Category Archives: writing lessons

World-Building Methods from “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” – Everyday Life

It is a great dream of many writers to create a world so real they can live in it, and this dream is never entirely out of reach for any of us. No matter how inexperienced you are in your field of writing, with sharp imagination and a passion for your story, you will always have what you need to pen something beautiful. Just look at J.K. Rowling and all of the adoring readers of the Harry Potter books. If you have been reading my past articles on the series, you will see I think Rowling is a fantastic writer, but no writer is perfect. Independent journalist and Harry Potter fan Michelle V. Rafter goes as far to say that Rowling’s early writing is “downright pedestrian.” Yet she fell in love with the series just like the rest of us. Even adverb nazi Stephen King can grin and bear the abuse of all those adverbs in dialogue tags throughout the entire series. In fact, he acclaims the books.

“How come she can abuse adverbs and get away with it?” you may ask savagely.

Because the story is brilliant, and her world is authentic. In this article, I’ll be covering one of three world-building techniques I picked up from The Goblet of Fire–everyday living being the first of these.

It should go without saying that a tangible world has tangible things in it. This means that a story needs more than dialogue, plot, and theme. No matter how real your characters may be, your world will not be authentic if there is no flesh on its skeleton. One way to go about “fleshing out” this skeleton is to add items to your book that are (to your characters) commonplace. These items may be substitutes for tools we use in real life, something never heard of, or even something spoofed. A good example is spellotape (see sellotape), something we recognize as an everyday office item, which Rowling has put a spin on to make the wizarding world more realistic than one may think.

Harry Potter WikiAnother world-building necessity neglected by many fantasy authors are books.

Books are extremely important. As a writer, you should take into account that most of your audience will be book lovers, and give books a special spotlight in every story. J.K. Rowling went the extra mile by creating a bibliophile with whom her readers can connect as one of the main characters. In the series, Hermione Granger is constantly calling readers to the fact that Hogwarts has a history (she references Hogwarts, a History seven times throughout their first, second, third, and fourth years there). In such an academic setting, there are books around every corner, Magical Water Plants of the Mediterranean being a significant one to Harry’s second task.

Other examples of commonplace and not so commonplace devices in the book are the portkey used to transport wizards to the Quidditch World cup as well as items sold there (Anti-Burglar Buzzer, Mrs. Skower’s All-Purpose Magical Mess Remover, etc.); Dark Detectors in Mad-eye Moody’s office including Sneakoscopes, Secrecy Sensors, and a Foe-Glass; and even Daily Prophet reporter Rita Skeeter’s Quick-Quotes Quill.

To sum it up: When building the setting in which your fantasy story will take place, always remember to include objects reminiscent of those we use in our every day lives–but don’t forget to throw in some wacky inventions of your own!

What devices do your characters use in everyday life? Have you ever invented a new mechanism? Put it in a book! And leave your comment about it below. 🙂

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Writing Methods from “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” Part 3 – Characterization Cont…

Last week, I promised a continuation of my post on characterization with more examples. This post will focus on friendship among characters–these being the famous trio: Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

What about these friends make their bond so strong? As Rowling said in the very first book, “There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.” Like true Gryffindors, what sets Harry, Ron, and Hermione apart is their enduring willingness to courageously fight for each others lives and stand up for one another in perilous circumstances. And like their house’s mascot, the lion, they each have a terrible temper if rubbed the wrong way. Take for example:

Ron Weasley

Ron comes from a financially struggling pure-blood family of nine. The subject of his family’s condition is a touchy one, as he is known to react violently when harassed about it. This sets him apart from Harry and Hermione, but like them, he always sticks up for his family when under verbal attack, as well as his friends (Hermione especially).

Hermione Granger

Coming to Hogwarts from a muggle household, Hermione is passionately dedicated to her studies. Unlike Ron and Harry, she is most insulted if her academic ability is challenged. Also, like Hagrid, Hermione has a soft spot for animals and pursues justice for her friends and magical creatures alike. If an enemy is being cruel to one of her friends, she retaliates physically as well as verbally (see page 293), and will go to great lengths (even flying, one of her greatest fears) to help her friends.

