Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Flaw in JKR's (Brilliant) Plan

JK Rowling is absolutely brilliant. There is no other way of thinking of her talent in my mind. But as Dumbledore acknowledged, any person of extraordinary intelligence is also prone to some mistakes (though I don't believe JKR's to be rather large).

I will not cover the details of some flaws in JKR's techniques that I did in Labor Pains in the Birth of a Phenomenon -- And Why it Should Give You Hope (adverbs, POV, exclamation points), but rather would like to look at a few grand overview items that one sees more clearly once reaching the end of Deathly Hallows.

First, in a way, I believe that JKR bit off a bit more than she could chew through the middle of the series. Because she has such a honed talent for weaving in subtextual details of clues and mythical references, and her readers developed such a strong instinct for hunting them out, she unfortunately built up some expectations that could not be met. Whether from pressure to get the last book out as soon as possible, or her own inner desire to be done with it, I and many other fans felt that there were a few too many threads left dangling. Nothing of major import, but stuff that had been hinted at and not brought to full fruition.

Perhaps one of the reasons for this sense of loss is due to the abrupt change of venue for the final book. While I completely understand the rationale for having Harry, Ron and Hermione wander in the desert, I mean the forest, for so long, it did get a bit too long and tedious. Plus, it left the reader with the unsatisfied desire to live in Hogwarts again and see the completion for themselves of the other characters' growths. While we're told what has happened to members of Dumbledore's Army and the beloved staff during the final battle, and see them in action for a couple of chapters, it's not the same as living and interacting with them throughout the whole novel.

In the end, I somehow wished that JKR could have imagined another way to have Harry's final journey intersect with the castle more often. And if that had happened, I think some of those dangling loose ends would have been knitted up nicely.

As writers, especially those writing a series, or even those considering that oft-touted "brand," this is a point worth considering in your own work. If you take your next story in an abrupt departure from those that have come before, how will your reader handle it?  Will your readers follow you?  Or will you be charting out new territory alone?

Finally, I will discuss one small detail that nagged at me and didn't seem to have been fully thought out. When Harry discusses with Dumbledore after the great battle what to do with the Elder Wand, he decides to put it back where it came from so that:

"If I die a natural death like Ignotus, its power will be broken."

The problem with this is that Harry just battled Voldemort in a room full of people who saw him use that weapon. And if I'm not mistaken, Harry was not whispering when he explained to the Dark Lord how this most powerful wand now came to owe Harry its allegiance.

Are we to believe that no one in that room would one day decide to seek Harry out and claim that wand for his own?

Or is that to be the subject of the next series? :-)

There are many readers and critiques who can pick out the details of JKR's worldbuilding, characterization and plotting and show how certain aspects don't make sense in reality. That's the sharper side of the wonderfully detailed worldbuilding sword that JKR wields. She has woven such exquisitely crafted details into the plot and setting of her story that readers were enthralled. But when occasionally a continuity error was discovered, or a build-up did not pan out, critics jumped on it.

As writers this should not discourage us from creating our own works of wondrous detail, but rather to remind us how carefully we should plot and keep track of what we've created.  Notebooks, spreadsheets, folders and files -- whatever method helps you remember all your details, and what plot threads need to be wound back up, just be sure to get yourself organized.  Especially if writing a series.

Perhaps a Remembrall would help.

As I mentioned the the flaws I covered in The Boy Who Lived Comes to Life, noting these mistakes JKR made gives me hope.  It reminds me as a writer that I don't have to be perfect (though that is no excuse for not striving for excellence).  What is absolutely required, however, is to so thrill my reader as JK Rowling did that these imperfections just make the work sparkle more brilliantly.

As always, the keys to improving our craft are to write, read, share with other writers, and write some more. It is in studying a mentor's craft, like we do here with JK Rowling, that we can better improve our own.

What dangling threads or plot holes did you notice at the end of Deathly Hallows?  How have you avoided leaving these in your own work?

This post is part of the Final Chapter series, which is now collected on the Kindle for ease of reading as The Boy Who Lived Comes to Die totals 100 pages!