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

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Writing a Sequel

Catching_fire

Image from Wikipedia

crown-of-embers

Image from The Young Folks

Frostbite

Image from Fanpop

Harry_Potter_and_the_Chamber_of_Secrets_(US_cover)

Image from Wikipedia

Those of us who read can relate times when we’ve been disappointed by sequels.

I’m afraid I can’t get into specific examples of bad sequels. As a rule, I don’t like to insult other authors—you never know when that can come back around and bite you. But I can point out good examples (see pics above) as well as things to avoid when working on sequels, which is what I aim to do with this post.

Someone once told me that we shouldn’t be disappointed by an author’s sequel. They have creative license. What they envision for the book is how the story should go. Authors can’t write their books “wrong.”

But if that were true, why would editors exist?

The fact of the matter is that authors CAN write their sequels wrong, but oftentimes editors don’t bother to change the big stuff because the first book did so well (I’m sure there are also various other reasons, but for right now we’ll stick with this one). They know the second book will sell well too. But what about the books after that? What happens when an author gets progressively worse because no one will tell them what they’re doing wrong?

First off, the goal is to make each successive book either better or just as good as the last one. As a writer, your books should not be getting worse. And by worse, I don’t mean that bad stuff happens in the book. No, no, no, no. I mean that the quality of your story worsens.

So. Here’s how this works. You write a book. You have a setting. You have a cast of characters. You have a main character or two or five, depending on the norms of your genre. You have a voice, a style, a feel to your book. You’re giving readers a specific experience that only you, as the unique writer that you are, can give them. By writing that first book in a series, here is what you are promising your readers: “Here are how my books work. These are my characters. They have these personalities. You can expect this kind of pacing from me. This is the kind of climax you can expect from me. Here are the kind of subplots I will be doing in this series. You can expect this kind of unique world building in my setting. Etc.”

And when it comes time for a sequel, your writers EXPECT you to give them all the things you promised them in the first one. They want that experience again. They want it to be the same, but different. They want the experiences they had during the first book—the laughing, the crying, the gasping, etc.—but this time with a new story.

Because it’s a perfect example for just about everything, let’s look at Harry Potter to demonstrate this. When JK Rowling wrote that wonderful book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, she showed everyone what incredible things she can do. She demonstrated wonderfully diverse and round characters; multiple mystery subplots; a magical setting; numerous fantastical elements; and themes of friendship, loyalty, and bravery. You can even get into more specifics. You will read about people flying on broomsticks. You’ll see people brandishing wands. You know that the bad guy is not who you first think it is. The characters will cleverly get out of tight situations. They will make you laugh.

I could go on, but you get the point. Rowling makes this all happen in the first book. Then it happens again in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. All the same things. All the same elements. But does it feel like the same story? No. Completely new story, but you get all the same experiences. And Rowling always makes sure her books are just as good or better than the last one. As a series, we can say that Harry Potter wins.

Let’s look at another good example: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. Does she give her readers the same experience in her sequel that she did in The Hunger Games. Yes. Can you find the same elements and themes? The same characters. The same feel. Yes.

Other good examples of sequels include The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson and Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead. I don’t want to spend too much time talking about other books because I want to get on to ways that authors can ensure that readers will be satisfied with their sequels. Because believe it or not, there are simple things to do to give your sequel the best chance it can have of being just as good or better than the first book.

First, I need to preface this by saying that just because an author you know did one of the no-nos I’m about to list, that doesn’t mean I don’t like that author or their books. I respect all (well, most) authors because writing is hard no matter what. And even if an author I love did one of these things, I would forgive them. Unless they started doing it consistently. Basically, if you’re a published author reading this, don’t hate me if you’ve done one of these things. It’s not personal. I’m probably still going to upset someone, but whatever. This is all in the interest of making us all better as writers. So you shouldn’t hate me.

The first on the list is pretty simple: don’t change the genre of your book. If your first book is a romance, the sequel should not be horror. You laugh now. You think that no one would actually do this. But I’ve seen it done. Not with romance and horror, but with other genres. If your first book is a “fight to stay alive” kind of thriller, the sequel should not be a mystery. Give readers the same experience. When your book is a mixing of genres, give your readers the same mix of genres in the sequel.

Second and third, don’t replace all your characters or separate all your characters. These two kind of go together, so I’ll talk about them at the same time. If in the first book, you made us all fall in love with one cast of characters, don’t replace them with a new cast. This isn’t to say you can’t kill off characters or introduce new characters. Go ahead. This means you shouldn’t take your character away from all the other fun characters. Don’t have your character spend a whole book in a new country and ignore all your other characters. Bring them along too. Because readers enjoy the interactions between all the characters. They love the conflict that arises between Character A and Character B. They like the way Character C and Character D crack jokes together. They like the romantic tension between Character E and Character F. When you separate even two of the characters, you don’t get that interaction that your readers loved in the first one. You’re giving them a different reading experience.

Fourth, have the same kind of subplots. If you’ve got an incredible mystery subplot in the first one, have another one in the second. If you have an element of adventure in the first one, have it in the second one. If there’s a romance in the first one, have it continue onto the second one.

Because I’m me, I just have to expand on the romance thing for a bit. If your series contains a romantic subplot (and especially if you’re writing YA), then it needs to have the same amount of romantic tension in each succeeding book. If you lose the romantic tension, you’ll often lose the reader too. If you’re writing a series with a huge romantic subplot, the guy and girl cannot get together at the end of the first book. Well they can, but something needs to disturb it at the beginning of the second book then. That tension needs to continue. You need to give readers the same reading experience.

So don’t be a one hit wonder. Be that person who has readers dying to read their next book because they can’t wait to see what awesome thing you’ll do next. Because they know they can expect it from you. Fulfill your promises to the reader. Be like Rowling.

 

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.