News of the World

“In a brief statement Friday night, Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge confirmed that He-Who-Must-Not-Be Named has returned to this country and is active once more. “It is with great regret that I must confirm that the wizard styling himself Lord – well, you know who I mean – is alive and among us again,” said Fudge, looking tired and flustered as he addressed reporters.

Here is the beginning of an article in the Daily Prophet, pulled from the opening chapters of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter: The Half Blood Prince. The Harry Potter books, incredible on so many levels, also happen to be a master class on how to tie in media from a fictional world to help build out connection and context for the reader. The use of articles like this one throughout the Harry Potter series do not only give the world that J.K. Rowling created an immense sense of realism and weight, but they also serve as an effective and palatable form of exposition.

There are always going to be pieces of world that need to be explained to the reader. This is done through exposition. It is often long and tedious. The corn husk you have to peel away before you get to the real fruit of the story. One way to do it smoothly is to introduce a character or a protagonist who is completely new to the world. She needs everything explained, and in explaining to her, the other characters in the story also explain to us the readers. Harry Potter, of course, is a perfect example of this. But also think Percy in the Percy Jackson series, Buzz in Toy Story or Elliot Page’s character in Inception – the talented new architect.

This introduction of information through the use a media that the characters themselves would experience in the world we are reading about (or watching) offers a seamless and engaging way of delivering information. Radio, newspapers, social media, TV, etc.

A fictional newspaper featured in Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel

The most recent example I’ve found is in Disney’s new Falcon and Winter Soldier TV mini series on Disney+ (I really enjoyed it). At the beginning of one episode, before anything else, they show a TV commercial that we understand exists in the world we are watching. We don’t see the commercial over the shoulder or through the eyes of one of our characters. We simply see the commercial full screen, then it cuts to the opening credits. The specific commercial is never mentioned in the story or by the characters, it simply serves as a more entertaining way of giving important context and expositional information than having two people explain to each other while walking through a hallway (no hate at The West Wing, I love the walk-and-talk). It worked perfectly in the show.

Wes Anderson gives us menus and newspapers. J.K. Rowling gives a radio network and a gossip column. And now, Marvel has given us a slew of fictional TV commercials.

Deepen your worldbuilding and cut your exposition time in half. Give context via the media your characters would actually experience within your world. Explain it with an article, not just a monologue from your mind. I’m the official sales rep for the fictional news outlet.

A still from Wes Anderson’s upcoming film “The French Dispatch”

The Beauty of Children’s Entertainment

Hayao Miyazaki (79) is the co-founder of Japanese animation studio, Studio Ghibli. He wrote and directed hallmark features including Castle in the Sky, Ponyo and won the Academy Award for best animated feature in 2001 for Spirited Away. His work is enchanting and imaginative – some of the most revered animation in the world. I didn’t really know any of this until I was a freshman in college.
Growing up, we did not watch the studio Ghibli movies – except, strangely enough, Castle in the Sky. That is the only Ghibli film I’d ever seen before watching My Neighbor Totoro just last week. I was skeptical when sitting down to watch Totoro. I have never been a fan of anime, and I assumed this would be no different – but I found myself immediately enchanted by Miyazaki’s directing and animation. The world was peaceful and serene, moving slowly from scene to scene, beat to beat. Much slower than most animated features I’ve seen before.

We are used to children’s entertainment being as loud, colorful and flashy as possible. The result is often garish and unenjoyable for most older than the target demographic. It seemed the opposite for My Neighbor Totoro, though, and I was shocked to hear that the film had been a childhood favorite of the friend I watched it with.
Thinking back to my childhood movie taste, I don’t know if I’d have liked the movie then – I can say for certain that I appreciated the craft and care Miyazaki put into the film much more watching for the first time at 20 than I would have at 10. All the things that likely would have bored me in my youth were my absolute favorite elements today, the exact things that make me want to explore more of the Studio Ghibli canon.

It was that realization that sparked a revelation: a majority of the work I love and find the most impactful and inspirational was originally created for a younger audience. The Harry Potter series, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Calvin and Hobbes, Ratatouille, Peter and the Starcatchers, Little Women – and now Studio Ghibli. Whether I discovered it in childhood or adulthood, I continue to find beauty in works for children.

All of these works do something in common: they press into themes and ideas and plot points that are not generally found in children’s entertainment, that push the viewer or reader outside of their comfort zone. Harry Potter is a series that can be seen as considerably darker than many other children’s novels – JK Rowling forced her young readers to develop and grow through reading her stories, right alongside Harry, Ron and Hermione. And growing up, each time a reader goes back, they may discover or understand more and more of the story as they see deeper and deeper into the narratives and ideas that JK sewed throughout this “children’s” series. The books appeal to everyone, because they force everyone – children and adults alike – to grow alongside the characters in the story, facing the same challenges and obstacles.

Fantastic Mr. Fox, a brilliant children’s film by writer / director Wes Anderson has the spectacle, goofiness and scale of a traditional children’s animation, but at the same time it deals with incredibly human and adult themes of honesty, occupation, parenthood and relationships. Not only that, but it juxtaposes a childish world of talking animals and cookey farmers with the realism of a genuine world – with a badger’s real estate office, an invented sport and inter-race relations. Anderson, like all the best animation directors, laces things throughout his movie that children just won’t understand when they’re younger – but these things make for an even better experience for the child as they grow up re-watching the movie, understanding and growing more with every return.

So far as I’ve seen, Hayao Miyazaki does the same thing with his films – and I can’t wait to watch more. I’ll let you know how I like them when I do.

“The concept of portraying evil and then destroying it – I know this is considered mainstream, but I think it is rotten. This idea that whenever something evil happens someone particular can be blamed and punished for it, in life and in politics is hopeless.”
― Hayao Miyazaki

See more Miyazaki quotes here, they are brilliant.