Writing Prompt Response

Author: The Mostly Distracted Writer

Jack
Sam would be alright. Miss Frye would look after her. After all, she’d told Jack often enough that Sam was just what she’d look for in a kid if she could have her own: clever, artistic, strong willed. Strong willed. Jack ran his fingers through his hair and sighed.

Maybe that’s why she’d dealt with his disappearance with such amazing acceptance. He’d heard her. She’d talk to herself or her dolls while she sat in the trees behind their house. Or she’d talk to him, unaware that he heard every word. She couldn’t know he was beneath her. Dying. Healing. Barely clinging to his own humanity by feeding on worms and rabbits that burrowed too close to him instead of her sweet-smelling blood. She’d talked about her day, school, Miss Frye. But he’d never heard her cry about him being gone.

And now he would be gone. He’d had no idea they would come back. But then Jack hadn’t known that his current accidental existence was a crime and that he needed to be finished off. If he hadn’t lured them away into the forest, they would have found Sam and he’d worked too hard for too long to keep her safe and spared from the horror that was his existence.

There were two of them, though the night they’d murdered his parents and accidently left him to turn there had been three. Jack couldn’t let either of the two go back and report. He’d destroyed them, but not until they’d almost taken him too. He’d scraped and crawled his way into the ground before the sun could turn him to ash. Someone was still out there. So, there was someone for him to hunt. He would take the fight to them.

Sam would be alright.

 

Sam
She stood in her spot amongst the trees and stared at the ground. Sam’s eyes filled with tears as she realised her brother was gone. The two blackened shapes on the ground had faded over the years but she’d always felt Jack’s presence. And she’d always believed that he’d come back to her.

Jack was changed after their parents died, not a real boy anymore, but still good and loving. And he was in trouble. She was sure of it.

Sam nodded, making a decision.

She would find Jack no matter the cost. And she would save him.

Read to Write: Nevernight

http://www.harpercollins.com.au/9780008179991/#sm.0000zksme114kad0nwqdadambmcni

Author: The Mostly Distracted Writer

There is so much to say about Nevernight, by Jay Kristoff, I hardly know where to begin or how to stop from falling into a fan girl state, gushing about how much I love it.

Jay Kristoff is my kind of writer, and the kind of writer I want to be. Someone who seems able to build a whole world with wanton disregard for what people might think or feel about it. A simple case of, “it’s mine; I like it; I’m putting it in.”

The first thing that made me feel this, were the footnotes. They embellish the main story, drawing the reader deeper into the world Jay built (history, minor characters, places, etc.), yet they’re not pivotal to the plot, so you can choose whether you want to read them or not. I read them. I couldn’t help myself. Where there are words, I read. Jay has fun with the footnotes, though, sometimes adding to the plotline or world-building, but also talking to us directly as a narrator, making us a part of the story.

There is something exceedingly confident about the way Nevernight is written that made me believe everything I was taking in. This is one of those stories that will stay with me no matter the books that follow, but more significantly, and invaluably, this book has completely changed the way I feel about writing my own stories.

I write primarily fantasy and science fiction in both short stories and full novels and I’m terrified of completing them to submission status. I worry my characters have no personality and especially that my non-human characters are unbelievable and laughable. Yet I keep writing them. I try to control them and reign them in, but they just won’t be tamed. Jay Kristoff’s characters in Nevernight seem to be the kind that he had no control over either, particularly Mia, the protagonist and guide for our journey through the Republic of Itreya.

It is a world in which magic is real and different powers and skills abide in those who possess them. Notice I didn’t say in those who are lucky enough to possess them. This is because there is a cost for the magic used and it is one of the most interesting aspects of the magic in this story. Not every skill has the same cost for everyone and the magics aren’t common or easily controlled – the cost can be exceptionally high and sometimes gruesome. The plot and characters come together in a uniquely poignant way. You have sacrifice, assassins, deadly stakes and impossible challenges. It’s hard to discuss this in detail without ruining dramatic events or effects so instead I will ask a couple of questions the book triggered within me:
If you could have a magical ability to heal people from deathly injury and deformity, but every time you did it caused you an injury or deformity, would you do it? How about if there was no way for you to be healed in turn? What would this responsibility do to you? How would it mold your character and drive your actions?

