What Made Harry Potter Tick for You?

As you might know, the current book I’m working on is something I’ve been describing as “Harry Potter meets Ocean’s Eleven.” I finished the first draft, but the way I draft (at the moment), I end up with a very rough version of the story by the end of that first draft. (I’ve tried plotting. I’ve tried not plotting. These days, I’m resigned to the fact that it feels like I relearn how to write a book with each new book. Different stories call for different approaches. I do think I’m getting better at it as a whole, but it takes a ton of work, regardless what I do.)

In any case, this time around it’s been closer to the experience I had writing Vodnik: I had a general idea what I wanted the book to be about, and then I dove in writing. The characters were already pretty much set in my mind, but the actual plot was very loose. So there are quite a few times when I’d change direction in the middle of the book. Instead of going back and fixing everything to smooth it all out, I barrel forward. Momentum means a lot to me during that first draft. It’s how I get a sense for timing and the general pace of the book. I have to experience it to know if it’s working right. But that means that once the book is finished, I need to do a lot of smoothing before it’s ready for anyone else to read.

In other words, even after that first draft, the book is really only complete in my mind. I have to go back and make the rest of the novel match what ended up happening in my head.

Long story short, I feel like this book has the Ocean’s Eleven part of the equation down better than the Harry Potter part. This isn’t to say that it’s perfect yet–this is just the first draft, after all–but the bulk of the plot is focused on heists and cons, so it’s natural that my attention focused on that side of the puzzle. Now what I want to do is make sure it also feels like a school book. Yes, the setting is a school, but physical descriptions have always been something I’ve struggled with as an author. I have to go back after the fact to make things come alive, because at first all I really care about is what happens next.

So I’m going to reread the first Harry Potter to get a sense for what Rowling was up to. She managed to do an awful lot in that first book: introduce the magic system, the school, and a slew of characters–all while weaving the main story throughout it: Harry’s confrontation with Voldemort. In the end, you walk away from book one feeling like you’ve been immersed in Hogwarts. I want that feeling, but with my own school I’m describing.

What will I be looking for? Specific things. Nuts and bolts things. How many times does Draco appear in scene? How many classes are described in scene? How many are summarized? What subplots did Rowling put in to give the book its school flavor? Things like that. I’m not doing it to copy it–I’m doing it to understand the balance effort that went into it so that the end result was . . . Harry Potter.

With that in mind, I’m curious to hear from all you Potter fans out there. Just in the first book, what was it that really stood out to you? What made the book tick? Why did you love it? What do you remember most about it? Again–just the first book here. No fair jumping ahead to others. What made Hogwarts come alive? Any bits of opinion and information will help me when I start the reread, likely tomorrow.

(For now, I’m rereading the first draft. So far, I’ve been very pleased with it. Yes, there are some bumps and rough edges, but there have also been a few rock solid scenes I just loved. Always a nice feeling when you come across that in your own writing . . .)

In any case, comment away, and thanks in advance!

4 thoughts on “What Made Harry Potter Tick for You?”

  1. So exciting! Your book, and the chance to think back on HP! I’ve only read the series once. Thinking back – I remember some people warned me the first book was a bit slow, and that it might take me a while to really get into the story, but it wasn’t that way for me at all. I liked it from the first page and was smitten from the moment Hagrid takes Harry to Diagon Alley. I remember loving how Rowling painted a works I knew, or could recognize, and then just began to pepper it with magical bits: letters streaming out of a fireplace (Am I remembering right?), a train station with an invisible platform entrance, a feast room with a magical ceiling, portraits that moved and talked. I was so smitten that I was heartbroken when Harry had to go back home at the end of the school year, and I was desperate to get back to Hogwarts (read: to buy/borrow the next book).

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