizza for Lunch and Why Do I Still Want More: The Julia Byers Story
2) Who was your first ever fictional crush? [from Janna]
As I said last time, it was probably James from the Animal Ark series, back in elementary school.
3) What’s your career goal and how many people know about it? Are you super secretive about it the way some writers are?
My career goal is to work in editing for a children’s/YA lit imprint of a publishing house. If I get to be an author too, that’ll be amazing, but really just being part of the publishing industry at all is The Dream. As for the second part of this question: No, I’m not secretive about it. However, I do think a lot of people assume my chief goal in life is to be a writer since I do spend so much time writing and talking about writing.
4) What’s your favorite musical instrument?
At the moment: violin. I can’t play it whatsoever, but I adore the sound. So desperate and beautiful.
5) Have you ever met a traditionally published author? Who and where and how?
I’ve been really lucky on the Meeting Authors front the past few years. I don’t think you want to sit through all the stories.
6) What is the last book you checked out from the library?
So this is sort of embarrassing but I kind of… don’t… use the library. Like, I spend time at the library. I go to events and study there. But I haven’t checked out a book since high school and the last one I remember checking out was one of the Harry Potters, from my high school’s library sophomore year. Probably Order of the Phoenix?
7) Tell us a bit about your family.
I come from a pretty traditional, middle class suburban background. Both my parents are engineers and work their butts off for what we have. My brother is three years older than me and works in advertising. We have a dog named Sammy who I miss like crazy when I’m not home (which is 99% of the time, these days).
8) Do you have any experiences with mental illness you could share? (Re: you or people you love.)
I mean, I think we all know and love people who suffer from mental illness. But their stories are not mine to share.
9) What’s a favorite blog post you posted recently?
I’m actually going to grab a post I wrote for another blog, because it was my first time using GIFs and I had way too much fun with it: “Critique Partners = Superheroes” for Teens Can Write, Too!
10) We’re back on the desert island, and this time, you get to have three authors with you. Who do you choose?
Suzanne Collins, because she probably knows tons of survival stuff from The Hunger Games. Libba Bray, because she looked at Lord of the Flies and gave us Beauty Queens instead. And JK Rowling, because, I mean. Why give up an opportunity to get to hang out with JK Rowling.
11) Is there a particular dream (like, the sleepy time kind) that keeps recurring for you?
Not really. However, last night I did dream that a dog bit Hugh Jackman, then they both grew wings. So there’s that.
Aaand that about wraps it up for the Liebster Award tag. Thanks for nominating me, Kira! Again, if you’d like to complete the tag yourself, feel free to using Kira’s questions.
Hope you have a good weekend!
~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Every Story Is a Mystery

This past week has been busy. I spent the weekend skiing up north with my family, then Monday afternoon one of my film classes had a Skyped-in guest lecture by one of the head guys from New Line Cinema, which was super cool. Monday evening I was honored and grateful to get to read a short story at the university undergraduate library as part of an annual event in which the creative writing professors nominate students to share their work. It was my second year in a row doing it and I still can’t get over how talented the other writers here are. I’m so lucky to have gotten to share the stage with them.

I read “All She Hears,” a short story that appeared in the collection that won a Hopwood Underclassmen Fiction Award and the Arthur Miller Award last year. SUCH A COOL EXPERIENCE.

I would have loved to have stayed to listen to all the students reading that night, but my family and I left a few after I read because Conrad Pope (Hollywood orchestrator and composer) was giving a guest lecture across campus and who knows when my next chance to hear someone speak on their involvement in Harry Potter and Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean and a billion other amazing things would be, right? (And dude, he was awesome.)

Anyway, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

I feel like I’ve probably talked about this before and just forgotten, but in case I haven’t: a big epiphany moment for me in writing was realizing that every story is a mystery.

For some reason this didn’t hit me until I was reading Harry Potter for the first time in tenth grade, but I can totally see why that’s what finally got that through to me. Harry Potter is marketed as fantasy, not mystery, but while fantasy plays a big part in setting and character development and all that, what truly drives the plot forward (and keeps the reader reading) are the mysteries at the center of each book. (Fun fact: JK Rowling has hardly read any fantasy books, but is super into reading crime novels. So of course her fantasy unfolds the same way as crime.)

But it’s not just the Harry Potter series (MG-YA fantasy) that does this. It’s all books. Anna and the French Kiss (YA contemporary romance)? You spend the entire book chasing the mystery of whether or not Anna and St Clair will get together. The Hunger Games (YA dystopian)? You try to figure out what’s truly going on in the Games and Panem. And all stories rely on the resolution of the mystery in order to leave the reader satisfied at the end.

