Guest post by Claire Saag
Recently I re-read the entire Harry Potter series from beginning to end for the first time since Deathly Hallows was released. I picked up the first book because I wanted the literary equivalent of comfort food: something easy, heart-warming and fun. Seven books later I was filled with admiration for the sheer brilliance of J. K. Rowling’s storytelling. I had expected an entertaining kids’ book, but I found much more than that. It that spoke to me even as an adult, leaving me heartbroken and uplifted. What makes this series so special to so many people? What can we learn from Rowling’s techniques? Here are three lessons on building immersive and imaginative world for your story:
1. Guide the reader into your story world.
Opening a novel for the first time can be daunting, especially if you’re delving into speculative fiction. You’re blindly entering a whole new world, and sometimes that can feel like a struggle. If you’re thrown into the deep end and asked to assimilate too much information all at once it can hinder your ability to enjoy the story. How can you relate to a character when you don’t understand where they’re coming from?
A wise writer understands this problem and guides her readers in gently. Rowling does this perfectly, allowing us to discover the wizarding world piece by piece alongside Harry. Because we share the journey with him, we are never daunted or overwhelmed by too much new information, and what’s more, we are able to emotionally connect with him right away, because we can relate to his wonder.
2. Build your world with as much detail as you possibly can.
Detail, detail, detail. That’s what draws so many readers into J. K. Rowling’s stories and keeps them there. It feels real because Rowling has obviously spent hours upon hours thinking about how life works in the wizarding world. What do they eat? How do they travel around? What do they do for fun? Where do they shop? How exactly does everything work? The more you know about the world you’re writing about, the more real it will seem to your readers. One caveat: you don’t have to tell us all at once. Sprinkle the detail lightly and leave people keen to discover more.
3. Consider your character and place names carefully.
One technique J. K. Rowling uses to help root readers in her story world is by choosing colourful names that evoke a certain sense of character and place. We know instinctively that Draco Malfoy will be up to no good, and that Gilderoy Lockheart is a bit of a ladies’ man. We understand right away that Durmstrang students are into the dark arts and that Beauxbatons students are refined and elegant. The names you choose can give your readers strong impressions that signpost the story for them. And once you’ve created those impressions, you can subvert them–Sirius Black sounds as evil as they come, which is one reason why the twist in Prisoner of Azkaban works so well.
Stay tuned for part two, where Claire explains how to breathe life into your story!
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.
“Narcissa Malfoy” by Sayuri Romei. See more of her work on DeviantART or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.