Friday, April 28, 2017

One More Story? I'm Not Tired!


Growing up in a digital world may not be as terrifying as you think.  ♦ 
A scene familiar to many: a child sitting in the lap of their parent, moving their finger from word to word as the parent reads it aloud, flipping the page once they get to the end of the sentence they memorized twenty times before, looking at the same illustrations and laughing at the same funny voices as a dim light shines on them.
   Today, adapt that memory to options of flashy games, a digitized voice reading the story, and bright LED lights reflecting off the face of the parent and child. These come in an array of tablet applications, some with a section for young children’s stories and others devoted purely to adolescent children’s books. This might seem like a scary new reality for those of us who fondly recall the good old days of print . . . but for the generation growing up digital, it might not be so scary at all.
   The increasing market of e-books has strong selling points, including space and cost efficiency. But there's also a strong, surprising benefit when it comes to e-books and literacy: children who are opposed to reading may find unexpected interest in e-books, associating them with technology and engaging lights and colors. When a child’s playtime on their iPad is limited and must be balanced with equal time reading, reading on an electronic device will likely seem more inviting. However, e-books might also negatively impact children’s development in the stages of learning to read, and early tests to determine the effect of e-books on reading comprehension have led to mixed results.
   A recent study comparing parent-child co-reading across print, basic, and enhanced e-book platforms found both formats of books effective across many different aspects. All formats, for example, led to equal numbers of children being able to explain critical plot points of a story, though those who read print versions were able to better recall more specific narrative details, even those seeming insignificant. But, while print books were found to be more beneficial for comprehension, e-books were actually more effective at engaging children and encouraging physical interaction between the children and their stories.
   Perhaps one reason comprehension has lagged behind with e-books is that designers can get too easily carried away with the interface, having too many elements which lead to distractions from the plot. It is simple and logical to add enhancements to make reading enjoyable and interactive, but too many sounds and games can reduce emphasis from the plot of the story, overstimulating a child to a point where they are no longer absorbing information. A criticism in this realm includes children getting lost and forgetting that the main goal of sitting down with a story is to read it. Likewise, having the meaning of words unfamiliar to a child easily accessible via a link can lead to a larger vocabulary, but it can also hinder problem-solving skills. With print books, when a child does not know a word, they are urged to sound it out and use surrounding words to discover its meaning, not hold a finger on the word until it is spoken aloud for pronunciation and definition. Though children may be drawn to books with an abundance of interactive features, parents should take caution in determining if the “extra stuff” is useful or not.
   For adolescents who are older, studies show that reading a print book leads to better comprehension. A Norwegian study of tenth graders reading a PDF versus a print book showed that students who read a text in print better understand it. This is partially due to spatio-temporal markers, i.e., knowing where in the story a specific point occurred because students could feel in each hand how many pages had passed and how many still had to be read. Additionally, readers who are immersed in a text often recall where on a page information was given (on the right on the top of the page, etc.). On a PDF where one must scroll, the information moves all over the place, and the inconstancy of the placement of words on a page led to a less clear memory of information read.
   But what about those elements of the reading experience that can't be so easily measured in a study? I so fondly recall my nighttime routine in preschool and elementary school, squatting in front of my bookshelf overflowing with picture books and their colorful covers, taking the task of choosing one very seriously. (Or two, if I’d tried a new food that day.) I’d then sit in my dad’s lap and follow along word by word with my stubby pointer finger. Such a memory has led me to have initial feelings of doubt in accepting e-books as a medium for children to use when learning to read. However, I believe e-books can serve as a positive gateway to reading for those not as naturally engaged. It is important for parents to assess the needs of their child to determine what type of memory you want to create for them. If the method chosen is one which is stress-free and enjoyable, then the means by which the child learns to read doesn’t matter, as long as they are learning at all.
  • About the Author
    Hannah Spector is a freshman at Miami University. She is currently in the University Studies program with interests spanning from politics to children to nutrition and health. She also enjoys running, Americas' salads, and any 20-minute period of free time that can be spent watching The Office.

    Staying in the Lines


    Adult coloring books are more than publishing's newest fad...they're a new way to practice mindfulness.  ♦ 
    I pulled an unexpected gift out of my stocking this past Christmas: a book. I hadn't gotten a new book for Christmas in years (that is, if I’m not counting the Kindle I got in the ninth grade). However, it wasn't just any book; it was a coloring book. "Moment of Mindfulness," the cover read. As I flipped through the plentiful number of pages depicting unique stencils, I found myself somewhat confused.
       "Haven't you heard?" my mom said. "Everyone is doing it."
       Coloring books have been around for a very long time—since the 1880s, in fact, when the first coloring book, “The Little Folk’s Painting Book,” was produced by New York's McLoughin Brothers—but what is it about a book of simple black-and-white stencils that's kept them around for so long? If you are as nostalgic as I am, coloring books bring back memories that denote leisure time outside of the classroom, when nothing was better than designing something creative and tangible that was all on our own. Whether it was car rides, play dates, long family dinners, you name it, coloring books were fun, constant companions.
       Besides keeping their kids well entertained, parents often have other intentions when setting a coloring book in front of their child. Professionals have noted numerous educational as well as brain-developing benefits of coloring, which incorporate all-around improvement of motor skills. Coloring books are living proof that learning can be fun and enjoyable.
       These days, though, it's as common to see a child holding a tablet as it is to see them holding a coloring book and bag of crayons. This, in part, is due to the countless amounts of coloring book apps available to parents on their tablets. Don’t get me wrong: technology has offered children an array of beneficial digital experiences, most of which have the opportunity to provide a vast audience with attainable educational experiences anywhere they go. However, parents as well as educators are becoming concerned that this increase in technology usage has led to decreases in the attention span of these children. In a survey conducted by The Pew Research Center, it was found that out of nearly 2,500 teachers, 87% believe that technologies are creating an “easily distracted generation with short attention spans.” Educators are becoming worried that they'll have to adjust their teaching styles to fit the needs of this short-attention-spanned generation.
       But the younger generations aren't the only ones affected by the technology boom. Adults have already adjusted to digital by purchasing reading devices such as Kindles or tablets, or reading their news online on browsers or apps. We've become so accustomed to multitasking and performing day-to-day activities in the fastest, most efficient ways possible through our constant use of technology that we have forgotten the simpler days of paper and crayon.
       Did someone say mindfulness?
      Let me bring you back to Christmas morning. As I sat in my living room flipping through the stencils before me, I began to feel nostalgic about the days in which a quiet coloring book brought me the most simple, peaceful, yet vibrant joys. As I read the back cover, I discovered that these feelings were not forsaken. Adult coloring books had become the new fad, and there was not a technology out there to match them (or stop them).
       Since 2015, adult coloring books have increasingly appealed to the adult market, intending to provide peace of mind within one of their favorite pastimes. These books have been sweeping bookstores across the nation, as well as taking spots on bestseller lists. The idea for the adult coloring book came from Gabe Coeli, a mother, doctor, and wife of Blue Store Coloring’s CEO. She told the company how she and other doctors she worked with had found themselves coloring in their young patients' coloring books and found that the activity not only helped bide time but also relieved stress. The company jumped on the idea of making a coloring book for adults and released the book“Stress Relieving Patterns" in March of 2015, By May, the book was pronounced a #1 National Bestseller on Amazon; since then, it has sold millions.
       Believe it or not, psychologists and therapists who jumped on this bandwagon are now prescribing these books to their patients. All fun aside, adult coloring books provide mental benefits just like children’s coloring books do, and professionals point to extensive amounts of therapeutic benefits that adult coloring books provide, having the potential to aid with emotional and mental issues by taking the focus off the negative and focusing their attention elsewhere. Patients are able to relieve themselves of their stresses for moments in time and more easily cope with difficult emotions. Coloring has even been proven to help with PTSD disorders.
       Ultimately, adult coloring books have given grown-ups the opportunity to gain peace of mind and enjoy any number of therapeutic benefits. Alongside such medical benefits, they have also brought a generation back to a time and place of simplicity, a time that elicits an era of purity and ease. A time when one’s worries only consisted of a crayon and paper. With luck, maybe the younger generation will learn something from adults, moving away from the mindless act of technology toward the mindful act associated with tangibility.
  • About the Author
    Eleanor Chambers is a senior Professional Writing major at Miami University. She loves to travel and is fascinated with exploring different cultures around the world.

