Saturday, July 24, 2010

Zooming in on Your World

In the last post, The Wide-Angle View of World Building, we looked at how JKR used a wide-angle lens to provide the feel of a fully bustling world for her reader. Now let's look closer at the rich texture she provides through a zoom lens.

JKR filled her world with such minute details, and loads of them, that her critics claimed it was over done. But consider her primary market--kids eat this stuff up, quite literally:

• Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans
• Drooble's Best Blowing Gum
• Chocolate Frogs
• Cauldron Cakes
• Licorice Wands
• Pepper Imps
• Sugar Quills
• Blood Flavored Lollipops
• Cockroach Clusters
• Fudge Flies
• Butterbeer
• Gillywater
• Ogden’s Old Firewhiskey
• Pumpkin Pasties
• Jelly Slugs
• Acid Pops
• Hagrid’s Treacle Fudge
• Magotty Haggis (served at the Deathday Party)

This is a short list, just to give you the idea of the minute and interesting detail she puts into every ounce of her worldbuilding. Notice not only does she pay attention to the foods that her characters eat, but she made her confections fun and appealing to her age group.  I mean, who couldn't love a cockroach cluster?

Here's another list for a slightly different focus:

• Advanced Potion-Making by Libatius Borage (includes the Draught of Living Death)
• An Appraisal of Magical Education in Europe
• The Beaters' Bible by Brutus Scrimgeour (wonder if he’s related to Rufus Scrimgeour)
• Broken Balls: When Fortunes Turn Foul
• Curses and Counter-curses (Bewitch Your Friends and Befuddle Your Enemies with the Latest Revenges: Hair Loss, Jelly-Legs, Tongue-Tying, and Much, Much More) by Professor Vindictus Viridian
• The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection by Quentin Trimble
• Death Omens: What To Do When You Know The Worst Is Coming
• The Dream Oracle by Inigo Imago
• Guide to Advanced Transfiguration
• Hairy Snout, Human Heart
• A History of Magic by Bathilda Bagshot
• Hogwarts: A History (a major treasure troves of information)
• Magical Water Plants of the Mediterranean (talks about Gillyweed)
• Magick Most Evile (mentions the Horcrux)
• The Monster Book of Monsters
• Moste Potente Potions (includes the Polyjuice Potion)
• Nature's Nobility: A Wizarding Genealogy
• Olde and Forgotten Bewitchments and Charmes
• Prefects Who Gained Power
• Quintessence: A Quest (a clue to the series' theme)
• The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts
• Unfogging the Future by Cassandra Vablatsky

What is really cool about this list of books, beyond the fact that I'd like to buy them all, is that most of them are not just throw-away detail, but contain clues toward the series. Indeed, most of her details add something beyond mere description, whether hiding or highlighting a clue, or providing information on the backstory of the characters and setting. Very little of her zoom details are thrown in just as fluff.

The details you will add to your story will vary greatly by genre and target audience. A mystery should be filled with clues or red herrings. A romance will be packed with hints of the developing love between characters, with their backstory packing emotional luggage. A thriller or suspense should have details that hike the tension and darken the feel.  But make each one serve double-duty, not just to lay building blocks for your world, but to also build character, hide clues, highlight themes, and hint at the plot to come.

What fun worldbuilding details have you layered into your world? And what purpose do they serve beyond mere window dressing?

Also Recommended:

See TS Tate's World Building and a Cure for the Block.  She gives excellent examples of how JKR uses sensory details to build her world!


  1. I don't think JKR over did the world building. I ate up all those details too!

  2. Me too, Laura! I think all her fans did.

    Thanks for visiting and commenting!

  3. I'm working my way through this interesting blog from the oldest post to newest, so I don't know if this has been discussed elsewhere, but I found it fascinating that the names of the authors often had a direct relation to the subject of the book. Consider Vindictus Viridian writing about revenge, Newt Scamander on magical creatures, Cassandra Vablatsky on the future (the Cassandra of Greek mythology)!

  4. Wow, Kriti, I'm honored that you would want to spend that much time on my blog. I hope you find some of the posts helpful. And yes, JKR definitely gave meaningful names, and not just for the authors of her books. Cassandra Vablatsky is also a play on Helena Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy.

    Thanks for your visit and comment!

  5. I think this blog is great - I've been telling all the HP fans I know about it, AND it inspired me to continue my HP fan-fic that I had abandoned ages ago! Though most of the details have fizzled out *sigh*.
    Congratulations on doing such a wonderful job!

  6. Kriti - you're the greatest! I'd love to hear about your fanfic? Are you on Twitter?

  7. :)
    I'm not on Twitter, but I do upload on ( a blog I'd started years ago but which soon became rather comatose!). It's called "Priori Incantatem" for now, and it's not good at all. But it's fun to write/imagine :)