The Land of Stories: the Wishing Spell

There are stories that will always stay with us. Stories we read again and again for comfort, lessons and to escape from daily life. For Alex Bailey from Chris Colfer’s book ‘The Land of Stories: the Wishing Spell’ those stories are fairy tales.

Her twinbrother and her have to live with missing their father, who recentely deceased. When their grandmother visits she gives the twins the fairytale book that she used to read from when they were little. Alex keeps it with her at all times, but then something weird happens. Alex and her brother find out it’s a portal to another world! Alex decides to go there, because in this world there’s no one that understands. Her brother Connor tries to stop her, but gets sucked in as well. Before they know it they’re trapped in the land of stories, where all the fairy tale characters are alive – and older as in the stories we know. All of them are there, including villains like the Evil Queen and the Big Bad Wolf. Can the twins find a way out before it’s too late?

Land-of-Stories_510

First of all I love Chris Colfer (known as Kurt Hummel on Glee, now also a parttime writer). His fantastic, witty humor shines through in everything he does, so the Land of Stories is no exception. I’d say he’s written some really good oneliners in his debut novel. The dialogue is actually really good. Several times I’ve had to try not to laugh because of Connor’s feisty ways around the system or Alex’ know-it-all attitude. Especially Connor had some really good lines. He always had to have the last word, but his laidback vision on the fairytale world was refreshing.

The Land of Stories is a children book – and it shows. Colfer spends most of his chapters creating a problem and having them solved within a few pages. Everything is made super extra clear. There are no subtle hints, but only in your face situations. This does get better in the end, when he saves some of the good stuff. I think this is due to Chris Colfer being a younger writer, just at the start of his abilities. He hasn’t had the change to grow and learn much as a writer. Although I enjoyed this book, it does show. Lately I’ve read a lot of books for children. None of them need to emphatize what the characters feel as much as this one. There are a few unwritten rules of writing, one of them is: show, don’t tell. No matter if you’re writing a New Journalism piece, a thriller or a children’s story.
It’s not like Colfer shunned away from some maturer themes (which I have to give him credit for). Some might argue that Red Riding Hood was too flirty for a children’s novel. He also made Goldilocks a fugitive and wrote about killing. Actually Colfer obviously prefers the old stories above the Disney ones. That much was clear after reading some of Alex’ thoughts about it. Some of these themes didn’t go with the writing, that still felt a little immature. Colfer still seemed to be searching for the right words when he wasn’t using dialogue. I think he has to learn to hold back some of the information, so things have more affect. Children aren’t dumb. They like to figure things out on their own. Of course, it is hard to do this. Especially in a debut novel. I often look back at my stories and realize I’ve given away too much of what was already clear. The trick is to tease, I think.

I’m not saying this is a bad book. I actually really liked it. Some of Chris’ ideas were really interesting. The scenes written from the Evil Queen’s perspective were good, because in these he did hold back some of the information. I liked that she was mysterious. Somehow it increased his writing style.
I’m not saying Chris Colfer is a bad writer. I think he’s a good writer, but he’s only beginning and has much to learn. I think he will learn and will grow up to sell much more bestsellers that hopefully will be as witty as this one. It’s just that I was dissapointed, because I had some high expectations because of the plot and my slight adoration for Colfer.

tumblr_mg0hqzf4581rvhtq6o1_500I think my high expectations also had to this with this introduction. How can you not love a book that starts like this?

Favorites of the year: TV & movies

One of my internet pasttimes is watching girls talk about their monthly favorite things. There’s something really cool about seeing people talk about things they love. They get passionate and almost start to glow from excitement. It’s one of the best moods to see someone in, I think.
I have been thinking about doing monthly post about my favorites, but since I can’t even manage to post updates about what I’ve done every week, I think I’ll just stick to posting some favorites of 2013. Today I present the first part: TV & Movies.

