Do Endings Matter?

As you know, I didn’t love how Harry Potter ended. That said, I was quite satisfied with it. Does it matter whether Harry lived or died in the end? Not particularly, at least not to me. Does it matter that there were flaws or lapses in logic? Nope. It was an amazing story with amazing characters who did amazing things. Not being blown away by the final installment didn’t ruin that for me. I don’t regret reading it and I got what I wanted from the series. J.K. Rowling could have had Ron flip on a boombox, blast Alice Cooper’s School’s Out, and kill everybody, and I still would have been satisfied. It wouldn’t have changed the fact that for over 10 years, and for six+ books, I was riveted.

When Lost ended, I wrote about my feelings on satisfying endings. (There are no spoilers for those who want to go back and read it, but you’ll notice that I do manage to talk about a certain epilogue.) In fact, another J.J. Abrams production is what got me thinking about endings in the first place. I was already playing around with whether endings really matter after seeing Harry, but then I saw Super 8.

I loved it. Like, loved it. It was basically every movie you’ve ever seen rolled into one, but somehow still managed to be fun and original. And the kids – the kids! They were just great. Anyway. When I went to express this love to my fellow geeks, I was met with shrugs and “yeah it was OK.” Shocking! I didn’t understand this “meh” attitude, especially from people whose opinions I respect on these matters.

Then I realized their problem. They had this desire to be satisfied. Like with Cloverfield, we don’t really get to see the physical threat in Super 8 too often. For a monster movie, the danger is sort of beside the point. It’s easy to compare that to Lost too. Pretty much all of J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi works can be summed up with: “There’s a monster. People are dealing with it. Focus on how they deal. Don’t worry about that monster.”

It’s sort of infuriating when people say they “wasted six years” watching Lost. I feel bad for these types of people. Were they not still tuning it every week? Were they not coming up with theories and having fun and waiting to see what would happen next? How does one episode ruin that experience, as if it never mattered? If anyone was expecting logical answers in the end, then they missed what the show was really about – people reacting to crazy shit happening to them. Sure, the last episode was a bit of a cop-out, sort of confusing, and full of cliffhangers. That basically describes the entire series, so in my opinion, it was a pretty fitting ending.

But to many, it was unsatisfying and I suppose I understand that to an extent. For me, monsters are cool, but I’m way more interested in human nature, so in my opinion, storytellers like J.J. Abrams are perfect. Yes, I want the threat to be real and not metaphorical. Yes, I want to see some action. Yes, I need a plot to follow. But no, I don’t need everything neatly wrapped up, or know where that monster came from, or even what it looks like. J.J. delivers on all of these points. (It’s not like he’s M. Night Shyamalan, who fails at plot, character, and endings.)

So, I ask again – do endings matter? Of course. As writers, you need to reach a conclusion that’s in keeping with your story and that will satisfy your readers (there’s a reason Ms. Rowling didn’t just kill everybody). But, as readers, how much do they matter to you? Will an unsatisfying ending ruin an experience you otherwise enjoyed?

Oh, and see Super 8 if you haven’t already. You’ll want to hug it.

The Real Lesson from Harry Potter

**If the select few who only experience the Harry Potter series through the movies wish to avoid “spoilers,” then consider yourself warned.**

Like many HP fans, I went to see The Deathly Hallows: Part II this weekend. I surprised myself by not crying and mostly floated through the movie waiting to see how they would present certain scenes, rather than anticipate the scenes themselves. Despite knowing what happens, and making my peace with it, I still thoroughly enjoyed the movie. I will probably see it again in theaters at least one more time.

I am a huge fan of the Harry Potter books. That statement alone feels sort of strange to say. The series has reached such popularity that saying you’re a fan is practically commonplace. Obviously I’m a fan. It’s like saying you think The Beatles are a good band, or you enjoy eating pizza. There’s a “duh” factor.

