Twenty Years of Harry Potter: Seven Things I Learned About Writing From J.K. Rowling

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I was aghast this last Thursday when I saw an article in USA Today, saying it has been twenty years since Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published in the United States. Twenty years? It’s hard to believe that the book that started it all has been around for twenty years. I was pushing fifty when as a pediatric physical therapist, I convinced myself I must read this book so that I could keep up with the kids I was around every day. However, I was hooked as soon as I realized these books were not just any childish fad but great writing with unusual themes and lessons about life.

Soon I was immersed in the Harry Potter fandom and found my way to The Leaky Cauldron, an online website for fans. There, besides the news about new books, I found a niche in the Lily & Stag Reading Group, where we dissected every word to try and find out where the story was going. Before I knew what was happening, I was invited to be on the staff. So began the adventure that would take me on a winding path to falling in love again with writing.

I learned plenty of things about writing from reading the Harry Potter series and taking part in that reading group. Here are seven of the gems I picked up.

  1. A good story has structure. From J.K. Rowling I found out about a myriad of ways to structure writing. The scaffold of her novels – was it ring style? Was it based on the seven steps of Alchemy? Was it the Hero’s journey? Was it all of those things? She planned the whole series carefully with a complicated structure before even starting the first book.
  2. Write from inspiration: Allow it to become your passion. Ms. Rowling had a singular inspiration about a boy with a scar on his forehead that found out he was going to a wizard school. From that snippet, she designed a whole world which she boldly allowed her imagination to create. She knew everything there was to know about the characters that lived in that world. The characters were varied and had specific charges to carry out in the story.
  3. Rewriting was important. Ms. Rowling rewrote the story several times and had to restart several times because of plot holes. She planned, and planned, and planned some more.
  4. The theme of good vs. evil and that of good overcoming evil remained throughout the entire series. J.K.Rowling had an overall theme to each story, and to the series itself, from which she never wavered.
  5. The dialog was a wonderful way to advance the story. As an author, Ms. Rowling used dialog to give important information. As a reader, we soon found out that if she repeated things three times, you knew that was important.
  6. Red herrings were used throughout the story to keep the reader engaged and guessing. She threw in red herrings to lead the reader down the wrong path while showing plainly where the real path lay.
  7. K. Rowling never stopped believing in the story. She persisted.

 

I’m sure there are many other lessons learned by writers from J.K.Rowling’s books, but these are the ones that were outstanding for me. Do you have anything to add? Feel free to add your comments.

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