The Bigger Bad Guy

You guys have already heard me talk about how much I love the TV show The Vampire Diaries. Aside from having wonderful and consistent romantic tension, splendid characters, and fantastic plots—all things that are very essential to the makings of a good show—I’ve been able to pinpoint more specifically what makes this show so good.

I’m calling this idea “the bigger bad guy.”

It’s a fantastic device that works well to create well rounded characters, show excellent character development, and help the story get better and better as it continues. (How many times have we been disappointed by a second or third season of a show—or a sequel to a book series—because it wasn’t as good as the first one?) The Vampire Diaries only gets better with each succeeding season—something I can’t really say for any other show.

I’m now going to talk about “the bigger bad guy” and how TVD uses it. *Spoilers may be below up to the third season.

First, take a look at this guy.



This is Damon Salvatore, our antagonist for season one of TVD—well part of season one. His brother, Stefan Salvatore, has just moved to Mystic Falls, your average small town. Except, of course, for the fact that there are vampires and other mystical creatures—a very creative town name on the creators’ part, I know. Damon has promised his brother an eternity of misery, so he follows Stefan around to try and make his life hell. At the moment, that mostly includes ruining Stefan’s budding relationship with Elena Gilbert. Oh, and Damon also has a secret agenda to reunite with his one true love, Katherine (Elena’s doppelganger), whom he believes has been stuck in a tomb for 100 years, give or take.

Now check out this chick.



This is Katherine. Turns out, she wasn’t stuck in a tomb. She’s actually been just fine out and about living her life. Damon’s crushed at first, but once he falls in love with Elena (whoops), he moves on. This is when Katherine makes her appearance and starts making it her agenda to make both brothers’ lives miserable. So now Damon is a good guy (most of the time.) He helps Stefan and Elena out as they try to get rid of Katherine.

Now at this point, things are a little harder to follow, so I’ll summarize even more.

Elena gets kidnapped by Rose.



Rose assumes that Elena is Katherine (another whoops), which is why she kidnapped her in the first place. Katherine sort of helps to get her back. But before that happens, Rose takes her to this guy.



Elijah needs Katherine as a bargaining chip. You see, his brother Klaus has been holding his brothers and sister as undead hostages in coffins. Rose eventually tries to help the rest of the gang fend off Elijah and provides information on these scary brothers. Turns out that Klaus is even scarier than Elijah.


movie pilot

And eventually Elijah joins the team to try and stop Klaus, who is basically unkillable. Our ultimate bad guy.

Note that there are many other bad guys throughout the TV series. I’m just trying to give you guys a taste of what I’m talking about.

But now on to the main points I’m trying to make. There’s always a bigger bad guy. This enables each episode to be better than the last. Because the stakes are higher (vampire pun intended), and the conflicts are more intense as the bad guys get badder and more powerful.

It’s also fascinating to see characters undergo such change. The bad guys become good guys as their goals align with the good guys’. They don’t always become perfectly good—they still have their fun flaws, but they do change in remarkable ways that are exciting to see.

Now, TVD isn’t the only show out there that’s doing this. Look at Loki’s character in the second Thor movie. Look how he aligns with Thor to face a bigger bad guy. Look at Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. These changeable bad guys are everywhere. And look at how much we love them! These are the characters that have the most fan girls—just saying.

Sometimes looking at where characters are going can help you solidify who they need to be at the beginning of your story. This can help with rounding out characters and their development. And it also makes for some interesting plot turns.

Procrastination TV Reviews

I love helping people procrastinate. One of my favorite activities. If you’re reading our blog, you’re most likely a writer (and even if you’re not, you’ll like this post), and you should be writing! BUTT IN CHAIR and all that.

…but if you want to procrastinate I AM HERE FOR YOU.

I bring you a list of my two favorite British comedies. They’re a great way to unwind after a long day and detox your brain from writing woes.

(1) The IT Crowd

Image via

Image via

The funniest show ever? Probably. I have made several (upwards of four) people watch this show, and to the person they have all loved it.
The show follows a tech-illiterate IT department manager and her two “employees” Roy and Moss. Slobby Roy and eccentric Moss are the reason to watch this show, hands down. Manager Jen has her funny moments, but she plays the straight man for the comedy.