Sherlock

4163814_4662243_b
(fanmade artwork by Alice X. Zhang)

If there’s one show I’ve been loving this year it’s BBC’s Sherlock. Amber and I watched all episodes and we’re dying to see the new one. The show gives new life to a classical story in such a way that is Britishly humorous, thrilling and sometimes even gutwrenching. Amazing acting and screenwriting with really good cinemagraphy. I dislike reading reviews that say things like there’s only one thing I hate and that is that this series is too short, but I just can’t say anything else about this.

Merlin

merlin-series-5-behind-the-scenes-5.2

Yet another BBC show, but this is just too good. Merlin tells the story of the Arthurian legend in a whole new way. This time Merlin is not an old man, but a young lad that must hide his magic if he wishes to stay alive at Camelot. This BBC familyshow has really good character development, some good laughs, emotional scenes and above all: magic. I think I decided to start watching this in 2012, but I finished it in 2013 so it still counts. I’ve had so many fangirling Merlin moments this year. It was one of the highlights of a trip Amy and I took to Edinburgh (imagine all the puns we could make at Arthur’s Seat).

Legend of Korra

tumblr_mwd90vKrT51rss05ao2_250

No surprise here. I think about 80% of my blogposts so far have had some kind of reference to this animation series. The sequel to Avatar finally got its second season this year and I’ve been hooked again. Although watching back it did lack some character development. Nevertheless I love the way this show intertwines western and eastern point of views, has good writing overall, interesting ideas and really good motivation and political background – especially for a kid’s show. This year my favorite episodes were those of the first Avatar ever: Wan. These were executed really well and the story had about everything: a goal and a conflict for the character to overcome, with an everlasting effect on the world as they know it. I also love that the creators sometimes use real events as a message we can learn from.

Catching Fire

rs_560x415-131029122356-560.Catching-Fire-Gallery-2-jmd-102913

This is by far my favorite movie of the year. It captured the feeling of one of my favorite books wonderfully. Catching Fire holds a really strong political message. It’s the parts about the oppressing government and the revolution that make this so outstanding. To me Catching Fire gives us a bit of a warning. Let’s not become like Panem. Sometimes I feel like the new generation tends to lose itsself with all the new ways of communication. Kids these days seem to have become more rude and selfish. Would they help others if it gets in the way of their entertainment? In a way that generation reminds me a little of the Capitol. Although Panem in itsself is a really impressive world that feels so real. As I’ve said before, the love triangle does contribute to the story but it’s not what it’s about. It’s about a girl trying to save her nation from the enslavement of the rich with an effect she is not fully aware of.
I’ll stop now. I could go on about this for ages ;).

Once Upon a Time

OnceUponATime_1213_624x351

If you haven’t noticed by now I like fantasy stories. Realms where I can escape and get soaked into imaginary problems are kind of my thing. Fairytales are no exception. I don’t remember if I started this show this or last year. However I’m still in love with it. It’s got the magical feeling of a fairy tale, but with a dark twist. The stories we grew up with get retold in a way you could have never imagined. Thankfully in the latest season they show that a villian is evil because that what the surroundings have caused. One of my biggest irritations in life is when people think a person is only good or bad. It’s shallow, childish and ignorant to think that way. I’m really glad more and more stories show that an ‘evil’ person isn’t all that he/she seems. Humans have more than one side to them.
Also, Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin is one of the best things to have happened in this show. His storylines are amazing. Man, that man can act!

Adventure Time

adventer tiem

I’ve only been watching this for about a month or so, but it’s way better than I expected. Adventure Time is a fun cartoon with nice popculture references and just all over epicness. It’s another ‘kid’s show’ but one with several layers. Finn, the last human on a land called Ooh ventures through the land with his brother from another mother Jake the dog. Filled with all kinds princesses, penguins, vampires and all kinds of weird but cool creatures. I guess you could say this show is a little weird, but that’s what makes it so cool. My favorite character so far is Marceline because she’s badass, plays bass, has daddy issues (seriously, I always like the characters with bad parents. Zuko, Asami, Murtagh from Eragon and now Marceline Aberdeer. I don’;t even know what’s up.) and actually has a really neat character design. I think I want to cosplay as her.

marceline aberdeer

Relationships over character development

I’ve recentely come to a conclusion about storytelling. Some writers always strive to get characters into a relationship. It seems to me that stories seem to be focused on romance more and more. In some cases this disables the character development.

