On this day, four years ago . . .

Thoughts on Deathly Hallows, Writing, and the Muse

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows adult edition cover artOn 1 August 2007, I was still reeling from having read Deathly Hallows in a marathon reading session a little over a week before, and was recovering from my shock and disappointment. As I was reading, I kept waiting for the book to get better, kept waiting for it to feel like the Harry Potter series I had come to know and love.

I know that there were a lot of people who weren’t disappointed in the book, but I was. It wasn’t merely who lived and who died — the greatest objection I had to any particular death was to Hedwig’s, which perhaps should have been an early warning sign for me that I wasn’t going to be satisfied with the book (but it did seem to typify the stupid and selfish side of Harry that we occasionally saw in the books — hey, we’re all that way sometimes, especially when we’re teenagers) — but the way the story unfolded, the feeling grew for me that a lot of the characters had become flat and two-dimensional, that a lot of the narrative was purposeless, and that there were plot points inserted that weren’t in keeping with the rest of the series.

Beyond that, though, there was magic that didn’t make sense. Some people may say, hey, magic is magic, and it’s fiction, so what’s to make sense? But especially in fantasy and science fiction literature, there should be an inner cohesiveness, and an internal order, to the invented magic, futuristic science, or other imaginative and “nonreal” elements. Otherwise, it loses its sense of being a real universe, albeit a fictional one.

But now’s not the time for me to rehash all of this again. I certainly wrote and talked about it enough four years ago, and intermittently since then. I have to say that I love the world that JKR created for us, and so many of her characters, even those who were iconic, felt like flesh-and-bJ.K. Rowling's The Philosopher's Stone cover art - adultlood people, people we might meet and have a pint with. I’m grateful for her creativity and grateful to the editors who finally recognized the quality of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and published it.

When I first read PS, it struck me that it was like reading a favorite book from my childhood, but one I hadn’t read before. It had all the elements that I’d enjoyed in fiction when I was growing up, and it even had that fictional “never-was” Britain of so much children’s literature, and yet it felt more real, possibly because it was set in the present day with references to modern culture.

Albus and young Minerva from Resolving a Misunderstanding banner 2So four years ago today, I posted chapter seventy, “Forever in the Sun,” of Resolving a Misunderstanding. In the three weeks of July leading up to the publication of Book Seven, I had posted a dozen chapters of Resolving a Misunderstanding, driven to post as much of the story as I could before Deathly Hallows’ publication. I was concerned that I would either lose all motivation to write and post my fic after the final book came out, or that readers would expect me to write Resolving a Misunderstanding to be compliant with Deathly Hallows.  I’d already had a complete outline of the story for months, plus future draft chapters and copious notes. I didn’t want to lose the story, but I didn’t know whether I would continue to write after reading Book Seven.

Fortunately, although DH did rather stun me, I decided that was no reason not to continue writing. After all, I had always known that Resolving a Misunderstanding was AU. I did wish, though, that I’d managed to post the Dumbledore back-story before DH came out, since that was quite different in many ways from what we saw in DH, and yet I felt that the back-story I had created was in keeping with the Dumbledore we had come to know and love in the first six books. That back-story did eventually make it into RaM in chapters one hundred-one through one hundred-three, which weren’t posted until November 2007.

So while Deathly Hallows did turn many writers away from fanfiction, either permanently or temporarily, and even many readers, for me, it was an impetus to continue writing the story that I’d already begun and which I felt attached to. Beyond that, it motivated me to write a sequel to An Act of Love, which I’d been unsure about doing. Though as I said in more than one review response to An Act of Love, who knows what affect a miscast spell might have on things to come, and it occurred to me even while writing An Act of Love that it might be interesting to write an AU version of year 6 in which that one spell changed everything for Severus, though I had not yet decided to do so. But that miscast spell did create an internal change in Severus that could later affect his behavior. And so I used that as the jumping off point for Death’s Dominion.

