Showing posts with label Harry Potter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Harry Potter. Show all posts

Friday, January 3

Theme: What It Is And Why Your Story Needs One

Today I'd like to talk about theme, what it is and why it's important.


Before I say anything about theme, though, I'd like to direct you to a marvelous article about theme by Chuck Wendig, although, fair warning, Chuck loves making creative use of adult words and ... er ... images (some of which it may take a while to forget--and not in a good way). You've been warned! Here's the link: 25 Things Writers Should Know About Theme.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before we talk about what theme is and why we should care about it, lets look at a couple of examples of well-known themes.

J.R.R. Tolkien & The Lord of the Rings

Here's what J.R.R. Tolkien had to say about the theme of his Lord of the Rings trilogy:
"But I should say, if asked, the tale is not really about Power and Dominion: that only sets the wheels going; it is about Death and the desire for deathlessness. Which is hardly more than to say it is a tale written by a Man!" (Letter 203, 1957)

"It is mainly concerned with Death, and Immortality; and the 'escapes': serial longevity, and hoarding memory." (Letter 211, 1958)
Those quotations were from the Wikipedia article, Themes of Lord of the Rings.

What is stronger than the fear of death? Love and friendship

J.K. Rowling & Harry Potter

J.K. Rowling in a 2006 interview with The Telegraph, "There Would Be So Much To Tell Her ..."
"Death is the key to understanding J K Rowling. Her greatest fear - and she is completely unhesitant about this - is of someone she loves dying. 'My books are largely about death. They open with the death of Harry's parents. There is Voldemort's obsession with conquering death and his quest for immortality at any price, the goal of anyone with magic.

"'I so understand why Voldemort wants to conquer death. We're all frightened of it.'"
Here, again, we see death as the theme. How the fear of death can give rise to all the evils of the world. 

I would suggest that the theme for many of J.K. Rowling's books can be summed up as: "Love conquers death."

Although J.K. Rowling's theme was inspired by her mother's passing--she had started writing the first of the novels as, unknown to her, her mother lay dying--it is interesting how similar it is to that of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

(This is slightly off-topic but I'll mention it since we're discussing death in Tolkien's novels and death as a theme. 

In Tolkien's universe elves lived in the past. In one of his many letters Tolkien wrote that the elves' memories were more real to them than their existence, their actions, in the present. Contrast this with humans. For humans, memories (usually) are like dreams, dimly remembered.

Where elves lived in the past, humans lived in the future. Some humans, fully apprised of the inevitability of death, were obsessed with averting it. It was this conflict--between the mortal and the immortal (between men and the elves, between the mortal Frodo and the immortal Sauron)--that fueled the events of the The Lord of the Rings

Hobbits, on the other hand, lived in the now. They knew how to enjoy a meal and delight in the company of friends. One could argue that they had the greatest of all gifts; greater even than immortality or great riches: they possessed the ability to be happy--or at least content.)

Okay, back to theme!

Theme: What Is It And Why Should I Care?

What is "theme"?

Put simply, theme is whatever it is that gives a story purpose.

A story as a whole should demonstrate the truth of a single statement. That statement is the story's thesis. Although we don't have to call such a statement a thesis. We could talk, instead, about a story's premise.

Lajos Egri held that the essence of any dramatic story is "character through conflict leading to a conclusion". The theme, or premise, of a story is what guides the characters through the story toward the conclusion. The premise puts bounds on the story, limiting it, structuring it.

Frey writes, "When you formulate your premise, remember the three C's: character, conflict, and conclusion. A dramatic story is the transformation of character thorugh crisis; the premise is a succinct statement of that transformation."

So here's what we have:
i. A character in crisis.
ii. A goal plus opposition to attaining that goal (often supplied by the antagonistic force) equels conflict.
iii. The conclusions, or resolution, of the crisis in a satisfying manner. How does the hero resolve the crisis? Does he achieve what he/she set out to? Did it resolve the crisis?
I think, explained this way, we can see the theme as an abstract articulation of the structure of the story; a generalization of the plot.

For instance, in "The Reichenbach Fall" (season 2, episode 3 of Sherlock) [spoiler warning] we see that even though Sherlock Holmes has the emotional intelligence of a dust mite, he loves his friends. He would give up his life if it meant saving theirs.