Anyone even remotely familiar with a fandom must have also heard of ‘shippers’, fans that support a couple from a show. Whether it’s official or not. But these shippers aren’t the only one. Storytellers seem to have a natural instinct to create couples in a story. Peeta/Katniss and Gale/Katniss from the Hunger Games, Asami Sato/Mako or Korra/Mako from the Legend of Korra. Wait, another pattern. Love triangles are also a thing nowadays. Which doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s actually an important element of The Hunger Games series. But in Korra’s case, it’s not so necessary.

542491-k30

Let’s take Asami Sato and ‘Masami’ for example. Be warned, there be spoilers ahead. Beautiful, independant, strong woman that has to save her father’s company from going bankrupt, after she decided to go against him. She’s on the verge of a huge change within her that can make or break not only her career but also herself. She’s fine for a few episodes. She makes a deal with a big businesspartner that she believes will make everything alright, until it turns out that he sabotages her. We don’t see what happens after that. We don’t see what she does to honor the company that her father left behind, we don’t see a solution she comes up with. We only see how she falls into the arms of her ex that’s broken up with his girlfriend about a week ago. Then there’s no saving it. The promise and potential her storyline has gets completely ignored and the only screentime Asami gets is for an unwanted love triangle and a couple of cool shots of her driven a vehicle by choice. Did I mention I was dissapointed?
I’m a fan of Bryan Konietzko and Mike DiMartino. With Avatar and sometimes Korra they and their cowriters have produced some of the greatest writing and character development for children out there on television. This just does not fit in.

Why do they feel the need to do that? Does it have anything to do with the fact that one of human’s biggest fears is to end up alone? Do we want only the best for our characters? When you really work on a story and your heart is in it, those characters become your babies. It’s natural that you want them to get treated equally. But I don’t think it benefits the story if everyone has a relationship. A book or televisionshow can only tell part of the story. I think it’s wise to let some characters be single, so you can really focus on their individual growth. I’m noticing that I’m becoming less of a shipper and actually prefering characters to stay single for a while, because their own story needs to be told.

Captain-Swan-kiss-once-upon-a-time-35853726-500-280

Another example is the ‘shippingwar’ of Once Upon A Time. Be warned, there be spoilers ahead. Emma, the saviour and main character of the show, was once a strong independant woman. She had one important relationship: her son Henry. In the latest episodes there seems to be a need for a romantic partner. The father of her child Neill or the charming bad boy captain Hook. Especially the latter has been gaining a lot of fans. ‘Captain Swan’ is a hot item on tumblr. But people, think about it. Forget your infatuation for this obviously charming man with that accent and think about the situation. What would a storyline between Captain Hook and Emma Swann bring to the table? What would it matter to the plot? I think both are great characters, but putting them together will make a terribly boring story. Would you really want to see Captain Hook as Henry’s second daddy? Where’s the adventure in that? I think Captain Hook is to represent the adventurous side of Emma. The risks she loves to take and the badass power persuasion powers she can possess. Putting them together will take this away for both of them. I like Emma at her best when she is the independant mother, fighting for her kid.

It’s not that I don’t love romance stories. One of my favorite books and all time classics is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. This doesn’t necessarily tell the story of them as a couple, but it does show us how they came to be. It’s exciting and thrilling even to this date. It makes almost every reader want a Mr. Darcy. The thing is that Lizzy and Darcy grow as a person by overcoming their prejudice and getting together. Nowadays I feel like some couples in stories only take a step back by starting a relationship.

What I want to see is powerful single women and men! Sometimes a person doesn’t need to have a relationship, but actually needs to be alone for awhile. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s called personal growth. Why do we feel the need to ship everything just to fill our own void?

Do you disagree on anything that I’ve mentioned here? Different people, different opinions and thoughts. I’d love to hear what you think on this matter. Don’t be afraid to start a discussion and let me know what you think.