Writing Takeaway: Character-driven dialogue. One of my favorite features of the show is how distinct each character’s voice is. Moss in particular. Moss is nerdy (beyond nerdy) but so proper and so British. Observe the following:

Moss: [dialing] 0115… no… 0118… no… 0118 999 – 3. Hello? Is this the emergency services? Then which country am I speaking to? Hello? Hello?
[pauses for thought]
Moss: I know…
[sits down in front of the computer]
Moss: Subject: Fire. “Dear Sir stroke Madam, I am writing to inform you of a fire which has broken out at the premises of…” no, that’s too formal.
Moss: “Dear Sir stroke Madam. Fire, exclamation mark. Fire, exclamation mark. Help me, exclamation mark. 123 Carrendon Road. Looking forward to hearing from you. All the best, Maurice Moss.”

(2) Miranda

image via

image via

Miranda is an oddball thirty-something woman who runs a joke shop with her best friend and tries to tolerate her mother’s matchmaking attempts. This show is hard to describe, or maybe it’s that it doesn’t sound all that funny. But the show comes alive on-screen with the performances, but more specifically the writing.

Writing Takeaway: Comedy is great at building and layering a joke in surprising and funny ways. The callback is one of my favorite comedic devices (think of the hand-eating seal in Arrested Development). Studying how this works is a great way to add comedy to any book.

I hope you enjoy procrastinating writing!


Weight-Loss Narratives and Why They Can Go Die in a Fire

I don’t really see much about fat* characters included in diversity discussions–and that’s understandable and totally cool with me when you consider that there are much larger (no pun intended) gaps in diverse representations in publishing such as race, sexual orientation, and disability. Excellent discussions for diversity in books can be found here, here, and here.

However, fat representation is something I can speak to from experience because I’m a fat woman and was a fat teenager and a fat child.

The topic is broad, and so it’s likely I’ll return to it again. For today, I’ll focus on weight loss narratives.


Phew. Had to get that off my chest.


Apparently I feel strongly about it.

It’s definitely a personal thing. Is there anything inherently wrong with a weight loss narrative? No. Is there something wrong with the fact that I could list dozens of books with fat heroines who have lost/are losing weight and can only think of a handful of stories with an is-fat-and-stays-fat main character? Yes. That’s where the problem lies.

It’s the prevalence of the weight loss narrative in fiction. It’s the fact that fat protagonists are seen as protagonists (rather than some kind of lazy anti-hero Homer Simpson) only if they’re virtuously trying to not be fat anymore. I call bullshit. Ideally, a human being should be no more defined by their fatness anymore than they are by their hair color.**

Image via Goodreads

Image via Goodreads

One of my all time favorite books is The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson. I adore this book. Princess Elisa, the main character, is a compulsive overeater with some major hang-ups about her role as the Chosen One. I will keep spoilers to a minimum, but over the course of the novel circumstances are such that Elisa, by no choice of her own, loses much of her excess weight. It’s realistic given what she goes through. The larger problem of her self-esteem and inadequacy issues are addressed realistically too, and as a result, in the next two books in the trilogy she has “overcome” her emotional eating and never gains back the weight.

Although I love this trilogy like a “drowning man loves air” there is a stubborn part of me that wonders how much more awesome it would have been had Elisa not lost all that weight–if she’d overcome obstacles and been a bad-ass queen and also a proud fat woman. I hate to say it, but to me that would have been even better. (Not to mention that as more research is conducted, weight loss is shown to be rarely long term, especially weight loss sustained by hard living, starvation conditions like those Elisa faces in the first book).

I’ll give another example, focusing more on romance. I planned to “hate-read” Breaking His Rules by Alison Packard the other week but to be honest I rather ended up liking it. The characters were introduced previously in the series, and I knew that the heroine, Melissa, had lost fifty pounds before her story starts.  Melissa’s weight loss is a main focus of the book, and the hero, Jake, is her personal trainer and helps facilitate all the weight loss. It feels a bit stupid to criticize a book that uses weight loss to bring the heroine and hero together and still enjoy it, but that is who I am, friends.

Just like I said about GoFaT (I just noticed that GoFaT says “Go Fat” and isn’t that so, so perfect), I’m not sure why Melissa needed to lose fifty pounds. Did you know that there are people who exercise and are fit and are also fat? You can go to the gym and eat reasonably healthy and still be fat.*** The story makes it clear that Jake was interested in Melissa even before she lost the weight–which is nice, but feels a bit like lip service. If he liked her anyway…why does she have to lose fifty pounds in order to get her Happily Ever After? I would have prefered the bolder choice: a fat woman who works out on the regular with her hottie gym-owning boyfriend and doesn’t care that her size is a double digit number. As is, the book makes it clear that Melissa is deserving of love, fat or not, but of course…she doesn’t get it until she’s lost the weight.