Death's Dominion icon based on DD bannerI began writing Death’s Dominion just a few weeks after reading Deathly Hallows, though it then took me a few months to finish a first draft of it and start revising it again for posting. While writing the first draft of Death’s Dominion, I continued to update An Act of Love with the final chapters — I had completed AAoL through chapter ten by the end of April, which was the bulk of the story, posted the final chapter, chapter fifteen, in mid-September, but waited to post the epilogue until I was ready to begin posting Death’s Dominion — and kept updating Resolving a Misunderstanding on a regular basis until it was finally finished in May 2008.

Death’s Dominion was, and remains, the most complex of my fanfics, and it’s probably my best one, in terms of writing, plotting, characterization, structure, and narrative themes. As I revised Death’s Dominion for posting, I expanded on many of the original themes in the first draft and, in particular, on the theme of love and redemption, trying to show this in the characters’ interactions as well as in the plot itself. I moved chapters around — making it less discontinuous than I’d originally planned, but taking great care with precisely how the discontinuous plots unfolded, playing the two main story-lines against each other and weaving them together — and in the end, the story was also almost twice as long as I’d originally planned.

Oddly enough, although I wrote Death’s Dominion in part as a reaction to Deathly Hallows, writing it actually distanced me from the feelings I’d had immediately after reading Book 7, and I found that I could muster a good deal of warmth and appreciation for the series as a whole despite my disappointment in the final book. In addition, although I did make one small strain of Death’s Dominion a “DH-twister,” even that bit of “twisting” didn’t play much of a role, and indeed, as I wrote Death’s Dominion, I rarely thought of DH even in passing, and never referred to it. Death’s Dominion took on a life of its own, and it took me with it — and it was a bit like white water rafting at times!

Anyway, over the last four years since Deathly Hallows was published, I’ve written many more stories, and I still have a few going, two of which grew directly out of Death’s Dominion. Although I’m spending less time on my writing than I used to — although I did often go through dry spells when RL just didn’t let me do any writing — I do still enjoy it, and I am still amazed at the creation of characters, scenes, plots, and having them flow from my head to the page, finding words to capture some bit of the story of these wholly imaginary people with their fictional lives and troubles, and to see that my writing can move people in different ways, whether to laughter or to tears. It’s just . . . awesome, to use an over-used but very apt term.

I didn’t dream five years ago that I would be writing Harry Potter fanfiction, even though I was an avid reader of it (though the “MMADfan” moniker was born with the first chapter of RaM), and I certainly never would have believed that I’d write over a couple million words of fanfiction and still be writing it a year after the final book was published. Fanfiction has become a part of my life, and I’ve met some really wonderful people through it. And more than that, I have found that the Harry Potter series itself has become a part of my life — not the most important part, nor the most influential part, but a thread that has been woven through my days and helped shaped my consciousness since I read the first three books back in 1999. I’m glad I did. Thanks, JKR, for a wonderful gift.

Do you write fanfiction? Are you a fanfic reader? Did the end of the Harry Potter series change your relationship with fanfiction? Has fanfiction itself had an impact on your life?

16 responses to “On this day, four years ago . . .

  1. Fanfic has always been an interesting way to explore “might-have-beens” within the HP world, in particular the fates of specific characters. Well-written AUs are one of my favorite genres of fanfic to read for exactly that reason. 🙂

    • I agree: AUs may be my favorite, and I think they always were, though the stories I read before the last books of the series came out were not deliberately AU, they were written knowing that the actual series would be nothing like them. Some of the best times in fanfic, I think, were before the last two or three books were written, when we had a lot of canon to go on, a lot of wonderful characters, and a good sense of what the HP/Hogwarts world was like, and yet there was still so much possibility. All that fanfic reading didn’t put me off the books in the slightest — to the contrary, I was even more “into” the series as a result, and always preordered my books, waiting impatiently for them to arrive from amazon.co.uk.

      The books are still a great source of inspiration, and I like to think that I’m mostly canon-compliant through the first five or six books (though obviously in the RaMverse, the events in AAoL changed things in year 6, since Severus, as a result, refused to act in accordance with the Vow).

      Long live fanfic! 😉

  2. I never would have thought, when I picked up the first Harry Potter book, that I would end up writing fanfics with some of my great friends. My best friend and I have been writing fanfics for ages and our writing has certainly evolved. Harry Potter fanfics were my first, ever, and the story of Harry Potter and all the ones I’ve written, co-authored, or read will hold special places in my heart!