My inner fangirl loves Harry Potter for many, many reasons. The plot and characters, of course, but more than that, my admiration for J.K. Rowling’s storytelling ability is what keeps me such a strong advocate for this series. Each character (and there are many), no matter how insignificant, has some sort of back-story. We care about every single one of them, even when we can’t always keep everyone straight. Not only that, but in the hugely rich tale of why a boy must battle the darkest wizard of all time, there are several sub-plots – many of them independent from Harry and Voldemort – that are just as interesting. Beneath “good vs. evil,” there are socially relevant themes of government interference in schools (Umbridge), attack of independent media (The Quibbler), modern slavery/class systems (house elves), and feminism (Mrs. Weasley and Professor McGonagall, strong women forced to take a back seat in the man’s world of their generation.) These are just to name a few, by the way.

This is all by way of saying how much I love Ms. Rowling’s writing and how much of a connection I’ve felt toward this series for so many years. That’s why in addition to not crying, I surprised myself for a different reason while watching The Deathly Hallows. I realized something – you can be brilliant and still have flaws.

Maybe it was the fatigue of writing this series for 20 years, or pressure from her publishers to turn in the next book, or simply a desire not to make each book 4,000 pages… but our beloved Ms. Rowling leaves quite a few loose ends and rushed conclusions. For example:

1. Snape. Was he actually good that whole time? The final film does a good job of redeeming his character, but the books actually keep him pretty ambiguous. Yes, he did what Dumbledore asked him to do, but why not still be a double agent for The Order? Why not let them in on Dumbledore’s plan? Even though his heart was never in it, his choice was to give himself over to Voldemort completely, knowing he’d never be allowed to escape. Is that martyrdom or stupidity? And why is such a dick all the time? This comic puts all of your Snape questions into context. OK, we get it, Snape had a soft spot for Harry this whole time because he loved Lily. But… he is still basically evil, right? Based on the books alone, we never know the real answer.

2. Harry’s connection to Voldemort. We know why they can hear each other’s thoughts, but Dumbledore seemed to think Harry could block them out with a little practice. But because Snape’s hatred of Harry gets in the way of his responsibility to The Order (see above), he basically tells Harry to fend for himself. One of my favorite lines in the final movie was Harry’s response to Hermione when she asks whether he can sever the connection to Voldemort: “I can’t! Or maybe I can. I don’t know.” It’s such a perfect comment on the fact that J.K. Rowling  drops this storyline with no real explanation. If Harry did learn to block out Voldemort’s presence, there goes pertinent plot points for Books 6 and 7, so it’s left open for interpretation.

3. Neville! In Book 5, we learn that the prophecy labeling Harry as Voldemort’s one true enemy could have actually applied to Neville as well. It takes about two paragraphs for J.K. to explain that Neville’s parents also defied Voldemort and that Neville was also born at the end of July, but don’t worry it really is Harry who must defeat him. Wait, what? Why bother telling us about Neville then? And didn’t Voldemort mark Harry by accident? He didn’t know the spell would backfire and just leave a scar. He was trying to kill him. Maybe the spell backfiring weakened him before he got the chance to hit up the Longbottom house. We don’t know. It’s an odd thing for J.K. to include in the series so far into it. She would have had to re-write the last two books to make Neville our hero after all. Of course, changing the game so far into the series would have been a disaster for readers who have come to love Harry. So, Neville’s would-be calling becomes a red herring. Still… is Harry really our hero?

4. Harry is Not Really Our Hero. Our boy who lived is an incredible wizard. There’s no question about this. He has skills beyond his years, he’s clever and resourceful, and he’s certainly not short on bravery. But if you really think about the series, Harry doesn’t really do anything at the end. He fights and wins battles the same as everyone else, but when it comes to fighting the big end-of-show evil, someone else manages to swoop in and help out at the last minute, leaving Harry to take all the credit. Hermione knows the winning spell, unexplained swords and patronuses appear out of thin air to help him out of jams, and Neville (see above!) is the one who destroys the final Horcrux, thus killing Voldemort and saving the world. Harry is a natural leader and a gifted motivational speaker, but when it comes to physical battles, he’s no more or less equipped than his friends. I’d be fine with this portrayal of Harry if that was the intention, but the series hinges on the fact that Harry really is a hero. And by himself, he’s just not. Sorry, J.K.

