Dead but Not Dead

*This post may contain spoilers for the following books and movies: City of Glass, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Two Towers, Marvel movies/shows.

There seems to be this trend going right now. Story makers either make you think they killed their characters when they really didn’t (like when Loki “dies” in Thor) or they kill them for real but then bring them back to life (like when Jace dies in City of Glass).

Is anyone else finding themselves horribly desensitized to characters dying?

Hagrid_carrying_Harry

I was fine when it happened in Harry Potter. That was actually one of the first times I’d seen it done (or rather, read it being done). How satisfying was it when Harry came back to the world of the living and kicked Voldemort’s ass?

gandalf_falling

I was even okay with it happening in The Lord of the Rings. I hadn’t read the books beforehand, so when Gandalf died in Fellowship, I was so depressed. Then when he came back in The Two Towers, I was ecstatic, as I’m sure others of my generation who didn’t grow up reading the books felt.

But nowadays things are getting a little out of hand. Everyone seems to be using this dead-but-not-dead trick. Marvel especially is going crazy with this idea. Check this out.

Bucky Falls

In Captain America, Bucky “dies.” Then he comes back in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Loki Falls

In Thor, Loki “dies.”

Loki Stabed2

In Thor: The Dark World, Loki “dies” again! Didn’t buy it the first time, and I certainly didn’t buy it the second time. He’s the best thing about that show!

Groot dies

In Guardians of the Galaxy, Groot “dies.”

Phil Coulson Death

In The Avengers, Phil Coulson dies, like for real except they bring him back to do Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I would guess that these producers/writers are trying to add more tension to these stories. The stakes are high. Death is a real possibility when you’re saving the world. People, even the heroes of the story, might die. But the overuse of dead but not dead is having the opposite effect. For me, it’s getting to the point where if a character dies, it doesn’t affect me at all because it’s likely that they’re not really dead. All tension is gone.

Since complaining about something isn’t effective unless you have a solution for it, I tried to think of what other writers could glean from this blatant overuse of dead but not dead. If we kill a character, should they stay dead? Or should we not kill characters if we intend to bring them back?

Here’s what I think. As long as authors are aware of this trend and how it affects readers who are used to seeing it, they should be able to effectively incorporate it into their stories. Each story is trying to achieve something different, and maybe some authors are talented enough to convince readers that their character is really dead when he actually isn’t. Good for them.

But I think the really important thing is for us to be aware of what’s already been done by others before us, how it was done, and how readers/viewers responded to it. This way we can decide how best to use the same treatment in our own stories while also being unique.

And since that was a lot of death, let’s end by looking at some happy things.

Richard Armitage

lol-rofl

Ian Somerhalder

Fanpop

Jake

Fanpop

Changing Genres in the Middle of a Series: Thoughts?

Heir of Fire

Book three of the series (image via Goodreads)

I recently finished reading Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas, and I had one of those out of body reading experiences where half of my brain was completely engrossed in the story, and the other half was standing pursed lipped, taking notes on a clipboard.

Though I’d rather be completely and totally engrossed by a story when I read, the result was that I made some observations that got me thinking about whether or not it’s a smart idea to change genres in the middle of a series.

On one level, all that matters to me is whether or not I liked the book. I liked book one of the series, Throne of Glass. I loved the second book, Crown of Midnight, like whoa. I loved the third book, Heir of Fire, after a slow start. But what if I had loved Throne of Glass, which is very much YA high fantasy, and hated when it turned into epic fantasy in the third book, which in my opinion it does?

Crown of Midnight

Book two of the series (image via Goodreads)

Backing up a step here to delineate terms and how I’m using them. In general, the distinctions I make between YA fantasy (sometimes called high fantasy) and epic fantasy (a genre of adult fantasy) are about scope of setting, characters, and storylines as well as voice. Both tend to be epic in tone—the world’s about to end! The chosen one must save us all! Elves! Swords! etc. YA high fantasy seems to be more compact and concise in all senses except for the use of epic tropes like the chosen one who has to save the world. YA high fantasy tends to have fewer viewpoints and fewer storylines, tends to be shorter, and tends to have faster pacing. Epic fantasy–and here my frame of reference are books by authors like Sanderson, Brooks, Martin, and Tolkien–often have numerous viewpoints, longer page counts, and several storylines. Of course, there are always exceptions to my definitions.

