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.

Book Magic Series: The Paper Magician

Paper Magician

I picked up The Paper Magician in Amazon’s Kindle First program because, at first glance, it seemed similar to The Narrator. Paper magic, book magic. I thought they would have some things in common. As it turned out, the magics in The Paper Magician and The Narrator don’t have much in common at all!

In Paper Magician, Ceony becomes apprenticed to Emery Thane to learn the secrets of paper magic. Thane teaches her how to animate paper animals, create illusions as she tells stories, and produce gales with a simple paper fan. The focus of the magic is on the paper itself. The spell won’t work if the paper’s folded incorrectly, and it’s implied that even the type of paper will affect the spell.

The focus of the magic in Narrator, on the other hand, is on the story. Elements of the story (characters, objects, etc.) can be drawn out of the story or dropped into it, with disastrous consequences in either case.

There are some aspects of paper magic that could be fun to use in Narrator. I like the idea of using illusions to illustrate the book you’re reading, although I’m not sure how I’d fit that into the story. I also never considered what would happen if a bespelled book got wet…hmmm…

I do have one similarity to Paper Magician. Ceony learns to make paper cranes, probably based on origami. When she animates them, they can scout for her. In Narrator, I have one instance so far of a folded paper bird that serves as both messenger and message. The recipient can unfold the bird and read their message, but then the paper will re-fold itself back into a bird.

I’d like to think that’s a pretty cool bit of magic, worth of The Paper Magician himself.

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 Pagemaster

The Pagemaster

“Look to the books,” the Pagemaster advises Richard Tyler in this classic film.

If you haven’t seen it, let me do a short recap. Richard Tyler (who is almost always referred to in this way, don’t ask me why) is a kid who’s afraid to take risks because of the 3% chance he’ll get hurt. When a bad storm strands him at a library, he meets the Pagemaster and is forced to prove himself in a series of tests across classic literature.

At first glance, the Pagemaster may seem like a similar character to the Narrator, what with their affinity for book magic and knowledge of the written word — but don’t be fooled. The Pagemaster and the Narrator operate in completely different ways.

The Pagemaster calls himself “The Keeper of the Books.” It’s never explicitly stated, but the gist seems to be that he’s the guardian of all the books’ characters and their stories. Sort of like a magical librarian. He effectively kidnaps Richard Tyler, drops him in the middle of the library, and tells him to head for the exit.

Thanks, Pagemaster. So helpful.

The Narrator, on the other hand, is closer to an author than a librarian. He tells stories, he doesn’t “keep” them. After he hijacks the novel, he can manipulate the setting and minor characters in an attempt to control the story’s direction. If Richard Tyler was in the Narrator’s book, he’d find a lot more “help” than he’d be comfortable with!

Other major differences between the movie and the novel:

  • The Price of Fiction: In both stories, characters remove objects from books. But in The Pagemaster, there’s no cost to the character except whatever dangers are released. Good examples: the Hound of the Baskervilles, and the giant squid from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In The Narrator, there’s a much higher cost.
  • Readers: Richard Tyler isn’t a character, he’s a reader. A respected one, at that, once he proves his identity with his library card. The Narrator has no such character running around.
  • Fate vs. Free Will: Richard Tyler’s presence changes the story he’s visiting, but some things are still predestined. For instance, he takes Jim Hawkins’ place in Treasure Island, but Long John Silver still manages to escape in a rowboat.
  • Books as Characters: There are three characters in The Pagemaster that are physical books. The Narrator doesn’t have anything like this.
  • Traveling Between Books: All of the stories in The Pagemaster exist next to each other in some weird quilt-like universe. Gulliver’s Travels is a hop, skip, and a jump away from Treasure Island. In Narrator, these stories would be self-contained worlds, and you wouldn’t be able to jump directly from one to the other.

Hopefully, this has been a good illustration of differences in book magic and literature-themed stories. I have more examples lined up, so stay tuned!

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.