    Wednesday, April 26, 2017

    The Book Was Better . . . Or Was It?


    We've all left film adaptations of favorite novels muttering about how "the book was better." But is that always the case?  ♦ 
    There have been a countless number of novels turned into full-length feature films over the years. In fact, I was browsing through a list of books that have been brought to life on the big screen and was surprised to realize that big films like P.S. I Love You, World War Z, and The Firm were all written on paper before big-name actors and actresses performed them. In spite of the massive box office successes of these adaptations, I think most people believe that the book is almost always better than the movie . . . but I'm not convinced that's really the case.
       To start off, I should probably inform you that I was completely obsessed with The Twilight Saga and had so much anxiety and anticipation leading up to the release of Breaking Dawn: Part 2, the last film in the series, that I could make a coffee addict hyped up on caffeine look calm. What if the director changed one of my favorite scenes from the book? What if he did not even include a certain favorite scene in the film due to time constraints? All completely normal concerns for anyone in this predicament, but nonetheless, I wanted the movie to be perfect because it was the end of the series, and there'd be nothing new to look forward to with the end of these character’s stories.
       My friends and I headed to the theater a week after the film had been released, and I couldn't believe that, after these quick two hours, something that'd meant so much to me would be over. Near the end of the film, the leaders of the vampire race, the Volturi, descend upon the “vegetarian” (because they hunt animals and not people) Cullen clan because they have been told that two of the family members, Bella and Edward, have created an immortal child. These immortal children are vampires turned at an age where they cannot control their bloodlust and, therefore, draw attention to themselves and their feeding rituals. However, Bella and Edward’s child, Renesmee, is half-vampire, half-human, so she has the capacity to learn to control her thirst and poses no danger to the human race. All the Cullens run around the world trying to locate their vampire friends and ask them to bear witness to the fact that she grows like a human does.
       In the movie, the two sides stand on opposite ends of a field and the Volturi leader, Aro, calls people forward so he can use his special talent to read their memories, effectively stopping any attempt at lying. One of the other Cullens, Alice, has the ability to see the future and shows up late to this confrontation because she was searching for another person like Renesmee, to prove that she will not be a danger to society. When Alice shows Aro what will happen if he decides to attack the Cullens and their witnesses (his death, along with many other key characters' on both sides of the battle), the director of the film makes it seem like it is actually happening until the end when the audience comes to find out it was merely Alice’s vision.
       But, before that's made clear to the audience, I, as an avid Twilight fan, sat in the theater so upset that the director thought he could kill off so many important characters to the story and ruin the “happily ever after.” In this sense, as a first-time viewer with no idea what was going on, I hated the movie for a brief moment because I was always rooting for the happy ending, and it was seemingly taken from me by a director who'd gone rogue. It was a risky move on the director's part, a risky interpretation of this moment . . . but now I actually look forward to this moment in the film, because I think it really makes the audience feel what it is like to be in Alice’s shoes, and we can see more of her side of the story that is lost in the books.
       There are several occasions where directors have neglected to put scenes from a book into its film adaptation due to time constraints, budget, and the overall flow of the movie. In fact, in the original Twilight novel, there are two different scenes where Bella and Edward each have a day to ask the other one any questions they want, though neither of these made it into the film. One of the criticisms of the movies is that the characters go from virtually not talking to dating in a super short amount of time, but if the producers of the film would have added these scenes, we would've gotten to see how they grow together and learn more about each other.
       Another film that took some creative liberties from its source text is Me Before You. The book as a whole is a story about a quadriplegic young man, Will, who misses his previous daredevil lifestyle, impeded by a motorcycle accident, so much that he wants to go through with an assisted suicide. The man’s mother hires a young woman, Louisa, to be his caretaker and bring him some happiness prior to his death, without telling her his plans. The pair initially butt heads but finally come to fall for each other. After Louisa figures out Will’s intention and the amount of time she has left with him, she makes all sorts of plans to go on a full range of adventures with him, to try to convince Will that life is worth living.After Will tells Louisa that he cannot love her the way he wants to and is still going to have the assisted suicide, the pair get in a fight and end all communication. On the day of Will’s planned death, Louisa rushes to the facility the procedure will take place in, the pair make last amends, and Will gives her a letter to read after he is gone.
       In the movie version, the directors focus much more on the relationship between Will and Louisa than the fact that author JoJo Moyes was trying to make a statement about assisted suicide. Yes, the topic is much darker than a story about two young people falling in love and overcoming obstacles, but isn’t that the point? Moyes’ novel was supposed to be a real look at the life of someone who cannot be the person they want to be or had been, and how hard it is to live with that, yet Hollywood made it into a fluffier version of a love story.
       It’s hard to say whether a book is better than a movie as a blanket statement—they are, after all, very different forms—but this brings up the question of what criteria might exist for making such a claim in the first place. Is it about how closely the movie follows the book? Is it about bringing the characters to life? It is about how down-to-the-details directors match up their props and settings to the environment of the book?
       I don’t know about you, but I think that the examples above show both sides of the coin. In some instances, films can struggle to fully bring a book's ideas or conceptions to life, and this is where a film might do well to creatively move away from the text. On the other hand, directors (and studios) want to sell movie tickets, so they sometimes have to change the storyline to be something more pleasing to a general moviegoing audience . . . even if, in doing so, they might be misrepresenting the point of their source material, or missing the point altogether. Either way, I think it's ultimately up to the audience—of the book or the movie—to decide which told the story best.
  • About the Author
    Ellen Kahle is a sophomore Journalism and Sports Management double major at Miami University with a passion for North Carolina basketball. She hopes to eventually work in UNC's basketball offices but knows that is a pretty big aspiration. Therefore, Ellen is shooting to work at the ACC network or help in the creation of ESPN's 30 for 30 films.