 

Throne of Glass

Book one of the series (image via Goodreads)

Though Throne of Glass isn’t limited to one viewpoint, all the viewpoints are written for the same storyline and all viewpoint characters interact with each other. There are also very common tropes for YA storytelling, namely a love triangle, a talented teenage woman proving her worth, and hints at a magic destiny only the main character can fulfill. The second book I think is still YA high fantasy. It opens up the storyline to the world outside of the castle, but remains with the same cast of characters and most of the same viewpoints. Heir of Fire, however, takes a sharp turn. The multiple viewpoints expand to include a character who is new and whose storyline within HoF has nothing to do with the old characters’. I have no doubt that Manon’s storyline will intersect or verge with that of Celaena’s, but that is nowhere to be found within HoF. HoF is also significantly longer than YA high fantasy tends to be. The page count has expanded simply because the scope of the story has expanded. With new characters and setting and storylines, HoF feels much more like adult epic fantasy.

Like I said, I enjoyed Heir of Fire a great deal. But is it smart to change genres on your audience? The short answer is that it depends.

I think that an author’s job is to tell the damn story (thanks Tom Clancy, for my favorite bit of writing advice). And maybe the damn story takes you to places you don’t expect, your readers don’t expect, but turns out to be exactly the place the story needed to go. But there will be those in your audience who want you to deliver a consistent story, one that is exciting and fresh but still within the parameters that first attracted them to your series. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with either. I don’t love epic fantasy, so I had several false starts until I was finally sucked in by Heir of Fire. In the end I liked it, but that was only after trying and putting the book down twice. And I know several people who enjoyed the first book of this series, kind of liked the second, and refused to read the third when I told them about it.

It’s something to be aware of at least.

Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series is the same. The first novel is essentially a heist novel told in a fantasy setting, so some of Sanderson’s now eponymous style of storytelling doesn’t feature in book one. The second two books of the trilogy feel very much like epic fantasy, Sanderson style epic fantasy. All the books are great. And yet, I know several people who loved the first and couldn’t finish the second two.

Harry Potter does this too. Yes, it does. Harry Potter books start as middle grade novels and finish as young adult novels. I only know one person who minds. It feels natural that the books “mature” as Harry matures.

In the end, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to change genres in the middle of a series but it’s something writers need to be aware of and need to do in an organic a way as possible.

On Censorship

In 2012, as I was scrambling to finish up my undergaduate degree, I took a class on young adult literature (because who wouldn’t want to take a class on YA lit, right?). Most of my classmates were English education majors and planned on teaching English lit to middle school and high school students and as such we had a lot of discussions about the appropriateness of material for different age groups and acting as gatekeepers of books for young readers—and that eventually led to a discussion on censorship. It’s been more than two years since I was in that class, but in all that time, one sentiment from our censorship discussion has stuck with me:

The problem with standing against censorship is who you end up standing with.

I have no problem bashing censorship along with librarians and English teachers across the country. I had no problem telling all those silly parents who were trying to ban Harry Potter from their kids’ school libraries back in the Harry Potter heyday that they were being completely ridiculous. I have no problem proudly sharing my goal of one day writing a book that ends up on a banned list (what an honor it’d be to be in such illustrious company!).

But it’s not just librarians and English teachers and nice folks who have a problem with censorship. It’s also icky people like child pornographers and racists and bigots and the ilk that haunt MRA websites. It’s people who mean to cause harm with their words or people who deliberately spread misinformation to stir up mass hysteria.

And I can’t really say that I oppose censorship against things that I agree with while censoring things I find abhorrent. It’s kind of a double-standard and by fighting against censorship, I find myself fighting alongside people I’d rather never be associated with.

And that’s really uncomfortable.

Of course, there are limits to free speech. There is legal and necessary censorship. Those child pornographers, for instance, are breaking the law because the creation of their content involves the abuse and exploitation of children. And there are all sorts of laws that protect against defamation and libel and sedition and hate speech and probably a lot more that I can’t remember because government and politics were never my strong suit. Those are all good things and I do think that those limitations to free speech are necessary and useful.

But in the day to day, things get a little murky and in light of recent events, I wonder if writers and content creators are self-censoring too much out of fear of offending or out of fear of extremist retribution.

