Guest post by Claire Saag
In part one of this article I looked at the techniques that J. K. Rowling uses to build an imaginative and immersive world. In this part, I’ll look at how she breathes life into the story through characters, mystery and emotional depth.
4. Make your hero perfectly imperfect.
Harry Potter is that rare creation – a hero who is just as interesting as his nemesis. Why? Because a streak of darkness inside him links to Voldemort. By drawing parallels between Harry’s and Tom Riddle’s early lives, Rowling adds depth and tension. She shows just what could happen if Harry lost his way. Harry is naturally good, but that doesn’t mean that it always comes easily to him. He often struggles to overcome the obstacles that life throws at him, which makes his ultimate triumph all the more satisfying. Your hero will be more interesting and relatable to readers if he must battle darker forces within himself, as well as those without.
5. Build a mystery.
Rowling is a master of the whodunit. I remember devouring her books the first time round, desperate to discover who tried to steal the philosopher’s stone, or how Sirius Black got into Hogwarts. The answers were never predictable, but always made perfect sense. You may not be a writer of whodunits, and that’s fine, but your story needs mystery to keep it compelling—whether it’s the mystery of your hero’s eventual love interest, or how he will deal with the tragic circumstances. Keep your reader guessing and give them a reason to read on.
Rowling writes with a great deal of warmth and emotional honesty about topics like love, death, and morality. True emotional depth is difficult because it needs to come from within yourself—from your own difficult experiences and heartbreaks and losses. It can’t be faked. The deaths in Harry Potter are so heart breaking because Rowling writes about grief with the hint of past pain. Use your bad experiences. Live through them and try to treasure them, because they can only make you a better writer.
7. Make sure you tie everything up.
The most impressive aspect of the whole Harry Potter series is seeing just how beautifully Rowling manages to tie everything up at the end. Not one single subplot (that I noticed!) goes unresolved, and everything falls into place as though it had been planned from the very start. That’s quite an achievement over seven books and many years of writing. Not many storytellers can do this so successfully—just look at the number of books and TV series’ that leave their fans irritated by unresolved storylines. Make sure you keep hold of every thread in your story and tie them all up neatly, so your readers set the book down with satisfaction. It’s a high calling, so when I manage to achieve this myself, I’ll be sure to let you know!
This concludes Claire’s seven storytelling lessons from Rowling’s imaginative world. See the first three tips in part one, and be sure to browse the Toolbox for more storytelling articles and inspiration!
Claire Saag is a freelance writer and aspiring novelist based in Cambridge, UK. After graduating from Lancaster University with a degree in English Literature, she worked for over seven years at the famous Heffers bookshop in Cambridge, where taking part in the midnight launch of the seventh Harry Potter book was the highlight of her career. During this time she also completed an MA in English Literature, leaving her with an extensive knowledge of Gothic novels in the Eighteenth Century, which she is convinced will come in handy one day. She started writing speculative fiction in her school exercise book when she was thirteen, and never stopped. She is currently working on the first novel in her Redwinter trilogy. Visit Claire’s blog to learn more about her journey.
“Sybill Trelawney” and “Hogwarts teach us something please” by Vo Ngoc Thinh. Discover more of his work at DeviantART.