Basically: stories rely on leaving the reader guessing what will happen next. Whether you’re writing a thriller or realistic fiction, to write an interesting story you have to establish questions to keep the reader invested, lay clues for what your resolution will be so that it doesn’t seem out of nowhere, keep the reader in the dark for as long as possible so that the story feels smart and interesting all the way to the end, etc.

While your story may not rely on a crime as the central element to the plot, you can treat pretty much anything like a crime in the way you unfold the story from there: Have your character act as a detective, going out and interacting with the world, being an active agent in his or her plot. (A solid protagonist relies on action over reaction.) Make your protagonist learn things slowly but constantly, with the pace of learning speeding up exponentially as you move towards the climax, like how the pace of a crime investigation speeds up as the police get closer to figuring out who the murderer is and making the arrest.

Foreshadow. Lay red herrings. And most importantly: treat your reader as an intelligent and active part of the story. Someone who it is your job to trick and mislead–but also charm–until the very end.

So, if you’re having trouble with keeping your plot moving or don’t know where to go next, think about how you think Agatha Christie or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would do it. Or even JK Rowling. (Sorry. Robert Galbraith.)

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

TCWT Blog Chain: Learning by Example

The December Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain topic is:

“What works of fiction have taught you by example, and what did they teach you?”

I’ve talked about this a little before. The best way to learn about writing is to pay attention. Pay attention to what you like or don’t like about the books you’re reading. Why you react in a certain way and how to either achieve the same effect or avoid it.

As writers, the books we read are our text books. And you don’t necessarily only learn from books in your genre. All reading you do teaches you in some way.

So, here are some books I’ve learned from and what they taught me.

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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: Break Boundaries

Like a lot of people, I hadn’t read anything, really, in first person, present tense before The Hunger Games. It’s funny because it feels so natural to read it now, but at the time it took some getting used to. But I was also really happy to see it, because that’s the POV+tense combo I’ve always naturally written, and pre-Hunger Games I felt like it was something I wasn’t supposed to do.

Basically: The Hunger Games taught me that if it’s what feels right to you for your story, go for it. Even if it seems unusual. (And now look at us. EVERYONE writes in first person, present tense. Don’t be afraid to be the person who knocks that barrier down.)

Harry Potter by JK Rowling: Plotting & Planning

JK. ROWLING’S. PLOTTING.

I’ve never seen anyone else do so much work laying the groundwork for later plot developments and twists. Not to mention how much development she put into the world-building. The Harry Potter series taught me planning ahead is worth it. (And even the smallest hint in book one, brought back to be something huge later in the series, can make the reader all warm and glowy and happy inside.)

Also that growing up the book series alongside the reader is a really awesome thing to do.

Also a million other things because Harry Potter.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver: Hard Doesn’t Mean Impossible

Major spoilers on this one if you haven’t read it: Before I Fall taught me it’s okay to kill your protagonist at the end. I’ve seen so many of those unsatisfying “saved at the last second” endings–and endings when the protag DOES die at the end, but in an unsatisfying way–that it’s nice to see one that just feels Right. Before I Fall proves that killing your protag in a way that doesn’t piss the reader off is possible. END SPOILERS

Before I Fall also taught me your main characters don’t necessarily have to be “likable” for the reader to like them. Sometimes it’s the worst people we find the most fascinating.

Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan: You Don’t Always Have to Be Serious

The Percy Jackson series taught me that books don’t always need to be “serious” to be good. Sometimes your narrator can be super sarcastic and a little egotistical and it can be hilarious and that in itself can qualify as good.

Divergent by Veronica Roth: Line-by-Line Pacing

This book is such a fun action-y romp. I was rereading Divergent while working on revisions a while back, trying to figure out what made the line-by-line writing so rapid fire, and I realized it had a lot to do with the sentence length. VRoth is a master of the short, punchy sentence.

After making that connection, I reread some of my other favorite action-y books, examining their sentence structures as well.

As mentioned in last week’s Wordy Wednesday: Shorter sentences make writing run faster, so they’re better in your more intense, action-packed stories. Longer sentences make the reader slow down and pay more attention to the language, so they’re better in more literary, look-how-beautiful-this-imagery-is pieces.

Divergent was the first book to make me really think about how sentence length is an actual, active element in writing.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein: There’s More than Romance

This book is all about friendship and it taught me you don’t have to tell the traditional romance-centric story to still have strong, beautiful relationships the reader will fall in love with and root for.