    Novel-to-Movie Adaptations: The Critical Components


    Lately, theaters are showing more and more novel-to-movie adaptions. But what makes an adaption good?  ♦ 
    The first time you watch the movie adaptation of your favorite novel is an unforgettable experience, and we all have books that we think would be a perfect fit for the big screen. But, regardless of what books have already been adapted or are on their way to being, there are always more books that readers would like to see made into films. (Personally, I am still waiting for the film adaptions of Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, and Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.) Readers spend years waiting to attend midnight movie premieres and watch parties, and then, when the movie is finally available, many fans praise the directors for how their well-loved novels were adapted . . . but there are always a number of vocal critics who think the movie poorly represents their beloved book. For these reasons, we wonder: What makes an adaption good? Why do some succeed when others fail? While there are no set rules to define or predict the success of a novel's movie counterpart, there are some general guidelines a director should consider when creating a solid book-to-film adaptation.

    The Importance of Plot

    Loyalty to the author’s plot is an important part of making a great movie adaptation. Recklessly changing or removing too much can greatly affect the story, as well as the message the author intended to convey. However, if done carefully, directors can make changes to the storyline that benefit the adaptation rather than hinder it.
       For example, the climax of Breaking Dawn, the final book in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, features a major confrontation between the main characters and their enemies — a mixture of vampires and werewolves with supernatural powers. The characters and readers expect this confrontation to escalate into a bloody battle, but, instead, the characters resolve the issue with an intense discussion. In the movie adaption, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2, the characters arrive to confront their enemies and there is a bloody battle with many casualties. However, it is quickly revealed that the battle was only a psychic vampire’s premonition — it did not actually happen and was only meant to convey the bloodshed that would occur if the two sides could not resolve their issues. The addition of this premonition greatly benefitted the movie overall — it captured the anticipation the readers felt while reading the novel and acknowledged the expectation that the well-known series deserved a bigger finale. But, most importantly, it accomplished this while still remaining true to the story’s original plot.
       By contrast, movies that are excessively unfaithful to their original texts tend to have less success. Chris Columbus’s adaption of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief completely altered the plot and purpose behind the novel. This book series focuses on the main character, Percy Jackson, and his adventures as a demigod — son of the Greek god Poseidon. However, the plot of the movie was driven by Percy’s search for his mother, where the plot of the book was driven by Percy’s search for the lightning bolt belonging to Zeus, a Greek god. This spurred a movie that was only loosely based on the book — an entirely disloyal adaption that angered fans and the author, who refused to watch the movie and asked teachers not to show it to their students.
       A new director, Thor Freudenthal, adapted the sequel, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Sea of Monsters, and also altered major plot points that led to a dishonest representation of the novel. These alterations included killing the main villain of the series, which limited the options for continuing to adapt the books. As a result, only two of the five Percy Jackson and the Olympians books were adapted to film.

    The Significance of Tone and Emotion

    When adapting a novel into a movie, it's crucial that the author’s tone and emotions are conveyed as they were in the text. The general tone and emotions of the characters must remain the same for the adaption to be successful.
       For example, the two main characters in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men are George and Lennie, the latter of whom has a mental disability. The two have a dependent but devoted relationship and, after Lennie accidentally murders someone, George kills Lennie to protect him from the consequences he will otherwise face. In the novel, George hesitates when he is about to kill Lennie. In Gary Sinise’s 1992 movie adaption, George’s hesitation is removed and he abruptly shoots Lennie from behind. However, George is clearly full of grief in both versions and that is crucial for the reader and viewer to understand: yes, George killed Lennie, but as swiftly and painlessly as possible so that he may avoid a crueler death later on. Therefore, the removal of George’s hesitation did not affect the scene overall because the director still stayed true to the tone and emotion of the original text.

    It's certainly possible (and often necessary) to alter the plot of a book in the course of adaption, so that the story makes sense to a moviegoing audience, but it's important that the author’s tone, message, and purpose are still in place. When adaptions are treated this way, they can honor a novel while also making the story less confusing or complicated, and more accessible, for a new group of fans.
  • About the Author
    Currently a senior at Miami University, James Harris is working on his Individualized Studies degree (focus in animal behavior) and a minor in Creative Writing. In his short time at Miami, he has won the Creative Scientific Writing Award and is now performing his own research on the gray squirrel. After graduation, he hopes to find a job in zookeeping as well as conservational research and scientific writing.

    The Cat in the Kindle: How E-books Are Affecting Young Readers


    There's now an entire generation of readers who've never known a print-only world. But that doesn't mean they don't know books.   ♦ 
    “Books are like stairs and e-books are like escalators. Both are good, but they're also different and are for different purposes, and escalators are never going to replace stairs.”
       My sister Carolyn, who works in the children’s section of Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati, explained this to me when I asked her thoughts on e-books infringing on the market for children’s books. As someone who has loved reading since an early age, I was rightfully apprehensive when considering how e-books are changing the literary world for the youngest age group. I was anxious about how Kindles and Nooks and other online reading devices are changing the way that people experience books; especially children, who have never lived in a world without e-readers. But Carolyn’s simple analogy reassured me, and also made me ponder how e-books alter the reading experience for children, and what positives and negatives they offer to a person who is learning about the world of literature.

    Children’s e-books: The many advantages

    Even though they might not have the same palpable, tactile features as a physical picture book, children’s e-books are interactive in ways that print books cannot be. Inventive online features and graphics can make a typical children’s story come to life for the reader. According to eBook Architects, a company that used to create e-book files, there are several advantages to reading a children’s story on an e-book rather than a print version. Their website lists the features that a Kindle can offer to a child’s reading experience. These include full-page zoom, single-page view, orientation rotation, embedded media, animations and interactivity, and narration overlays. These interactive qualities make e-books seem almost preferable to a typical print book. Since children often have such short attention spans, it’s fair to assume that these additions to a typical story would draw them more into a narrative and further develop their desire to read.
        In addition to these features, e-books also allow children to access a broader scope of stories. Since publishers can publish more books online than in print, children can find a wide range of stories that can be more inclusive and creative than the typical story that’s sold in a bookstore. Children can also purchase more books online since they are cheaper and easier to access, and therefore can increase the amount of stories that are available. As a kid who loved to get lost in a story, I think having this much access would’ve excited me as a child and further developed my love of reading, and I think the same sentiment can be applied to many children today.

    The digital downsides(?)

