Originality and Undetected Plagiarism

Once upon a time a writer approached me with a textbook he had written.  He was extremely proud of it, and to express this opinion he told me, and I paraphrase, that no one else had ever written a book like his before… and nobody ever would again.

Unfortunately, looking over the book myself, I could guess at why it was so unique.  It frankly was not effective at covering it’s subject matter.  In fact, if anything, the unique idea behind it seemed to be an extension on one of the worst teaching approaches in that sector of education to begin with.  It would have been better than nothing at all for someone studying on a desert island but… that was about the only academic value I could see in it.

So, what are people really looking for when they seek originality?  Is there really such a thing as originality, or was William Ralph Inge right when he said that originality is really undetected plagiarism?  As writers, we keep wanting to come up with something new and exciting, which is great until we start to wonder if all the good ideas have been taken.

Sometimes in the entertainment industry, it can seem as though any kind of original idea has merit, regardless of the quality of the product.  Give us something new enough, and you’ll have someone’s attention at least for a moment, if only long enough for them to shake their head and wonder why something so weird was ever made in the first place.  This is why, unlike the a textbook, fiction can actually be described sometimes as “so bad it’s good.”  The number one commandment of fiction after all goes something like “Thou shalt be interesting,” so as long as a work of fiction is interesting to some people some where and it manages to become well known among the people it is interesting to, it’s a success.

The drive for originality comes about due to our interest in novelty.  Unfortunately, though, the kind of originality that people are more likely to want seems more difficult to predict in fiction, because besides the call for novelty there is also a set of plot patters and themes that many, many people seem to like.

Are happy endings unoriginal?  What about romance?  Long heroic quests?  Any kind of main character childhood suffering?  What about the benevolent power that turns out to be nasty, the one great evil out to destroy the world, or the one hero out to save it?  Where is the line between the appealing and the cliche, and does it move around as generations grow up and old trends re-emerge?

For me, the best way to strive for originality is to connect existing ideas in new ways, expressing an idea in terms of another in ways that I haven’t seen done before.  This doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t draw on literary trends that connect to what I’m doing.  I’m finding that in my fantasy story, it make sense for me to use some of the standard fantasy vocabulary in order to invoke the ideas I want as they connect to my characters and their world, but I feel safe in doing this because my story itself is its own unique entity.  Knowing this, and that the story interests at least one person on earth, that is myself, I’m comfortable with my level of originality.

 

The Return of the NaNoWriMo

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Today I went onto the Nanowrimo website for the first time in a long time, and found it interesting how just opening up the site can get me excited.

Three years ago I did Nanowrimo, writing from Nanjing China, and managed to write down an the desired total of 50,000 words for one story.  Even though, when all was said and done, I didn’t produce something I thought was publishable, the experience was good for me.  If gave me a sense of accomplishment.

Two years ago I spent the whole month of November inside a training center preparing for missionary service in South Korea.  One year ago I spent the month of November in a Korean city called Cheon-an (which means heavenly peace and is the Korean version of Tian-an, as is Tian-an Men square in China).  Since I was doing missionary work the whole time, I wasn’t reading novels, let alone writing them.

But… I am now officially ready to attempt to repeat the Nanowrimo process, and I’m really, really excited.  I went on to the site and changed my region (It’s funny how it still thinks you’re in the same country until you tell it otherwise).  Writing from “somewhere in the states” as opposed to halfway across the world from them doesn’t sound quite as cool.  But I’m still ready to do my American region proud.

Challenges I face in my upcoming draft:

1. Character Issues: Oddly enough, I’m finding that for this project, I have to worry about keeping the conflicts manageable.  The nature of the story is such that my main characters begin with several hefty lumps of conflicts on their plates, so adding too much conflict on top of that could overwhelm the plot pretty quickly.  I have to tell myself, keep it simple, keep it simple.

2. Realism:  There’s a fine balance between making your world believable and losing the magic.  I’m striving for the best of both worlds here, or as close as I can get to it.

That said though, I’ll also mention the parts I’m exited about.

