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.: What Aspiring Fantasy Writers Can Learn From JK Rowling :.


JK Rowling has had unprecedented success with the Harry Potter series. With millions and millions of books sold, this master wordsmith could teach aspiring fantasy writers a thing or two about the craft. In this editorial, we are going to delve into JK�s work and find out what sets it apart from all the rest...

Characters with Character
One of the stand-out aspects of the Harry Potter series is the brilliant characterization. JK Rowling has created a whole slew of three dimensional characters that are so vivid we either love them (Dumbledore) or hate them (Umbridge). The main characters (Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Snape to name a few) are so fascinating that many fans feel the need to write their own stories about them. Even the background characters (think Moaning Myrtle, Mundungus, and Aberforth) are interesting, an unusual occurrence considering the fact that most authors treat them like filler.

As many characters as there are, they all have originality and a genuineness that can�t be ignored. They are believable and as readers, we feel passionate emotion for them because we honestly care about them. We care about them, in part, because we identify with them in some way, but also because the characters are extraordinarily well written. Their individuality is such that any true Harry Potter fan can read a fan fic and recognize when the players are acting out of character. I don�t mean to say that there is total predictability, but there is a definite comfort level there.

Creating that type of comfort is very tricky, especially in fantasy fiction, but JK makes it look easy. In my opinion, she does it by knowing her characters inside and out. She knows exactly what they will say and do in any given situation. A tremendous amount of effort went into the development of these characters and it clearly comes through page after page.

A Whole New World
As a student of the classics, JK knows her mythology. She has taken that knowledge and cleverly twisted it to her own advantage. Many of the beasts and creatures that you see in the Harry Potter series are not new inventions, they�re straight from myths. Even the central concepts of magic, wands, and witchcraft are nothing new. Significant parts of the plot are based upon myth and lore. What makes these things fresh are the alterations and combinations that have been incorporated.

Another differentiation or twist is the fact that the fantasy world, a.k.a. the Wizarding World, happens on the same plane as the Muggle World. It�s interesting to see these two worlds interact, when only one of the parties is savvy to the interaction. Everything happens on the surface, but at the same time, under it. Then, there are the magical settings of Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade, and Hogwarts, which are wildly inventive and beautifully described. When you read about these places you can almost picture them in mind�s eye.

In general, the whole world of HP is fascinatingly complex. It�s driven be imagination, but like the magic, held in check by the rules established by JK. She knows everything there is to know about this world and she is in complete control of it, which makes it more believable, even plausible for the reader.

Mystery, Mystery, Mystery
If you carefully consider some of the plots that you have encountered in fantasy books, you will vaguely recognize the main plot skeleton of the HP Series. To display this point, I have written a typical plot skeleton for fantasy fiction below:

A young man-boy who has power or is set to inherit power is introduced. This man-boy is sent on a quest, destined to stand against an evil entity of some sort. The fate of the world lies in his hands. Our hero is guided only by his heart and courage and if he�s really lucky, a wizened wizard to help him on his way. BTW, the man-boy also has a loyal sidekick and a beautiful love interest.

JK Rowling took this very typical bare-bones plot recipe and added something that most fantasy writing needs more of- mystery. There is so much mystery in this series that HP fans, myself included, spend countless hours trying to figure out what will happen next. The majority of the appeal of this series comes from the mystery.

The pace with which everything is revealed is also ground-breaking. The main plot of the series is leaked bit by bit with each book, but it will not be fully known until the end. Major revelations still need to occur in the final installment, which has kept things very interesting indeed. JK has melded fantasy and mystery in the HP series, and by doing so, she has brought out the best of both genres.

In my opinion, the approach worked because of the effort JK put forth. She outlined and graphed the entire series, marking out chapters, plots, and subplots. That type of careful planning allows an author to insert clues and foreshadowing where there may have been none. Foreshadowing is essential to any good fantasy or mystery story. It�s also what makes fans like us return to books one, two, three, etc., in hopes of getting clues to events that might occur in book seven.

Undeniable Skill
I am an avid reader and have literally read thousands upon thousands upon thousands of books in my life. I love the Harry Potter books more than anything I have ever read. No contest. Plot and characters aside, what I like most is the flow of JK�s writing. It is always smooth and seamless. Plus, the dialog is simply outstanding. I�m not sure if it�s natural talent or lots of practice, but either way, JK has undeniable skill.

Words of Wisdom Straight From JK Rowling
Recently during a CBBC Newsround Interview, JK was asked if she had any words of advice for aspiring authors. Here is her response:

The best way to learn about style, characterisation and plot construction is to read as much as you possibly can.

You will probably find that you start to imitate your favourite authors, but this is a good learning process and your own style will come eventually. Always plan your work; writing aimlessly sometimes throws up a good idea or two, but it is no way to produce a whole story.

Write what you know: your own interests, feelings, beliefs, friends, family and even pets will be your raw materials when you start writing. Develop a fondness for solitude if you can, because writing is one of the loneliest professions in the world!

And finally: perseverance is absolutely essential, not just to produce all those words, but to survive rejection and criticism. However, the utter joy of seeing a book you wrote sitting in a bookshelf is a prize worth striving for


In Conclusion
I hope this article was helpful, or at the very least, interesting. As always, thanks for reading. Post your comments on the board or drop me an email, you know the address - karen@thesnitch.co.uk.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Join me again next time for a deeper look into HBP.

~Karen~

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