It’s been a busy weekend. We went over to friends for dinner Saturday evening and got back really late — too late to blog.
I’ve read all the comments everyone made over the weekend and I’m reminded of a recurring question I’ve pondered over the years. If you read the Harry Potter books with a critical eye, you’ll notice that J.K. Rowling regularly breaks certain “rules.” For starters, there’s her constant use of adverbs in dialogue tags. She sometimes uses quite a bit of narrative summary (i.e., telling instead of showing). And often, we’re not in any particular character’s head.
And yet the story works. It works extremely well.
Why is that? What makes the story work? What magic does J.K. Rowling perform to bewitch her readers so effectively?
I have my own ideas on this, but I’d like to hear from you all. If you’re a Potter fan (as I am), why? And if you’ve read at least one Potter book and didn’t find it captivating, why not?
I’m sure there are lessons we can all learn by thinking about these questions.
I’ll be at a writing conference for the next few days, but I will have good internet access and should be able to blog every day.
Well J.K. Rowling does a lot of things that work in her writing.
First of all, is the way she plans it. the plot always has a twist. She also used plants to give the reader clues a lot.
She also makes the characters colorful and they seem to just come to life while one reads the story. They have complex goals and motivations that are revealed throughout the story. Every character has a light and a dark side. Most important of all is the fact that not one major character remains static throughout the series. They all grow and change as they are put through more pressured situations. Their loyalties all lie in different places. For those of you who read HP, you’ll notice that most people are either with Voldemort, the Ministry, Dumbledore/Harry, or on their own.
One thing about J.K. Rowling’s narrative summary is that it never lasts for too long. She makes it short, sweet, and to the point. Even so, she has a way of, even though it is summary, allowing the reader to visualize the events taking place. Plus, if she’s decribing a school year, she’s gonna’ have to use summary once in a while.
As for the dialouge tags and adverbs, those will sometimes annoy me a little bit, but the rest of her writing makes up for it.
Something essential in books as serious as Harry Poter (especially the last one) is the use of comedy. A lot of the last book has many scenes of great drama and turmoil. Even so, she still manages to squeeze in a joke or too. Someone once said, “make em’ laugh a little and cry a lot,” or something like that….
Well that’s all I can think of at the moment. All I can say now is that I’m glad J.K. Rowling didn’t know all about “the rules” before writing the series, or it might’ve not turned out the wonderful way it is now.
John W. says
I think that knowing all the rules and knowing when it works to bend/break them is important. That along with deep characters that are constantly growing and plenty of twists to suck you in makes it a great book. I’m sad to see the series end.
Charlotte Babb says
I can’t analyze how she does it, but I stayed up all night reading–until 5am, while lying down in my bed.
I think it is because she draws out the inner conflicts of all the characters–their fear of the future, their loyalties, their budding love lives, in addtion to their quarrels with each other, all against the larger looming danger that must be solved now, that can’t be put off later. And she uses the mystery format, one more clue, where does it take you, how does it fit in–in some ways Harry is the Hardy Boys meet Nancy Drew.
Another thing is that there are minor characters that we can care about–Neville is one of my favorites. I had hoped for more from Draco Malfoy, but you can’t win them all.
What is rare is to have well developed and changing characters in a mystery format, and that is not possible without a 2000 page character arc.
On the other hand, as I watched the new movie, I realized that all the stuff that was taken out for the movie is exactly the kind of stuff that my agent wants me to take out of my book. After all, Rowling did not publish an 800 page tome the first time around, and her writing improved trememdously over the span of ten years.
I have to admit I’ve always been cool on the idea that fiction should be bound by rules. Kinda dampens the “creative” half of the “creative writing” equation, y’know? Sure, there might be generalities that have proven useful if one is looking to fit into a certain mold (particularly if the goal is to be commercially viable in the middle of the demographic bell curve). But, as Ms. Rowling and some other luminaries have shown, success is possible via other routes also. Go read “On The Road” and get back to me.