1. Language: If making up stories is my favorite thing in the world, my other favorite thing in the world is language, and my favorite of all things in the world is writing a stories where language and language difference are important.  And I love, love the language of the story world I am now creating.  I love how it shapes my characters.  I love how it shapes their thoughts.  (I promise the finished work will be written in English though, not Elvish or some other language, in case your wondering).

2.  Fantasy:  I love to imagine anything new and different, and exploring the pros and cons of the world I’m creating is more than exciting.  My characters are so cool, and I get to hand them choices that I’ll never have and watch what they do with them.

3.  The great question:  The theme of my premise.  What do we do with human problems in this world?  Challenges?  Differences?  Where does the balance lie between reaching for new frontiers and accepting ourselves as we are?  And if we do strive for change, how to we react to the  inevitable disappointments?  What happens when we succeed?

That’s all.  That’s my task for the month of November laid out for me.  Yay Nanowrimo!

I Don’t Have Time to Write: Musings on Priorities

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They say “not having time” to write is a construction of the mind.  If you really want to write, you make time.

For me, I find that usually not writing as much as I would like to has more to do with standard writers block than how much time I’ve actually had, but lately as my life has gotten more busy, I’ve found myself taking the idea of not having time a bit more seriously.

I haven’t written much, not for want of inspiration (it’s amazing what living at a fast pace does for the creative mind), but for want of time to sit down.  It reminds me of a moment in an old film, “The More the Merrier” where an obnoxious old man is making fun of a woman for keeping a diary.  “There are two kinds of people,” he says, “those who don’t do what they want to do, so they write down in a diary about what they haven’t done, and those who are too busy to write about it because they’re out doing it!”

It’s unfortunate that the more things there are happening in my life, the more inspiring and interesting my life is, the less time I feel I have to write and actually harness that inspiration.

But still, I realize that technically, I do have “time” to write, in that I have the same amount of raw time as everyone else in the world.  So for me, what it really becomes is a question of priorities.  When I say I don’t have time to write, what do I mean by it really?  Here are a few possibilities.

“I don’t have time to write because I have to work now (i.e. keep my job).”

“I don’t have time to write because at the moment my grades are more important to me than writing as fast as I want.”

“I don’t have time to write because I see the value in spending some of the time I haven’t committed already building relationships with real world people (who are more important than fictional people, I have to remind myself).”

“I don’t have time to write because I have other daily commitments in addition to school and work that are non-negotiable.”

“I don’t have time to write because my commute time is long.”

“I don’t have time to write because I need sleep.  My health is more important than my novel.”

These are some of my reasons for saying “no” to writing that I don’t think are going to change anytime soon.  However, even in the mist of my busy life, I sometimes have other reasons for saying no, reasons that I might have a little more control over.

“I don’t have time to write fiction because whenever I do get a moment of alone time, I opt to chill out and do something relatively mindless.”

“I don’t have time to write because I think the 10 or 15 minutes of time I have open here and there is to short to be worthy of turning on my writer brain.”

“I don’t have time to write because I seek emotional satisfaction in other people’s stories rather building my own (and rarely find it, to the full extent, because there’s always something I would change).”

These are things I do have control over, to an extent, and I can chose how much energy I want to put in to changing this time and making it productive.  Over all, I might not have as much writing time as I want to, but that’s okay.  I still have a little. I have time to write.

 

 

Song of the Moment: “Through Heaven’s Eyes” from the Prince of Egypt Soundtrack

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I believe that the music people listen to while working can be one of the best methods for overcoming writer’s block, as I kind of hinted at here. I like a lot of songs, but when I really like a song, that is, when I like it enough to start listening to it over and over again, it’s usually because it somehow ties in to one of the stories I’m working on/thinking about at the moment and it gets my creative juices flowing in some way.

I’m finding that I’m not one of those people who can be satisfied with naming only one song and call it “my story’s song,” or even “my character’s song,” because were I to try and pick only one, the question would always come up, “Well, which part of the story are we talking about here? Which aspect of this story are we talking about. Different songs match the feeling of a character at different times in the story, and in the process of writing I find myself becoming obsessed with different songs at different times. My latest obsession has been “Through Heaven’s Eyes,” which, while I didn’t anticipate it, is not surprising now that it happened.