I could list more books with weight-loss narratives, but this post is already going to be too long.

Here’s a character I would love to see much more of:

A fat woman who isn’t hung up on her weight. Who treats her weight as a feature of her body, not a defining feature of her self and character. A fat woman who dates, is happy with herself, exercises and eats right or doesn’t, but doesn’t view weight loss as the measure of whether or not she’s succeeding in life. Realistically, few fat women who grow up with today’s media do so without developing a few complexes about their bodies (realistically, very few women fat or not who grow up with today’s media do so without developing a few complexes about their bodies). But this is why fiction is great. As authors we can write about characters who are different than ourselves! We can write about worlds and people we’d like to see. As much as I love reading about characters who are struggling with the things I struggle with (like the best TV show ever)  it’s just as much fun to read about a character who should have some of the same hang-ups I do but doesn’t.

As a fat woman, I’m sick of seeing fat person representation inextricably tied to the question of weight loss (having lost weight or wanting to).  As if that is my number one goal in life. It’s not. The fact is that there are scores of fat people satisfied with their lives, who achieve their goals, find happiness and love and success all while being fat. To me it’s a moot point whether or not they’re also trying to lose weight. That’s a side pursuit that actually has little bearing on their value as human beings or their success in other areas. So why don’t we see that in fiction?

Why not a character who represents these successful, funny, personable ladies?


Image via Plus Model Magazine


Image via


Image via fanpop

I’d read the hell out of a romance about a Melissa McCarthy-like celebrity.

Or how about stories where we see young professional women succeeding all while being fat? Or because they’re fat?

Gabi Gregg of GabiFresh

Gabi Gregg of GabiFresh

Maybe a story about a waitress who does competitive weight lifting in her spare time:

Holly Mangold (image via the NYT)

Holly Mangold (image via the NYT)

And what if a story mentioned the protagonist’s size only in the way you’d also establish that the main character has blonde hair or is one of five children? Why does being fat have to take over the story?

Examples of stories that do this really well.

Image via Goodreads

Image via Goodreads

Eleanor’s weight is definitely mentioned. I’m sure Eleanor at one point thinks about losing weight, but I can’t remember because Eleanor has other things in her life that are much more worth worrying about than her size, like finding a way to get a toothbrush, or where the family’s next meal might come from, or how to get away from her awful stepfather. Being fat isn’t even remotely the most pressing worry she has. Bonus points for Park being head over heels for her.

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Tracy Turnblad’s weight is the subject of torment by mean girl Amber and her mother Velma Von Tussle–but Tracy doesn’t care. She just wants to dance! And girl is good at it, too. Bonus points galore for having several fat characters (Tracy, Edna, Motormouth Maybelle), featuring a fat character excelling at a physical talent, and for giving the fat girl a love interest.


*I am deliberately reclaiming “fat” as a descriptor, not a pejorative term. Thoughts on the “f” word are varied in the body acceptance community, but personally I’m fine with it as a descriptor.

**I choose to reference my fatness much more than my blondeness though, and that’s because my society tells me one is bad and the other is neutral good. Fat activism/fat acceptance/body diversity movements are necessary and good and I love them.

***This is a point made by the fat acceptance movement. I don’t feel the need to expound upon it here since it’s easily Googled.



Nice Boys Don’t Have to Finish Last

So a two weeks ago, Tricia talked about morally ambiguous characters and I thought I’d follow her trend and talk about a different character trope—The Nice Boy. I’ve kind of been obsessed with The Nice Boy in fiction for the last few years because I got sick of the edgy, brooding, bad boy with his tortured past and tight leather trousers and his guyliner. Because while those bad boys are certainly nice to read about or to watch on screen, I don’t think anyone ever wants to actually end up with a bad boy in real life (I mean, come on, talk about exhausting relationships) and I became obsessed with finding boys in my media who I think would be suitable boyfriends for my baby sisters.

