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Author Topic: Writing in the wake of Harry Potter
Christine
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I promise that this is relevant to writing...although I'm sure we'll be bringing in details form the books to discuss it properly. Please do not spoil the last book for those who have not read it yet...we can continue to do that in "Discussions of Published Books." In fact, if you get too specific with the details from any book, you may just put a warning, including the book the info is from.

Anyway, I've been chatting with some friends about what's next...not for Rowling (which everyone is asking and I think is the wrong question) but for US...the readers and potential writers. What will be the next big thing to capture our hearts and imaginations?

And I thought...it's probably going to be another YA book. The reasons are complex and of course, we're looking for another YA book that can appeal to adults. The thing is that we can all relate to the teenager within. I also have always been partial to the "Everyman" story in which a person who has no idea they are extraordinary gets launched into amazing events. I even find it thrilling when they have some link buried in their past, rather than being in the right place at the right time.

I've been stagnating lately and ready for a new idea, so after reading the final volume in the Harry Potter series I began to wonder if I could even get close. I looked back at what I wrote as a teenager for inspiration, because I was closer to the audience then. I'm 30 now, so my teenage years were all before I'd even heard of "The Boy Who Lived" but of course, as much as I loved those stories it is also true that the things that happen in them are collections of age-old ideas put together in a wonderful new way. Indeed, two of the stories I dug up from old files involve girls discovering that they are witches and having to stop the bad witches from taking over the world and it's non-witch population. Sigh....I'm not saying they're brilliant or anything. At the moment, they're childish, but they're my children and I'm trying to think how to make them grow up without being accused of ripping off Harry Potter.

And it's hard, because it doesn't take much to remind people of Harry Potter for two reasons:

1. It's so gosh darn popular. It's in the forefront of everyone's minds right now. It could even be that what we need most is distance (timewise) from the craze.

2. It covers so many separate ideas that it's very difficult not to bring a theme, an event, a bit of plot, or a mythical element into many books -- especially fantasy books. For an example, I'm working on a book that involves winged aliens and so I invented a mid-air sport for them to play...not on broomsticks but with their own wings. Nevertheless, my commenters (apologetically, at least) said it reminded them of Quiddich.

So what do we do now, as writers? How do we find new ways to bring to life classic themes in new fantasy stories to ensnare the imagination of the next generation? How can our witches not be seen as part of "The Hidden Magical World" and how can our schools for young magic-makers not become "Hogwarts?"


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dee_boncci
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I've thought a ton about this, Christine.

I haven't come up with any answers, and if I did know what the new craze would be, I'd show everyone after I wrote it rather than telling anyone about it now .

One thing I've taken from it is that the YA audience is capable of handling more complex storylines than what (little) of the genre I was familiar with beforehand.

The great thing is that a whole lot of young people are now readers who otherwise might not have been, hopefully inspiring a larger new generation of writers and larger new generation of readers as they come of age.

Right now my thinking is I'll never see something like the Harry Potter craze again in my lifetime.


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Matt Lust
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I don't think so much that its the "YA" audience that is capable but that they are incapable of not getting things when so many other people are also reading the same things.

There are so many opportunities to hear interpretations of Harry Potter that even the most (insert appropriate criticism here) reader can not fail to get the point.

LOTR has expereinced this the same way. Back when it was ghettoized to SF/F readers only it was not uncommon for people to say "I don't like that book because of XYZ" and the comment to go unanswered/challenged.

Now however, while people may still not like LOTR they can't say that with out having a detailed response as to what it is exactly they dislike and why said beliefs will not change with another reading.


In my opinion the YA audience isn't strictly YA but rather people who simply want the easy reading with decent plot lines that this genre offers. in YA stories generally the writing is santized and until Potter generally bland and uncomplicated.

HP has done one good thing if nothing else as dee_boonci said. Letting stories grow up. Even if you will still have to start your story with sugar and spice you can bring in snips, snails and puppy dog tails without offending people.


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JeanneT
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A lot of people who read and write Science Fiction don't think Star Wars did them any favor. I'm not sure that HP did any favor to those of us who love fantasy.

I don't know that the fact that HP was YA has anything to do with what the "next craze will be." I doubt whatever it is, that it will be another fantasy. It certainly won't be anything that I write, sooo--I dunno.


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RMatthewWare
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Kids in the YA age group are very smart. They can handle a lot, and they expect a lot.

To answer the question, if I'm able, I'd say you can mimic the world if you do it from a different perspective. Look at the OSC Ender's books. He has a line that follow Ender, and another that follow his friends.