5. Harry’s Love Life.  After seeing Deathly Hallows: Part I, I made my disapproval of Harry and Ginny’s happily ever after known. I still find it insulting and unrealistic, but seeing Part II of this installment made me remember Luna Lovegood. Oh, Luna! Now, keep in mind I have a huge problem with Harry ending up with anyone romantically. He’s only 17 and just ended seven years of going through some serious shit. All I want for Harry is a tall, frosty butterbeer, and maybe a  vacation. The sexual tension between Ron and Hermione pays off splendidly in the end, which should be enough for readers wanting a little romance with their fantasy. But, blah blah Harry blah blah Main Character blah blah He Needs Love Too. I get it. But does it have to be Ginny? I’m a huge fan of Ginny as a character, but the two have absolutely no chemistry. The only logical explanation I can see for having Harry end up with Ginny is that Harry is too exhausted after the war to care, and he always wanted to be a Weasley anyway, and Ginny is the only girl in that family. If our boy HAS to end up with anyone, it should be Luna. (Ginny, of course, should be with Neville.) From the beginning, Harry is the only person who doesn’t think Luna is completely insane. She makes him laugh and we see them have actual fun together, as opposed to Harry and Ginny, who just give each other awkward stares. Luna and Harry also share an ability to see only what the truly bereaved can see. Plus, any time Harry is going through his woe-is-me emo phases, it’s Luna who always pops up to comfort or give him advice. This should be obvious, J.K.! Why make awesome characters like Ginny, Harry, and Luna settle for a crappy post-high school existence?

6. That F@#(@#* Epilogue. Kind readers, you know my feelings on epilogues. I will spare you all my rant. If The Deathly Hallows was a standalone title, or if the series wasn’t as popular, I’m sure J.K.’s editors would have made her remove that horrible piece of writing from the series. The level with which I hate it is akin to the S.P.E.W. sub-plot in Book 4, which is to say, quite intense.

So, does this mean that if you’re writing a series, you can cop out, be deliberately vague, and leave things unexplained? Of course not. As the series became more ambitious, so did J.K. Rowling’s writing, and sometimes adding so much more didn’t always work. But, by the time The Deathly Hallows was published, it was abundantly clear that J.K. Rowling could do whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted, and however she wanted it. Unless your series reaches that status, it’s best to stick to the script.

The real lesson here is that if you have a good story, readers will respond. If you have even better characters, readers will stick with them. Build your fan base by getting it right, but don’t become consumed by being “perfect.” Real fans will recognize your faults, and they will continue to love you anyway.

Harry Potter and the Three Fundamental Problems

This weekend I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, as did most of you, I’m sure. I thought it was everything it should have been, and then some, and I really loved it.

OK. Now that that’s cleared up, I want to discuss my three HUGE problems with it. I’ll give the obligatory **Spoiler Alert** warning, but my problems won’t give anything away to those who read the books and they really have nothing to do with the plot overall. But, you’ve been warned anyway.

1. Gratuitous nudity. I had read in Entertainment Weekly that Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson kiss in the movie. This confused me greatly because Harry and Hermione definitely do not kiss in the book and nowhere in the series did JK Rowling allude to a love triangle. One of the great strengths of the book is that Harry doesn’t get the girl. He gets everything else. Plus, Ron and Hermione are just better together. So, when it came to the kissing scene in Deathly Hallows: Part 1, I was relieved that it was all just a terrible trick being played on Ron by the forces of darkness.

Then, as the camera pans away, it becomes obvious Harry and Hermione are in a naked embrace (and wearing bronzer), and the swirls of fog below their waists imply either 1) they have no legs or 2) they are having sex. In either case, is this necessary? No! Of course it’s not. Regardless of how old the actors are in real life (which is still only about 20, 21, by the way), they are playing 17 year olds in a series that, despite its evolution, is still largely appealing to young children. Teenagers have sex, yes. But not in Harry Potter. Gratuitous nudity is bad enough in movies, but when teenagers are involved, it takes on a new level of perversion which, while I’m not offended by in this case, remain disappointed in.