    While there are several positives to having a child read an e-book, there are also some consequences of e-readers on a child’s reading abilities. While most people feel a sort of nostalgia towards print versions of children’s stories, there are other reasons besides sentimentality as to why online books may not be as good for the children reading them. For one thing, while the interactive features of e-books have the potential to engage young readers and make them more excited about a book, they also can easily distract the child and take their attention away from the story they’re reading. In a study conducted at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center in New York, researchers compared the comprehension that children had towards an e-book compared to a physical copy of a story and found that children reading enhanced e-books “recalled significantly fewer narrative details than children who read the print version of the same story." So while e-books might be more engaging, they don’t seem to have the same educational qualities as a print book.
      This study epitomizes the fear I have for e-books and their effects on the youngest reading age group. For children who are growing up without ever knowing a world without the Internet, it’s unnerving to think of how this technology could alter the way that an entire generation reads stories. And, as it turns out, many parents feel the same way. According to a Scholastic Reading Report, 68 percent of parents prefer their children to read print books rather than their electronic counterparts. Most of this apprehension is likely due to the effects that a large amount of screen time could have on a child, but a good amount of the anxiety can be attributed the same nostalgia that I have regarding print books. People can’t help but worry about change, especially when it could have a negative effect on their children.

    More options, more readers

    Overall, I think my sister’s optimism about the permanence of physical children’s books in the literary marketplace is reasonable. As a person who interacts with children who are enthusiastic about stories, I trust that Carolyn has a solid perspective about how a lot of children feel about reading. She explained to me that as long as a child is reading, no matter what format it is, it’s beneficial in that it gives them a chance to fall in love with books.
       For those of us who nostalgically look back on the days when our parents would read us Goodnight, Moon or The Cat in the Hat before bedtime, it’s hard to accept that children don’t live in the same world that we did when we were their age. However, as long as they can still get lost in the worlds of stories, then it doesn’t matter what format they lose themselves in. Some children may take the stairs while others take the escalator, but what truly matters is that they all reach the same destination.
  • About the Author
    Annie Eyre is a freshman Creative Writing major at Miami University. Her favorite activities include writing, FaceTiming her dogs, and watching TV shows for hours on end.

    How to Effectively Run a Book Club


    Concerned that Book Club might become an Anything Else Club? Here are five ways of keeping yours on track.  ♦ 
    A book club always seems like a good idea at the start. You think about how well read you will be in a year. You can finally go to those family parties and brag about all the books you have read and maybe even sound a little more intelligent than you did last year. However, in order to attain scholarly status, you must first know how to run an effective book club, or it will likely turn into social hour filled with tall glasses of wine and snacks . . . a lot of snacks. And we all know Aunt Becky won't be wowed by your sommelier status.
       So, lest this fate befall you, here's a list of tips and tricks you can use to run an effective and successful book club this year:

    1. Find the Right People. This might mean going out of your comfort zone and creating a book club with people you are not that close with (gasp!). I know it sounds crazy, but some of your closest friends might not be the best readers. Look outside your bubble; reach out to acquaintances or friends of friends who are also interested in books. This is a great way to meet new people and a good way to introduce yourself to books you might not have picked off the shelf. It will also keep your book club on the right track if you are all interested and committed to reading.

    2. Set Guidelines. It is easy for a book club to get off topic. Create some ground rules for your club to follow. Do you want your book club to focus on one particular genre? Do you want to take turns picking a new book each time? Or is it going to be a group vote? Will you include those delicious snacks and adult beverages? Or will it be a morning meeting with coffee and bagels? It is up to you and your club to set the mood and the rules.

    3. Time and Place. Figure out the right time and place to meet with your book club. Make sure it is a day and time that works for everyone and a place that is convenient for everyone (You can imagine Friday nights at a crowded restaurant isn’t going to allow for an intimate meeting, so choose wisely). Think about how often your club will meet. Will it be biweekly? Monthly? Or just whenever you feel like? (Do not go in this direction, please). Will members take turns hosting? Or will you pick a neutral place like a coffee shop or the library? The options are limitless, and it's up to your club to decide when and where.

    4. Read the Book. This might sound obvious, but don't be that person who consistently "forgets" to read the book or "doesn’t have time." A book club will not function well if only half the club actually reads the book. If you can't commit, then quit.

    5. Keep it Up! Make your book club last. Have fun with it, change it up, and keep on going. Mix up your meetings with some fun activities like a holiday gift swap in December, or watch a movie of a book your group recently read. Make it fun and your meetings meaningful.
  • About the Author
    Caroline Diana hails from Boston and is currently a senior at Miami University, where she studies Journalism and Professional Writing. When she's not in school, you can find Caroline soaking up the sun on Cape Cod.

