Do authors’ opinions on their own books even matter?

Recently I saw a series of images entitled “Harry Potter characters in real life” (or something like that). Anyways, the images detailed how the characters would act if they lived in the 21st century like regular people, magic-less. While the characteristics attributed to them were generally from the books, some slight creative liberties were taken.

Which got me thinking. Everyone interprets characters and stories in different ways. I recently saw an article explaining why the Jedi are the true villains of Star Wars. The thing is, everyone sees the stories differently.

During these discussions some are sensible enough to ask authors their opinion on the matter.

Which begs the question: do author’s opinions on their own works really matter?

I thought about it for awhile, and after debating, came up with a conclusion: I would argue both sides.

So let’s begin.Continue reading “Do authors’ opinions on their own books even matter?”

Netflix’s new interactive shows are a great idea—but the idea isn’t new

A couple of days ago, Netflix made an announcement: they were introducing “interactive” shows.

What are those, exactly?

Basically, interactive shows are television shows, with two differences: first, they’re interactive, which means that at certain points in the story, viewers get to decide how the story advances. This leads into the second difference, because by making different decisions at different points, you end up with “branching narratives”, and as a result, several possible endings to any story.

Photo Courtesy of Netflix

Netflix released the first episode, Puss in Book: Trapped in a Epic Tale, the other day, and it contains 13 different choices viewers have to make, along with two different endings, which, in all, makes the show run between 18 minutes and 39 minutes, depending which paths are taken.

Netflix’s new format is a big move for television. It’s a great idea, and, I for one, hope that more shows—and companies—pick up on the idea.

But, as you probably already know from the title, they aren’t the first to do something like that.

To be clear: as far as I’m aware, Netflix is the first company to create an interactive television show. However, they’re not the first to produce a story with interactive elements. There have been many mediums that have mixed storytelling with interactivity.

Let’s discuss some of them.Continue reading “Netflix’s new interactive shows are a great idea—but the idea isn’t new”

5 of the most unexpectedly evil characters from literature

As children, our first stories were always about pure, noble, and virtuous protagonists, and evil, black hearted villains whose only aim in life was to destroy the protagonist. We learnt to cheer on the heroes and boo the villains.

But as we grew up, we began to learn that there were many more kinds of characters and people. We were introduced to antiheroes and sympathetic villains (among others), and we realised that people aren’t always black and white.

And it is from these “grey areas” that we find some of the most chilling and evil characters: those whom you would least expect to be evil.

Well, I can think of several.

1. Tom Watson, The Girl on the Train

Paula Hawkins’s Tom Watson is a particular kind of evil: lying and manipulative. He takes advantage of his wife’s, memory problems to abuse her, and he fabricates stories of how she causes all of the problems in their life and their marriage. His evil is further highlighted by his “long suffering husband” facade, even though he is the root of most of their problems.

2. Mr. Charrington, Nineteen Eighty-Four

George Orwell is a master of pessimism, and his character Mr. Charrington doesn’t break the mould. Mr. Charrington stands out in the book as a neutral, friendly antique dealer in a world gone mad, torn apart by communism. Where Parsons and others have picked sides, Charrington seems uninvolved with greater politics, just content to be who he is. However, that facade disintegrates when it’s revealed that he’s a member of the thought police, and then proceeds to arrest Winston and Julia. While he isn’t by any means a central character to the plot, it comes as a shock that the only “neutral” character in the book is, in fact, evil, and thus, any hope in the book is destroyed.Continue reading “5 of the most unexpectedly evil characters from literature”

A guide to judging books by their covers

I do it. You do it. We all do it.

Everyone judges books by their covers. From children to English teachers, everyone makes their initial assessments on books based on what’s on the front. It’s hard to judge them by any other means, especially when you live in a country where the books in every bookstore are covered in plastic wrapping. So unless you have your trusty Goodreads account and some good Wi-fi, you’re usually in the dark on what to buy (and what to avoid).

Unless you decide to start judging books by their cover. But let’s be clear: like any other judging system, there are certain criteria that you need to consider. Here’s a few.

The Front Cover

The first (and obvious) part of book inspection includes looking at the front cover. About 99.99% of the time, the author’s name and the book’s title will be prominently displayed there.

The relationship between those two is vital.

If the title is bigger, the book (or series) is more famous. If the author’s name is bigger, then the author is more famous.

As you can see, on the left, the title The Silver Chair is larger than the name of its author, C. S. Lewis. On the right, Roald Dahl’s name is larger than the book’s title, The Witches.