Harry Potter

Unlike his friends Ron and Hermione, Harry has no living parents; since the age of one, he has been raised by the Dursleys (his muggle aunt, uncle, and cousin). After learning of his magical heritage and the death of his parents, he suffers even more contempt from the Dursleys, and like Ron, what really makes his pot boil over is verbal attack on his family (just look what happens to his Aunt Marge when she insults his dead parents). Likewise, he sticks up for his best friends through thick and thin.

While each of these characters come from different backgrounds, what binds them is their loyalty to one another.

Next to come: overlapping conflict in The Prisoner of Azkaban, followed by lots of juicy Goblet of Fire posts! And lastly–

What do you find special about the three main characters of the Harry Potter books? Have you learned as much about writing from the third book as I have? What other books and authors would you like to see in upcoming “writing lessons” categories?

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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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What I’ve Learned from J.K. Rowling – Writing Methods from “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” – Part 1

After reading only a few chapters into Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I couldn’t help but notice all the different crafty methods J.K. Rowling uses in her books. Too many to cover in one post, that’s for certain, so I’ll go ahead and point them out one at a time, post by meticulous post. Without further adieu, part one of the many writing techniques to be learned from such wonderful literature:

One of the methods I’ve noticed so far in The Prisoner of Azkaban is that there is a hook at the end of nearly every paragraph. If the paragraph isn’t wholly dialogue, Rowling always instigates the idea that something else is coming. See a couple of examples I’ve taken from pages 50 and 51 of chapter four, “The Leaky Couldron.”

…but the thing that tested Harry’s resolution most appeared in his favourite shop, Quality Quidditch Supplies, a week after he’d arrived at the Leaky Couldron.

What tested Harry’s resolution most? We wonder.

…a newly erected podium, on which was mounted the most magnificent broom he had ever seen in his life.

Do tell us more about the most magnificent broom he had ever seen in his entire life!

As you can see, hooks don’t belong only at the ends of chapters and the end of a book in a series but also at the end of paragraphs to really keep the reader turning pages.

Do you use this technique in your own writing? If not, try it next time you write some prose; and if you like a challenge, try writing a paragraph with a hook at the end of each sentence, and do leave a comment below.

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What I’ve Learned from Cornelia Funke – Writing Methods from “Inkheart”

For several years, I was completely opposed to buying books. Why spend money to read a book when you can just borrow one from a library or friend? I remained in this mindset until a friend of mine suggested that I read Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke. It was the first book I ever willingly spent money on (about $20) and its contents immediately inspired within me a passion for book collecting.

There are many reasons to invest in books you can keep at home. One good reason is to support deserving authors out there (I certainly would appreciate people spending money on my books to come–wink, wink; nudge, nudge), but my primary reason for collecting is to have models of good writing technique available for reference.

Inkheart is anything but lacking in this area. I find myself often turning back through the book to remember how Funke handled her writing in different circumstances. The one technique that stood out most during my reading was her ability to develop significant dramatic conflict between her characters by contrasting their traits with the others. (Warning: The following paragraphs may contain spoilers.)

Take for example, the backgrounds and abilities of these characters. Meggie grows up in a home in which books are loved and cared for. Her father, Mortimer, can make characters in books come alive. This power lies in his voice when he reads aloud. On the other hand, his wife, we find, is mute and can communicate only through writing. In contrast, Dustfinger cannot read. He is a character who fears and loathes the book of which he is a part, created by the author Fenoglio. Eleanor, Mortimer’s aunt, is an avid book collector, whereas many of the villains in Inkheart are out to destroy valuable books.

So you see, differences in characters such as these can complement traits of other characters, and also emphasize important subjects and themes in writing. The only thing I didn’t like about Inkheart was that it was at times rather slow moving, but the methods I learned from reading this story far outnumber the drawbacks of the book. If you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to do so. It’s a beautiful edition to have on your shelf and will continue to benefit you long after the first read.

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