Not having built the same magical system as Jay, these questions don’t affect my world, but they do address a very real way in which to approach my characters, the way in which I need to be able to put myself in their shoes, their steps dictated by a very specific set of rules. A set of rules I am free to set out in whatever way I choose, as long as I stay true to them.

Thanks to reading Nevernight, I suddenly feel less afraid of what I am creating. The usual questions of “Will people like it? Is this too much? Is this character even likable?” are gone. I have found a renewed sense of resolve to finish what I started. The rest can come later.

I can’t tell you exactly what it is about Nevernight that inspires this sense of confidence in the process. Perhaps it’s the thoroughness of the world-building that has me convinced. The maps are the first thing inside the book and they’re beautiful. I’ve also already mentioned the multitude of footnotes for the reading aficionado to get lost in the history and back stories of Nevernight. The story itself, though fast-paced, still leaves plenty of room to breathe, and the characters are deliciously flawed, making them more tangible. Whether one of the above, or a combination of all, the fact remains that Jay’s writing inspires freedom in my own. He doesn’t seem to hold anything back. It is about what you can do, what your story wants to do, who your characters could be and what your crazy writer’s brain can make real or present to anyone anywhere. It’s writing that seemed to demand I stop questioning what people would believe and start forcing them to believe it. My world is something I can share, but not if I try to contain those elements that are unique to it. It’s my world. I built it.

Build your worlds your way.

Writing Prompt Response

(Quick note:  This awesome piece is a contribution from one of my Facebook followers who does not yet have a blog page and wanted to stay anonymous.)
Author: The Mostly Distracted Writer

 

It looked innocent: brown leather, rubber band holding it closed, curling edges and stained pages. It looked like nothing special. But it was worth a hefty bounty to the kid that found it.

And if they were lucky, just maybe save the world.

“Which one?” Patricks asked his partner. Jameson nodded to a handful of desperates. He saw the kid right off. He was the only one smiling.

“Baseball cap?”

Jameson nodded. “He found the journal on the train.”

Unbelievable. He picked up a plastic envelope.

“Baseball cap!” The kid jumped to his feet, a blonde woman watching. Patricks knew the look. The kid would have to leave the back way.

“Tell me about the journal.”

The kid frowned. “Tell you what? I already told that copper. Found it on the train.”

“Did you look in it?”

“Nah. I snatched that thing up and A-lined it here before some wanker jumped me for it.”

Makes sense. He opened the envelope.

“Your pass into a secure lodging, your pass for the next convoy leaving town, and your pass onto the ship for The Colony.” He laid the documents on the table. The kid wept.

“Thanks m…”

But the kid’s words were cut off by screams.

“One of them’s turned.” Jameson said as Patricks swept up the documents and journal and handed them to the kid.

Patricks followed Jameson, the kid between them, out the back as soldiers stormed through the front. The station was compromised; there would be no going back.

They flanked the kid across town to The Wall, curfew sirens blasting because of the station going down.

At Midzone, a barbed wire maze, Hazmat checked the kid’s mouth, eyes and ears before stabbing him with a fat needle connected to a machine that beeped once. All clear.

Hazmat turned to Patricks but he shook his head.

“Me neither.” Jameson said. The kid looked horrified.

“You’re infected?”

“Cops are cops. Someone has to keep things sane until, well, you get that journal to the idiot that lost it so they can save us.” The kid nodded. Hazmat held a thumb up to the top of The Wall and machine guns pointing at them lowered.

The kid turned to them, crying again. “Thanks fellas. Good luck.”

Patricks smiled until the kid vanished inside The Wall.

Then his stomach grumbled.

Dinner would be a bullet.

 

A Piece Only (Date: 14/03/2016)

Author: wordledger

I pull the journal out from under three biographies on my overcrowded bookshelf. It’s been over a decade since the last time I even thought about it, but a woman was writing on the commute to work this morning and it got me thinking. The leather binding is still beautiful, an intricate pattern impressed in soft material. It would’ve cost a fortune, which is partly why I kept it. Another part is the mystery.

I open the cover to read the first entry, but there’s no need; it still makes no sense.

Find me.
I ………… didn’t  …………………….
…… believe …  .
I   …………  disappear,  …………………broken ……….… ………over.