Something I’ve realized lately is that my current main character’s main internal need is also connected to a lie, a lie that she tries not to believe, but part of her does, about what defines her worth as a person. But then again, I could probably say the same thing about every real person that’s ever lived in this world.

We like the whole “All men are created equal” type quotes. We want to believe them. But in life it is so, so difficult not to base your value for yourself on something that you can compare to someone else. Wealth, beauty, talent, intelligence or whatever is perceived as intelligence, fame, or maybe even what we think of as inherent goodness of character, can be put up on a pedestal or debased in relation to others in the mind’s giant comparison system. I’ve fallen prey to judging myself (and although it’s embarrassing to admit, other people) based on so many of these things. I know it’s a lie, but I still believe it.

And that’s why I love this song…

…because it’s not just about my character who defines her worth by a skill she doesn’t thinks she has in sufficient amounts, it’s also about me and how I’m tempted to define my own worth.  I feel as if sometimes it takes a reversal of fortune, or meeting someone else with a different perspective on life, to come to the point where you can “look at your life through heaven’s eyes” and realize its importance in itself, regardless of comparison.

Real Fictional Gender Equality: My Thoughts on a One to One Ratio

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Lately I read a lot of stuff online discussing gender equality, and more recently some posts that discuss equality in fiction specifically.

There are three things that I specifically noticed in posts on the positions of women in fiction that have prompted me to reflection.  First: discussions of the meaning of the phrase “strong female character,” second: a certain test that supposedly tells you something about a woman’s value within a specific story, and third: the claim that mainstream fiction ought to have a one to one ratio of male to female characters.

First of all, there is the idea that female characters may be strong in mainstream fiction physically, or even mentally, but weak in terms of complexity when compared to the men.  This, I can agree with, when I think about some mainstream films, but I also see other stories with nicely complex female protagonists, so I don’t see that in itself as quite so much of a concern.  More about that later.

Second, there is the Bechdel test, where you look at any work of fiction and ask yourself one question.  Does it have two women in it…who talk to each other… about something other than a man?  And this is closely connected to the call for one to one.

In a discussion of equality, these seem like good things to bring up.  However, although I see some value of the Bechdel test, that only goes so far for me, and the one to one ratio demand, spoken out of context, not only misses the point of the real barriers to equality in fiction, but becomes impossible to carry out.

Let me explain.

There are three primary motivations for characters in most of the stories I’m aware of, namely survival, romantic attraction, and deep concern for another character, or to put it more simply, love. If we look at how these desires are portrayed in mainstream fiction, it becomes apparent that, while either survival or romantic attraction can hold a story together by itself, love minus romantic attraction or survival concerns has a harder time getting a huge following.

So in mainstream fiction, what we’re usually talking about is stories where a. lives are in danger, b. there’s a lot of romantic attraction, or c. all the above.  And if the situation is more dramatic, then all the better, you would say.

Now, in a fictional word that is dominated by sex and survival, in what place is a woman naturally going to fall?  About where she has been falling in mainstream fiction all along, either not in the picture much or as a sex symbol.  Why?  Look at how life works.

In a situation where lives are in physical danger, men tend to be the ones who get pushed to the front of things, because they are physically stronger, generally speaking.  Their bodies don’t have to balance the need for physical strength and speed with the potential need to carry children nine months and then nurse them.  So generally, not always, the most efficient group of people to confront a physical crisis will be predominately male.

Women may be allowed to join the army if they like, but I don’t see a military with a one to one ratio happening any time soon, nor to I see women becoming subject to a draft in any situation, short of some kind of apocalypse.  Women do get into life threatening situations, but in most societies there either exists or has existed an ideal in the past that whenever possible a man should put himself in those situations first in order to protect the woman.

