Saturday, October 23, 2010

Clue Technique -- Discredit Your Witness

In an earlier post, we discussed how the magical JK Rowling uses diversion to masterly distract the reader from any clues which she lays. She employs several techniques for drawing our attention away from these tidbits, which we can utilize in our own stories. In this post, we'll look at one.

One way you can hide a clue is to make the person who reveals it look like a complete idiot. For JKR, Trelawney and Luna seem to be the biggest target for hiding these sly nuggets. They simply spout so much nonsense, each in her own way, that you don’t expect them to ever get anything right. Fudge is a similar character. So, once a character has been discredited, he or she becomes a prime candidate for laying an important clue.

Of course, what Trelawney’s most famous for are her two “true” prophecies--the one that led Voldemort to Harry on that fateful Halloween, and the one about Wormtail returning to his master--but she also makes an accurate prediction in Harry’s very first lesson:

     "My dear," Professor Trelawney's huge eyes opened dramatically, "You have the Grim."
     "The what?" said Harry.
     He could tell that he wasn't the only one who didn't understand; Dean Thomas shrugged at him and Lavender Brown looked puzzled, but nearly everybody else clapped their hands to their mouths in horror.
     "The Grim, my dear, the Grim!" cried Professor Trelawney, who looked shocked that Harry hadn't understood. "The giant, spectral dog that haunts churchyards! My dear boy, it is an omen -- the worst omen -- of death!"
     Harry's stomach lurched. That dog on the cover of Death Omens in Flourish and Blotts -- the dog in the shadows of Magnolia Crescent...
 (p. 107, PoA)

Trelawney is presented as a charlatan, McGonagall discredits her entirely and tells Harry she’s predicted a death every year, and the reader knows quite well Harry’s not going to die in book 3 of a 7-book series (which JKR had already announced). So, who would pay attention to the very real clue that death is attached to the Grim? It’s not Harry’s death that’s being foretold, however, it’s the dog’s’s Sirius’. The Grim, Sirius’ animagus alter-ego, finally catches up to him at the end of OotP.

Taking Trelawney seriously is one thing...but Luna...? Still I think Luna was on to something big. From her (or her father’s) accusations that “Fudge’s dearest ambition is to seize control of the goblin gold supply” (p. 174, OotP Bloomsbury), to Scrimgeour being a vampire (p. 294, HBP, Bloomsbury), to the Aurors as part of the Roftang Conspiracy to “bring down the Ministry of Magic using a combination of Dark magic and gum disease” (p. 299, HBP, Bloomsbury), she seemed to be hitting rather hard that something was rotten within the ministry and a battle for power was imminent. In Deathly Hallows, one of the first things to happen was the fall of the Ministry, toppled from within.

So, if you’ve done the work to create an outlandish character, utilize one of JKR’s techniques and put the character to extra work by giving her an outlandish clue to hide that the reader will never suspect. Make sure she truly does spout nonsense most of the time, or the reader will catch onto you and start taking your character seriously. Remember, it’s always sleight-of-hand, distraction, that you’re going for.

Do you have a clue you need to plant which would be great coming out of the mouth of a character your writer won't take seriously?  If so, please share in the comment trail!

This article is part of the Sleight of Hand series with tags of  Mystery Plotting and Clues.

Picture credits: Prof. Trelawney, Luna Lovegood

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Will JK Rowling Revisit Harry's World?

Could JK Rowling be writing another Harry Potter story?

I was initially very dubious of any claims that JKR would revisit Harry's world.  She seemed rather firm at the end of Deathly Hallows that she would not return.  That's what the whole Epilogue was about:  Here's the whole clan 19 years later because this story is final.  Done.

Over a couple of weeks ago, when JKR's interview with Oprah aired, the Internet buzzed with the possibility that she would do another Harry Potter book.  All the hoopla was based on the following response to Oprah's prompt, "But you know what happens ever after":

Yeah, I do.  I couldn't stop...They're all in my head still...I could definitely write an eighth, ninth, tenth.  I could easily...I'm not going to say I won't...I feel I am done, but you never know. 
I listened to this, though, and thought that it was nothing different than what she'd said before.  She wouldn't discount future HP books because she didn't want to limit her possibilities, but she wasn't planning on writing another one either.

However, after today's broadcast from the Hans Christian Andersen Award, I'm having second thoughts.  In her speech before the audience in Odense, Denmark, JKR said:

I love my own characters so much that leaving them all behind after seventeen years was a kind of bereavement.  The fact that so many people enjoyed the world that I made stuns me every day.  And yet miraculously, it still feels like my own private kingdom where I can't help strolling occasionally just to see what my surviving characters are up to.

Question: Is "strolling occasionally" a JKR euphemism for "writing a new story"?

When you put today's remarks together with what she said just a couple of short weeks ago on Oprah, and this coming from a writer who is a master at subtext and leading her reader's on a trail-of-clues mystery, you have a strong hint that something Harry Potter related might truly be in the works!

Honestly, I don't think she's busy writing another HP story at the moment.  I think she's busy at work on that political fairy-tale for children...whatever that may be.  But I would not be at all surprised to find out that she's writing snippets here and there as ideas occur to her and collecting plot notes and character sketches.