    Like you, I have met some wonderful friends through the Harry Potter connection and my love of Albus & Minerva. LIFE IS GREAT!!!

  3. I’ve largely embraced canon because I enjoy the challenge of fitting my notions into it, and of course, I have the benefit of having begun writing fanfic only recently, so I haven’t confronted the dilemmas you did.

    That said, I love AU fic when it’s well done and the world in which it is set doesn’t circumvent canon simply to enable a particular ‘ship or other obsession of the author’s. The world you created in the RAMverse works beautifully and logically and is truly an “Alternate Universe” as opposed to just fiddling with canon.

    Magic not making sense is one of my biggest gripes with the canon Potterverse overall. A zillion kudos to Ms. Rowling for imagining such a wonderful and rich world, but I’m nothing if not (usually) logical and the little inconsistencies just niggle the hell out of me. I frequently find myself writing a passage simply to ‘splain something that should not have been a problem in the first place. (*Wags finger like a science teacher.*)

    I think I’ve said before, I don’t think I’ve read anyone who makes more sense of the magic than you do, so kudos and thanks from an overly-persnickity fan.

    • Hi, Squibstress! Thank you very much! That certainly is something that’s important to me, as well, so I’m glad you think that I do manage to make sense of the magic. I hope it remains magical, at the same time!

      I think that when you begin writing fanfic does make a difference, as you say. I began began reading fanfic occasionally in around 1999 or 2000, and began “imagining” fanfic while reading GoF & OotP. I think this is one reason why the films have had little impact on my fics — I began reading the books before the movies came out, and was already thinking about possible plots, so I had pretty firm mental images of the people and places from reading the books. Also, because I began writing before DH came out, it did “free” me to write more AU fic, though I do like to keep the spirit of the HP world intact, and to keep canon compliant until the point where the stories split.

      I have to say, though, that writing an AU fic was a wonderful way to “save” a couple characters, but I did want to do it in a way that was consistent with the stories that had gone before it and that was in keeping with the bulk of the Harry Potter canon. I think the stories I wrote have sufficient plot (!) that they don’t seem to be merely written to just enable a ‘ship or circumvent some part of canon I found “inconvenient”! 😛 And I have not always had “happy endings” for all of my characters, even one of my favorites, Malcolm, but his end was fitting, and I couldn’t have written the stories I did and not have had his own character take the path it did, even if I miss having him in later books. (But the great thing about fiction is that I can still write characters who later die — just writing stories set earlier than that. :))

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments!

  4. I have this whole new family of fan-fic sisters because of JKR. Yay!

  5. I came here to see the dinner party seating plan but read your entry about DH and fanfic and had to reply. I was unaware that fanfic even existed until the day I finished DH. I planned on just reading one chapter a day to make it last but finished the book the second day. I was so distraught over the characters who were killed and the fact that the first part of the book seemed to be aimless with no Hogwarts or the professors, that I went online looking for a place to share my thoughts and see if others felt the same as I did. I discovered the wonderful world of Harry Potter fanfic and have been hooked ever since. I love the Harry Potter books and JKR is my favorite author. That being said, as I watched the last movie I kept thinking about Death’s Dominion and wishing that battle scene were being acted out instead. I definitely missed seeing Gertrude, Gareth and Snape’s Slytherins standing up to Riddle. For me fanfic has increased my love for HP and JKR, and if there is something in the books or movies I don’t like I know I will find a piece of fanfic that reworks it in a way that I like and “makes it better” for me. Thank you and all the fanfic writers who have given me hundreds of hours of reading pleasure.

    • That is a cool way to have stumbled into fanfiction! And how lovely to know that it helped you get over your distress about the last book, and even managed to enrich your appreciation for the HP books.

      I sweated and labored over that battle chapter in Death’s Dominion, and getting the pacing and rhythm of it “right” took a lot of time. I also felt it important, and actually quite natural, to give a group of Slytherins an important role in the battle, one on the side of Hogwarts and not Voldy’s, and it seemed fitting that they have the particular role that they did. I remember when I first posted it, some people compared it (in whatever way) to the one in the book (and usually saying nice things about the Death’s Dominion version), and I actually sort of blinked a bit in sudden awareness that there was that other, canon version. I had so completely put it out of my mind, it seemed very remote from my story and the way I (and Minerva!) orchestrated it in DD.