And so it makes sense that if you are going to set any random story in a potentially dangerous environment, most of the characters who show up in that environment will be male.  Now say you have a story about any random character who has a job of dealing with survival situations.  Statistically, that character is probably male, along with most of his coworkers/sidekicks, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Now say that in another aspect of that character’s life he happens to be in love with a girl, and there you have it, a perfect example of woman’s place in mainstream media.

Will this story pass the Bechdel test?  It can, if two of the survivor workers are female, but if you put too females together in the same scary environment, and in a situation where there’s no reason why more men couldn’t have been there instead, it’s going to feel forced, coincidental, as if the reason for their existence is not to advance the story, but to pass the Bechdel test.  And if you start out with that kind of story and then insist that half the characters must be female, then I suggest you go with the apocalypse thing I was talking about and have most males in the world get killed off by some plague first, or I won’t buy it.

This is the reason for fictional inequality in terms of numbers.  Most relationships between women and other women are neither romantic, nor are they focused on immediate survival.  They are simply focused on love.  So to anyone tempted to insist that women fight their way into fiction in large numbers by thinking and acting the way you would expect of men, and to those who demand a one to one ratio in mainstream fiction regardless of context, I have only one thing to say for you.  Seek out gender equality in stories about human love, and you can find it there.  Seek to make love itself, separate from the intensity of danger or of sexual passion, a higher priority of our society, and greater gender equality in fiction will be one of the natural results, along with a lot less violence in this world.

And in the mean time, feel free to cheer on all your “strong female characters” in mainstream fiction as it stands.  Just realize as you do so that there are more ways to show strength than the kind that would give you a high score on your way into the hunger games.  Katniss Everdeen is an unusual girl; her sister Prim is closer to the norm, and if you want more women in the world of fiction, then you need an overall fictional climate in which all women, the Katnisses and the Prims, can exist and can be valued.  If and when society ever reaches that point, we will resume our discussions of one to one.

The Tale of the Female Chosen One

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As part of my preparation for my current work in progress, I have searched the web for similar ideas a bit, just to make sure I’m not producing a carbon copy of anything else.  In the process of dispelling my fears on that account, I noticed something I’d seen before, that I think is worthy of comment.  Namely, the particular YA female verson of the “chosen one” archetype story.

You don’t have to actually read this kind of story to notice it.  I’ve read it before, of course, but I also see it in many different blurbs.  It often contains elements like this:

1. The main female character is different from everyone else, due to special abilities or special linage, or both.  She may begin her story with varying degrees of knowledge, or lack of knowledge, about her uniqueness.  Whenever she does find out, however, she often chalks it up to being something wrong with her.

2. Often part of the process of her finding out her specialness involves a mysterious male character who knows more about her abilities than she does herself showing up and becoming her guide to the new “world of specialness” that she now finds herself a part of.  He and she become attracted to each other, which complicates whatever romantic/possible romantic relationships existed in her life prior to that point.  However, her relationship with the guide is often conflicted because, while she is naive about her abilities, she tends to be more special than her guide.

3. She discovers that her specialness puts her in a unique position to save the world as she knows it, making her greatly in demand by both leaders of the specialness world and villains alike.  Perhaps she’s already been selected for mission XYZ because she’s the only feasible candidate.  She didn’t chose this destiny, and it bothers her.

4. Throughout her process of discovering this, she will never, ever ever, confide in her parents or primary caretakers about what’s going on.  Instead, she may confide in her best friend, or even her potential boyfriend.  Should she chose to do so, her friend will instantly believe her, after maybe a few token comments of “I can’t believe this is happening but wow!” only to join her as an ally till the very end, when the villains or powers that be must snatch them from her so she can deal with the climax on her own.

5. Her specialness puts those she loves in danger as the villains use their evil powers over her family to get to her.

Obviously this isn’t in every female centered YA story out there, but I’ve seen it more than I expected, and I’ve wondered, is it over all good or bad?  Parts of it, like the creepily all knowing male guide, I definitely have some issues with, but I see the value in female empowerment stories as a whole, and it certainly doesn’t do any harm for teenage girls to read about finding inner specialness.  But the question I have is: Has this particular type of so called “female empowerment” story been way way way over done, or is there still room for more?  Anybody have any ideas on how to make it a bit more realistic?  Let me know.