Unfortunately, most people botch The Nice Boy. The Nice Boy tends to be boring. He tends to be a counter-point to the bad boy. He can offer his potential romantic partner a stable, fulfilling relationship, but he’s usually the foil in these love triangles. He’s the boy the heroine (or hero) isn’t supposed to end up with. He’s set dressing. He doesn’t have anything interesting going on. He’s static. He’s stiff. We’re not supposed to like him even though he’s usually pretty likeable.

But sometimes The Nice Boy can be done well, and in an effort for giving young people models of emotionally healthy relationships, let’s talk about a couple of Nice Boys who have been done right and what we can do to make them more than cardboard cut outs.

Nice Boy Number One: Steve Rogers

Art by

As far as Nice Boys go, Steve Rogers is practically our poster child. Upstanding citizen, strong internal moral compass, respectful, loyal, honest. Captain America is the sort of guy who’s going to help old ladies across the street and save kittens from tall trees. But let’s be real here—who doesn’t love Steve Rogers? He’s amazing. He’s complex. Tony Stark might think he’s a bit of stick in the mud, but at the end of the day, Tony will still follow his lead.

I think what makes Steve work so well are the internal conflicts he’s presented with. Let’s look at The Winter Soldier, which is essentially a movie about torn loyalty. That movie pits Steve—a soldier, used to trusting his superiors and following orders—against the very organization he’s supposed to be taking orders from. He’s supposed to trust SHIELD. They’re supposed to be the good guys, but SHIELD has also been compromised by an evil that Steve was willing to die to eradicate. And that conflict of loyalty is layered with his loyalty to Bucky. On the one hand, Bucky has been brainwashed and is now a huge threat to Steve and the people he cares about. Steve thinks that the Winter Solider is responsible for Nick Fury’s “death.” But on the other hand, Bucky is still his best friend, and he’ll be with him till the end of the line.

Steve’s job isn’t black-and-white the way it once was. It’s no longer Captain America against Hydra and the Nazis. It’s Captain America versus the people who have been giving him orders. It’s Captain America versus his best friend. The writers for that movie did an incredible job of taking an action movie and layering it with complex emotional conflicts. How does someone who believes in honesty handle discovering that the people he’s working for are keeping secrets from him and lying to him? How is someone who honors loyalty supposed to fight a friend who might as well be family? (And let’s not forget, Steve already lost Bucky once. He thought Bucky died back in the 1940s. He saw him fall off that train, for crying out loud! He failed Bucky once. Could he really let him die again?) Instead of making Captain America this perfect, invulnerable man who can take out evil with his awesome boomerang shield, The Winter Soldier strikes Steve Rogers where it’ll do the most damage—right in the heart of his loyalties.

Nice Boy Number Two: Remus Lupin

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For those of you new to The Plotless, I am a shameless Harry Potter fangirl and I’ve been in love with Remus Lupin since I read Prisoner of Azkaban when I was 9. (Yeah, okay, that might be creepy, but I don’t care.) Lupin is the kind, compassionate teacher that we all wish we had. J.K.Rowling has even said that if Snape is supposed to represent the ilk of educators, than Lupin is supposed to be an example of the best education has to offer. He cares about his students. He’s patient with them. He doesn’t get irritated or snippy with Snape when Snape acts like a douche-canoe. In Goblet of Fire, when the fake Mad Eye Moody pulls Neville aside after the Unforgivable Curses lesson, Harry describes the action as the sort of thing Lupin would do. Lupin is a voice of reason. A mild-mannered man who bears adversity with dignity and courage.

Where Steve’s character depth comes from his torn loyalties, Lupin’s comes from his angst ridden past—which is something he shares in common with a lot of the bad boys we see. As a small child, he was infected with a curse that ostracized him from mainstream wizarding society. It’s only because of Dumbledore’s compassion that he was even able to obtain an education. As an adult, he struggled to find work and be accepted among his peers for the charming man that he is because of a condition that he could safely manage with something as simple as a potion. And all of that is on top of the traumatic loss of his entire support network when he was only twenty-one years old. In the space of about forty-eight hours, Lupin lost Lily, James, and (presumably) Peter to death and he lost Sirius to Azkaban (and, you know, that whole thing of thinking his best friend was a murderer). He had every excuse to become as hardened and bitter as Snape was.