……………………………… memories. ………  … Park, at … ……… of Feb, ……….

 

The journal contains clues, but no indication as to what it’s about.

I look around my study, the books and artworks, the desk, the laptop. There’s no reason to assume the internet holds more answers now than back then, but there is a chance. I place the journal on the desk. It falls open to a page containing a single photo of dirt and a shovel. These are the clues: a few photos throughout the journal, never anything definitive and, sporadically across the pages, words, as though paragraphs have been written and all but a word here or there has been omitted.

The page that always intrigues me the most is right near the end:

I …………………………… kill ……………… chance. ……  my life ………… …………. … packed …………,  ………………………………………………………………. My wounds ………………… healed. ………………… … … even to me, he was  …………. Behind closed doors…………… vehemently …………….
Every ……………………………………, help …  , and …………, …… sincerity………….
I want to believe him, …………………………………………………… doubtful of my motivations.  …………………………………………………………,
watching ………………………………………………… the facts. He was still jealous. ………………………………………………………………………
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………  I couldn’t be sure ………………………………  he needed me to need him, ……………………………………………
…………………in  ……………………………………………… traffic …………… I said I was leaving …………….…………………………………………………………… I devised this plan ………………………………………………… with the instructions to find me  …………………………………………………………………………………………………  

when him and I ………………………………………………… broke the pieces of my whereabouts apart   …………………………………………………………  and each other ………………………………………………….

With love,
Libby

 

I drop every word into the search bar, obsession sinking its teeth in. I dig deeper, scan the photographs and try an image search. Hours (or days) later I’m still at it. Then the most random link-to-a-link-to-another-link-to-an-obscure-footnote-to-a-vague-looking-other-link suddenly lands me on a page of pieces.

About nine years ago, six journals surfaced, each containing different words, different images, or headings to photos not there, but in my book. Words to fill gaps in my paragraphs. Seven pieces to the puzzle of a single journal. Seven people. Six friends. One stranger unaccounted for: Me.

I look at the first entry again, words falling into place.

 

Find me.

I wish I didn’t have to do this.
Do not believe him.
I needed to disappear, believing I wasn’t broken and my life not over.

Find me at the tree of our best memories. Duncan Park, at noon on the 5th of Feb, 2009.

.

I sit back. Unmoving. Silent.

I’m seven years too late.

Read to Write: The Handmaid’s Tale

Author: wordledger

There are few books out there that pack a punch quite like this one. The possibility of it all, the plausibility. There are small moments only, in which the severity of it can’t be fathomed.

Dystopian tales are everywhere these days. They’ve been around for decades, centuries even, but were arguably kicked off in earnest for our generation with The Hunger Games.  The Handmaid’s Tale  was published several decades earlier, and yet I feel it is an immensely important read – both for me as a writer and as a human being.

How do you control a gender?  One method that has been around for millennia is the guise of protection. Or the removal of education. Money.

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How do you change a society, a culture, all at once and to the extreme? How do you write something contrary to what is known and lived, turning a strong, able-minded, thinking being into a passive follower? For those of us (women) living in the western world, we have rights, we have education. We can largely protect ourselves, make our own money and attain whatever luxuries or freedoms we may want. And yet, the possibility this book represents doesn’t seem outrageous, impossible or even unthinkable. The Handmaid’s Tale is immensely compelling, brilliant and terrifying.

It’s a dystopia, yes, but unlike other dystopian tales I’ve read of late,  The Handmaid’s Tale presents something immediately plausible. And as such, I think it’s an excellent example of just how impressive and effective a dystopian tale can be. They don’t need to be literary works of art, though this one certainly is. They just need to take something familiar to illuminate something sinister currently present in our society.

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There are two questions I believe are critical to dystopian writing:

  • What do we need to survive?
  • How do we currently use or squander it?

There are so many ways in which the Handmaid’s Tale flays our current existence and demonstrates how tenuous our struggles have been, how small our victories, and how fragile our stance. We live forever on a knife’s edge, we revel in it, and a writer has the beautiful opportunity to play with what might happen if we were to tip over the edge.