This comes down to fame. Most are familar with The Chronicles of Narnia, and most people know Roald Dahl. However, when asked to name Narnia‘s author, or any particular book that Roald Dahl wrote, you might find that people take a little longer to find an answer.

This (generally) means that if you’re looking for an able and consistent author, look for their names in big print (unless it’s written by some celebrity). If you’re looking for an enduring classic or something fresh from a new author, you should grab a book that has its title displayed more prominently.

The Back Cover

We need to remember that a cover consists of three parts: the front, the spine and the back. Sometimes the back can speak more than the front.

You generally only ever find three things on the back:

  1. A blurb
  2. Praise for the work (or the author’s work in general)
  3. Pictures of the author

Paperbacks aside, blurbs generally appear on the back for two reasons: either its target audience doesn’t care about reviews or the author does not have enough high profile reviews to cover the back.

Who doesn’t care about stunning reviews? Children. If the back cover is dominated by a blurb, it’s probably targeted for children or youths. Otherwise, most blurbs are placed on the inside cover of the dust jacket.

If the back is covered in reviews, that suggests three things: first, the author is prolific and probably has many popular books. Second, the book itself is great. And third, it’s probably targeted at adults, who actually care about reviews.

If the back cover is simply a picture of the author, then the author is probably so incredibly famous or prolific that no words need to be said. (On a side note, the only children’s book I ever remember having the author on the back cover was Shel Silverstein).

Conclusion

No, I’m not talking about the book’s conclusion. And no, I’m not going to talk about the spine or the inner flaps of book covers. They’re pretty much the same one you get there.

What I am going to say is that my system, as you probably already know, is not completely accurate. It’s just a series of observations that I’ve noticed from reading books and inspecting their covers. And as much as I hope it was helpful, I hope that, whatever books you pick, you actually read them.

And when you’re finished, then you can actually judge the whole book.

5 children’s books that Disney should make into movies

Disney has 19 remakes of its animated films slated in the coming years.

In English, it means that from here on out, it’s going to be the same old stuff from the same old Disney. There are, apparently, no new stories to be told, and thus, Disney has to go back and remake their old films.

Notice the sarcasm.

There’s a lot that can be said about Disney elsewhere, but for now, I have a suggestion on how Disney can tell new stories without jumping off the deep end. Disney should base their movies off books. And since they’re so concerned with appealing to children, they should make movies based off children’s books.

Really, it’s a win-win situation for them. They don’t need to write a new story, just a script. Furthermore, these books already have fans, and thus, simply by announcing a book adaptation, the marketing process would be well under way.

I guess, without further ado, I present the five books that I think should be turned into Disney movies.

Wintersmith (Terry Pratchett)

Cover courtesy of Doubleday

If Disney was looking for a new and refreshing “princess” character, they should look no further that Tiffany Aching, the protagonist of Wintersmith. Loaded with common sense and comic relief, Wintersmith follows Tiffany Aching’s journey to become a proper witch. It’s a story that is simple enough for children to grasp yet complex enough to entertain adults.

Besides that, there are two other great reasons why Disney really should adapt Wintersmith for film: first, its protagonist is a girl, which, overall, is Disney’s thing. Second, her supporting cast includes the Nac Mac Feegles, a hilarious bunch of six-inch tall pictsies (not pixies) who can be described as a cross between Smurfs, Scots and Minions from Despicable Me. Basically, a veritable gold mine of comedy.

The Witches (Roald Dahl)

Courtesy of Penguin

Despite what Cinderella and other Disney movies might suggest, families do watch out for each other, and although this Roald Dahl classic has already been adapted into a movie at least once, I think it deserves another go. The Witches depicts the conflict between a group of witches and a boy (and his grandmother). While it is dark at points, overall, the story is one of hope, and of how families can save the world.Continue reading “5 children’s books that Disney should make into movies”

How writing advice in school often doesn’t apply to writing in real life

Whenever I finish writing a school paper of any sort, the first thing my classmates always ask me is this: what’s your word count?

The bigger the number I give, the more impressed they are.

Somehow my friends’ seem to believe that the longer the paper, the better it is. But then, that wasn’t their own idea. They got it from our teachers.

I’ll always remember one teacher who told us about a comment her son had made after finishing his finals: “I don’t know what I said, but I took nine pages to say it.”

She then admonished us to write more in each paper.

If that was the only bad advice that schools doled out on writing, it would be forgivable. However, there’s more. In fact, in some areas, it seems that writing advice in school and in real life are complete opposites.

Well, I made a list. (Disclaimer: when I say schools, I mean primary and secondary schools. Not universities. I have no clue what happens in university.)