    Monday, April 24, 2017

    VR Gaming: The Future Is Just Beginning


    In 2016, several new virtual reality consoles were made commercially available. They might just revolutionize the world of video games.  ♦ 
    The dawn of a new era in video gaming is upon us, as the year 2016 marked the wide release and popularization of commercially available virtual-reality gaming hardware. For those unfamiliar with VR, head mounted displays (HMDs) use head-tracking technology in conjunction with handheld controllers in order to recreate a player’s actions in a 3D space. This allows gamers to fully immerse themselves in new worlds and explore VR realms never before thought to be possible.
         There are three major players in the current VR gaming marketplace: the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, and the Sony PlayStation VR. Although other headsets such as Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR are available at a significantly lower price point, these devices are meant to house mobile devices and are not suited for visually intensive, console-quality games.
         In 2012, the Oculus Rift made huge waves in the gaming community when Oculus, its parent company, launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund this futuristic dream. After raising a shocking $2.5 million, the California-based tech startup sent out two rounds of development kits to backers in both 2013 and 2014. These kits contained unfinished yet stable versions of the Rift, with specifications far inferior to the finalized consumer model. Seeing the potential value in a company that specializes in the development of VR media, Facebook acquired Oculus in March of 2014 for $2 billion, more than enough capital for Oculus to complete the Rift and take their product to market.
         The Rift’s design is revolutionary to the gaming world. Never before has such a fully integrated hardware setup been introduced in the 40+ years of video game history. The finalized version of the Oculus Rift features a stereoscopic OLED display with a combined resolution of 2160 x 1200 pixels. So really, that’s two 1080 x 1200 pixel displays being projected directly into the user’s eyes. Headphones are also built into the headset for a hassle-free audio experience. The six hundred dollar device conveniently plugs into any computer via USB and connects with an included infrared sensor that must be placed in the user’s field of play in order to construct a 3D space. The Rift’s primary drawback is its system of user input. A lack of handheld controllers pigeonholes the Rift into the market of PC gamers rather than the gaming community as a whole.
         The commercial launch of the Oculus Rift in March 2016 struck a chord with the public. Audiences young and old were both intrigued and excited about the strengths and limitations of VR, and the highly competitive tech industry was happy to oblige.
         In direct competition with the Oculus Rift, the Valve Corporation (makers of Steam, an extremely popular PC gaming platform) partnered with tech giant HTC to deliver their take on VR gaming. Originally named SteamVR, the HTC Vive was released in April 2016 with specifications similar to that of the Oculus Rift. Both devices use the same stereoscopic OLED technology and screen resolutions. However, the Vive costs $200 more than the Rift, justified by an increased number of headset sensors and the inclusion of two handheld controllers, one for each hand. These controllers aren’t like your average gamepad; they track 3D motion so players can extend their arms to interact with in-game objects. Even though the Vive was designed to be used with Steam, controllers provide for a far more immersive gaming experience than the traditional keyboard and mouse setup.
          Sony made their stake in the VR industry in October 2016 by releasing the PlayStation VR (PSVR), an HMD that connects wirelessly to the PlayStation 4 console. Unlike the Vive and the Rift, PSVR uses a single 5.7 inch OLED panel with a 1920x1080 resolution which is digitally divided to provide the stereoscopic effect. The PSVR has controller input, players can stick with the standard DualShock 4 Wireless gamepads, or spend an extra $50 for the PlayStation Move wireless motion controllers, which are similar to the Vive controllers.
         The difference in feeling between standard gamepads and motion controllers is massive. Imagine swinging a sword, nocking a bow, throwing a punch, or picking a lock. Now imagine doing these things without the use of your arms. Difficult, right? These activities (and so many more) require a great deal of tactile precision and can be much better replicated by using controllers that respond to motion. The HTC Vive bridged the gap of physicality left by the Oculus Rift. When a player is given a VR headset and no controllers, the player can look around their environment, but in order to interact, they must use a keyboard, mouse, or both. Controllers, however, allow for the next level of immersion by encouraging the player to interact with the virtual world the same way they would interact with the physical world. There is simply no way to translate natural human motion into a combination of buttons.
         The age of virtual reality gaming is just beginning. The VR innovations detailed above have happened in the past five years alone, and their developers show no signs of stopping. VR has finally reached a point of general accessibility, and I'm personally quite excited about that. Players will now be able to experience each game as it is truly meant to be and fully assume the role of whichever character they choose. And while not every VR game will be a role-playing adventure with a detailed backstory and a beautiful aesthetic, each game does aim to tell its own story, and VR allows the value of these stories to be realized.
  • About the Author
    Mitch Sutfin is a junior at Miami University, pursuing a double major in Creative Writing and Media & Culture. He’d like to be a screenwriter and/or standup comedian someday, as he thinks both would be equally fulfilling. In the meantime, his days are spent like so many other writing majors’: writing, listening to music, and working at a restaurant.

    Lessons Writers Can Learn from AMC’s The Walking Dead


    How the hit show can help you improve your writing—even if your story isn’t set in an apocalyptic world full of the undead.  ♦ 
    Whether you’re a fan or not, there's no denying that AMC’s The Walking Dead is one of the most successful TV shows of the twenty-first century. You might be asking yourself, What things can writers possibly learn from this show? Well, there are many lessons to be found in The Walking Dead that relate to writing stories. The elements of the storyline that make the show so popular are what continue to draw the viewers back for more. If you watch The Walking Dead closely, you’ll find that there are four very important lessons that writers can learn and apply to their work.

    Lesson 1: Create conflict between characters

    Simply put, nail-biters are what draw people in. Tension between characters is what gets readers engaged. For example, if the characters on The Walking Dead think they’re safe, and then the camera pans to the right to show a horde of undead heading toward them, my eyes would not leave the screen. The show builds tension between the struggle for power and the struggle for survival between different characters, such as the main character, Rick Grimes, and the Governor of Woodbury, Phillip Blake. The Governor is the leader of Woodbury, a seemingly utopian community that is barricaded behind walls. He protects the citizens of Woodbury and provides them with shelter, food, and clothing. But underneath Woodbury’s peaceful facade, the Governor is brutal and authoritarian. His methods spark a series of conflicts that result in the deaths of major characters. The conflict reaches its peak in season four, when the Governor leads an army against Rick’s group, who have taken shelter at a prison. The Governor’s intent is to kill Rick and his group and seize the prison, and his actions lead to the deaths of two major characters in Rick’s group, Andrea and Hershel.
       Also, even though the story that you are trying to write may be different from The Walking Dead, creating character conflict and tension is a good way to hook readers. The situation above shows a clear struggle for power between two groups of characters. This example of a power struggle is easy to apply to any piece of writing, even if the story is completely different; however, the intensity of the conflict is decided by the author. The conflict appropriate for a story depends on a number of things, including the target audience, the genre, and the purpose of the story.
       Character conflict is important because it can make a story more compelling. By using it, The Walking Dead has become one of the most successful shows in the United States. If this element is applied to another work of fiction, who knows where that story could go?

    Lesson 2: Make your readers care about your characters

    A sharpshooter sheriff, a farmer with a wealth of knowledge and first-aid skills, a former pizza delivery man who is as swift as a fox—these are just a few of the characters in The Walking Dead whose specific skill sets have saved themselves and their fellow survivors countless times. Whether you’re novelist or a screenwriter for an upcoming drama, you need to bring the story to life with a complex set of characters, because their voices, perspectives, and insights ultimately shape the story being told. The Walking Dead excels at making the viewers care about the characters, as the creators have developed characters over each season and have dedicated episodes to one or two of the main characters.
        The show occasionally dedicates episodes to these characters in order to show the struggles they face in a world overrun by the undead. For example, the first episode of the series is
    Andrew Lincoln as Rick and Sarah Wayne Callies as Lori in AMC's The Walking Dead
    dedicated to Rick Grimes, who has just woken from a coma to find the world in ruins. The episode shows his struggle of coming to terms with what happened and his intent to find his wife and son. The show evokes its viewers’ emotions through the characters’ struggles, and it makes its viewers feel as if they are with the characters in those situations. As the characters develop throughout the story and overcome the challenges of tragedy and survival, viewers can identify with the characters’ struggles because some of them, like losing a loved one, are similar to what people face every day. When Rick loses his wife, Lori, he realizes he has to become a stronger and more vigilant person, but also that he needs to move on in order to protect his son and daughter.
        Having the characters change as a result of their experiences throughout the story is an essential element of The Walking Dead that can be incorporated into your writing. The development of your characters is what will make the readers fall in love with the story and stick with you.

    Lesson 3: Answer mysterious questions in a reasonable timeframe

    One thing that The Walking Dead doesn’t do well is answer mysterious questions. The show tends to drag out the mystery until viewers can no longer remember it. At the end of season one, the doctor at the Center for Disease Control whispers something into Rick’s ear, but viewers have to wait until the last episode of season two to find out what he said. In the finale of season six, Negan kills one of the characters, but the viewers don’t know who that character is because the screen blacks out and the only thing they can hear is the sound of screaming. The show leaves the question of who died unanswered until the season seven premiere.
       Writers can learn from these examples, as these lingering questions have often left viewers frustrated. The Walking Dead has some good mysteries—and, as a writer, having mysteries in your story is great, because they are necessary for creating tension and making the story a page-turner—but writers shouldn’t leave the mystery hanging for too long. The readers will either forget about it, and the revelation of the mysterious answer won’t make much sense, or they will be left waiting, growing frustrated. Eventually, they may just stop caring altogether. The last thing a writer wants is to have readers stop caring about the plot of the story.

