Monday, January 2, 2017

25 Writing Elements to Appreciate in the Harry Potter Book Series

Here are 25 writing elements I appreciated while rereading Harry Potter (books 1-7)

Authors, maybe you could implement a few of these strategies to whatever writing project you are currently working on. Please add any additional elements you can think of in the comments below. 

SPOILER ALERT: This article includes significant spoilers for events throughout the series. Proceed at your own risk. :)

1. Highly relatable characters. For example, the unsuspecting hero (Harry). The studious one (Hermione). The loyal sidekick (Ron). The pranksters (Fred and George). The bully (Malfoy). The clumsy, shy one (Neville). The odd one (Luna). Tweet this.

2. Character backstories revealed at the right time. Rowling rarely flashes back until the audience is absolutely ready for it. For example, characters such as Neville aren’t fully unpacked until the fifth book. Tweet this.

3. Character growth. Because each book spans a year, readers really get to see Harry and the other students grow into adults. Just as importantly, the books were spread out so that many readers literally grew up alongside the characters. Tweet this.

4. Questionable loyalties. Specifically, Professor Snape! Many other characters turn out good or evil when readers least expect it too. And for other characters, such as Draco Malfoy, the question readers ask along the way is just how far these characters are willing to go one way or the other. Tweet this.

5. Shifting views on character intelligence and/or capabilities. Seriously, how cool was it when Trelawney turned out to be more than a complete fraud?! Lockhart turning out to be a goofball was almost as fun too. Tweet this.

6. Main characters are often underdogs/outcasts. This is especially true for Harry, Neville, and Luna. However, almost all of the characters have some sort of challenge to overcome. Ron is often overshadowed by his older brothers and Harry. Harry is orphaned and sometimes alone. Hermione is muggle-born and somewhat rule-obsessed, often leading to complications with others, especially in the beginning. Tweet this.

7. Rowling addresses the question "why me?" Many times, Harry asks himself if he is special and why he always seems to be on everyone’s radar. Just as importantly, we get a real answers to the question (i.e., prophecy). Tweet this.

8. The books largely follow Harry’s point of view. What an accomplishment! To do this, Rowling finds many unique ways to place Harry at the center of almost every main event. For example, she uses prophesies, his ability to speak parseltongue, dreams, memories in the Pensieve, genuine coincidences, and more. Tweet this.

9. Clever techniques to remind readers about previous books. It is always challenging to start a sequel, especially if a few years have passed since readers put down the previous installment. To catch everyone up again, Rowling uses letters from friends, nightmares, and even the muggle Prime Minister. Tweet this.

10. Crazy-awesome plot twists. Each book tries to top the next. Notable twists include: Voldemort being on the back of Quirrell’s head, Tom Riddle being Voldemort, Peter Petrigrew being a rat and Sirius being a good guy, Mad Eye Moody being . . . well, not Mad Eye Moody at all, Sirius being in danger, Dumbledore being . . . (gasp!) dead, and Snape being a hero. Tweet this.

11. Relatively few encounters with the main villain. Keeping Voldemort a part of the “unknown” definitely helps keep him frightening. For example, we briefly see Voldemort in the first book, but he is still a weak, broken monster. In the second book, he is just a memory. In the fourth book, he is a hideous baby until he is reborn, and Harry is forced to run for his life. In the fifth book, he is finally powerful, but Dumbledore is nearby to keep Harry safe. After that, Harry’s final encounters with Voldemort do not occur until the book seven. Tweet this.

12. Hints of events and characters to come. Rowling has a knack for mentioning characters such as Sirius Black early on so that, when these characters eventually appear, they seem important and not like an afterthought. The use of prophesies also serve as excellent tools for foreshadowing. Plus, Rowling lets the characters make lots of comments about the dark times in the past when Voldemort was in previously power; this gives readers an idea of the things to come. Tweet this.

13. Death. Yes, “killing your darlings” is sometimes important to the progression of a story. All of the characters were clearly special and important to Rowling, so I am glad that she did not chicken out by saving them all. Tweet this.

14. Education. This is something all readers should be able to relate to. With such a kooky story, grounding it in a school setting provides familiar classroom elements such as teachers you love and hate, exams, school spirit/competition, etc. Tweet this.

15. Quidditch. The use of the quidditch sport effectively allows the characters to physically butt heads from time to time in a controlled environment. Including sports also stop readers from feeling like they are learning about a bunch of weirdos in pointy hats! Tweet this.

16. Friendship. All the little quarrels and relationships just make the story seem that much more real and really ensure that readers care about what happens to all of the friends. Tweet this.

17. Magic. Each book introduces new areas of magic to keep things feeling fresh. For example, the sorting hat, floo powder, time travel, unforgivable curses, occlumency, horcruxes, and hallows. Tweet this.

18. Rowling creates rules for her world and sticks with them. By the time readers finish the book, they understand everything in her world from how wizards find food, receive mail, travel, where they work, and much more. As Hermione reminds everyone often, wizards cannot apparate or dissaparate inside Hogwarts! Tweet this.

19. No glittery vampires! 
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20. Valuable lessons. For example, characters learn about equality (e.g., house elves) and not to judge certain individuals based on others (e.g., Hagrid, the friendly half-giant). Tweet this.

21. Sense of humor. The story is sometimes a little ridiculous with elements such as Peeves, the Whomping Willow, the flying car, and magic in general. But Rowling seems to take this all in good stride by allowing the characters to sometimes laugh about these situations. Tweet this. 

22. Outrageous use of adverbs and telling. Rowling’s writing style is sometimes far from perfect, but there is still plenty to be envied. For example, the use of adverbs and telling wouldn’t be appropriate in most types of writing. However (I’m going to go out on a limb here), I think it works fairly well in such an absurd story. These tactics seem to be particularly effective in the earlier novels, because Harry is younger and is more believable that he would see things in such a colorful and direct way. Tweet this.

23. Correct use of semicolons. I don't come across these too often in fiction stories. Haha! I smile every time I see one here. Again, these aren't appropriate for all (or most) genres. Tweet this.

24. Longer sentences during climactic scenes. Some authors seem to think that short, choppy sentences create tension, but consider the climax of book 4. Nearly all of those sentences are jumbled together so that readers find themselves breathlessly rushing through from one point to the next. Example sentence: "And Harry ran as he had never run in his life, knocking two stunned Death Eaters aside as he passed; he zigzagged behind headstones, feeling their curses following him, hearing them hit the headstones--he was dodging curses and graves, pelting toward Cedric's body, no longer aware of the pain in his leg, his whole being concentrated on what he had to do--" Tweet this.

25. The (mostly) excellent movies! Always remember that visual support can be helpful and enjoyable for readers! Although you probably won’t get a movie deal for your books, you can always make a short home video, draw some maps, or take photos of key scene locations to publish on your website for fun. Tweet this.

What other writing elements do you appreciate in the Harry Potter books series? And what elements have you implemented in your own stories that are similar or different?

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