1. Word Count

Opened Books

To be fair, the advice of “write more” is usually dispensed because most students have some difficulty getting their thoughts onto a page. Thus, they end up with very little that teachers can actually mark. But the fact still stands that when teachers tell students to “write more” because writing more will improve their grade, students get the idea that “more is more”.

Which is the complete opposite of what you learn once you finish high school.

Out in the real world, what you really learn is that less is more. Unlike your teachers, your readers in the real world aren’t paid to read your work, so you can’t write fluff or filler. No one scores points for word counts in real life. (Unless you’re being paid per word like Charles Dickens.) Consider the story, “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” The story’s impact increases due to its brevity.Continue reading “How writing advice in school often doesn’t apply to writing in real life”

The difference between children’s and adults’ books

I like to think that when I was younger, I regularly read “adult” novels. By the time I was 13, I had finished To Kill a Mockingbird, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World. I devoured books of all kinds, from Jeffrey Archer’s rags-to-riches sagas to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

But, lest you forget I was (and legally, still am) a kid, I also read plenty of children’s stories during that time. I read plenty of Rick Riordan, Lois Lowry, Rosemary Sutcliff and J.K. Rowling as well.

But this indiscriminate reading has consequences. For one thing, I was (and still am) a little confused about some of the books I read. Were they children’s books or adults’ books? Some kind of felt like both. (Take Terry Pratchett’s Nation, for example. I remember thinking it was a children’s book. But now I’m not sure.)

But that leads to the greater question: what is the difference between children’s and adults’ books?Continue reading “The difference between children’s and adults’ books”

The importance of “show, don’t tell” in writing

I have a secret to disclose; please don’t shout it from the rooftops.

I still read children’s books.

That might not be surprising (especially if you don’t know me)—I’m still legally a child, but when I say children’s books, I mean the books you’d find a seven year-old reading. Or a ten year-old.

I’m seventeen.

That in itself isn’t so embarrassing—I read Harry Potter when I was sixteen, and that’s children’s fiction. It’s what I’m still reading that I find embarrassing.

Specifically, Chris Colfer’s The Land of Stories series. To be fair (to myself), I began the series at twelve—a much more normal age for reading such stuff. But here I am five years later, and the series is still incomplete. I’m getting old, and when I borrow the book from the library, I get my little brother to do it. (He’s fifteen—and also taller than me. But he’s better at handling the strange looks librarians might give.)

Why is it embarrassing, exactly?Continue reading “The importance of “show, don’t tell” in writing”

The short films nominated for Oscars

The Oscars ceremony is tomorrow, and as usual, the media will focus on the big awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay(s), and Best (and Supporting) Actors/Actresses.

But there’s more to the Academy Awards than that. A lot more.

Just recently, I watched the Oscar nominated short films—both the animated films and the live action films. After watching them, my single question is this: why aren’t they given more coverage?

So now I’m going to try to rectify that injustice by talking about the films. And then I’ll predict the winners.

Let’s begin.

Best Animated Short Film

1. Blind Vaysha

Still from Blind Vaysha. Courtesy of National Film Board of Canada

If you ever wondered what a modern day Aesop’s fable might look like, look no further than Theodore Ushev’s Blind Vaysha. It tells the story of a girl who sees the past out of one eye and the future out of the other. While it relies heavily on narration, the story—coupled with a daring art style—was fascinating to watch and left me with much to ponder.

2. Borrowed Time

Still from Borrowed Time. Courtesy of Quorom Films

What would it be like to relive a tragedy? What’s more, what would it be like to relive a tragedy that you caused? Borrowed Time, a Western drama involving a sheriff and his son, asks just those questions. With beautiful landscapes and a moving story, it was a treat to watch—twice.

3. Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Still from Pear Cider and Cigarettes. Courtesy of Massive Swerve Studios

In a world where people like to forget that choices have consequences, Pear Cider and Cigarettes is a grim look at reality. And yes, it is based off a true story about a guy, who, suffice it to say, makes all the wrong choices. Out of the five animated films, I have to admit that this one was probably the most heartfelt—and the most miserable.Continue reading “The short films nominated for Oscars”

Music: a private thing or a communal one?

When I’m at home and I want to listen to music, I almost never use headphones. I play my music for everyone to hear. (Which isn’t actually very loud—I do want to keep my hearing past the age of twenty-two.)

My brothers, on the other hand, almost always use their headphones. (Which is strange, because we all like the same music.) The moment they play music, the headphones come on, and then they’re in their own world. It’s like they don’t want to talk anymore or anything.

Which is probably the point.Continue reading “Music: a private thing or a communal one?”