There's an expression I remember from childhood--it comes from John 15:3--"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends". So, perhaps, we could state the theme of the episode as, "Love sacrifices all," or, "Love would sacrifice all".
i. A character in crisis. Sherlock was in crisis because (apparently) he was faced with a choice: live and take revenge on Moriarty OR accept defeat, die, but save his friends.

ii. Sherlock has a goal: Moriarty wants to make London his plaything. Sherlock wants to stop him. Moriarty resists by destroying Sherlock's reputation.

iii. The matter is (or seems to be) concluded when Sherlock defeats Moriarty, fakes his death and goes into hiding.
In this way the plot can be seen as articulating the theme.

Why you should care: Your theme helps determine what material should be included, as well as excluded, from the story.

One of the advantages of knowning your story's thesis (not all stories have them, but nearly all dramatic stories do) is that it will help you figure out what should be included. It will help you structure your novel.

W.T. Price in "The Analysis of Play Construction and Dramatic Principle" claims that the underlying, unifying,  principle of a work is "the brief, logical statement or syllogism of that which has to be demonstrated by the complete action of the play."

The theme is the root idea of a story; the theme articulates its driving force.

In other words, a story is the proof of the premise given by the theme. If your premise is love conquers all then you have to make sure that, within the pages of your novel, love does indeed conquer all.

This means that if a part of your story doesn't go toward proving the premise, scrutinize it. Perhaps it needs to go. Ask yourself: if this scene were not in the novel would it be weakened? Would there be any difference? If the answer to either of those questions is "no" then I'd advise you to grit your teeth and toss it.

Okay, that's it! Often talk of theme is rather nebulous. I've tried to pin down what theme is and why it is important to writers, why having a theme can make writing simpler. And stronger.

Good writing!

Photo credit: "My hangover coffee" by 55Laney69 under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, April 19

50 Shades Of Grey: The Most Profitable Books Of All Time?

50 Shades Of Grey: The Most Profitable Books Of All Time? Love it or hate it, E.L. Jame's 50 Shades of Grey series is a huge economic success.

I knew that. We all knew that.

What I didn't know was how profitable.

In The Incredible Economics of Fifty Shades of Grey Kevin Rose writes:
It's no secret that E.L. James's Fifty Shades trilogy is the kind of monster publishing success that comes along only once or twice a decade. ....
. . . .
But we didn't know the full extent of the Fifty Shades financial bonanza until yesterday, when Random House's parent company--the giant German media conglomerate Bertelsmann AG--released its preliminary annual report. What the report revealed is that Fifty Shades's success has propped up not just Random House, but the entire corporate structure above it. [Emphasis mine]

The Wall Street Journal has this to say:
At a time when other publishers are struggling to generate sales growth, Random House's world-wide revenue rose 23% to €2.1 billion ($2.7 billion). Operating earnings before interest and taxes rose nearly 76% to €325 million.

Fifty Shades vs Harry Potter

For all its success, E.L. James's series has yet to outsell J.K. Rowling's Potter series. Yes, Fifty Shades has outsold Harry Potter on Amazon, but according to The Wall Street Journal its worldwide sales are still lower.

Let me try to put that in perspective.
E.L. James's "Fifty Shades" erotic trilogy sold more than 70 million copies in print, audio and e-book editions in English, German and Spanish from March through December, according to Bertelsmann ... The first of the books was published in the U.S. in March.
. . . .
For a sense of scale, Random House's second biggest selling North American title last year—Gillian Flynn's thriller "Gone Girl," which has been a national best-seller for 41 weeks—sold more than two million copies in the U.S. and Canada in all formats, between June and December. (The Wall Street Journal)
50 Shades sold 70 million copies while the second most popular book in the same period sold 2 million.

I'm staggered.

70 million in just a year. Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code sold, as of 2009, 80 million copies, but that was over a period of six years (the book was published in 2003).

By the way, The Da Vinci Code was published by Doubleday in the US and, at that time, Doubleday was owned by Bertelsmann.

That company has been lucky!

To answer the question I posed in the title: Is 50 Shades of Grey the most profitable series of all time? No, it's not.

Not yet.