But he didn’t—and that’s what makes him interesting. To me, at least. Lupin is the sort of person that crap has just happened to. All of his troubled past was entirely out of his control, but for the most part, he doesn’t let that define him. He doesn’t dwell on the factors of his life that he can’t control. Of course, we see times when his circumstances take their toll on him which is a natural and reasonable reaction, he doesn’t let those things define him the way Snape and Sirius let their pasts and their crummy circumstances define them. He chooses to rise above it. And even when he makes the wrong choice at first (need I remind you of his little meltdown at the beginning of book seven after he found out Tonks was pregnant?), he always gets his act together and does the right thing in the end.

Nice Boy Number Three: Peeta Mellark

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In the beginning, Peeta comes across as the stereotypical nice-boy-foil to the bad boy love interest. Even though The Hunger Games aren’t really a story about love triangles (despite what every media outlet ever will try to tell you), Peeta still fills that nice-boy-foil role. He’s the boy next door. Kind, friendly, but mostly overlooked.

But Peeta is also powerful—and not just in a physical I-can-toss-around-hundred-pound-sacks-of-flour sort of way. Peeta’s strongest assets are his charm and his charisma, and I think part of Peeta’s appeal is that we too often see that sort of charm and charisma in sleeze-ball characters who are trying to manipulate us and not in good, neighborly sorts of characters. Peeta’s sort silver-tongued charm is something we usually associate with villains and lawyers (see Billy Flynn from Chicago). But over and over again, Peeta’s way with words is seen as something that he uses to benefit other people instead of himself. Katniss describes Peeta as being invaluable to the revolution because “he will be able to turn his pain into words that will transform people” (Catching Fire, p 17). He uses his way with words to try to protect Katniss instead of himself. (Let’s be honest here. Katniss kind of sucks with interpersonal interactions and she would have gotten approximately zero sponsors if Peeta didn’t relentlessly use his charm to benefit her.) And Peeta is selfless. As a sixteen-year-old boy, he’s willing to die to save a girl he has a crush on. And he’s willing to do it again the next year. As a young boy, he was willing to face his parents’ wrath to give burnt bread to a starving little girl. He doesn’t put himself first. Ever.

Peeta takes traits we typically associate with self-serving Slytherins (yes,yes, I know not all Slytherins are bad guys, but we should at least agree that they’re generally a self-serving lot) and applies that to the hard-working Hufflepuff. He’s cunning (siding with the Careers at the beginning of the 74th Hunger Games) and he’s silver-tongued (which usually means manipulative), but he is, at his core, a Nice Boy.

So there we have it, folks. Three ways to make your fictional Nice Boys into engaging and interesting characters. Don’t settle for cardboard cutouts anymore. We don’t need brooding bad boys and guyliner to make a compelling character

Morally Ambiguous Characters

For starters, I want to clarify the differences between a bad boy and a morally ambiguous character. Bad boys have had many sexual partners. They often don’t give a crap what other people think, and they don’t like to follow rules or laws. While many morally ambiguous characters are bad boys, not all bad boys are morally ambiguous. Although, both tend to wear black and/or leather outfits. Guyliner can also be involved.

Morally ambiguous characters (MACs) are mind changers. They can’t decide whether they want to be good or bad. It depends on what they’re trying to achieve “in the moment” rather than making decisions based on a set of morals that they already possess. VERY often, a girl is involved in their decision making process.

Now, just so we’re all on the same page—let’s look at some examples of MACs. Take a look at these beauties:


Picture from Wikia


Picture from Wikia


Picture from Stuffpoint


Picture from Unwinnable


Picture from WordPress blog




































Let’s talk briefly about what makes them morally ambiguous. First, we have our two vampire boys from different shows: Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Damon from The Vampire Diaries. Were they real, they’d be considered serial killers. But they both end up making better choices for the sake of a girl. Not tough to see the moral ambiguity there.

Then we have Guy of Gisborne from BBC’s Robin Hood. He’s a bad dude. Oppresses the people under his care, kills innocents, etc. He also starts to change for the girl.

Next, there’s Loki from Thor: The Dark World. I reference this movie specifically because this is the one where he starts to become morally ambiguous. This is the movie where we start to question his character. Previously, Loki had tried to take over the world in Avengers, which resulted in the deaths of lots of people. But in Thor 2, he starts to help his brother once his mother dies—but at the end of the movie, we have no idea whose side Loki’s on.