      I actually found HP fanfic because I had been reading Sherlock Holmes pastiches, and discovered some Harry Potter fanfic and gave it a try. I found enough good stories to keep me coming back for more!

  6. I was a fanfiction reader for years then finally a fanfiction writer. I have never written HP though. In fact, I haven’t written anything other than the very rare short little snippet sincde 2008 and I really miss it.

    I have made some very good friends through the fanfiction community and I think my writing in and out of the genre has improved as a result.

    As one of my favorite all time writers, I am so happy you were moved to write the stories you have. I’ve enjoyed them more than I did any of the HP books. You took the characters I loved in HP (the adults) expanded on them in wonderfuly believable ways and then created amazing new characters and plots. I have to say your stories are a highpoint of my fanfiction reading experience and I sincerly hope you keep writing.

    I was also quite disappointed in DH (I won’t get distractd with a rant on all the reasons why) and not thrilled by HBP.

    • Hi, OldFashionedGrl! I’m very glad you enjoy my stories — I do hope to be writing them for a while yet, and certainly to finish the ones I’ve begun!

      Were you reading other fanfiction before Harry Potter, or did you read Harry Potter fanfic and then move on and read others as well? I haven’t been moved to write in other fandoms, myself (other than starting a “Mulberry” story a couple years ago that has languished about a quarter of the way through, and I did write a bit of a Sherlock Holmes story at one point). I wonder whether many fanfic authors do write in a variety of fandoms, or whether they mostly stick with one.

      For me, the characters and world of Harry Potter resonated with something in me, and I felt moved to write it. Looking at other fandoms for books or shows that I enjoy, I haven’t been struck in quite that way. Also, I think that one reason I have written pretty exclusively in the HP-fanfic universe is having written RaM and all the stories that grew out of that. I have a sense of the universe and the characters, and there is just a really rich vein of stories to be mined there, I almost don’t have “room” for fics from other fictional universes! 😉

      • I began reading Star Trek fanfic (specifically The Next Generation and very specifically – Picard/Crusher) When I discovered fanfic for other shows I enjoyed I read those as well. I was a huge fan of West Wing and that’s the fandom where I began writing. After West Wing my TV obsession became Gilmore Girls and those are the stories I’m most proud of and would like to get back to writing. Like you (but on a much smaller scale) I had one story that spawned several involved followups I even wrote with a partner on some of them because they were just so big. It was a wonderful and fun experience. We outlined where we wanted the series to go and I wold really like to get back to them to see it all played out.

        I read many more fandoms than I would ever contemplate writing. I just have to feel something special for the characters and think I have a chance of getting their voices right in my head. Probably because I’ve only written in TV fandoms, everything pretty much stems from the dialogue for me.

        I enjoy reading stories that are written well, which is why you are the top of my list. I just can’t read bad writing even if it’s for my all time favorite fandom and pairing. More than anything good writing sucks me in and I find myself enjoying characters and things I never thought I would.

        • I think that writing fanfic based on TV series is different from writing based on books. As you say, dialogue becomes especially important, and doing it well, because we are so used to hearing the characters and the cadence of their speech; we need to have that translated onto the page in a way that really evokes the characters as they’re portrayed by the specific actors.

          I enjoy writing dialogue, anyway — to me, it’s one of the best ways of revealing character and relationships — but it was different writing the “Mulberry” characters with the right “voices” because I was so familiar with the characters as portrayed by the actors in the series (and there was no book to reference, which was both more freeing & less, somehow).

          BTW, if you don’t know “Mulberry,” it’s a wonderful British comedy/drama starring Geraldine McEwan and Karl Howman. It was sadly cut short before the final year of the series could be filmed, but that just leaves more room for us to imagine an ending! (Geraldine McEwan is one of the actresses who I wish had had a role in the HP movies and didn’t.)

          I hope you get back to writing fanfiction, since you do enjoy it! 🙂

  7. Its great to know others take fanfic as serious as i do 🙂

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