I've thought about this a bit. Any modern world where you have wizards, you might have a need to train them. This can either be done through apprenticeships or a school. Sure, its been done. It was done before Rowling. You can do it again if you change perspective. Imagine Harry Potter from the teacher's perspective. Or even Dumbledore's. You look, you have a student that has gone through a lot and has to go through a lot in the future, and your MC has to put him through it.

Or see it from the friends' POV. Like Potter from Hermione's POV. Imagine that. She is so different from him and sees things from POV's that Harry can't or won't.

Or, look at it from Draco's view. Have the enemy tell us the story.

That's what I've got so far. You can do it if you change perspective. I think it'd be interesting to see a wizarding school in the US. How would it work.

Either way, we'll have to have something that captivated Christine's attention so we see her around more. It's been good to see you posting


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Robert Nowall
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Well, for the next few years, there'll be a lot of "Harry Potter" wannabes cluttering the shelves. Their success will run from great to poor.

Then, from some unexpected direction, the "next big thing" will come. We won't necessarily recognize it when it gets here. Could anybody here have expected Harry Potter to be big as it was?

(I first saw the first one, I think, while I was traveling, where a bookstore had a display. That meant Scholastic was putting the big push behind it, but did that mean it would be big? Also I was a little surprised to see an overt fantasy put out by Scholastic---not exactly a beacon in the field.)

I've wondered what Rowling herself will do for an encore. "Harry Potter Eight" seems out of the question. Further dumpster diving into the world she's created? Some entirely new work without connection to her great success?


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Balthasar
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The best answer is this: write something complete different. Not because you'll be compared to Rowling and your story will be compared to Harry Potter, but because you need time for the story to sink into the swamps of your subconscious where it will get turned over and over until it's ready to come back up.

I learned this from Stephen King. He read THE LORD OF THE RINGS, was blown away by it, wanted to write something similar -- a vast epic -- but decided to wait because he knew it was going to be derivative. He waited and waited, and eventually his subconscious gave him THE DARK TOWER.

In fact, there's a huge lesson to be learned from Stephen King's story. It's his stories that ushered in the big "horror boom" of the 1980's. And how many half-ass horror novels and movies did we get? Too damn many. Perhaps the only two writers of that group who went on to do anything really great were Clive Barker and Robert McCammon.

So my advice to all writers who love Harry Potter and want to write something that power is to do everything you can NOT to write anything like Harry Potter. Don't be derivative!

And in terms of what's going to capture the collective imagination of readers . . . well, it's anyone's guess. Back in 1975, did anyone think Stephen King -- i.e., horror fiction -- was going to have the success he did in the 1980's? In 1995, did anyone think J. K. Rowling -- i.e., children's fantasy -- was going to have the success she in the 2000's?

I'll wager that the NEXT BIG THING will be completely unexpected and unplanned.


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Leigh
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I plan on being the next BIG thing! Lol, I'll try and if I do, kudos to me If I don't, I'll be happy to be published but I'm more happy to just be able to write.

As for the next big craze to wash over our small world; think about Pokemon and how that went, it was everywhere, it died down but it's still there. The same'll happen to Harry Potter, it'll die down eventually but remain there, everyone will know it, but not many will talk about it. The same also has happened with Lord of The Rings.

Whoever or whatever the next big craze is, it'll probably won't happen for a few years to come, maybe around 2012/2013? Just a guess, but when it does it'll hit just as much as HP has done and any of the predecessors of the big craze market.


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Robert Nowall
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I should have added...the artistic quality of these Harry Potter wannabes will vary from writer to writer. Some'll take you for an interesting ride with new spin on the old tropes...others'll just come across as clumsy ripoffs.
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lehollis
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quote:
I plan on being the next BIG thing!

Nice perspective, Leigh! I was actually thinking of saying, "I'm working on it right now." But while my WiP stars children, I don't think it's truly a YA story. (Of course, I still think I remember Rowling say Potter wasn't meant to be YA in the beginning, once.)


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wrenbird
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I think we all have to remember that the "next big thing" started out as nothing new. Simply a creative way to present an already exisiting genre. As has been said many times, there are no new ideas.
Rowling didn't create YA fantasy.
King didn't create Horror.
They just defined it in a way that really caught on.
My point is that those of us who happen to like YA fantasy (okay, guilty as charged) should not feel like we can't write it anymore because we would simply be ripping of JK Rowling. Write what you love. That's the only way your work will be any good. If you shelve a story that you adore writing because it's "too much like Harry Potter" you are robbing yourself of something that has the potential to be really good. Obviously, you should try and think creatively and present something new if you can. But if you have a great story that happens to take place in a wizarding school, go for it anyway.
We shouldn't be trying to craft the "the next best thing" in fiction. We should be trying to write a story that we love to write.

