Writing Methods from “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” Part 2 – Characterization

Before I dive into its 734-page sequel, The Goblet of Fire, I should get part two of three writing techniques from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban written up for you avid H.P. readers and aspiring writers like me. The remaining two tactics are more general than the first I mentioned: realistic characters and overlapping conflict.

This post will deal with characterization. If you are like me, your most horrifying prospect as a writer is to create a half-baked character. Something I realized early in this series is that Harry Potter is not our ideal, clichéd goody two-shoes protagonist. He is not a silently-suffering martyr, but like any pre-teenaged boy, or any human, really, he has his breaking points. Real people have breaking points. I would encourage you to give each of your characters a breaking point, that line that must not be crossed, or else. (Or else what? Another aspect that further shapes an individual.) Reading through The Prisoner of Azkaban, I glimpsed these points in each and every character, and it was these manifestations which made them all the more real to me. Take for example…

Albus Dumbledore

The headmaster at Hogwarts can be easily recognized as the “wise old man” figure that comes up in almost every fantasy novel. (See Merlin from The Once and Future King, Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings, and more contemporary examples such as Brom from Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series.)

As an archetype, this stereotypical character occurs again and again in books, so what sets Dumbledore apart from the rest of the lot? His temper, for one thing. Throughout the series, Albus is always depicted as a calm, kind, and understanding adult; correspondingly, the one thing that sets Dumbledore off his ticker is an outsider endangering his students (see page 181). This further emphasizes his primary characteristic of protectiveness.

Severus Snape

Chapter 14 of The Prisoner of Azkaban uncovers the roots of Snape’s hatred for Harry, to an extent that was not revealed to us previously in the series. Continually throughout the book, we find that Professor Snape is a bitter man, embittered by events in the past worsened by his own pride. What makes him most angry is being challenged or humiliated. This accentuates his pride and effectively draws either loathing or pity from the reader.

Rubeus Hagrid

Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s friend Hagrid, the gamekeeper at Hogwarts takes on the role of Care of Magical Creatures professor during the trio’s third year. Anyone who is familiar with Hagrid’s character knows him as the “gentle giant,” another archetype, recurring especially in children’s literature. He is caring and kind, but can be abrasive at times. Passionate about justice, he is enraged when the “bad guy” gets away with evil deeds. The most guaranteed way to make Hagrid lose his temper, however, is to put his friends or his animals in danger. This further exhibits his benevolent nature toward his pets and his friends.

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These are only a few examples of secondary characters and how beneficial to the story it can be to take the time to flesh out and refine even insignificant characters–because every real person adds up. This is especially important when building a fantasy world, as believability is a crucial factor. I will continue to post more character models as well as a review of overlapping conflict in The Prisoner of Azkaban, but for now–

What characters in the Harry Potter books stand out to you the most? What makes them unique? What techniques do you use in your writing to add dimension to your characters?

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