    Lesson 4: Balance plot and characterization

    The Walking Dead is known for its large cast of characters. The show has thirteen main characters in its current season, with six others regarded as supporting characters. Each season has sixteen episodes, which are usually split between plot and characterization. Plot-driven episodes focus on a specific group of characters facing some challenge or quest, while the episodes that center around only one or two characters focus more on those characters' emotions, past experiences, struggles to survive and keep the group safe, and ways of coping with the apocalyptic world. The Walking Dead doesn’t employ this focus in every episode, of course; the show usually does this every few episodes in order to keep a perfect balance of plot and characterization.
         For writers, characterization and plot are both of equal importance. If you neglect the plot in favor of characters, readers will get bored and the story won’t be able to move forward. If writers find themselves ignoring characters in favor of plot, the characters will feel like contrivances designed to "do things" in the story, rather than real and complex people. You need to make sure you're balancing both characterization and plot in order to keep the story forward-moving while also giving the audience characters they can care about and feel invested in.
       These four lessons from The Walking Dead are important ones writers can draw from when crafting their own stories. The show itself provides a fantastic guide for what writers can achieve in their work and how they can make their stories ever-more effective. The question that remains is, Can writers learn even more from such a successful show? I guess you’ll have to watch and find out.
  • About the Author
    Christopher “C. J.” Carney is a sophomore Political Science major and Urban Planning minor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. In his spare time, he enjoys writing, reading, watching Netflix, and hanging out with friends.

    Friday, April 21, 2017

    The Future of Digital Magazines


    An app that consolidates articles from every online magazine may be the key to increasing the medium's popularity in the digital marketplace.  ♦ 
    When most people think about the future of technology as it relates to reading and books, they tend to mainly think of e-books, not magazines. It’s time people change that mindset as 2017 could potentially be a big year for digital magazines. For the last six years or so, the digital magazine industry has been stuck in a sort of limbo; there hasn’t been much growth or drastic change to the industry. By now, pretty much every major magazine brand has gone digital and has a solid presence in the digital magazine marketplace, but the numbers still aren’t what people expected when digital magazines were first introduced. According to the global media website Fipp, popular magazine brands like Empire, GQ, Wired, Cosmo, Men’s Health, and others have experienced a decline in numbers when it comes to circulation on mobile devices just five years in.
       While new digital magazine websites such as Magzter and Zinio have become popular places to read and subscribe to magazines, what I believe is missing is one application that consolidates everything and is both easy to use and efficient. The introduction of iPads and iPhones to the world is what really sparked the concept of digital magazines. Now there needs to be an app on those devices that allows the reader to read his/her magazines of choice. An app that would provide both a marketplace and a storage area for your magazines would be an ideal addition to the growing industry. If the digital magazine industry could be mobilized into one app that takes care of all the reader’s needs, I would predict a pretty significant spike in the popularity of digital magazines. However, the digital magazine industry is still waiting.
       Recently, social media has played a significant role in the development of digital magazines. The Snapchat app now includes a “discover” area, a news section that has stories and articles from magazines such as Esquire, Vice, ESPN, Entertainment Weekly, and more. Snapchat’s inclusion of articles from these magazines has both positive and negative aspects when it comes to these magazine brands trying to develop their digital presence. Positively, by including snippets of these magazines in the app, it raises awareness for them and may inspire people to go pick up the latest copy, either physically or digitally. Negatively, people may also feel that if they can get snippets of stories for free through apps such as Snapchat, what’s the point of going out and buying the whole physical or digital copy of a magazine? While innovative, it’s debatable if Snapchat is helping or hurting the magazine industry.
      Even as the industry is still waiting on an app that will satisfy consumers, the iPhone/iPad/Android app Flipboard may prove to be trouble for traditional digital magazine brands. This app recently unveiled a new update that allows users to create “smart magazines” composed of all different articles of their choosing. Essentially, the app lets the user create their own magazines filled only with articles that they are interested in learning or reading about. This innovation could prove to be a huge threat to digital magazine brands, as consumers may not feel a need to buy a whole magazine when they can pick and choose which articles they want to read and have them all conveniently in one place. It really is a brilliant strategy, almost like allowing readers to curate and publish their own personally tailored magazine.
       There isn’t much other information out there when it comes to the future of digital magazines so I will be especially interested to see how the industry develops over the next few years. Despite the recent and somewhat lackadaisical sales numbers, I do believe that there will be an increase in the prevalence of digital magazines and I think an app will be responsible for this development. I predict that someone will capitalize on the burgeoning digital magazine market and create a revolutionary app that will make the reading and accessing of digital magazines easier. If an app like this is eventually developed, consumers will realize how convenient and revolutionary digital magazines are, and the industry might finally experience solid growth over the next few years.
  • About the Author
    Fitz Roddy is a sophomore at Miami University majoring in Marketing in the Farmer School of Business. Besides English, some of his favorite things are movies, reading, music, and the Chicago Cubs. Fitz hopes to work in either Chicago or Los Angeles after graduation.