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darklight
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quote:
My point is that those of us who happen to like YA fantasy (okay, guilty as charged) should not feel like we can't write it anymore because we would simply be ripping of JK Rowling. Write what you love.

Its a good point, however, I began writing a series of novels for young girls about three young sisters who have magical powers. I stopped becuase I could hear people saying I was ripping off Charmed. The fact is, they would be nothing like that, but the moment people heard 'three sisters' and 'magic', I'm sure Charmed would enter their minds. Hence I haven't gotten past the first couple of chapters so I can see how people would be put off writing anything that remotely resembled Harry Potter.

Its wrong, but I guess that's how it is.

[This message has been edited by darklight (edited July 28, 2007).]


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Christine
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Yeah, but "Charmed" sucked. They never wrote it well...plenty of room for improvement.

I think Wren found my point -- I've always written scifi and fantasy. It's what I love. Harry Potter would have appealed to me even if it hadn't managed to burst through to the mainstream population. Witches and hidden magical worlds aren't new and are something I wrote about as a child. In fact, they were a favorite part of my childhood.

Oh well....I still think it's true that the best thing would be to table the fantasy ideas that are too much like Harry Potter until I'm older.


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franc li
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I think being not Harry Potter is going to be as problematic as being derivative- kind of like whether to be like your mother or not like your mother. Just keep up your writing, read some other stuff, and let the juices flow.

[This message has been edited by franc li (edited July 30, 2007).]


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MrsBrown
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What's Charmed? Past, over, done; just like HP will be, soon enough.

I'd be more concerned with my Own voice; am I copying or is this coming from me? Not so much concerned with what others will think. I've read many, many books that clearly influence my ideas -- that can't be helped. To me the underlying theme is most important, and I can manipulate the trappings to make it mine.


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Christine
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The thing about Charmed is that it was not as popular nor was it particularly well done. It was also done on television. Using similiar themes in a book is much more forgivable.

Harry Potter is popular, well told, and also a series of movies.

Still, I've been thinking this week that in a way, Harry Potter may have opened my eyes to some possibilities I dismissed a long time ago because they were childish. I started writing wish fulfillment stories but gave them up for more sophisticated things. The truth is, though, I miss writing them and Harry Potter proves that people want to read them, too.


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RMatthewWare
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Okay, I tried to find this in response to darklight's problem of reminding people of Charmed. I read something like this on Miss Snark's page, but I couldn't find it in the archives, so I'm going to make it up from memory as best as possible.

Someone emailed Miss Snark (a literary agent that used to run a blog, for those that don't know) with a problem. The problem was that she was working really hard on a manuscript then a new book came out with a similar idea and plotline. She asked if she should just throw it out, radically rewrite it, or finish it and realize that her version was unique, even if it might remind others of the first book.

The answer was to finish it and send it out. Yours might be better, or it will have unique angles.

So, if your WIP looks like Charmed, wonderful. Keep writing it. The idea of three witch sisters wasn't new with Charmed. I think Shakespeare wrote something like that.

And besides, Charmed has been off the air long enough that I doubt you'll have problems. And was it on the WB, or UPN? You think a good enough chunk of people watched those networks for this to matter?

Anyway, that's my opinion.


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franc li
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I just found out the news on "The Incredible Hulk" is not some kind of browser retrieval mistake, they really are making it again after 5 years. So you never know.
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Wolfe_boy
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I agree with a lot of the general sentiment being expressed in here - write your own story, with your own voice. If you love fantasy, or magic, or kids at school, or space operas, erotica, whatever else, don't limit yourself because you think it might be found to be derivative. That's just slightly better than people who do the opposite: look at what is popular and emulate it just because it's popular.

I think the key is to just face that you'll never be writing a truly 100% original story. Some points will be copied from past works. Characters will be similar. A lot of what you'll write will have been touched upon by other writers. It's the unique mix of these elements that you can imagine, along with your own unique voice as a writer, that will set you apart. There is nothing terribly unique about 99.9% of fiction, and the 0.1% that is truly original will either have other problems with it (crap characters in an original plot, etc) or it will start a whole new line of derivative works. Take Cyberpunk, for example. If we're going to say that Cyberpunk as a genre truly started with William Gibson and we ignore the influence Phillip K. Dick and a host of others had, then just about every cyberpunk novel published in the past 25 odd years is derivative. Doesn't stop a fair few of them from being excellent.

