Saturday, July 16, 2011

Harry Potter and the Outside Listener

Scott D. Parker

Two things dominated this week: the sound of screeching tires and Harry Potter. First, the tires.

The Outside Listener

We writers live with the voices in our heads all the time. Like the president and his aides or Hollywood stars and their entourages, after a time, the voices in our heads become an echo chamber. Everything we write and dream up is good. Call that over confidence. Conversely, everything we write is bad. Call that writer's block.

So, every once in awhile, it's good to get the voices heard by others, make sure the wonderfully complicated plot that those voices assure is perfectly fine really is. Or, at least, in the ballpark. That's where the outside listener comes in. My wife served as that sounding board for me this week with my current book. I've blocked out the first half of the book on index cards and pinned those cards up on a cardboard stand used for science fairs. Then, with a notepad and pencil, and, keeping all the complicated back story out and presenting just the tale as my detectives will experience it, I started my presentation.

One must have thick skin to survive graduate school. One must also have thick skin when presenting a gestating story. Because, let's be honest, if your first listener cannot follow your story, the future agent/editor/reader won't either.

I hoped for the best: "Wonderful story, honey. Please finish the planning so I can read it!" What I got was this: "Good start, but that Act I bombshell you think is so substantial, sorry, honey, but I just don't get it. And what do I care if that character does that?"

Like a good pitch man, I rallied and threw the stumbling block back at her: how might you fix it? She made a suggestion. One, simple suggestion. And, while a portion of what I had mapped out crumbled, a whole other section was built. It was a brilliant suggestion that will likely win over reader's minds.

The tires screeched on my current book this week, but I didn't fly off the cliff. I found a new road just up the way. I hadn't seen it before because some brush was in the way. I've cleared the brush and now I'm on a new, subtly different road. Collaboration can be fun. Sometimes, it's crucial.

What do you do to get the voices out of your head?

Harry Potter

By the time many of your read this, I will be sitting in a theater watching the last Harry Potter movie. Starting last weekend, when we noticed that ABC Family ran the first five movies in a row, my wife and I started re-watching the films to prepare ourselves for this finale. Well, we missed "Sorcerer's Stone" (AKA #1), but we've seen it enough to know it pretty well.

Experiencing these tales--cinematically, yes, I know, but I have my reasons for doing it this way--one per night, the beauty and magnitude and artistry of J. K. Rowling's stories emerge. They suck you in. This being a mystery blog, I could discuss the mysteries featured in all the films. Rowling could write a good whodunit, considering she kept the final piece of each puzzle a secret until the very end. I love music, so I could certainly write how, as the themes got darker and the characters aged, John Williams's simple, youthful theme evolved over the course of the movies. I could even write how the intricate plot, woven over seven books (eight movies) is as tight and self-contained as one can get. To quote Ron Weasley, it's brilliant.

Plot only gets you so far. It's the characters that matter. Simple, cliched statement, but it's true. If audiences don't care about Harry, Ron, Hermoinie, and the rest, no one watches. But viewers do care, and they get intoxicated in these glorious coming-of-age tales wrapped in mystery, magic, and mayhem.

I'm not ashamed to say that I cried when I read the last book in 2007. I'm pretty sure I'll be shedding a tear today, too, not just for the characters and the closing of their saga, but of a magical time in pop culture. I am a member of the Star Wars Generation and would not trade it for anything. But I have to think that the youngsters who were a member of the Harry Potter Generation, who literally grew up with Harry in a way I could not with Luke Skywalker, have a special bond with these books and movies. I wonder if, when they walk out of the theaters this weekend, they will feel grown up, that a major part of their childhood has ended. It wasn't my childhood, but I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

And it's one I might get to live again. You see, also this week, I went in the garage, found my copies of the Potter books, and put them on my son's bookshelf...

Movie of the Week: Really? Do you have to ask?

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