Skipping the Boring Parts

Okay, I’m officially back.  

l have been for a while.  Unfortunately I haven’t felt like I really had that much to say.  

Ever since I’ve been writing again, I’ve felt like my writing is like a cycle, because I’ll my ideas are much better than I presently know how to write, so all I can do is keep writing lousy stuff and then progressively deleting the lousiest parts and replacing it with better stuff, with the result that it is getting better and better.  

I’m glad I moved on to this stage though.  I’m kind of a pack rat for words, and I used to write lots, most of it bad, and then get all hung up on the bad stuff I’d written, or the stuff that was good, but I didn’t know how to fit in with everything else because my ideas were still in flux.  But recently, I’ve discovered a solution that’s making be very excited.  

One piece of writing advice that I always thought was good was to “skip the boring parts.”  It makes sense.  Sure, different things are boring to different people, so I’ll never be able to cut out everybody’s boring parts, but I’m the author, so if my own boring parts are still in there and I’m not enjoying what I’ve already written, I must be doing it wrong.  Even though I’d always liked this advice though, I had a hard time following it because a lot of times there was bad stuff and good stuff mixed in together, making me scared to delete the parts that were less than what I wanted in case bits of them were still salvageable, but still wanting to replace them as a whole with something new.  

Then I realized that I’d been approaching writing/editing the wrong way.  I had this idea that stuff had to be either in the working document or I had to delete it.  But then I realized that just because I don’t want something in my story at the moment doesn’t exactly mean I have to throw it out.  

Instead, I put it inside another document called “The boring parts.”  It’s full of all the passages that aren’t as good as the ones I’m writing right now, but might have a sentence or two worth saving for later.  It’s my way of letting go of story baggage without really letting go of it, keeping it elsewhere as a tool that I can pull out again just in case.  

And I’ve discovered by doing this that I make room both in my story document and in my mind for “non-boring parts” to flow in in place of what I cut out.  I’m still not technically a good enough writer to do my ideas justice, but I’m hacking my way up there.

And no, I’m never going to let anybody read the boring parts, ever.  

So Long, Farewell, Annyeonghi Gyeseyo

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Gyeongpodae in Gangneung, South Korea

Gyeongpodae in Gangneung, South Korea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lately, I have become a more prolific blogger, as those of you who have been following me for a while may have noticed.  Part of the reason for this massive outpouring of posts was that I was getting ready for a big change in my life (or supposed to be getting ready anyway), so my procrastinator mind channeled a lot of creative energy into the less essential things like this blog.  Another reason was that I knew that very shortly I would be giving up blogging and writing altogether, and I wanted to get out as much of what was in my head as I could before I had to stop.

For the next 18 months, I will not be posting anymore.  Nor will I be writing fiction.  Instead, I will be in South Korea, doing other things.  After 18 months I do plan to take up this blog again, so this isn’t meant to be a permanent goodbye, but in the world of blogging, 18 months feels like it might as well be forever, and I feel that anybody who does check up on this deserves a heads-up as to why the posts all stopped, and when they may possibly start up again.

Okay, now that that announcement is over, I would like to use this post to highlight all the blogs I follow, since most of these bloggers will still be posting in the near future, and I think they’re worth checking out.  Here they all are, in the order they show up on the sidebar of my site (which means reverse order of how long I’ve been following them).

1. M. B. Weston’s Official Website.

What it’s about: M. B. Weston, author of fantasy series The Elysian Chronicles, discusses writing, particularly writing speculative fiction, using examples from her own work and from real life to show how to write more believably.

How I found it: I gave the author a ping back at the end of my post on writing character reactions to the impossible, thanks to my blogging helper Zemanta.

Why I follow it: I write speculative fiction.  I like to analyze what makes fiction believable in my head, particularly characters and their reactions to the “fantastic” story elements.  This is a great site for anybody who writes speculative fiction and wants to write it well.