My current problem, writing in the wake of Harrp Potter, is that after immersing myself in this universe very thoroughly for over a week (a brief Harry Potter tour of London, the last two movies and the final three books in 6 days) my soul cries out to write something similar. I know that this is a passing feeling, that the stuff I truly write is not aimed at the YA market, and that I don't know if I could sustain an epic series like this without losing myself somewhere in the middle. I still feel this burning desire to write my own series like this, and all of the ideas I come up with are so very Potterish. I hope it receeds soon so I can get back to work, and I hope that this latest idea I got (that I particularly enjoy) won't disappear with my receeding Potterish feelings.

Jayson Merryfield


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debhoag
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I hope so too, wolfe_boy. And keep me in mind when you are looking for readers.
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RMatthewWare
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Didn't OSC say something to the affect of, if you read something and think that you can do it better, that's a good reason to write? I think I remember reading that somewhere, and I really don't want to go looking for the reference.
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Kakichi
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So I sat here thinking about the question, trying to come up with answers myself for this possible dillema. Its true that we should probably give it some time for Harry to pass over and let people start to forget about it. Obviously we don't want to use any of the same ideas but our own can be modeled around your love for her books. I've only read the 1st book and seen all but the newest movie so I'm very limited in the subject though.

As for the next big thing, which I was surprised no one here mentioned in the slightest: The Golden Compass. The trilogy by Phillip Pullman is set in a slightly different England and to me has more magic and intrigue and mature themes than I've seen in the Potter books. I can only hope that the new movie of The golden Compass will be good enough to reel the Potter-generation kids and adults to (in my opinion) a better series.

We can only hope that in the post-Potter world we live in now is willing to accept new writers such as ourselves to possibly become the next big thing. We can hope and we can wish, but as long as we do our best, we can be happy with what we've done.


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Wolfe_boy
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I don't think that The Golden Compass will be the next big thing, because it's already had its time and it has been completed. Sure they're making movies out of it, and that will drive people to buy the books, but I think it'll be more of a fad than the next big thing, sort of the way every bookstore you went to a few years back has The Lord of the Rings displayed front and center, when a few years prior to that it was, as usual, in it's place in the Science Fiction & Fantasy section. I'm pretty sure it has returned there as well.

Harry Potter made millions of people came out for the next book, go ga-ga over JK Rowling. In terms of scope, The Golden Compass will not approach that level of interest. It will be big for a few years while the movies come out, and McDonalds will have Lyra figures and Alethiometers in their Happy Meals, and then it'll fade while the next fad rises. A true phenomenon like Harry Potter is still a ways off, and like more than a few people have said, will likely come from some direction no one was expecting.

Jayson Merryfield


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RMatthewWare
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I read His Dark Materials. I don't really think of it as better, but as different.

I remember reading the trilogy and thinking, 'if I crossed out the large sections of text that have nothing to do with the story AT ALL, this trilogy would just be one novel'.

I hated the ending of the trilogy, I thought he forced it when it could have had the happier ending.

I hated the continual bashing of God and religion. Feel free to do it if you want, but you cut out a large section of your readership. And it wasn't just a bashing of man's interpretation of religion, it was a bashing of God himself.

The redeeming feature was that I absolutely fell in love with the characters. They were well developed and caught me. In fact, we ended up naming our son after Will, one of the main characters.


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Robert Nowall
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I think, of late---well, the last thirty years or so---the Next Big Thing is almost always accompanied by Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture. It wouldn't seem, well, complete without it.
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Pyre Dynasty
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I personally had to put my own boy wizard in modern times on the back-burner, I'll wait till a few more years are between me and harry. It wasn't the first of it's kind and it won't be the last.
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Robert Nowall
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Sidenote: there was a recent TV movie of part of the "Earthsea" series. All reports had Ursula Le Guin despising it for a variety of valid reasons.

But I got to thinking...and started wondering...maybe this got filmed right 'round now because it happens to involve a boy wizard attending a wizard's school...


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RMatthewWare
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I never saw the Earthsea movie, but I hear they just destroyed it. They took basic plot, then completely rewrote everything. As an author, I would understand some changes, but what SciFi did was atrocious (from what I've read).
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