Waltzing the Cat by Pam Houston: Fiction CAN Feel Real

You’ll notice this one isn’t a YA novel, which just proves my point about learning from a variety of sources. Waltzing the Cat is a book of short stories, all starring the same narrator, I read for my first college creative writing class. And although it’s not something I would have picked up on my own, I couldn’t put it down. I’ve never read something that feels as real as this. Like I thought it had to be a series of short memoirs while I was reading it, but nope, fiction.

If you want to learn about character and setting development, Waltzing the Cat is the way to go.

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So, there you have it. Some of the writing-related lessons I’ve learned from books.

If you want to check out the other posts from this month’s Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain and see how other people approached the topic, here’s the schedule:

5thhttp://thelittleenginethatcouldnt.wordpress.com/

6thhttp://nasrielsfanfics.wordpress.com/

7thhttps://erinkenobi2893.wordpress.com/

8thhttp://introspectioncreative.wordpress.com/

9thhttp://semilegacy.blogspot.com/

10thhttp://kirabudge.weebly.com/

11thhttp://whileishouldbedoingprecal.weebly.com/

12thhttp://randomosityofeden.wordpress.com/

13thhttp://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com/

14thhttp://www.alwaysopinionatedgirl.wordpress.com/

15thhttp://www.juliathewritergirl.wordpress.com/

16thhttp://miriamjoywrites.com/

17thhttp://horsfeathersblog.wordpress.com/

18thhttp://unironicallyexcited.wordpress.com/

19thhttp://theboardingblogger.wordpress.com/

20thhttp://stayandwatchthestars.wordpress.com/

21sthttp://unikkelyfe.wordpress.com/

22ndhttp://fantasiesofapockethuman.blogspot.com/

23rdhttp://lilyjenness.blogspot.com/

24thhttp://oliviarivers.wordpress.com/

25th – [off-day]

26thhttp://butterfliesoftheimagination.wordpress.com/

27thhttp://missalexandrinabrant.wordpress.com/

28thhttp://www.pamelanicolewrites.com

29thhttp://jasperlindell.blogspot.com.au/

30thhttp://maralaurey.wordpress.com/ and http://theedfiles.blogspot.com/

31st – http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/ (We’ll announce the topic for next month’s chain.)

What have you learned from the books you’ve read?

~Julia

England Trip Recap (Part 3)

If you’re wondering where Parts 1 & 2 of this series are, you can find them here and here, respectively.

You’ll notice that both those posts are from over a year ago. That’s because back last July, after returning from my first trip to England, I recapped everything we did while over here up until the very last part of our last day: the Leavesden Studios Tour. At which point I got too insanely busy doing Things-That-Must-Not-Be-Named (I swear someday I’ll give details of how I spent the end of summer 2013), and by the time I wasn’t insanely busy anymore, it felt like it was too awkwardly late to put up the recap.

But now I’m in England again and I was in London over the weekend again and GUESS WHERE I SPENT SUNDAY NIGHT. THAT’S RIGHT. THE LEAVESDEN STUDIOS TOUR AGAIN.

So, who’s ready for an extremely belated (but once again relevant) recap post?

[Pictures are from both my 2013 and 2014 visits.] [In case you were wondering how my hair magically changes length and color throughout this post.]

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For those not in the know, Leavesden Studios is where the Harry Potter movies were primarily filmed. Now that the movies are done, they’ve opened the studios for all the devotees to be able to make pilgrimages to see the sets and props and costumes and models and concept art and blueprints and BASICALLY EVERYTHING AMAZING THAT WENT INTO MAKING THE AMAZING MOVIES.

Harry Potter Studio Tour 2013

My visit last year was with members of my high school theatre company and our families (they’d invited alumni and relatives back for the trip to England). This year I went with seven girls from my programme. (Coincidentally after stopping by Platform 9 3/4 both the night before and that morning, so various members of the group could get their pictures taken.)

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It was fun going through the tour a second time, because:

a) I hadn’t budgeted my time well my first time through, so I’d missed a lot of stuff in the second half.

b) I now knew how to budget my time going through the tour.

and c) I now knew when to expect the shock and glee and grateful and crying moments (and therefore got to watch my friends have those reactions).

IMG_5442Blurry Great Hall. Fun fact: They had to use actual flagstone for the floor in order to accommodate the furniture, actors, and equipment. Fake stone wouldn’t have been able to stand the weight or use. 

IMG_5454Mirror of Erised.

