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


  1. Hmm, some things to ponder on in my own writing. I tend to not be as deliberate as Rowling - I use the touch sense a lot, but I need to cater it more for the emotions rather than the actual movement of the scene. Blend the two together and it seems to be a great combination!

  2. Thanks, Sarah. I love your idea of blending the two types of touches together. For me, I tend to forget to use touch, and love having the examples of how to use it powerfully as a reminder!

  3. All senses are important to incorporate, but I agree there is something very visceral about touch. Something raw and emotional. It is a great tool for sure!

  4. Thanks, Lisa. Was it you that posted a link recently to a blog entry about the senses that went beyond the 5? It included things like a sense of motion and stuff. I thought it was wonderful. I know I got it from someone on Twitter, but can't remember now who.

  5. Awesome! I love it. I'll remember that as I'm revising my scenes - learning from the masters. :)

  6. This post is awesome. It really made me understand "The Power of Touch". I LOVE Harry Potter and writing, so this blog is perfect for me! :D Thanks!