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Thursday, August 2, 2007

Writing Tip: A Short Study of Harry Potter

Okay, okay. So you're all ahead of me already and have finished the last HP book with gusto. But I've got one up on you. I get to read all these books for the first time with no waiting required. Wahoo! And is it fun. I have really enjoyed the first three books. My goodness, Book Three is simply divine.

I could probably talk forever on what makes these first three books so great, but I'm on vacation, and need to get back to my reading before my husband and kids come back from the beach and need attention. So, I'll just share a few things on what I loved about these books.

Great Names for Wonderful Characters
I love the names of all these characters. I find character names very difficult to think up. Of course I'm also one who couldn't come up with a baby name for any of my children until I actually saw them and held them in my arms. No sure names for me.

The perfect character name, whether he/she is friend or foe, has to roll off my tongue in a familiar way. A good name helps me define my character. And J.K. Rowling has thought of great names. And wonderful characters.

Take the Dursleys. Notice how this last name just rolls off your tongue in a dismissive manner. Cousin Dudley. Uncle Vernon. Aunt Petunia. Do you see yourself liking characters with these names?

Now you have Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Fred. George. Neville. Percy. Hagrid. Dumbledore. Professor McGonagall. The house of Gryffindor and Slytherin (All I could think with this was slithering snakes, and then when the gigantic snake appeared in Book Two, I was pleased). Sirius Black. Professor Snape. Draco Malfoy. Voldemort. What do you feel about these characters just based on their names? And then when you see how J.K. Rowling develops these characters, don't these names make perfect sense?

Great Use of Emotion
Rowling is genius with her use of emotion in these first three books. I felt disgust and anger towards the Dursley's, sympathy and hope for Harry, the yick factor for Draco Malfoy. Fred and George, Ron's twin brothers are magnificent for comic relief. Hagrid is like the sweet teddy bear you want to befriend and protect.

The emotive quality of the book chapters go up and down. One chapter ends on a sad or evil note. The next chapter has a comic or happy note.

Books One, Two and Three are so full of adventure, mean spirited bullying, comic antics, pure evil, innocence, extreme heroism, great friendship...I was so surprised with the touching ending of Book Three. It made me cry and yearn for more. Now that's great storytelling.

Great Pacing
These books are long. But the pacing of the book is simply wonderful and I just wanted to keep reading. No boring, long passages. No wanting to close the book for another time.

No Boring Backstory
In Books Two and Three, J.K. Rowling tells the backstory of the previous books in a manner that is natural to the course of the story. No tedious excerpts from the previous books so loyal readers are drumming their fingers until the juicy stuff comes along. And enough backstory so readers who aren't familiar with the books can pick up and start reading out of sequence. Not that you'd want to though.

Extraordinary Imagination
J.K. Rowling clearly has an incredible imagination to come up with the freedom and conflict of the wizard world, the bureaucracy and suspicion of the Muggles, the fairy tale of Harry Potter's beginning, and this spellbinding story that still begs to be told, even after three books. This is quite an accomplishment.

Okay, I've got to stop this for now. Here's your chance. What do you think makes the Harry Potter books so awesome? And what about any criticisms, if any? Just curious since J.K. Rowling certainly breaks some rules at times, such as the descriptive telling rather than showing the story. What do you think make her books so great that we can overlook things that we wouldn't necessarily in other books or our own manuscripts?


eisha said...

I think you nailed it with the "Extraordinary Imagination" bit. Rowling hooked me with the world she created - it's so vivid, and so totally somewhere I'd want to live. After I read the first book, I was SAD that these books weren't written when I was a kid.

Sarah said...

I too, absolutely loved the language of the names - of characters, places, wizardy items. I think Rowling's vivid imagry helps us to see this world so clearly we forget we are reading! This is the power of Harry Potter. Children become able to use their minds to visualize. According to Debbie Miller and Goudvis et al., visualizing is a significant comprehension strategy that good readers use. Our culture is so heavy on visual images right now. I wonder if some children are missing the ability to visualize using only words, whether they are reading them, writing them or hearing them. After reading Mosaic of Thought, I practiced more visualizing. We need to spend a lot of time in our classroom talking about these images and how we each develop our own unique pictures in our minds.

Its such fun to hear the excitement in your writing about discovering Harry for the first time.

Erin said...

I loved this post so, so much. Thank you!

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

So, GoodReads changed their star system so that 2 stars, which used to mean "It was okay," now means "I didn't like it." There were a couple of the HP books that I thought were "okay." I read them once, thought they were good enough for one reading, but had no interest in revisiting them. Others were more gripping to me. I don't think I'll run the risk of spoiling anyone's fun when I say that I got weary of the overabundance of adverbs. That said... the books transport the reader to another place. They also make me hungry for chocolate frogs.

HipWriterMama said...

You're right. I don't remember books like this when I was younger. Books with this level of imagination have the power to totally transport the reader into the fictional world. So rare and an amazing ride when you find them.


How wonderful you're working with kids to help them become good readers. Good luck! We need more people like you out in the teaching world.


Glad you like this! Thanks.


Looks like I'll have to change some of me ratings on GoodReads then. And yes, I'm fumbling through Book Four--hopefully it gets better soon. Which is so disappointing since I loved Book Three.

And I agree about the overabundance of adverbs. Though I must say I'm guilty of that at times. Which makes me curious how J.K. Rowling can break the writing rules and still have devoted readers.

The power of the imagination must be the key component. What do you all think?

Robin Brande said...

I think Rowling is the best modern writer we have. Her craftsmanship and imagination set the bar so high for the rest of us, and that's a wonderful thing!

Candace Salima (LDS Nora Roberts) said...

No question HipWriterMama, J.K. Rowling knows what she is doing. Although I've read the books as they come out, I'm going take a week soon and just read them beginning to end, as you are doing now. I can't wait.

Crisi said...

You hit it right on with what makes the Harry Potter books wonderful. Especially the imagination element - Rowling's imagination knows no limit. Of course, I think that sometimes gets her in trouble when her imagination doesn't always match up a few books later, but oh well.

The Harry Potter books don't contain the most glorious language, aren't sophistcated writing, but she managed to capture a world that a child could and would think up. Who didn't dream of magic and wonder as a child? And through her books we get to read about a boy who ends up in that world. We love Harry Potter becuase its just so easy to fall in love with him and the world he exists in.

And I loved your point about the names. Her names are very descriptive and easy to sound out/say. Yet, they are often unordinary or oldfashioned. But making it easy for a child to say the names is important to make them fall in love with the characters.

Jennifer, Snapshot said...

I have read the first four. I loved book three as well. I think that they are just great stories, told with suspense. The narrator being limited allows us to judge the characters as good or bad, and then we often are surprised as their true motives are uncovered.