2. Beverly Farr: Celebrating the Sweet Romance

What it’s about: Beverly Farr, author of quirky, sweet, contemporary romance novels, discusses the sweet things of love and romance, with an emphasis on Jane Austen, BBC Period Pieces, and movies from the 1930s.

How I found it: I personally know the author.

Why I like it: It has lots of cute pictures of people in love on it.  It’s a love and happiness blog.

3. Mother Goose Children’s Theatre

What it’s about: Laughing at writing, creativity, and entertainment.

How I found it: The author followed me first.

Why I follow it:  I really liked the “quirky quotes” category.  They’re funny, and the author draws cute stick figure pictures.

4. The living notebook:

What it’s about: Mostly writing, but also publishing, what publishers look for, etc.

How I found it: A blogger who liked one of my posts gave it a mention.

Why I follow it: It contains decent writing advice from a different, less romantic perspective than some of the other blogs I follow.   Some of the sites I follow are focused on a certain genre of fiction, but the advice on this one can be useful to any fiction writer.

5. The Woodlander:

What it’s about: A author’s musings on the process of writing.

How I found it: Same as with the living notebook.

Why I followed it: It talks about the actual writing process, chronicling the author’s feelings about writing as he develops his work in progress.  Unfortunately, this blog no longer seems to be active.  It stopped when the work in progress got finished. Good for Woodlander for having finished, but I don’t see any new content, so I kind of forget that I’m following it most of the time.

6. Addictive Story:

What it’s about: Story Addict, author of upcoming new adult novel Shadows of Penumbra, discusses elements of fiction, particularly young adult and new adult fiction, and promotes fellow authors.

How I found it: We both posted on love triangles, and Zemanta brought us together.

Why I follow it: Story Addict’s posts on common elements of popular YA fiction are really insightful.  Also, she does book promotions for indie writers, so I was hoping that when I got my WIP finished, she would promote it.  But that dream required that I actually finish my book by now, which didn’t happen, unfortunately.

Well, that’s it.  I will be back in 18 months.

-M. Giroux

Cure for Writer’s Block: Epic Music for Adventure or Fantasy Writing!

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I just discovered something that made me very happy.  It’s called “trailer music.”

Basically, it’s the kind of music they use in movie trailers, because at the time that the first movie trailers come out, the score usually hasn’t been written yet, but naturally they need some kind of epic music saying, “This is going to be the best film ever!” playing in the background.  So it turns out, there are these people that write music specifically for use in movie trailers.  One of these groups is called “Future World Music.”   They have lots of songs available to stream on their site, and one album of some of the best for sale on Amazon and iTunes.  I bought their whole album (because 27 tracks for only 8 dollars is a good deal) and found to my delight that, on average, these songs are way better than movie soundtracks.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I love movie soundtracks.  I own the ones from the first two Narnia films, the last two Lord of the Rings films, and a collection of songs from the first Lord of the Rings soundtrack.  But the trouble with soundtracks for epic adventure is that they’re made for movies where characters are talking over the music half the time, so some of the songs on them have parts that are really pretty boring.  Trailer music, on the other hand, is made for a 2 minute or so long clip, that’s full of bright pictures, dramatic captions, the five most inspiring lines in the whole film, and the names of famous people.  The music behind that needs to be catchy all the way through, so that when you’re finished listening there’s absolutely no question in your mind that YOU MUST SEE THIS MOVIE NOW!

So when you’re feeling down about the adventure story your writing, listen to Future World Music, and you won’t be anymore.  Let it bring to mind a commercial for the movie version of your story that you know they’re going to make one day, and then go write.

Here is a YouTube of my favorite track, The Swashbuckler and the Fair Maiden.

Why I do I like this one best?  It’s the happiest sounding track on the album.  The others are great too, but they’re all either kind of sad, or scary.  If your listening to this as writing background music, the other songs on the album say, “Your characters are in trouble… your characters are in trouble… will they win?… the whole world hangs in the balance ” but this one say’s, “Your story world is a really great place to live!”  Dream Works used it to advertise How to Train Your Dragon, apparently, and I can see why.  Listening feels like you’re flying the whole time.