And last, but certainly not least, we have Hook from Once Upon a Time. Throughout the show, Hook is not afraid to work with the bad guys to get what he wants, regardless of the consequences. He puts his needs (which start out as being revenge on Rumple) before everyone else’s. And he, too, changes for the girl.

Now let’s talk about four reasons why these characters work so well in stories.

  1. Character Development.

MACs have SO FAR to go. They often start out on one side of the bad/good scale and then go clear to the other side after an inciting event. Then they start to fluctuate on the scale. As readers and viewers, we like to watch characters grow. Character growth comes from internal conflict, which drives a story sometimes even better than external conflict. You can root for a character who you want to see change. Will Loki ever become a good guy and help out the Avengers? We’re dying to know what he’ll do next. We’re so invested in him as a character because we want to see him reach his full potential. To see what he can do when he puts all his energy into helping the cause. (Or, on the other side, to see just how bad he can get. And what he’s willing to do to prove a point.) The point is that we can easily become invested in MACs because there’s so far for them to grow. They can’t always sit on the fence. In the end, they will be good or bad. And we want to see where they’ll end up.

  1. Romantic Tension.

Guy and Marian, Buffy and Spike, Damon and Elena, Hook and Emma. (Loki is the only one of my examples not to have a girl involved, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before Marvel jumps at that opportunity. They’d be fools not to with all of Tom Hiddleston’s fan girls.) Those of us who enjoy romance in our stories love to see the guy get the girl. We like to see a guy change for a girl. We like to see the bad guys do good things for the girl. It makes the girl special because she is the only thing in the world that can motivate the MAC to be good. I think girls love this fantasy of a guy who will change for them. I believe we call it the Beauty and the Beast Complex. Whatever you call it, it’s powerful.

  1. Humor

MACs do have some good qualities. More often than not, they’re funny. Loki, Spike, hook, and Damon are all funny. Everyone loves to laugh. So even if characters do bad things, yet have good qualities that we can admire, we’ll overlook the bad ones. Humor isn’t the only good quality they can possess, but it is certainly one of the most powerful, I think. All MACs, and bad guys in general, should have at least one good quality. Nobody is all bad. We’re fascinated by things like murderers who have pet kittens that they adore. It’s bizarre. It makes you question who they are and what motivates them because we seem to think at times that good and bad can’t exist together. In the story world, they always should.

  1. They stand out from everyone else

They’re just so interesting. They’re unpredictable. You have to be invested in them because you’re dying to know what choices they’ll make. Readers don’t like stories that they can predict. Even in stories where we want a happy ending, we don’t want to be able to predict how we get to the happy ending. The “bad guys” in a show steal all the attention once they become morally ambiguous. Thor may be the god of thunder, but Loki is the god of tumblr. Delena has way more fangirls than Stelena. Once Spike realizes he has the hots for Buffy, does anyone else in the show even seem as remotely interesting? No. Joss Whedon even ends up making him one of the main characters. Because he’s so darn interesting. And *spoiler* for my example for Guy if you haven’t seen the series—BBC ended up killing off Maid Marian because her dynamic with Guy was so much more interesting than the one she had with Robin. Guy was a more interesting character. Everyone rooted for Guy. No one wanted her to get with Robin. MACs steal all the thunder.

I wish we saw more MACs in the novel realm. All my examples are from movies and TV shows because I had a harder time coming up with ones in books. I noticed that the MACs tended to already be reformed by the time the story starts. But I would LOVE to see more of them in YA. In fact, after I finish the book I’m working on now, I will have one of my next male leads be a MAC. Should be fun.

In the comments below, tell us about some of your favorite MACs that weren’t mentioned here.

Another Life Lesson from Harry Potter

So I enjoyed writing one of my Harry Potter inspired life lessons two weeks ago SO MUCH that I thought I would do it again. So I bring you life lesson the second: Trust your friends. You don’t have to bear your burdens alone.

I have been blessed with some pretty phenomenal friends over the course of my life. If you don’t believe me, ask me about them sometime. I can gush for a good 6 or 7 hours and have only scratched the surface of how awesome they are. I’m talking really stellar people, who for one reason or another, seem to think I’m worth their time and friendship as well. And while I’ve always been ready and willing to drop everything for any one of those friends, I’ve always been hesitant to allow them to do the same for me.

I know I’m not alone in this. It’s hard to ask for help. It’s hard to trust people. It’s hard to admit that you can’t handle things on or own. It’s hard to confide in someone when you know they’re just going to worry and you want to spare them that.