So do it. Play with what can be. Take something crucial, or seemingly crucial, out of existence and see where it leads you. Dystopian tales offer commentary on our society in a far more illustrative way than other genres. If civilisation, or the illusion thereof, remains, but the foundations of what enabled it are lost, what then?

The Handmaid’s Tale inspired in me a need to explore these questions further. It may well do the same for you. If this is something you’re already contemplating, I strongly encourage you to read this book and find the nuances that make this protagonist and her situation so distressing. Answering the need for a changed perspective, one that is at once familiar and completely foreign, is one of the sincerest and most distinct requirements for a significant, fathomable dystopia. I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

 

Other dystopian tales I enjoyed:

Read to Write: Spark

Author: wordledger

I found this one particularly hard to dissect beyond the usual scope of reading to write. Young adult (YA) stories often presents an interesting conundrum. I’ve often heard the argument that they are easier, more simplistic, escapism at its least challenging. I’ve also heard YA novels compared to burgers – superficially satisfying and delightful, but over quickly and without stimulation. And, while I by no means think this is true for all YA, I also believe that, unless you have an innate talent (in which case, I totally hate you) to get the formula just right, creating a YA burger is an extremely challenging task.

For one thing, a lot of YA fiction pretends to be easy. It pretends to lack complexity. Getting it just right, so that the pace drags you along, the writing captivates you, the characters matter to you, the story seems individualistic and the words match the situation … YA is everything world-building and plot demands from fiction / fantasy / sci-fi / literature / crime / thrillers / etc. but it has to be accessible and simple. You need to be able to believe the characters are both more mature than your average teenager, while still maintaining that distinctly teenaged air. Everything they feel, they feel to the extreme and more often than not, for the first time. Everywhere they go, it’s either a treat, trespass, or oversight due to neglect. Teenagers are constantly skirting the line between being unable to see the big picture, needing to make mistakes, and their actions defining the rest of their lives. And as a writer, it’s your job to enhance and extrapolate on all of the above.

I feel Spark managed this, for the most part. I’m still a little tentative on the romance, but I’m willing to wait to see what happens. The main reason I thought it’s a good focus for a Read to Write, is because it demands a lot of additional information.

Like most sci-fi works, there’s science beyond what we currently know, or slightly altered from what we currently know. And, inherent in this, is the need to inform the reader of where the science is from and what it means for the wider population.

Reading the reviews on Spark, this is one area in which the book might have needed some work. There seem to be a lot of readers who were confused by what was happening and became lost in all the explanations. I didn’t really find this myself, but having read the book, I can well understand why some did. With world-building, this is the eternal risk. You are always trying to strike the balance between giving enough information at the right time so readers aren’t confused, don’t become overwhelmed, and also don’t get bored or bogged down by an info dump. As a YA tale, this balance is harder to achieve. Spark in particular is a complex tale delving into the possibilities within genetics and the possible effects of manipulated gene in humans. On top of that it has a complex plot riddled with intrigue and conspiracies. There are readers who were confused by these complexities and felt they didn’t get the information they needed to understand what was happening. As a writer, how would you have improved on it? What would you have done differently, or when would you have brought certain bits of information forward?

There are still some things that remain unknown. I have questions and they are part of what makes me look forward to reading the next installment. But in writing my own YA sci-fi or fantasy, dystopian or historical novel, I definitely feel this balance is worth investigating further, and reading Spark with the intention of finding where more information might have been needed, and how it could have been presented, could well be a starting point.

Let the man come

Image SourceAuthor: wordledger

Sometimes, the story begins before you take up your part in it. This was such a time.

I nursed you, watched over you. Cried with you. You were always going to cry, you were barely two months old. And I … well, I’d been told this was my life now. The child I’d had before was gone and you would be my little penny.

I wish I knew what happened to the man who brought me to you. If he’d had the gall to stay around for five moments more, he might have heard my desperation, the notes of my despair. He might have heard my despising you. I cannot forgive it. I had a child. A little one. And I’ve heard it all before. One turnip is as good as any other, but for the fact that you were never mine. I was nursing you until I wasn’t, waiting until the man would come back for you once more. I had no say in any part of it.

Or so they thought. So they would like to think, those that take and displace, moving one controlled life into another.

And here, with you, they relied on a mother’s instinct. A woman’s nurturing nature. But they defined my child’s life. And to define is such a luxury. This is the choice that was not granted me.