Dear Wifi

Dear Wifi,

I remember when I first laid eyes on a wifi connection. It must have been around ten years ago. Perhaps even at this time of the year: my birthday.
Sometimes you just know it clicks. I knew when I entered the password. You took me to places I’d never thought existed. I’ve met friends through you. You make me feel connected. You encouraged me to share my writing with others. This has gained me confidence, as a writer and a person. I’m a better person because of you. I truly believe that. I don’t care what others say. That I’m obsessed or that they don’t understand what I see in you. I’m aware of their words, but they can’t hurt me. They can’t hurt what we have. Can they?

There are times when you are leaving me. The past couple of days you seem to come and go by the second. What did I do wrong, Wifi? Did my tumblr dash make you see things that you wish you didn’t?
I know that you are still young, wifi. We’ve only met a couple of weeks ago. They replaced my old connection with you. I’ve only known that fella for two years, but he’s never let me down as much as you. I’m not trying to be mean, I’m just being real here. You can’t just cut off my connection and let my other housemates keep connecting to you. I’m not asking you to be a slut, I’m just asking you to give us our fair share of what we paid for. You only had one job. To connect me to my social media, games and streaming devices. All I’m asking you is to be there for when I need you. With you I want to make time for adventures, fight in guild wars, keep an eye out on Sherlock and be stuck at home while other kids are trapped in strange lands. Is that really too much to ask?

Maybe you’re not feeling well. I know this is all new for you and it has to be a lot to take in. But they promised me you could do it. They promised me you would be faster than your successor.
I still want to believe in you. I’m giving you another chance. Two if you need  that. But then please, don’t let me down. The truth is I need you. I know you think I’m just using you to get to others. That you’re just a pawn in my game. But you’re not.
Let me tell you a secret. Sometimes I like to have some one on one time with you. Don’t you enjoy the time we have spent so far? I guess what I’m trying to say is that I like you. I really want this to work, but you have to help me out here. Please, be there for me, wireless internet connection.

Your Rowie

PS: Did I mention it was my 21st birthday yet? I’m not trying to be the victim here but you’re really low for leaving me on my birthday.

Welcome to my Life 7

I’m getting worse and worse at keeping up with posting these updates, while I really do enjoy writing them. Last week was rather special since I got to see my idol. Of course there were the usual events as well.

Rebecca and I went to the muniment room once again on Tuesday. Things still aren’t speeding up for our assignment. We have to do some research about textileworkers from Tilburg, that lived there in 1900. We are currentely researching Peter de Kort and his offsprings. Some classmates of ours have had quite a success with their findings, but us… not so much. Although we did find that one of Peter’s daughters divorced, which was really rare in such a time. Couples were usually married for life, even when love had faded ages ago. It’s interesting to see what did move them to divorce. Especially because it was a big shame during those ages. Especially the wife much have been shunned by the community.

In preparation of a guest lecture on Wednesday I read the Dutch novel ‘Perfecte Stilte’ (meaning Perfect Silence). This was our first guest lecture for a fiction writer, which was a nice change. I went on to do this minor course called Creative Writing at my school that teaches solely Journalism, but sometimes I feel the focus relies more on Litary Journalism/New Journalism/Non-fiction. Which is technically not why I signed up for this half year course. I signed up because I missed a creative outlet in my Journalism classes and it seemed wonderful to focus on all sorts of writing assignments for a while. We ARE getting classes in which we have to write poems and get coached to help us with our fiction, but a huge part of the programme has to do with journalism. It’s not that I don’t like this, for I am majoring Journalism, it’s just that I was hoping to do something a little different for the past couple of months.