So I’ve always been grateful that one of the overarching themes of the Harry Potter series is that you need to trust the people around you. Trusting people is a scary thing. It can backfire on you with catastrophic results. Case and point: James and Lily Potter (and I guess you could Sirius as well) trusted Peter Pettigrew to be their Secret Keeper. They trusted that he was still their friend, that he still had their best interests in mind. Really, though, he was a treacherous little sneak and had already sold out to Voldemort. Because James and Lily (and Sirius) trusted Peter, they lost their lives, Sirius lost his freedom, Lupin lost all of his friends in the space of about 48 hours, Harry lost his parents, etc etc.

But with the Peter Pettigrew incident aside, the Harry Potter books teach a lot about trust and learning to rely on other people and accept their help. Because Harry is a typical fantasy hero, he tries to do everything himself. He doesn’t want to put other people in danger, he doesn’t want other people to risk themselves for him, and he doesn’t want to admit that he needs help sometime. After all, the archetypal hero always faces the foe alone. That always seemed silly to me. You know, no man is an island and all that.

But Harry hardly does anything alone. He was blessed with some remarkable friends–Ron and Hermione chief among them. He has friends who are willing to stand at his side, regardless of how moody he’s being or how many people are targeting him. They care about him. They want to help him. At the beginning of Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore counsels Harry to confide in his friends, saying that Harry does them a disservice by not trusting them. He goes on to remind Harry that Sirius, who has recently fallen in battle, would not want Harry to shut himself off.

There are plenty of times when Harry tries to shut himself off from his friends. When he thinks that Voldemort’s possessing him in Order of the Phoenix or when he realizes that he’s going to have to go on a country wide search for Horcruxes at the end of Half-Blood Prince. In both instances, his friends refuse to let him retreat. Ron assures him that “we’re with you whatever happens.” I think it’s safe to say that Harry wouldn’t have gotten through the things he did without their assistance. Where would he be without Hermione’s hard work and intelligence? Where would he be without Ron’s heart and humor?

Six feet under, would be the appropriate answer.

Harry’s ability to trust and love his friends is one of his defining features–and it’s definitely one of his qualities that set him apart from Voldemort. Despite all he’s been through, despite the abuse he’s suffered at his aunt and uncle’s hands, despite the number of times he’s seen Hogwarts faculty break faith with the school (ie Quirell, Lockhart, Moody, and (supposedly) Snape), despite the number of times when Ron let petty jealousy or moodiness get in the way of their friendship, Harry continues to trust them. While Harry’s reliance on his friends may have caused more problems for them (and by “may have,” I mean “definitely”), he couldn’t have done what he did without them. Had their situations been reversed, I don’t doubt that Harry wouldn’t have done the same for his friends. He always comes to Ron’s defense when Malfoy starts on Ron’s family. He still hands by Hermione, even though she can be an overbearing know-it-all at times.

The true nature of friendship is selflessness and trust. You help your friends because you want to, because you care about them and want the best for them, and you trust them to do the same for you. I don’t think I can count the number of times when my friends have pulled through for me even (and perhaps especially) when I’m feeling wretched and unloveable. Being able to confide in your friends isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s not a sign that you can’t handle things or that you’re weak. In fact (and I think Professor Dumbledore would agree with me), I would say it’s a sign of great strength. At the end of the day, it takes more strength, more faith, to trust someone than to not.

Life Lessons from Harry Potter

In case you’ve been woefully ignorant of my life for the last thirteen years, I am obsessed with Harry Potter. It’s a healthy kind of obsession, not an “I want to marry Dan Radcliffe and have his children” kind of obsession. You see, I grew up with Harry. I started reading the books when I was nine, just after the third one had come out. And I think it’s probably pretty safe to say that, outside of my parents/family and outside of church/religion-y things, Harry Potter has probably been the most influential thing in my life to date.

And because I’m on the brink of graduating from college and becoming an adult (uh…can you say scary?) and because I’m feeling nostalgic, I thought I’d share with you all some of the lessons I’ve learned from Harry Potter. So for the next little while, all you’re going to be hearing from me is how rad Harry Potter is. If you can’t handle that, then tough it up.

Lesson One: It’s okay to be a strong and intelligent woman.