Let the man come. It is done.

Read to Write: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

Secretsocieties_cover

Author: wordledger

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is one rocking feminist read! It’s the most enjoyable account of secret societies, wordplay and girls kicking figurative asses that I’ve read. It’s a rare gem, in which gender politics and societal statements come across almost effortlessly.

There’s one hell of a lot to promote this book, not the least of which being practical jokes combined with the mysteries of a 60-year old boys’ club, but Frankie brings it all together in a hilarious, stubborn, argumentative, brilliant narrative. Which is why I believe she is a fantastic character to analyse and learn from.

My writing is more often than not character driven and, as such, I’m always trying to figure out how to present a character’s idiosyncrasies and originalities in a fluid and believable way. There are so many cop-outs in character development. It’s often the case that a character’s defining characteristic is presented as a plot motivator. You’re introduced to a dancer and everything the character does, or is, revolves around achieving success in dancing. You’re introduced to an artist and everything the character experiences revolves around their love for creative visual beauty. And this is something that can be done well, but it’s arguably far simpler to construct a passion and then build a personality around that passion, than it is to construct a personality and then navigate a situation the character finds themselves in using those traits. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks does the latter and I believe she’s a far more rounded, believable and relatable character because of it.

Stubbornness
Frankie’s stubbornness is fantastic. She’s determined to do things her own way and every time someone tries to undermine her or ‘put her in her place’ this quality flares up. It’s a characteristic that drives her actions. She is recalcitrant, but explorative and very relatable in her often awkward arguments—awkward and yet somehow still far more articulate and effective than when I’m faced with a disagreement…

Obsession with neglected positives
For obvious reasons, this is one of my favourite things about the book, but it’s also a unique and wonderful insertion of humour into the narrative. Frankie questions everything and there is nowhere where this, and her intrinsic right to question, comes across more strongly than in her dissecting of language and its usage. This is a source of definition for her character and it sets her apart from other characters. It’s a source of conflict and a source of information.

Gruntled

It’s a singular aspect of her personality, however simple it may seem, and it helps to make the message of this book stand all the more strongly. If there is one thing I will continue to strive to do with my characters, it is to let their personality traits stand as strongly as their actions. And, to be honest, if I could write ‘funny’, I would. We remember the things that make us laugh.

DHFLB_Excerpt

Her questioning and intelligent nature
This ‘theme’ has featured in the above sections as well. It is very possible that Frankie wouldn’t have worked as a character if she wasn’t as smart as she so obviously is. Feminism as a concept is introduced early on in the book and a large part of what follows is down to Frankie exploring this concept and the innate inequality it combats. If Frankie hadn’t been someone who questions until she understands or understands enough to question something that’s been introduced to her, this book would’ve gone nowhere.

These are not the only three character traits of Frankie Landau-Banks, but to me they’re the ones that shine through the most strongly. And, I believe they’re the three that give birth to the others, or could be used to give birth to others. And interest can be used as a motivator, but life presents us with influences and situations outside of those and we are moulded by how we handle those. Frankie is impressionable in a very human way. Her mind, ideas and situation changes as she learns, understands, and becomes more firm in her beliefs. She doesn’t stand for any one thing at the start of this book and then learns to believe in something strongly enough to stand for it.

Frankie Landau-Banks is a phenomenally well-constructed character and well worth studying.

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Read to Write: The Gargoyle

Author: wordledger

Reading The Gargoyle was an incredibly diverse experience. It’s a good story, interesting, different, thought-provoking. It offers simultaneously new and old perspectives on religion, mental health and history. I thoroughly enjoyed it even outside of what I think it has to offer any aspiring writers. There are many reasons to read this book, as a reader and as a writer, but I’ve tried to narrow it down to three. So, in no particular order:

Showing, not telling.
The Gargoyle is one of the most visually present books I’ve ever read; the “showing” is phenomenal, which seems particularly impressive as it is a narrative of telling. We are told several stories and yet each history, mythological adventure or supernatural experience is shown through the descriptive language, the protagonist’s sense of humour and the various themes explored throughout.