On the one hand, I get this fear and this self-censorship completely. I’m a bit of a bleeding heart and I’d be devastated to learn that my words harmed or offended people—especially marginalized groups who have a hard enough time with decent representation as it is. I don’t want to hurt people, I don’t want to offend, I don’t want to cross-lines and step on toes—and sometimes I worry if that stops me from trying at all. Sometimes I worry that I can’t help diversify literature because it’s not my place to tell those stories, even though countless voices among the We Need Diverse Books campaign assure me and others like me that it’s better to try. It’s better to dig deep and research and revise and talk to diverse voices and incorporate feedback and revise again and still put my work out there, knowing full well that some people might be upset, that some people might disagree, but that fear isn’t a good enough reason not to try.

And on the other hand, I want to tell people to stop being so sensitive. I want to tell them that they don’t have to consume media that doesn’t fit their tastes. They can ignore it if it offends them. No one is making them read or watch or consume. But I also realize that makes me sound like a Class A Jerk and that especially where marginalized groups are concerned, creators need to be sensitive and aware of the negative and harmful stereotypes they might be perpetuating and they need to stop that. Nothing I write and share is exists in a vacuum and it’s my responsibility as a content creator not make the world worse.

At the end of the day, I think the content created with honesty and integrity will have the most impact and be the most memorable. Content based in hatred and harm will sink to the bottom and content that fosters dialog and positive change will surface over and over again, but we still have to slog through all the crap to get there. We still have to deal with the fact that there will always be extremists and there will always be bigots and there will always be jerks who enjoy harming other people—and we still have to deal with the fact that they are entitled to say their piece (and I’m entitled to think their piece is a load of crap and write up lengthy diatribes about how wrong they are).

I don’t know if this post really has a point. (Every one of my old English teachers would be horrified by the lack of point in this post.) I’m not even sure I really know what I’m trying to say. But in light of the recent tragedy in France, censorship and freedom of speech—especially in regards to content that people might find problematic—have been on my mind. No one should have to die for proclaiming what truths speak to them—no matter how irreverently it’s portrayed. No group—be it government or extremists on either end of the political spectrum—has the right to attempt to silence the voice of another group.

We all have voices. We all have stories and truths to tell. And I believe our voices and our stories are powerful things.

Let’s just try to use those voices responsibly.

Sci-fi/Fantasy Movies and TV Shows

I watched a really good sci-fi movie the other day that got me thinking about the sci-fi/fantasy genre. I’m a huge fan of SFF—especially if there’s a good romantic subplot (or main plot) in the mix. Lately there’s been a surge of SFF movies and TV shows. And YA is really starting to bring in some fantastic fantasy (pun intended) and sci-fi. The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Throne of Glass, The Hunger Games, and Grave Mercy are just a few of my favorites.

It’s been my experience, though, that the movie making industry has a harder time creating strong SFF. This is understandable once you consider how many people read and make changes to a screenplay before it reaches production. And then there are the changes that get made while it’s undergoing production—changes by the director, the interpretation by the actors, etc. While these changes are understandable, I don’t think we can excuse all of them. When the storylines are riddled with plot holes and inconsistencies that are so bad that they make you unable to suspend your disbelief halfway through the movie, it’s a problem.

So to remind us that the genre is wonderful and worthy of our attention, I thought I would list some good SFF shows and movies to look into (and some old ones to remember and appreciate).

First is Live. Die. Repeat.: Edge of Tomorrow, the excellent sci-fi movie that I mentioned watching earlier. Basically this movie is Ender’s Game meets Prince of Persia.

And since I just mentioned them, I will add them to the list formally because they are both fantastic SFFs.

Prince of Persia

Ender’s Game

Next up is Pirates of the Caribbean.

Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. Need I say anything else?

Guardians of the Galaxy

Everything in the Marvel universe is already awesome, but I especially enjoyed GotG. Talk about fantastic dialogue and characterization!

Galaxy Quest

Laugh out loud funny.

The Hunger Games

Probably one of the most brilliantly done movie adaptations of a book.

Stardust

And now some timeless classics:

Star Wars

The Lord of the Rings

And a few great shows:

The Vampire Diaries

I know I talk about TVD a lot, but, guys, this show is brilliant. I had never seen a show that gets better with each new season until I saw TVD. The series arc is brilliant, and the plots are oh, so fun!

Every show by Joss Whedon:

Firefly

Dollhouse

I feel like Dollhouse is lesser known, but it is still an excellent show. If you like sci-fi, go watch now.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

(These next two are not by Joss Whedon, but they’re both great.)

Witches of East End

Sorry, couldn’t find an official trailer.

And last but not least, Orphan Black

This actress is phenomenal.

Now go watch something awesome. Watching awesomeness always inspires me to write 🙂