As writers, we should keep in mind that JK Rowling didn’t allow such foolishness to occur in her books. Sex doesn’t need to sell an already massively successful series. If Harry and Hermione, or any other two characters, actually had sex in the books, then go wild, Hollywood. Nudity all around. But writers should not add something that doesn’t enrich, or stay true to, the plot just for the sake of shock value. As a rule, writers shouldn’t really include anything, shock value or otherwise, that doesn’t add to the story.

2. No one liked Jar Jar Binks anyway. OK, so in the Harry Potter movies, he’s called Dobby, but you know what I mean. I suspect that Problem #2 will cause the most controversy here because I know there are people who like Dobby. To them I say, it’s nothing personal. But to me, Dobby was obnoxious in Book 2, was the source of a terribly annoying subplot in Book 4 (remember SPEW?), and his death in Book 7 left me saying “finally!”

Regardless on one’s opinion about Dobby as a character, my main problem with his death scene in Deathly Hallows: Part 1 was its length. Dobby was comic relief at best and a very minor character throughout the entire series. I was much more upset about Hedwig’s death, both in the book and in the movie, because what did Hedwig ever do to anyone except deliver their mail? But I digress.

In a final book that kills off several important and beloved characters, some of whom managed to die within the first twenty minutes of the movie, the film decides to give this minor character a hero’s death and later shows a teary-eyed Harry demanding a proper burial. Then, inexplicably, they show the burial! I’m sorry, movie producers, but there’s a whole lot of book left to portray. I don’t have the time or the level of care to waste on a CGI elf who, if you’re only judging by the movies, hasn’t been seen since Chamber of Secrets.

As I said, my hatred of Dobby as a character is strictly subjective. But there is still a writerly lesson to be learned here. Minor characters are important and can be beloved (see my Hedwig comment above), but in a series as rich as Harry Potter when so many other fates are at stake, characters should be treated with an appropriate weight. JK Rowling wrote off some very important characters as causalities of a war, and even though I was shocked at quickly some of them went, I understood what she was doing. Death scenes are hard to write, but keeping in mind the context in which you are writing them might make them a little bit easier. In the case of the Deathly Hallows film, Dobby’s death was undeserving of the level of attention it received, which, for me, made the rest of the movie a little bit weaker.

3. Do Harry and Ginny Even Like Each Other? In the final season of The West Wing, the writers realized there were only a few episodes of the series left to go, so they very quickly remembered to get Josh and Donna together. This halfassed-ry cheapened their relationship for the audience who waited seven years to see it happen. Enter another seven-year series and say hello to Harry and Ginny.

Ginny has a girlish crush on Harry from the very beginning of the series, but Harry basically ignores her until Book 6, presumably because she finally grew boobs and Cho Chang had recently proven herself to be a popularity whore. Harry and Ginny walk off into the sunset, making out in the woods, and doing all the stuff teenagers in love do when they’re restricted to the pages of a children’s book. Good for Ginny! Who doesn’t like finally making out with their crush? Good for Harry too because Ginny is awesome. But, other than the occasional kiss, what chemistry is there between these two characters? They lack the passion of Ron and Hermione and their longest conversation resulted in Harry saying, “Sorry, but I have to leave you for an undetermined number of months so I can destroy a bunch of horcruxes.” I like to think Book-Ginny thought to herself, Whatevs, I’ll see what Dean Thomas is up to.

The lack of believability in book-version Harry and Ginny look like a romance novel compared to the way the films completely ignore their budding relationship. Deathly Hallows: Part 1 showed the two share a brief (and adorable) kiss early on, and when Harry, Ron, and Hermione flee for their lives, Harry calls out Ginny’s name. That’s the last time he says her name throughout the rest of the movie. Yes, he has bigger things on his mind, and I appreciated when Ron calls him out for being so seemingly uncaring. Still, it made me sad to know that Ginny ends up marrying Harry. Even though Harry is “chosen,” Ginny deserves better. I mean, would it kill him to wonder aloud what Ginny’s up to, or, ya know, if she’s alive?