For the first hundred or so pages, I was reading about ten minutes at a time before I became too uncomfortable in my own skin to continue; the experience of being burnt alive was made unnervingly real to me. And while I understand that making a reader squirm isn’t necessarily your goal, you cannot deny that it is a valuable skill-set to have. It is an ability that travelled through every page of this book and gave every other element of the story depth and tangibility. There is showing within philosophy, religion, societal practice and cultural history. The Gargoyle weaves together several histories with a succinct commentary that left me envious of thoughts more organised than my own.

Perhaps the most subtle of narrative strands, and most delightfully elusive, was the relationship that ties each and every story together, whether true or fabricated. The relationship between the protagonist and his Engel is not at the front of this story. It is something you sensitively, almost intrusively, discover. And it is almost exclusively shown. There is no ‘be still my heart’, no ‘I’m weak at the knees’, there is only a meeting and every beginning that follows. And this is largely because the work is riddled with thought. It’s philosophical and thematic and deceptively intense.

Themes.
One of the many many themes I discovered, is that of outward versus inward beauty.Quote1

This is not a new theme by any means, and yet, in The Gargoyle it’s presented in a new way. I believe it is an important theme to lift for the purposes of reading to write, because of how it’s handled in this book.

Before the accident, the protagonist made his livelihood off his looks. After the accident, his appearance was something wholly ruined. And it takes the entire novel for the protagonist to come to a particular understanding about his new reality. It’s a unifying strand, a foundational arc, and yet it is something that flits into focus here and there. Towards the second half of the book it becomes even less pronounced and yet it almost bear more emphatic weight. Quote2

I’ve read a couple of fictional representations of the internal struggle that might occur if someone who places great value in their appearances suddenly has that beauty taken from them. Even when this is one of the main plot points, I’ve almost always found myself distinctly disappointed in the characters and the in-your-face “message” the theme might be trying to convey. In The Gargoyle I found it humbling and thought-provoking. If there is ever a theme I wish to explore as an author, I will certainly be practising the nuanced approach I found here.

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Having said that, I focused on this theme in particular because it’s a fairly obvious theme and I was surprised by how well it was managed. It’s merely one of very many brilliant explorations.

Research.
I know, big surprise, it is important to do your research, blah blah blah. But, to be perfectly honest, it’s been a while since I’ve read a book that ties possibly boring or controversial topics together so beautifully. We’re talking religion, history, mythology and the potential beginnings of bookbinding. This book is rich with the language, fonts and processes of previous eras, and it transformed the reading experience.

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Latin, German, Mandarin, Old Norse … Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know enough to know whether it was all correctly used, but I know enough to know the German was. The Gargoyle is one of the first fictional books I’ve read where I could distinguish so many different beliefs, cultures and languages and how they are all influential and crucial to a sense of self. Identity, culture and language are inseparable, and this book is exceptionally crafted to demonstrate this.

If you have different cultures in your writing, if you’re approaching different accents and languages and different or opposing perspectives, then this book could be a wonderful help in determining how to set up those differences, when to emphasise and when to pull back. I would strongly recommend it every time.

Perhaps the only criticism I have of this book, and which I would certainly be looking out for in my own writing, is relying on the writing for too long. There is no denying that Davidson is a fantastic writer. The words in this book are skillfully crafted like the grotesques, but by the second half of the book, as a reader, I needed the story to progress faster, I needed the plot to develop and the characters to evolve. All the above elements were laboured for a couple hundred pages too long.

That said, I believe this is one of those rare tomes where you could read the work once every year and never experience it in the same way. It’s a book that will keep on giving, and so there is a good chance the second half has more to offer than I experienced this time round.

Read to Write: Harry Potter

Author: wordledger

I spent quite some time debating whether or not to bother writing a piece about the Harry Potter series. Largely because it seems there’s little left to add to the conversation. We all know how influential these books have been. So I shall try to keep it brief, touching only on the ways in which I believe exploring these books could be beneficial to a writer.

For me, this series shaped my expectations of what a story could be, and how it could affect a reader. The characters are real people, the suspense powerful, the world tangible. To begin, then,

 

Characters:

Not a single character feels false. And there are so very many. J.K. Rowling has a great talent for descriptive language. Whenever the author’s writing capabilities are questioned, my first defense remains that with a few words she is able to paint a picture so rich and broad that no one is left wondering what’s happening or how the surroundings are affected. This is true, too, for the characters. They are each distinct, the distinctions emphasised and the similarities largely ignored. Even Fred and George Weasley manage to represent two people rather than each being a copy of the other.