    Perfect Timing: Ashley Elston’s This Is Our Story


    Why the pub date of Elston's captivating mystery-thriller about politics, power, and privilege couldn't have been more spot-on.  ♦ 
    “A ten-point buck and a dead body make the same sound when they hit the forest floor.”
       With this chilling opening line, Ashley Elston's This Is Our Story hooks its readers and starts reeling them in. The novel tells the story of high school senior Kate Marino, who is desperately trying to solve the mystery of who killed Grant Perkins, the fifth of the so-called River Point Boys, a group of high school boys who are all upper-class, privileged, good-looking, and, most importantly, white. In a drug-induced haze early one morning, the five boys went hunting, but only four came back. One of the boys killed Grant, but because all of the boys’ fingerprints are on the rifle that fired the fatal bullet, none of them will confess. Since Kate has an internship at the district attorney’s office, she feels compelled to use the resources available to her to figure out the killer before all of the boys escape punishment. Of course, nothing comes easy in cases like these—the government officials surrounding Kate want nothing more than to quietly sweep the whole matter under the rug, and she has a sneaking suspicion that there’s something more going on, given the power and political connections of the boys' families. Her fight to bring Grant’s killer to justice is further complicated by her surprising connection to him and, in turn, her connection to all of the River Point Boys.
      As a protagonist, Kate will be sure to evoke nostalgia in fans of Nancy Drew—her independence, intelligence, and unwillingness to back down make her a modern version of the classic teen detective. Throw in a subplot involving a circulating photo of girls being sexually exploited at an out-of-control party, a perfectly timed plot twist that will almost certainly catch you off guard (even if you pride yourself in detecting those curveballs from miles away), and intermittent sections narrated by Grant’s chillingly cold killer, and you’ve got yourself a novel that will stick with you long after your eyes pass over the final words. However, beyond all of this, the reason this novel still haunts me has to do with its eerie connection to today’s political and cultural climate.
        Back when she was drafting this novel, Elston could not have known it would be released exactly a week after the 2016 Presidential Election, and even when she knew the release date, she couldn't have realized how relevant the themes in her novel would be. Though the themes of white privilege, upper-class privilege, and government corruption are not new to novels or to the general public, they are certainly more prevalent in the public consciousness right now. Unfortunately, to make clear all of the connections between the novel and the current news cycle would require giving away spoilers, but I can speak to them on a surface level: Everyone knows that one of the River Point Boys killed Grant. The kids at their school know. The police officers know. The district attorney knows. Yet, so many of these people are willing to let all of the boys go free, to forget about bringing the killer to justice, and the reason why is glaringly obvious: the River Point Boys are white and they’re wealthy—or, rather, their parents are. Those working in the government know how much influence the parents have over their positions, and they are not willing to compromise their jobs for anything.
        It's made quite clear throughout the novel that if the boys’ parents were not so wealthy and well-connected, the case would have been handled differently, and while the connection between the boys’ race and how they are treated within the justice system does not explicitly come up in the book, it's easy to make the connection between race and privilege given recent instances of racial profiling and police shootings directed at minorities. And, as the themes of wealth, privilege, and corruption intersect, it's also hard not to see obvious connections between Elston’s novel and President Donald Trump’s cabinet, where positions are filled by the same rich, white, privileged class on the basis of campaign contributions, political power, and cronyism—Betsy DeVos, anyone?—rather than on any merit besides how money talks (or, convinces us to keep quiet). And while I don't want to spoil the ending of the novel, I will say that, by the end, Elston makes a clear point on additional privilege as a result of someone’s class or race that stuck with me just as much as This Is Our Story’s conclusion did.
       As a reader, I spent the entire novel—literally down to the final pages—trying to figure out who killed Grant. Every time I settled on a name, I changed my mind, and the aforementioned plot twist left me constantly second-guessing myself. Writing a mystery-thriller such as this is an art—the author has to reveal some clues to keep the readers intrigued, but not enough to let them solve the mystery too early (or even at all)—and Elston has perfected this art, telling Kate’s story in a way that captivates the reader.
       This Is Our Story will leave you breathless, turning back pages to try and find the clue you might’ve missed. It will leave you hurting for those who were affected by Grant’s death. It will leave you feeling proud of Kate for stepping up and doing what’s right. But, most importantly, it will leave you thinking about how the story would play out in today’s world. This novel’s connection to what is going on around us is what makes it so important—and Elston’s ability to eloquently make that connection is what makes it so wonderful.
  • About the Author
    Haley Hopkins is a junior English Literature and Creative Writing double major at Miami University. She works as a consultant at the Howe Center for Writing Excellence and is a recipient of the Daniel and Margaret Bookwalter Award in Creative Writing. When she isn't reading or writing, you can probably find her watching Netflix, eating guacamole, or looking at pictures of huskies on the internet.

    Wednesday, April 19, 2017

    Navigating The Maze


    Having trouble finding your favorite LGBTQ+ authors in the local bookstore? The problem might not be the floor plan.  ♦ 
    Close your eyes. Imagine for a moment your favorite bookstore. You’ve been there dozens of times and can recreate every last sensation of being there—you recall the smell of coffee, or maybe you can hear the gentle classical piano ballad that always plays on the store’s radio. Whatever the sensation, you know it well and it brings you comfort. Now, imagine walking to your favorite section. Perhaps you like to browse through the romance or mystery sections, or instead you prefer sci-fi comics, historical novels, or the classics. You know exactly how to get to that very section. You know the path there almost as intrinsically as you know the path back home.
       Now, imagine again. You walk that familiar path to your favorite section, your home away from home, only to find that your favorite section is missing. First, there’s confusion. The manager just decided to move the shelves around, right? So you systematically scan each aisle, searching for your favorite section. You make your way around the store two, maybe three times, the familiar rows of shelves becoming more and more like the imposing walls of a dark maze every minute. But ultimately there can be only one answer: your favorite section with all your old and soon-to-be favorite books is gone. Then, for the first time in what feels like forever, you walk out of the bookstore, dejected and empty-handed.
       Unfortunately, this is a familiar fate for those readers who find themselves relegated to being part of a so-called “niche” audience.
       The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “niche” as “a specialized market.” In terms of book buying, a “niche” audience would therefore be a specialized market for a particular book-buying group, often based on genre or a particular interest. However, these niche audiences are often ignored in favor of the more popular genres that bring in revenue. For example, perhaps you are a part of that niche audience that enjoys reading plays and poetry. Then, like me, you probably know that lonely, dusty shelf at the local Barnes & Noble better than you know the back of your own hand.
       Shelf size aside, imagine with me one last time: what if your favorite section was never at that bookstore in the first place? Perhaps your local big name bookseller never felt the need to carry fantasy novels, biographies, or Shakespeare. They must have looked at that genre, believed the audience was too small to bring in revenue, and decided not to risk the investment. Because of this, even though this bookstore is like a second home to you, you are forced to look elsewhere.
        Sounds like a book-lover’s nightmare, doesn’t it? That's how it feels if you count yourself part of one the many niche audiences out there. Especially if, like me and countless others, you fall into the "niche" audience of the LGBTQ+ community.
       Now, I want to be clear here: the issue I’m talking about is not whether or not LGBTQ+ books and authors exist. Because they do. In fact, as of writing this article, lists 36,048 results under the shelf “lgbt.” It’s certainly not the largest shelf on the site, but it’s still quite impressive. There are also countless authors who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community or who are historical figures widely believed to be. These writers include everyone from Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, and James Baldwin to Audre Lorde, David Levithan, Alison Bechdel, and Janet Mock. These writers have not only transformed LGBTQ+ literature but also the entire fabric of literary and cultural history. A lack of books to read is not really the problem. The problem is that mainstream brick-and-mortar booksellers do not carry them in large enough quantities or varieties to make them accessible to all.
       For instance, if you want to read a LGBTQ+ novel, you could go to the bookstore and wander through its maze, hoping to find a book or two amongst the countless others, buy it, and then cross your fingers that it’s actually worthwhile. Even if you do find something, you still have to play a nasty game of literary Russian roulette to see whether the book will be enjoyable and well-written or boring. Worse, it might feature gross, outdated tropes such as the classic and harmful “Bury Your Gays” trope. Additionally, should you already know what book you want to buy, there’s no guarantee that the store will carry it just as there is the guarantee that the store will carry copies of Time magazine and the latest Stephen King novel. The seeming only alternative to this long and uncertain process is to go online where you can look up a book, make sure it’s actually good for once, and then make a few clicks over on Amazon (which of course doesn’t bode well for brick-and-mortar booksellers).
       It’s not all doom and gloom for the reader, however. There are some alternatives. One ray of hope is that there are a variety of different local/indie bookstores that sell exclusively LGBTQ+ books. The American Library Association even has an interactive map featuring many of the ones within the United States and Canada. You will notice, however, that the number of pins on that map is very, very small, still making these stores and their books largely inaccessible. Another alternative comes from the advent of e-books. Many modern writers both in and out of the LGBTQ+ community are moving to self-publishing, often in the form of e-books, shortening the path between the writer, the seller, and the reader thus increasing accessibility. There’s even a website dedicated entirely to LGBTQ+ e-books.
       While great for the reader, these options still are bad news for big-name bookstores. By inadvertently turning away a section of their customers, they are losing potential business. And with the internet age already threatening to put bookstores out of business, it doesn’t make sense for them to not to focus more on selling LGBTQ+ books and books for other niche audiences. But if anyone proposed the idea to them, they would probably reply that they do sell books for LGBTQ+ readers and other niche audiences. And then they would point to that lonely shelf of poetry and scramble to find the closest copy of The Importance of Being Earnest of any of the other couple dozen LGBTQ+ works out of the hundreds of books in the store.
       Regardless of whether or not big-name booksellers change their stance or whether you get your books there or online, there still remains a negative impact on the consumer. Growing up, bookstores were like a second home to me. They were a place of wonder where I was safe to be myself surrounded by all my favorite stories and characters. But having a part of who I am dubbed as niche and unimportant enough to warrant even a singular shelf in a big-name bookstore tells me and innumerable others that our stories don’t matter. That they aren’t worth being told. When you are a member of a minority (whether it be in gender, sexuality, race, or a combination thereof) finding a story about someone like you, with an identity and values matching yours, can be an endless search. Not unlike being lost in a maze. But now that we know that this lacking representation negatively impacts both the booksellers and the readers, perhaps the solution to the problem, the path out of the maze, is closer than we think.
  • About the Author
    Lauren Miles is a first-year Creative Writing major at Miami University. She would love to travel through space, but since safe and reliable intergalactic Star Trek-esque travel is not yet available, she’s quite happy to write about the stars instead.