The only thing about this track that I think is kind of weird is the end.  You see, you can’t have a epic piece of music without a choir in the background singing epic gibberish  or something like epic gibberish, and at the end of this one the choir acts like they’re starting to sing Alleluia but changes the last syllable from “ah” to “gees,” so the last two syllables together sound kind of like….  Well, I guess dragons have those too.

And here is my other favorite track, which I like partly because it comes right after Swashbuckler:

Anyway, the moral of the story is that trailer music is awesome.

Harry Potter and the Muggle Psychologist: Convincing the Other Character of Your Sanity

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (film)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While I was in the process of reading the Harry Potter series for the first time, I once searched for the books in my library’s catalog, but since my library happened to be a college library, I found that 90 percent of the results were about Harry the cultural icon rather than Harry the character.

One of these books that I found particularly interesting, and that, thanks to being in college, I had online access to, was entitled, The Psychology of Harry Potter: An Unauthorized Examination of the Boy Who Lived.  If you like thinking deeply about the Harry Potter series, this is a good book to get into.  It’s a bunch of scholarly type articles that discuss things such as Harry, Ron, and Hermione‘s relationships with their childhood caretakers, the lack of a good father figure in Harry’s life, and why Harry is an example of “resilience,” because he turned out fairly normal in spite of his horrific family situation.

However, the part of the book that I remember the most vividly was an article advocating a certain type of psychotherapy and explaining how it would help Harry deal with some of the problems he faces as a character.  When the author described Harry entering the psychologist’s office, I suddenly had a very strong feeling that this hypothetical therapy session was not going to help Harry as much as the author thought it would.  “Wait a minute,” I was thinking.  “Harry can’t talk about his problems with a psychologist!  If he starts going on about how his family hates him because he’s a wizard, and his classmates don’t know what to make of him because he’s the only one who survived the wrath the evil wizard Voldemort, or how they’re scared of him because he can talk to snakes, or mad at him because they think he cheated his way into the wizarding tournament or lied about Voldemort’s return, even though he swears he didn’t, then the muggle psychiatrist will probably have a talk with Harry’s Uncle about getting him institutionalized.  And Harry’s Uncle will be very happy about that.”

In fact, after this, I thought up a little scenario that I wish would have happened at the beginning of Prisoner of Azkaban instead of what did happen, in which Vernon Dursley shows up at a mental institution attempting to get “help” for his “poor nephew” who thinks he’s a wizard.  Some things I envisioned: 1. The psychologist examining Harry’s wand and trying to determine why Harry developed such an attachment to it.  2. The psychologist reading Harry’s essay on the futility of medieval witch burning and admiring Harry’s imagination.  3. Harry attempting to pretend he doesn’t really think he’s a wizard at all, but then slipping up. (“No, wait! You can’t take that!  That’s my homework!”  “Oh, so now you’re saying you do go to wizarding school.”)  4. On the way to his padded cell, Harry escapes (with the use of magic), and then has to run from both the wizarding and muggle police just as he did after blowing up his “aunt” in the actual book.  I don’t read or write fan fiction, so don’t expect to ever see a full version of this, but this idea did make me very happy.

But it also made think just a bit.  If you’re writing a story where the unbelievable is happening, and only some people know about it, how do get your characters who are “in on” the fantasy elements of the story to convince the other characters it’s true?  If they want to confide in somebody, and of course they do, then what will it take to convince their friends not to start calling the psychologists on their behalf?

Unfortuantely, I don’t think I have an answer to this one, since I think it’s probably different for every character.  So help me out with this.  What would it take for you personally to believe that something “impossible” was happening?  That the aliens had landed… or fairies existed and were hiding out in the woods… or there was a doorway to Middle-earth in the cupboard under the sink….  Is there any circumstance in which you would believe it (or consider believing it) before you actually saw it, and if so, what?