In my own writing, keeping the characters consistent, true to their upbringing and personality no matter the situation, is a persistent challenge. I’ve recently split my novel into four to try and write each character’s perspective as a whole so the voices remain distinct. I’m five months in and it’s only just beginning to feel less forced.

There are little ways in which Rowling manages to bring her characters to life, small indicators that immediately bring a character into their own. These are worth looking out for.

 

World-building:

As mentioned above, Rowling manages to do with a few words what others use paragraphs to describe. Yes, the world in question is largely the one most of us live in, and this does simplify some world-building aspects. In others, it makes it far harder. When building a fantastical world you can appreciate the difficulty involved in constructing new norms and ideals, but when having both the fantastical world and the real world in parallel, the laws by which you must abide become a bit more complex. There is a flexibility with which Rowling manages to interweave these two realities that is intricate and fascinating. At no point did I question either reality. This doesn’t become properly apparent, perhaps, until the Order of the Phoenix, where the magical world begins to flow into the real one far more substantially. Not only do buildings shift and change, but the political system we know is entangled with one we had no idea existed. Social politics, too, flow from one world to the other. Muggles cannot escape magical maladies or injuries, but, not to worry, a long history that is both ours and not ours has seen to it that there are procedures in place to manage this.

The depth of the world-building is doubled in scope by the unavoidable need for an expression of the already existing world. And yet the books do not waste time on explaining these. The world is built into the story and the story is built into the world. The way in which single sentences are both drivers and guides is something I myself have puzzled over at length.

 

Plot:

As an organic writer, plot is something I thought would come as I go. What really happened, is that I have a manuscript with a couple of really solid plot points, but far more warped nonsense that serves to disturb and diminish momentum, story-line and impact. Plot is important regardless of whether you’re writing a character-driven tale or an emotional exploration. There are different kinds of plot and some are far less overt, but you still need one. It took me a while to realise just how complex and brilliant the plot-lines are in Harry Potter.

Each book has its own distinct plot and these keep us hooked. And yet each book also has important elements that feed into the bigger plot that arcs over the entire series. Some of these are so subtle you never expect them to matter again, like the properties of a philosopher’s stone. Some are more overt, like the role of the dementors. Regardless, having these separate narrative arcs fall into place so perfectly remains impossible without an inordinate amount of plotting. And I cannot move past that simple fact. If I want my story to come together as a plausible whole, I will have to suck it up and plot.

 

Themes:

There is far more to talk about when it comes to these books, but I’m still trying to keep it brief. (No, really, I am.) So I’ll just quickly touch on some of the themes.

Themes are an interesting thing. Sometimes the themes we think we’re exploring turn out to be completely different from those discovered when reading the work. I remember reading an article many years ago now in which it was stated that J. K. Rowling intended the series to be an exploration of fathers, both good and bad and the forms in which those come. I still don’t really see it. To me the themes were friendship, loyalty, sacrifice, mortality, and good and bad and the shades in between. But what has become apparent when reading just about anything, is that I need the writing to have a point. Whether it’s the same as what the author intended is largely irrelevant. But I believe that when writing, it is important to know why you are writing a story (beyond the simple intention of getting it out on paper). If your story is cocooning an idea, belief, philosophy or experience it adds a layer to the work that acts as a grounding foundation. Both in reading and writing I have experienced a floundering sensation when this isn’t present. I didn’t always know why a story felt unfocused, that took some further exploration, but it almost always comes back to this. Other themes that arise from the writing are beautiful bonuses, wonderful insights into what your psyche is getting up to without you knowing. But a single conscious theme can make the writing experience far more rewarding.

 

To this day, I feel as though the scope and depth of J. K. Rowling’s story still surprises me. And the wonder of how it was achieved still perplexes me. It’s a treasure trove, an exploratory journey, a wondrous possibility and a true promise of nostalgia. I feel both honoured and blessed to have been young enough to expect a letter in the mail. And, as a writer, these books have been truly unparalleled teachers.