    Harry Potter and the Cursed Audience


    The highly-anticipated Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has been immensely successful, but some readers may be left wanting more.  ♦ 
    In 1997, J. K. Rowling released the first book in her masterpiece collection, one sure to live in the hearts and minds of young readers for years to come. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or the Americanized Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) was the start of an epic saga that defined a generation. Following it were six additional books, eight movies, a wildly popular theme park in Universal Studios, a slew of merchandise, and now the story of Harry's son, Albus Severus Potter. This past July, a lucky (if limited) number of fans got to see his son's escapades onstage in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. People have flocked to the Palace Theatre in London to witness it, but, like any auditorium, there are limited seats, making it a hot ticket and a hard one to come by. Over $40 million has been made in London in advance ticket sales already, but The Cursed Child will not be making it to Broadway until, at the earliest, spring 2018. What are the rest of us supposed to do until then?
       Well, we could read it. But Potter fans might be better off waiting to see it instead.
       Upon the premiere of the play in London, scripts were widely released for the millions of fans scattered across the planet. The thick, bright-yellow volume bearing the name of the boy who lived flew off shelves and into the hands of hungry readers. Big name bookstores such as Barnes & Noble and The Strand had large release parties to celebrate the latest installment. Some copies of the script even included a limited edition poster or an interview with the creators (Jack Thorne, John Tiffany, and J. K. Rowling). Despite all the glamour and excitement of a brand-new Harry Potter book, it seems Cursed Child readers have generally been . . . underwhelmed. I myself, as a long time Potterhead, was left yearning for more at the conclusion of the script. And, as Rowling herself did not write the script—she only came up with the concept—the entire work took on an indescribably different voice, one that did not feel right when compared with its companion series. Admittedly, I might feel differently about The Cursed Child had I seen the live show, which received glowing reviews for its special effects and excellent acting, rather than simply reading the script. But I haven't, and I probably won't have the chance for some time.
       Thus the problem with releasing the script as a stand-in for the show emerges: it's designed to be performed for an audience, not read. There has not been in recent memory a script released that has reached such a wide array of audiences as Cursed Child, but it's a safe bet that all those people curling up with their copy, expecting another book the caliber of the seven preceding novels, are going to be left feeling a bit cheated, for a multitude of reasons:

    1. It Flies By, But Not on a Broom
    The tale of “19 years later” is a very quick read and can be finished in a matter of hours, while you can immerse yourself in the play for an entire day: Part I runs about 2 hours 45 minutes with a 20-minute intermission, and Part II runs at 2 hours 35 minutes. Usually, Part I is performed as a matinee with Part II several hours later in the evening, thus becoming a day-long endeavor. Given what a spectacle this must be, readers taking up the script alone (and quickly burning through it) are sure to be disappointed.

    2. Set Design Not Included
    While reading has always included using your imagination to create the characters’ appearances, actions, and their environments, a script is not as detailed as regular prose and makes scenes much more difficult to envision. Where a novel could have comprehensive paragraphs covering description, a script has parentheses and small stage directions to be interpreted by the director and by art design. Thus the spectacular special effects of the stage fall flat on paper.

    Jamie Parker as Harry Potter and Sam Clemmett as Albus Potter
    3. It's Hard to Read Tone of Voice
    There are more than a few emotional passages in the script, particularly between Albus and Harry Potter, but while there is some direction given as to the intended emotion behind these lines, which could help guide readers, watching it take place live would be much more successful in conveying the tone of such scenes than simply reading the lines on the page.

    4. It's Meant to be Experienced
    You can be excited reading at home, true, but there is something about the unique experience of entering a theater surrounded by people who are just as excited as you. The shared energy of a whole mob entering the same space, all with the express purpose of watching Harry Potter, has not happened since the premiere of the last movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. II, which began playing in U. S. theaters way back on July 15, 2011. Additionally, Harry Potter has never before been performed live, adding to the energy and excitement of the production.

       Despite these hindrances, the script holds records in the US and UK from its first three days of sales and will likely become the fastest-selling text of the decade as people continue to purchase, rent, or download the script as a substitute for its onstage version. For those lucky enough to see the show, enjoy it. In the meantime, the rest of us will have to put up with a lackluster-but-readable alternative . . . at least until we can get our hands on tickets. 
  • About the Author
    Leah Kuntz is an aspiring writer, avid reader, and enthusiastic traveler. She is currently studying Creative Writing and Art History at Miami University and will be studying in London this summer