And if she is, I doubt very seriously that she would revisit the Harry Potter story with Harry as the main character.  I think his Hero's Journey was very well defined and over.  However, that she would revisit the wizarding world with another character is definitely a possibility--as she teases us with her "surviving characters" quote.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

An Open Letter to JK Rowling

Dear Ms. Rowling,

Like many of your fans, I'm also a writer.  I've read or watched many of your interviews, including the most recent one on Oprah.  However, as a writer, I have lots of questions which I've never heard addressed.

If you chance upon this blog and have a free moment, :-), could you answer a question...or 50?

1) When you first started writing, who encouraged you the most?

2) What did you do to learn the craft? Did you read books on writing, join a writers group, attend conferences?

3) You seem to have maintained a high level of privacy with your work while writing Harry Potter, but aside from your agent and editors, have you ever used a critique partner?

4) How do you maintain your writing time with the amount of pressure you must receive to spend on the business and promotional end?

5) How much time do you put into research for your story?

6) Your novels seem so full of analogies to myths, alchemy, and classical stories.  As a generalization, did fans oversee what was there, or not catch it all?

7) I think I've read somewhere that you have a very detailed plan before you write.  Is this correct?

8) Have you ever spoken at a writers conference?

9) What is something you learned with time that you did not understand when you began writing?  I'm asking for something related to craft here.

10) In what areas do you believe you strengthened your writing through the series?

11) What aspect of the craft do you find to be the most difficult?  The easiest?

12) Who do you turn to when you need help, writing-wise?

13) What's the best piece of advice you were ever given in regard to your writing?

14) What would be your biggest piece of advice for writers, both new and not-so-new?

15) What do you do now to continue to improve your craft?

16) Do you ever read books on writing?

As a writer, I have learned the most from reading--reading other writers, judging contests, and critiquing manuscripts.  I've learned tremendous amounts from reading both the Harry Potter series as well as the speculation of fans regarding the books.

Thanks so much, Ms. Rowling, not only for the vast amounts of enjoyable time I've spent reading your delightful stories, but also for helping me to improve my own!


(Any other writers out there, please join in.  Post your questions in the comment trail, and I'll keep this letter revised and updated as we go along.)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Win Moody's Mad-Eye!

Contest is now closed!! Winner to be announced soon.

Halloween is approaching, and with it one of the most special days in the Wizarding World!  It was on Halloween that Voldemort met his match in one-year Harry.
It was also on Halloween that:

  • Harry, Ron, and Hermione defeated the Troll
  • attended Nearly Headless Nick's Death-Day Party
  • the Fat Lady portrait was gashed by Sirius trying to get into Gryffindor Tower
  • the Goblet of Fire spewed out the FOUR champion names

To celebrate, I'm announcing a special give-away.  On October 31, I will choose from one of my followers to receive Mad-Eye Moody's magical eye -- or this case, a Turkish nazar boncugu.

Please check out my post at Mad-Eye's Mad Eye for an explanation as to why I think this Turkish nazar boncugu represents Moody's eye.

The nazar boncugu I have to give away is not exactly like the one pictured, but very close.  It's the same colors and style, but measures 4 1/2" or 11 cm.

To enter, all you have to do is follow my blog.  On Halloween, I will randomly pick the winner from my list of followers.

Go ahead, click here and enter now!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Best of JK Rowling on Oprah

So, JK Rowling was on Oprah today, and many of us came together to enjoy a TweetParty as we viewed. Below are some of the best snippets (in my POV) from the show.


First off, from what I heard, JK Rowling did NOT say anything differently than what I've heard before regarding whether she'd write another Harry Potter novel. She basically said she wouldn't rule it out, not that she definitely would.

12 publishers rejected The Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone. The 13th ended up being the lucky one.

"JK Rowling is the first self-made billionaire author in history, selling more than 400 million books, captivating readers in 69 languages and 200 countries around the world.  Deathly Hallows is the fastest selling book of all time."

The rest below are quotes from JK Rowling:

Regarding PS/SS: The difficult thing's going to be to get published.  If it's published, it will be huge.

I was not the world's most secure person... And yet in this one thing in my life, I believed. I can tell a story.

I'm very frustrated by fear of imagination. I don't think that's healthy. (caught by

I'm not pushing any belief system here, although there is a lot of Christian imagery in the books...and certainly in Hallows.

In magic man has to rely on himself...That's the appeal of magic...that we ourselves have power and we can shape our world.

If you've ever been there, you will never ever take for granted that you don't need to worry. (on being poor)

I had no one near me...who could in any way help me...with the really crazy stuff...Like what do you do when the press is searching your bins.

Sometimes I know what I believe because of what I've written.

The books wouldn't be what they are if [her mother] hadn't died...Her death is on virtually every other page...At least half of Harry's journey is a journey to deal with death...I loved her and she died. That's why they are what they are. (caught by

And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

It is impossible to live without failing at something.  Unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all.

I've met extraordinary people through Harry Potter and not one of them didn't have their failure.

It's the ability to use failure that often leads to the greatest success. (caught by

JK Rowling on power of love & 9-11:  Because those last phone calls were all about..."I love you." What's more powerful than that?

About happiness, referring to Dumbledore and Mirror of Erised:  The happiest man alive would look in the mirror and see himself exactly as he is. So, I would have to say that I'm pretty close.

You could tie my hands to my sides, I suppose. But I have to write.

I did it. I'm really proud that I did it...But this is a new phase. (on leaving behind Harry Potter)

She said a girl in her early 20's apparated out of the pavement and said "You are my childhood." (caught by

Photo credit