IMG_5459Harry, Hermione, and Ron costumes from Half-Blood Prince. Check out that cool green screen magic going on with the Invisibility Cloak.

IMG_5477Wall of portraits. The green screen ones are the ones that would move in shots. And if I’m remembering right, the others all have faces of people important to the films, like the producers and all that.

A highlight for me was definitely getting to learn so much about the behind-the-scenes stuff for the movies. As much as I love seeing things like the Goblet of Fire and Dumbledore’s office in person, I can’t get over getting to see all the green screens and lights and wires. It must have been so incredible to take part in putting all the pieces of these movies together.

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Another really cool thing about visiting the studio tour right now is that they’ve got a special promotion going on in which they have special displays up. My favorites were the broom-making exhibit (in which the actual broom-makers from the series talked to us and, you know, MADE BROOMS), a board game from a deleted scene (that apparently is so complex no one remembers how to play it anymore), and part of a chess board set up so you could interact with the giant pieces as they whizzed across the spaces.

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IMG_5500The girl working the board game display was super nice and complimented my Hogwarts Alumni tank–at which point I had to sheepishly explain that no, it was not some cool new official merchandise, but something I’d gotten off a street vendor at Oxford for like three quid. (Harry Potter merch designers: You need to get on making Hogwarts Alumni stuff.)

IMG_5525Rockin’ that subtle Ravenclaw pride.

We took a break at the courtyard that is the halfway point for Butterbeer and general fangirling.

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The second half of the tour focuses even more on the behind-the-scenes elements of Leavesden, with entire rooms dedicated to the prosthetics used to turn human actors into all the various, crazy creatures; blueprints; concept art; and the teeny tiny models used in the design process for later constructing the monstrous sets.

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But also, of course, Diagon Alley.

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The tour ends with what are arguably the two best rooms (but only arguably, because the entire thing is fantastic).

The first is the model of Hogwarts that they actually used in filming for the earlier movies. I cannot enter this room without crying. (Yes. Even my second time through, I got misty-eyed.)

IMG_5630It’s just… that IS Hogwarts. That is the Hogwarts, right there, that we grew up with and saw a thousand times on screen and dreamed about.

The final room is “Ollivander’s.” Floor to ceiling, shelves full of wand boxes inscribed with names coat the walls. Each person to work on the movies has a box. It’s beautiful.

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Last year, a worker used a laser pointer to show us where all the Big Name People’s boxes are. No one was there to do that this year, but I still remembered a couple.

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After that, all that was left to do was spend my (parents’) life savings in the gift shop and make plans for our next Harry Potter movie marathon. (Because Harry Potter = true love.)

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~Julia

Story Time: I MET JK ROWLING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I. CAN’T. BREATHE,” Hannah wailed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Julia,” she replied, “I AM TOO.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To put it simply: JK Rowling broke me.

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

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~Julia

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

Wordy Wednesday: The Guiding Figure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where does that leave the Guiding Figure?

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

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

So it’s a sad role.

But it’s a bittersweet sort of sad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia

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

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

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

Wordy Wednesday (“With Time”)

So, as I mentioned last week, the Hopwood Underclassmen Awards Ceremony happened, and it was all very cool and special and it meant I got to see my family for the first time in a while (and gorge on Macaroni Grill for free–thanks, Mom and Dad). I am so grateful for everyone’s support and the fact that opportunities like the Hopwoods exist for student writers period and GAH. Sometimes life is just awesome, you know?

IMG_0913

Also, I finally got the chance to put together a vlog about the Yule Ball the Michigan Quidditch Team put on a couple weeks ago, so if you want to check out what that was like (hint: it was fantastic), you can watch that here.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is the lyrics to a song called “With Time.”

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[Capo 4—Am, C, Em, D]

VERSE1

I don’t know

How to tell you what’s going on

Because I don’t even understand

I don’t know

How to let you help me

Because I don’t even know if I am broken

CHORUS

Is this a dent or a fracture

A detour on the way to happily ever after

Or ending of some kind

Am I something broken

Or just a heart falling open

For the world to see into my mind

I guess I’ll figure it out with time

VERSE2

The other day I was walking down the street

And I just couldn’t move my feet

It was like the cement

was trading places with my bones

And I don’t know

How to read a map

Because I don’t even know where I am at

[Repeat CHORUS]

BRIDGE

Falling or flying, I don’t know the difference

It all looks the same from a close enough distance

And I don’t know how to read my own thoughts in my head

Sometimes it’s easier to rely on things already said

[Repeat CHORUS]

ENDING

I’ll figure it out with time.

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77

~Julia