The rise of Harry Potter happened at the tail-end of the nineties–a time where female role models for young girls primarliy consisted of Britney Spears and The Spice Girls. With the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling supplied my generation with an onslaught of strong, intelligent women. Here are some of my favorite examples:

Hermione Granger: She’s probably the first character to come to mind when people think of intelligent female book characters. I love Hermione. She’s gotten a lot of flack about being the stereotypical “smart but ugly girl” over the years. I would know. I once wrote a paper on how the people who thought that were just stupid. (Fact: I rocked that paper.) Here’s the thing about Hermione: yes, she’s brilliant, and yes, she can be a bit of a stickler sometimes, but she never (ever) backs down from what she believes in. Remember SPEW? But more than that, she’s completely dedicated to Harry. In the seventh book, when Ron deserts the horcrux quest, Hermione stays behind. She doesn’t chose to run off with the man she loves. She stays behind with Harry and lives in a tent in the middle of winter and helps with the fruitless hunt for horcruxes. And this wasn’t even the first time that Hermione stuck by Harry when Ron didn’t. (Think Goblet of Fire.) Hermione, for me, was the embodiment of a young woman who never tried to hide her intelligence, never tried to change herself for the approval of others, and never backed down when the path she’d chosen turned difficult.

Nymphadora Tonks: On the surface, I think Tonks comes across as a bit . . . airheaded, perhaps. I attribute that largely to her choice in  hair color and her clumsiness. But she’s a fully trained auror, and that takes quite a bit of work. Think of it like this: In order for a Hogwarts grad to be considered for Auror training, they have to take NEWT level potions. Tonks would have been one of Snape’s students, and he doesn’t take anyone into his NEWT class unless they achieved the highest score on their OWL. And I don’t think anyone would deny that doing that well in Snape’s class takes anything less than brains and a good deal of hard work. So here are the things I especially love about Tonks: she’s a smart woman who doesn’t fall into the “fun-sucking, rule-stickler” stereotype and she’s willing to fight for the man she loves. This is probably just the romantic in me speaking, but Tonks knew that she loved Lupin and she knew that Lupin loved her (but was just being a bit daft) and she wasn’t going to give up on him. Seeing as how the power of love is one of the overarching themes of the novels, Tonks’s love for Lupin and her willingness to stand by him regardless of the difficulties is an important part of the series (which was unfortunately WAY overlooked in the movies).

Molly Weasley: What I love most about Molly is that she’s a stay-at-home-mom, but everyone (the exception to that everyone being Malfoy, whose opinion doesn’t really count right now) respects her for it. After all, Fred and George would toe the line after Hermione threatened to write to Molly about their various misdeeds–these boys weren’t afraid of detention or losing points, they were afraid of their mother’s strength. She’s a strong woman–she has to be, raising six sons and one very headstrong daughter. And she’s happy and willing to stay at home and take care of the children and be the kind of mother they need. She’s not worried about having this grand career. She’s not worried about making lots of money. She’s worried about helping her children become the best people they can be. She’s a compassionate woman. After all, she always treated Harry like one of her own, despite the fact that money was tight in the Weasley home. She’s the mother Harry never knew, and she’s willing to fight to the death for any of her children. After all, can you forget how she took down Bellatrix at the end of Deathly Hallows? I thought not.

Minerva McGonagall: I can only think of one way to put this. McGonagall is a bad ass. Hands down. You don’t believe me? Please consult Order of the Phoenix, the Career Advice chapter, and Deathly Hallows, basically any scene after Harry shows back up at Hogwarts. She’s a smart woman and she knows when to stand her ground. She’s a Gryffindor, through and through, no doubt about it. And while she seems a little strict at times, there’s a lot of heart there, too. (Don’t believe me? Go back to when Gryffindor won the Quidditch Cup in book 3. She’s seen jumping up and down and crying in joy.)

This is only a glance at the many women in Harry Potter. There are plenty of other strong and courageous women (and especially strong and courageous mothers, namely Lily Potter and Narcissa Malfoy). At the same time, they are balanced with women who lie and sneak and abuse power and do evil things. Rowling paints a picture of women that doesn’t hide blemishes. She treats women as real people, just like she treats the men. And at the end of the day, she has provided young girls in generations to come an example of women who don’t deny that they’re smart and who don’t dumb themselves down to get the attention of a boy. These are role models who will last–not just for me, but for future generations of Potter readers as well.