Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Power of Touch

One technique I think JKR uses excessively well is to employ the power of human touch to SHOW emotion rather than to tell. Throughout her stories, JKR utilizes words conveying touch between her characters to express the heights and depths of what her people are feeling. You can guarantee, in a high-intensity scene, there's going to be a lot more touching going on.

Study these examples, noting the bolded action, to see how in crucial, emotionally charged scenes, the physical act of touch is used to great effect:

“Where are we?” he [Harry] said.
Cedric shook his head. He got up, pulled Harry to his feet, and they looked around.

2 pages later

And then, before Harry's mind had accepted what he was seeing, before he could feel anything but numb disbelief, he felt himself being pulled to his feet.
(p. 636 & 638 GOF)

This example above has a mirrored effect: the paralleled wording contrasts the touch of loyalty between Harry and his former competitor seconds before Harry is betrayed by Wormtail. Harry has gone from being the loyal friend to being betrayed by his father's former friend, and must now fight for his life.

Then a pair of hands seized him roughly and turned him over.
“Harry! Harry!”...
Harry let go of the cup, but he clutched Cedric to him even more tightly. He raised his free hand and seized Dumbledore's wrist, while Dumbledore's face swam in and out of focus.
p. 671 GOF

With touching words such as “seized” and “clutched,” the power of Dumbledore's fear and Harry's mounting anxiety are powerfully conveyed. The reader can feel the emotions, rather than being simply told that Dumbledore was afraid and Harry was traumatized.

“RUN!” Harry yelled, and as the shelves swayed precariously and more glass spheres began to pour from above, he seized a handful of Hermione's robes and dragged her forward…”
p. 787, OotP

It touches the reader's heart, the force with which Harry protects Hermione. It also fueled a lot of Harry/Hermione shippers, but we won't go there. ;-)

Harry seized him and helped him back to his seat....
And pulling Dumbledore's uninjured arm around his shoulders, Harry guided his headmaster back around the lake, bearing most of his weight....
“I am not worried, Harry,” said Dumbledore, his voice a little stronger despite the freezing water. “I am with you.”...
“When did it appear?” asked Dumbledore, and his hand clenched painfully upon Harry's shoulder as he struggled to his feet.
p. 577-581, HBP

How satisfying is it for the reader to see, to feel, Harry taking care of his mentor. Here, Harry becomes the strong one, and this is actively conveyed through numerous “touching” verbs.

And just so we don't think that the power of touch resides only with our hero and his friends, this from HBP:

...Snape had burst into the room, his face livid. Pushing Harry roughly aside, he knelt over Malfoy, drew his wand and traced it over the deep wounds Harry's curse had made, muttering an incantation that sounded almost like song. The flow of blood seemed to ease; Snape wiped the residue from Malfoy's face and repeated his spell. Now the wounds seemed to be knitting...
...When Snape had performed his counter-curse for the third time, he half-lifted Malfoy into a standing position...
...“There may be a certain amount of scarring, but if you take dittany immediately we might avoid even that...come...”
 He supported Malfoy across the bathroom, turning at the door to say in a voice of cold fury, “And you, wait here for me.”
(HBP, p. 489 Bloomsbury, p. 523 Scholastic).

"Pushing," "knelt," "traced," "wiped," "lifted," and "supported." The power of human touch, of Snape's hands.

Look for places where you can weave more touch, in all its varied forms, into your story. Especially consider scenes of climax and passion. And don't limit touch to your hero and his friends, after all, not all touches are good.

Touch is elemental, archetypal even. It transcends centuries and cultures, and the sexes. It has the power to convey emotions as far ranging as love from hate and trust from betrayal. It's a powerful tool in your arsenal. Use it well.

Snape picture credit 
Graveyard picture credit

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Healing with Harry

Just a quick snippet -- I was reading a CNN article on Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford's recovery and saw where her husband Mark gave her a large-print edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for her to read.

"Last night, she took his iPod and scrolled through all the pictures. Early this morning she began to read cards made for her by some 4th graders! Her unbandaged eye tracked the lines, she opened the cards and turned them over reading the back. Mark's gotten pages of large print of Harry Potter's 1st book for her to hold and read."
CNN Source

This really touched me. I assume he knows his wife's interest and gave her Harry because he knew she would like it or is already a fan.

May the magic of Harry Potter and JK Rowling hasten her healing toward a complete recovery!!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Those Tricky Twins and That Peevish Peeves

Following in my series on archetypes as started with Threshold Guardians and the Forbidden Door, I would like to look at a storyline archetype that, in the write hands, can be one of the funnest to portray. Tricksters.

Tricksters are usually the center of fun, mischief, and mayhem in the story. They delight in upsetting the status quo or in “taking the mikey” out of other characters or the hero. They present the hero with a challenge unlike other characters as they question authority and promote chaos--encouraging the hero to question as well.

For tricksters in Harry Potter, we need look no further than Fred and George Weasley. They fit the Trickster description to a Wesley sweater embroidered T. Their spiritual counterpart is Peeves, which is why it was so delightful at the end of OotP, when Gred and Forge passed their mischievous torch to Peeves, and he seized it wholeheartedly.

Like many fans, I find Peeves and the twins’ antics totally amusing, and I fully understand why Dumbledore keeps Peeves about the place. In holding your reader's attention, it’s important to have someone kick things up a bit, to foster a constant element of surprise.

Without the Trickster upsetting the status quo, life would not only be duller, but the hero’s path more difficult. Tricksters provide aide for the Hero, if only indirectly. Not only can they poke the hero’s flaw (oh Potter you Rotter) quite painfully, but by showing clearly a different mindset, an opposing world view, an alternate way of being, they enable the hero to do the same. As Ginny says, when you’ve hung around Fred and George for a while, you start believing anything is possible.

JKR magnificently uses her Tricksters to not only upset the status quo, but to propel her hero onward in his quest. Without Fred and George, Harry would definitely not have discovered as many secrets about Hogwarts and his father. And without Peeves poking at his wounds, Harry might not have peered as deep into his own inner conflicts.

In what way have you used a Trickster archetype recently?

Peeves picture credit.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Upcoming Day-Long Workshop

I will be presenting A Writer's Guide to Harry Potter as a day-long workshop at Central Carolina Community College on Saturday, January 22, 2011.  This workshop is presented as part of CCCC's Creative Writing Program and will be held at the Pittsboro, NC campus.  I hope some of you who are close by will be able to join us.  The day will be jam-packed with fun discussion and loads of detailed analysis.

Click here to go to CCCC's website to learn more and sign up!