The Harry Potter novels are more than just random fiction. In the views of many there has always been a logic to the magic: Hogwarts has never been found by muggles because it is “unplottable”, certain spells require certain mental concentration such as the patronous charm and good memories, and the basilisk survived so long because they can live to be thousands of years old. Magic in the harry potter novels is understandable.
This is attractive to us the same way that science is attractive to us, by being a potentially infinite field of study that we can never fully understand: but even more so because it is magic, adventure and danger. When we look at these elements and want to explore them because at heart we all want these things in our lives. As terrible as life at Hogwarts seems, what with all the pending death, we all want to attend. We all want to explore our potential, think we are special and do something great.
Being special or unique is how we see ourselves naturally and when we write we seldom write fiction about an average farmer do we? And if we do it is about extraordinary circumstances that happened to a average farmer! I think for those of us that enjoy Harry Potter, or high fantasy have a certain aversion to being part of an amazing story. So many layers of events affected Harry in his life: we have this amazing story of his birth, then this drama with Sirius being framed and Harry discovering Wormtail and then we have the added complexity of his school environment! So capturing these in our writing is key in creating an epic story, we have to zoom in and out frequently from the large picture to the little one in our writing. All these features make for a realistic story and a grand one. One that feels like there is more than we are being told. Thus bringing me back to my main theme of this series: Why do Harry Potter fans care so much?
I want to touch once more on plausibility. I think what Rowling did with making the muggle world we currently live in compatible with her series is perfect. Theoretically, the Ministry of Magic could exist because of how their magical world interacts with ours: wizards in hiding, dragon sitings being covered up and the muggleborn registry being wiped. And before I get a bunch of complaints about “Time Turners” and Quidditch rules, of course the novels were not perfect, but my point is that it is close enough to be considered. If someone is reading your fantasy novel they WANT to be convinced it is real. They will be willing to look past small chinks in the armour if you give them enough to crouch behind. Give your readers reasonable doubt of their reality and they will love you forever: because that is why they are reading fantasy. To explore this “Worldbuilding” I advise you explore these sources: start with the Nerdwriter criticism.
In my next segment I want to touch on why we envy Harry but before we do lets discuss why we sympathize with him. Harry has had the worst childhood imaginable. If we experienced any of this boredom or relentlessness in our lives we feel his pain and imagine it being worse. I personally had very supportive parents growing up who went the extra mile for me and I still felt like this AND I felt guilty when observing the contrast of Dudley and how his life compared to Harry’s. Then we see something that could plausibly happen to us. A letter in the mail and just like that Harry is taken from his lackluster life into one of magic, adventure and most importantly uniqueness. We envision this happening to us and we empathize. Alice in Wonderland, Bilbo Baggins, Peter Pan, Men in Black, The Matrix. My book includes these qualities. I argue that yours should as well.
So J.K. Rowling is arguably confirmed as being an INFJ on the MBTI: my arguement is that this is irrelevant and to create something similar you don’t need to be this type: but you will need to adapt your skills. Let me explain: so the MBTI discusses 8 possible strengths and weaknesses that are assumably “each side of the spectrum” of 4 traits, meaning you can’t use both: I disagree: I believe that one can (and most do) posses all 16 strengths: your test will reveal which you favour on an average basis. Let’s talk about P vs J in terms of a writer. P essentially means improvisation and J means stability and planning. Now to write an amazing story like Harry’s you will have to plan large story arches that intertwine, expand and then tie up in the end as for example the story of how his parents died. This is the strength of a planner, if you are a natural planner this is what you will enjoy HOWEVER those who are more spontaneous or improvosional will find their talents being used in writing as well.
When I imagine the design for a chapter I don’t decide what colour Jim’s hat will be: I might as well write the chapter shouldn’t I? my point here is, word to word you will have to improvise and grow. You will have to find a rhythm and then go through the entire thing and find little symbolism that matches the themes you entrench: you think Rowling started POA with the idea that Snape would teach a class on werewolves? I doubt it, she probably saw it as a perfect opportunity as she developed the plot and was writing. Then she thought “Perfect! Hermione could bring this up later because she would be the type to remember this detail.”
My point has been that anyone who enjoyed the amount of planning that J.K. put in her novels could most definitely do it themselves. It is not for everyone but I think there are a lot of you that would enjoy this process. I don’t think I have found anything more fulfilling than deciding a secret the audience doesn’t know. Which brings me to another topic.
The reveal: decide lots of stuff about your characters. Everything. Then choose what side of them you want to display that is most obvious: the things you would notice if you first met them in real life. Now shed new light. I have barely started this process (and no growth yet either) but I think it is the key to making your characters believable as J.K. Rowling did. Take Hagrid: Hagrid hides (and lacks the ability to) barley anything about his personality. Every time he has a secret the trio force it out of him almost immediately. This is who he is and this brutal honesty of zapping dudley with an umbrella is an accurate portrayal of who he is. I’m not saying that crazy reveals are bad. but would it not take away some of the “honesty” of Hagrid’s character if he would have turned out to be a Death Eater? Surely it would have been a shock and maybe sold some books, but this would be the trademark of a thriller. not an honest and REAL story like Harry Potter.
Rowling does have a plethora of surprises for us but the difference is her surprises ADD UP and we get this thrilling sense of looking back at moody’s behaviour and seeing the dishonesty! We get the feeling immediately that Lupin is hiding something. We look at Snape at the end of the series and the faintest trail of clues and character contradictions leave us with the cascade of feelings that one gets with an epiphany: not a shocker.
In conclusion, anyone can train their story to include clues for the reading to be teased with. In the meantime- I will let this topic simmer in my brain and undoubtedly write a part two with some of those “I Should have said this” moments. Get writing!
MBTI stuff if curious: https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test