Book Magic Series: Stranger Than Fiction

sflgI didn’t really like the movie Stranger Than Fiction. Maybe because I’ve never been a fan of Will Ferrell. Or maybe because his character was, unlike my characters, deprived of free will.

In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, the movie is about a (rather boring) man who discovers he’s the main character in a book being written by an author who always kills her main characters. He tries to have a less boring life and to convince her not to kill him. He only really succeeds at one of these.

He discovers that he’s in a book by being able to hear the omniscient narrator saying stuff like “little did he know” and describing his actions. (And thoughts, I think. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it.) By contrast, my characters can’t hear what the Narrator says unless he appears to them as a character. His running commentary is only visible to the reader.

But the main comparison I want to make is the relationship between the character and the author. In Stranger Than Fiction, the book takes place in the same world as the author. It’d be like me writing about you — and unless I’m mistaken, I don’t think I could pick up the book next to me and see you in it.

And her characters have no free will, they are completely at the mercy of the author. If she writes that they jump off a building, they have to comply. Unfortunately for Will Ferrell, his author is determined to finish her story and kill him — and in fact spends most of the movie trying to figure out the best way to do so. (And she’d have managed it if not for a really terrible example of deus ex machina.)

My main characters, on the other hand, are able to fight back. The author and narrator can manipulate the elements around them and control the minor characters, but they can’t dictate what Calder will say or do next.

Otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a story.

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Book Magic Series: The Chamber of Secrets


If you’re one of the few people who has neither read nor seen the Harry Potter series, let me briefly sum up the mystery of Tom Riddle’s diary, as featured in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. After all of his books are doused with ink, Harry notices that Riddle’s diary is spotless. He tests this phenomenon by writing “My name is Harry Potter” — and the diary absorbs the ink and writes in reply, “Hello Harry Potter. My name is Tom Riddle. How did you come by my diary?”

Naturally, Harry continues talking with Tom Riddle, and asks if Riddle knew anything about the Chamber of Secrets opening before. Riddle offers to show him what he knows, and sucks Harry into the diary. Harry is able to observe Riddle’s memories as if he were a ghost — no one can see or hear him, and he can’t affect anything.

Spoiler alert: this is all possible because the book contains a piece of Voldemort’s soul.

Now, the books in Narrator don’t contain people’s souls. Don’t get me wrong, souls are involved. It’s just not a requirement for the book magic to exist.

Arianna’s conversation with the Author is similar to Harry’s with Tom Riddle, with a few key differences. Riddle is able to write his own words, but the Author must use Arianna. He is able to compel her to write his half of the conversation, and in such a way that she cannot stop mid-sentence, even if she wanted to. The Author could communicate with her through any written method, but he has his reasons for choosing to use her diary.

This is different from earlier drafts, where I had her talk to him in person. There was a point in the forest where the world just sort of…stopped, like a cliff’s edge. And when the book was open she could speak to the Author. But I wasn’t thrilled with that dynamic, so I came up with the idea that the Author is able to communicate with Arianna through her diary, similar to how an author’s characters can surprise her as she writes by saying things she never would have expected.

That might sound weird to non-authors, but trust me. That sort of thing happens all the time.

As for traveling into books, when my characters get pulled into a book, they become part of the “story.” It doesn’t matter if the book is fiction, non-fiction, or a diary. They can interact with the book characters, and even change the course of the story — to a certain extent.

For example, if Calder went into Chamber of Secrets he would no doubt help Harry solve the mystery of the Chamber. The final battle might even go differently. But it would still be Harry who killed the basilisk and destroyed the horcrux.

Fate can be defied, but at a heavy price.

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Do Characters Have Secret Lives?


Sylvia: Wait, Austen meant Charlotte to be gay, or Charlotte is gay and Austen is not aware of it.

Bernadette: I just love the idea of a character having a secret life that the author doesn’t even know about.


Thinking about Jane Austen Book Club the other day, I remembered this scene. One of the characters thinks Charlotte Lucas, from the ever popular Pride and Prejudice, is gay because she tells Lizzy that she’s not as “romantic” as she is. Obviously, this raises some questions.

Can characters have secret lives separate from their authors’ wishes and intents? I know many fanfiction writers believe so. Just look at the number of Harry/Draco fics that exist.

But I’m not talking about Alternate Universe scenarios, or wishful thinking. If a character’s secret life fits within the context of the original novel, does that mean it could exist? That it does exist? Or is the text itself the final word?

And even if it is possible, is it right to usurp the author (especially when they can no longer defend their work, like Austen) by deciding for them if a character has a secret life?

I think it’s an interesting idea to have characters hiding things from their authors, though I’m not sure how I would feel if I were to find out ten years from now that Pennington is Saydie’s father or whatever. That would definitely put a new light on their relationship.

I put these questions to you. Do you think characters have secret lives?

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.