Do you think E.L. James' 50 Shades series will go on to outsell Rowling's Potter series?

Other articles you might like:

- When Is A Story Ready To Publish?
- Owen Egerton's 30 Writing Tips, Inspiration For Your Muse
- 3 Ways To Create An Antihero Your Readers Identify With

Photo link: "Money" by AMagill under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Sunday, August 5

J.K. Rowling's Next Book, The Casual Vacancy, On Sale Sept 27, 2012

J.K. Rowling's next book, The Casual Vacancy, will be released at 8:00 am British Summer Time, so no midnight release and attendant parties as with her Harry Potter books.

The Casual Vacancy seems quite the departure from her previous work; for starters, it was written for adults and is described as "blackly comic". Here is how her publisher, Little Brown Book Group, describes it:
When Barry Fairbrother dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty facade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations? (Wikipedia, The Casual Vacancy)
J.K. Rowling is a marvelous writer and I admire her striking out into a different area. I expect The Casual Vacancy will be every bit as well written and engaging as her Harry Potter books. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Other reading:
- 10 Tips For Decluttering Your Life and Increasing Creativity
- The Lawsuit Against Harlequin In Plain English
- Ripley Patton: The Self-Validated Writer

Saturday, August 4

50 Shades Trilogy Has Outsold Harry Potter on Amazon UK

Wow! That's when you know you're popular. Apparently in only 4 months EL James has become Amazon UK's biggest selling author OF ALL TIME. Again, wow.

And to think that E.L. James started out as a self published author. Yep, I'm smiling.
E L James Fifty Shades trilogy has out-sold J K Rowling’s seven-book Harry Potter series on Amazon in the UK, the online retailer has announced.

Although James’ erotica books have only been on sale since March 2012, they have sold over four million copies in print and digital, making James the bestselling author ever on Amazon in the UK.

Rowling’s final book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is being outsold by the first book in the James trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey, by more than two to one.
To read the entire article click here: James 'has outsold Potter' on Amazon UK.

Related articles:
- Fifty Shades of Grey - Oh My!
- 50 Shades Of Alice In Wonderland: Another Indie Success Story
- 19 Ways To Grow Your Twitter Following

Photo credit: theilr

Friday, May 11

Kindle owners can now borrow Rowling's Harry Potter books at is offering Rowling's Harry Potter books in the Kindle Owners' Lending Library.
The Kindle Owners' Lending Library now features over 145,000 books to borrow for free, including over 100 current and former New York Times Best Sellers. The Kindle Owners' Lending Library has an unusual and innovative feature that people love - unlimited supply of even the most popular titles. With traditional library lending, the library buys a certain number of e-book copies of a particular title. If all of those are checked out, you have to get on a waiting list. For popular titles like Harry Potter, the wait can sometimes be months. With the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, there are no due dates, you can borrow as frequently as once a month, and there are no limits on how many people can simultaneously borrow the same title - so you never have to wait in line for the book you want.
Access to the Kindle Lending Library is through Amazon Prime and costs $79 a year.

Thursday, April 5

Pottermore sells over 1.5 million worth of ebooks in 3 days

From paidContent:
... Pottermore sold over £1 million worth of e-books, about $1.59 million at £0.63 pounds to the dollar. The Harry Potter e-books are priced at $7.99 each (for the first three) or $9.99 each (for the final four books in the series). Assuming an average price of $9.13, that means around 164,000 copies were sold in the first three days.
Read the rest here: Pottermore sold over $1.5m worth of Harry Potter e-books in 3 days

Friday, August 19

Previously Unpublished Writer Becomes Famous Overnight

What would it be like to go from never having any of your writing published, not even a short story, to signing a six figure contract with Doubleday? Pretty darn nice, I imagine! This is what happened to Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus.

Alexandra Alter at The Wall Street Journal writes:
Ms. Morgenstern has had an unorthodox rise to literary stardom. A 33-year-old Massachusetts native with pale skin and wide-set amber eyes, Ms. Morgenstern has never left the country and just applied for a passport. She studied theater and lighting design at Smith College; after graduating in 2000, she bounced around as an office temp.