It made me wonder why Harry needed to end up with someone at all. It’s the equivalent of making a female protagonist have a “happy ending in the form of marriage.” Harry doesn’t need to end up with anyone. He’s already pretty amazing on his own. Ginny’s strength matches his, so she’d be the best choice, but the audience doesn’t necessarily need to see that happen. When writing, think of whether your characters really need romance by their story’s end. Girls like Cho and guys like Dean are fine throughout – even a Harry and Ginny love affair is all well and good – but giving two characters a happily ever after because you feel obligated to do so isn’t doing anyone any favors, characters included.

HARRY POTTER MANIA!

To those who saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 at midnight or are going today: “sshhhh!!!!!!” I’m not going until tomorrow.

HP fans are a rabid bunch. You hear about people lining up for the latest Star Wars movie, but the level of excitement for the final(ish) Potter film is extra special because the hype originated from BOOKS! I know there’s this other massively successful series called Sparkly Vampire Goes West or something, but I never experienced waiting on line for those books at midnight, nor have I had to endure a two-hour wait just to see one their movies. So, to me, HP still wins in the fan department.

In honor of Harry Potter weekend, I ask you: What does Harry Potter mean to you? Even if you’re not a fan of the series (to which I ask, what!?), you probably have an opinion on something that’s meant so much to so many for over a decade. Despite her billions, I wouldn’t call Ms. Rowling a sell-out or a Patterson-esque assembly line author. So what can we, as writers, learn from her success?

For those of you who have to wait A WHOLE DAY to see the new movie, here are some fun links to hold you over:

From @jezebel: Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Draco practice their American accents and look adorable doing it.

From @sjaejones: What’s your Hogwarts Astrology? I was very happy that my sign (Aries) complimented my favorite house (Ravenclaw) quite nicely!

Finally, in a complete slip of the keyboard, I had originally titled this blog post “Harry Pottery Mania,” which made me wonder if Harry Potter-themed pottery exists. What about Harry Potholders? Questions to ponder…

Have a good weekend, everyone! And whether you’re getting tired of waiting on line at the cinema or are still struggling through NaNo, remember – CONSTANT VIGILANCE!

An Ode to the Hard Way

I read some entertainment news this week that made me stop and pause. That is, after my anger subsided. You see, on publishing’s beloved blog, GalleyCat, it was announced that procrastinating’s beloved time-suck, Awkward Family Photos, is becoming a TV show. The article is here, and it also brings up another success story that we know and, well, have mixed feelings about.

We all remember that Shit My Dad Says was a hilarious Twitter feed that became a less funny book and is about to become what I assume will be a god awful TV show. Likewise, I assume Family Photos will have a similar “so quirky it’s forced” premise and may or may not star a has-been celeb like Willie Aames or George Hamilton.

Blog/Twitter feed to book to TV deals, as a whole, are not bad things. Blogs becoming books seem like a logical next step in the right instances, and adding TV to that mix can work, again, with the right subjects. What bothers me so much about Awkward Family Photos is the same thing that bothers me about the recent trend of fake Broadway musicals like Rock of Ages. They completely disregard the talent and importance of original writing just to make a quick buck.

These blog-to-TV shows are every other typical family sitcom disguised as a recognizable brand. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why this is good in theory. Rehashing something we already know is fun, for about a minute. (Remember the Geico Cavemen show? Exactly.) We can sing along, we see familiar faces, and we’re in on the joke. It makes us feel special. But attention-grabbing gimmicks do not a lasting career make. Once people realize they’ve been duped into watching just another According to Jim, these blog-to-TV shows will get canceled.

Now, if your life dream is to produce one massively successful project that will make you tons of money in one fell swoop, even if it means being a nobody a year later, then go for it. I will not stand in your way; I will even support your endeavor. (Everyone likes money, right?)

But if you want to be authors – as in, real, this-is-my-career authors – then do not get discouraged by this flashes in the pan. Things like integrity, patience, and talent not only matter, but they will be what make you last in this business.

I realize I’m sounding a bit Pollyanna and I apologize. My faith in writers, publishing, and humanity in general can’t be snarked out the way the rest of my emotions can. (Usually.)

Lastly, relevant to nothing, I leave you for the weekend with this awesome rendering of various Harry Potter characters’ social media pages (courtesy of @NathanBransford)!

Have a wonderful weekend, everybody! And if you find yourself getting restless, you can always go take some awkward photos and hope for the best.