Perfecte Stilte is a novel by Thomas Verbogt. He is not a well-known author in The Netherlands, apart from the right circles. That has nothing to do with the amount of his work or the quality of it. I was really impressed by his novel. Verbogt doesn’t waste many words on events that have nothing to do with the story. He doesn’t spend pages of useless descriptions nor long dialogues. He uses exactly the right amount of words to capture the essence of the story. The way a character speaks changes from person to person. Verbogt told us that he dislikes writers that always write the same kind of dialogue. That’s not how people talk in real life, so that’s not how it should be in books. This was a fact that I’ve never noticed before, but he’s so right. I’ll definately remember this advice. For all the writers out there. He had a few other good tips: set a wordcount for each chapter and delete words when you’ve written too many (this will get rid of any unnecessary descriptions), create suspension by letting your character have a secret which you slowly unravel and try building your characters before writing the story. Thomas always works on the characters before deciding his plot. This way he actually knows the people he’ll be writing about and can decide exactly which choices they’ll be making. Genius!

His novel Perfecte Stilte deals with heavy subjects such as suicide and abuse. The content doesn’t feel as heavy, because he doesn’t spend a lot of words on the drama. This makes the book feel less judgemental and heavy. The lay-out also helps, since there are a lot of spaces in between the sentences. He specifically asked this of his publisher.

Wednesday was a good day. After this interesting guest lecture it was time for Maria Mena. I’ve written about it in this post, so I won’t go into full detail here. Maria is amazing. She wowed me with her lovely voice and honesty. I’ve grown up with her songs and can sympathize with most of them. Maria Mena is one of my biggest influences as a writer. I still strive to be as open with my feelings as she can be.

tumblr_mwzb42UKfq1rvhtq6o6_1280

I wasn’t a huge fan of her new album Weapon in Mind. Not to say that I didn’t like it, but it weren’t the honest gutwrenching ballads she presented me with. Instead her new material has some beats that have more of a dance vibe. Some of the songs sound less like a cohesion, productionwise. However they were great live! The beats really brought a more intense dimension to the performance and had me slightly shaking my hips and nodding along to the music. I had such a great time that I am seriously considering going to her live concert in my hometown Tilburg in February 2014.

On Saturday my mom and I went to do some phone shopping. At the moment I was torn between the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini or the iPhone 4S 8GB. I couldn’t quite make the cut, so we postponed it to next Saturday. The deals really aren’t as good as two years ago when I got my Samsung Galaxy S Plus. Back then there used to be huge Christmas sales, but nowadays they don’t exist. Also, the subscriptionfees nearly aren’t as cheap as they were back then. Shucks. I’ve currentely decided on getting the iPhone, which will cost me 7 euros more than my current subscription. The poor student in me is not happy.

On Sunday Amy and I went to visit my dear friend Irene in Maastricht. We got into christmas spirits by visting Magisch Maastricht, which had a ‘christmas fair’ and ice skating facilities. After that we went to a bookstore in Maastricht, which is known as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. This branch of Polare is settled in a 700 year old church, complete with the beautiful windows and columns. If you’re ever in the area do pay a visit. All bookstores need to be treasured, but especially this beautiful example.
Irene, Amy and I spent the rest of the day catching up with some tea, hot chocolate and apple pie, eating Japanese curry and watching Wreck It Ralph. Unfortunately we had to catch the train home sooner than we hoped. I was a bit hesitant about traveling a total of 4,5 hours by train, but I’ve not regretted it one bit. I’m blessed to have such real friends. Whenever we get together it’s like no time has past. It always feels like the old days. Thanks for being there.

And with that December has begun. Which means it’s the last month of the year. It also means NaNoWriMo is over and I failed miserably. I did however push the boundaries and wrote an addition to the story that will make the hearts race of any fangirl of some specific pairing that I will not mention because it’s unlike me and very embarrassing.  I used it as comedic relief, but I’m still not exactly sure why I wrote it. I guess I’m just into trying things that I’ve always was so resistent to try as a writer. I’ve yet to figure out why this is exactly, but I am interested in learning about things that I I somewhat feel embarrassed about, dislike or cannot understand. That’s why I decided years ago that I would write about a boy that played with the hearts of girls.

December is very exciting, because it’s a month of festivities. And it’s my birthday. Have I mentioned my birthday? I’m turning 21 and for the past twenty years I’ve always gotten a little too excited about birthdays. I have to not so subtly mention it in front of my friends, so if you’re reading this, don’t say I didn’t warn you.