She was miserable, "making photocopies for law professors who couldn't work the copy machine." After a few years, with her husband's support, she quit temping and devoted herself to painting and writing, spending long, solitary hours in their home in Boston. She sold her artwork for $20 to $30 a print. In 2005, she crashed out a manuscript during National Novel Writing Month, a kind of literary endurance race for writers who goad one another into completing a 50,000-word novel in four weeks. About halfway through, her project stalled.
"I got really bored with what I was working on, so I sent all the characters to the circus," she says.

Very little from that early draft survived, but she had an idea that excited her. She worked in bursts over the next several years, writing a sprawling, plotless series of vignettes featuring magicians, acrobats, and a pair of psychic twins. Thirty literary agents rejected her. "They very politely told me it was a mess," she says.

At one point she grew so discouraged that she considered destroying the book. Her husband hid a hard copy of the novel from her in a drawer. Finally, a few agents got back to her with more-encouraging rejections, suggesting that the book could work with major revisions.

Ms. Morgenstern added more plot and streamlined the circus vignettes. She delivered a more conventional novel centering on two characters: Celia, the daughter of a famous magician, and Marco, an orphan who was trained by a rival magician. The older magicians enroll their students in a magic-off, using a nocturnal circus as a setting for their tricks and illusions. Their creations include a magic carousel with mystical animals that come to life, a floating cloud maze and a frozen garden with delicate, magically regenerating blossoms of ice. Despite their handlers' warnings, Celia and Marco fall in love.
Ms. Morgenstern's agent, Richard Pine of Inkwell Management, sent out the completed manuscript and received bids from several publishers. He sold it a week after sending it out. Ms. Morgenstern was so stunned that she left the publisher's check on her desk for a month, unsure what to do with it.
Last month, Summit brought Ms. Morgenstern to San Diego for Comic-Con, a comic-book and pop-culture convention, and introduced her to "Twilight" fans in a press event leading into appearances by the stars of the movies. Summit distributed 50 advance copies of "The Night Circus" to "alpha" Twilight fans and bloggers and other teen taste arbiters.

Ms. Morgenstern finds the attention and hype overwhelming and worries about a backlash. In addition to the movie, there's talk of a videogame and a stage production. A Los Angeles perfume maker is developing a line of circus-themed scents based on the book.

Her Doubleday editor suggested she write a "Night Circus" prequel, exploring the rivalry between the two magicians who pit Marco and Celia against each other. She's not so sure she wants to write more about the circus. "It's putting a lot of pressure on me in terms of 'what's she going to do next?' " she says.

Ms. Morgenstern is settling into a new condo in Boston, where she lives with a pair of pale, otherworldly-looking fluffy cats, surrounded by an odd assortment of antiques and art objects. A black bowler hat sits on top of a bookshelf. One stalled antique clock hangs on a wall; another sits on the floor. Much of her artwork—which, like her writing, is pastiche-like and layered, with bits of paper, clock gears and sketches piled onto canvases and wooden boxes—is still packed up. She recently separated, amicably, from her husband of nearly five years, and is scrambling to unpack before a six-week, 14-city book tour.

Her office d├ęcor includes a Ouija board, a Harry Potter-themed Hogwarts throw pillow and a deck of hand-painted, black-and-white Tarot cards that she created while working on her novel. Ms. Morgenstern hopes to publish the deck, and it's already getting some exposure. One of the images, a black-and-white-striped hot-air balloon, was turned into a poster advertisement for "The Night Circus." Her publicity team sent 500 of them to booksellers all over the country.

Thanks to Passive Guy for positing a link to Alexandra Alter's article.

Thursday, June 23

Pottermore: Harry Potter Digital Books and Audio Files

It looks like JK Rowling has set up the site,, to -- among other things -- publish her own ebooks and audo files of the Harry Potter books.

Having an ebook copy of the Harry Potter books will be wonderful! Unfortunately, it seems as though the site won't be open to the general public before October but I'm sure we will be receiving more news about what Rowling has in store for us before then.

More links:

JK Rowling Will Self-Pub Harry Potter Ebooks
(Post by Joe Konrath at A Newbie's Guide to Publishing.)

Physical bookshops frustrated with Pottermore
(Thanks to JM Cornwell for posting this link.)

J.K. Rowling, Indie Author – Roundup
(Passive Guy's Links on this topic.)