Personally, I think much of HP’s appeal lies in the fact that her series is so character driven. Not to discount the dense plot and devices therein. But almost every discussion I hear/read regarding the books revolves around the characters; their motives, interactions and speculations of what they might do in future episodes. NOT where the plot is taking them.
In some sectors this is a refreshing change from all the issue-centric fare cascading off the shelves the past decade or so. A lot of people who read incessantly, myself included, are tired of characters being secondary to the frame story of some Pressing Issue. You can almost hear legions of authors exclaim simultaneously on any given day, “Hey, I’ll write a book about ‘Malady X’! All I need is some research on the particulars, apply them to a heroic but ultimately doomed (or maybe triumphant) protagonist with no other qualities, have them thwarted (or nearly so) by a person/administration/diety aligned squarely against them, and Voila! NY Times list, here I come!!” If it weren’t for the occassional pronoun, you might as well be reading an entry in the DSM-IV or PDR.
In the face of all that cookie cutter dreck, a well written tome that shows strong character development is a literal joy. I mean, think of all the most famous TV sitcoms. Yeah, the plots were inventive and interesting. But the reason people tuned in week after week was to see how Norm, or Rachael, or Homer, or whomever, dealt with the situation they’re emeshed in. That shouldn’t be too suprising. We’re social animals first and foremost, with equal emphasis on both words. Others fascinate us at a very visceral level. And I don’t think THOSE rules change between one medium and the next. Print authors should be just as cognizant of this as script writers, in my blowhard opinion.
Which is now over 🙂
Carrie Neuman says
I’m not a fan. I find her writing a little too plot driven for my taste. I want to be deep in the character’s head feeling what he feels.
Plus I hate the wizarding world. What kind of people have unlimited power and hide from the world with it? Oh, but Rowling invented some limits on the wave a wand, say some faux Latin, and anything you want happens. The limits always feel invented for the sake of the plot, not for any organic reason.
I’m sure another part of my problem is my age. I’m not in high school, but I haven’t been out of it long enough to be nostalgic for it. With the last movie, I didn’t understand why Harry didn’t just quit. He’s got a vault full of cash – get a private tutor. (I also wanted to know why no one mentioned Umbrage’s punishments to their parents. Not one student thought of that?)
I just don’t feel that trapped as an adult, and it’s hard for me to feel sympathetic to it.
I think it’s because of the story. When I first read the books, they are so exciting and well, they keep moving, so I don’t need to refer to all these “rules.” I don’t have time to!
I think the major thing that makes Harry Potter fly is because all of us resemble the characters in one or the other way, and because it is so real, while still being so magical.
There is a child in all of us that would like to believe that even as we are here today, we can go to a world where anything is possible. This makes reading these books a joy, because they let you believe for a moment.
They are wonderful! Nice Topic,
Pamela Grundy says
I think her writing appeals because it is plot driven and it appeals to a barely subconscious wish a lot of people have (children and adults both) to feel special and powerful.
I have noticed that popular novels are often not all that that well written but they have strong characters and strong plots. I have a hard time choosing fiction, but if it doesnt grab me on the first page, forget it. If it does grab me and I fall in love with it, then I dont want to read anything else when Im done. I think that happens with a lot of Rowlings readers.
Also, the apostrophe key on my keyboard is stuck and I keep putting off fixing it. I have to go to work. I hate my job. Ive been working in call centers for five years and Im so sick of it.
Christophe Desmecht says
Having read zero of the HP books, I can’t comment on them. But I am confused after reading the above comments. Some people say they are character-oriented and others claim they are plot-driven. From the comments I can make out that for everyone, it’s either one or the other.
Why the difference in opinion?
Or are some people just stuck on -isms and just like to use the words “plot-driven” once in a while, just to be cool :p (don’t get mad, it’s just a joke)
Why the difference of opinion? Just that – a difference of opinion. Perhaps it reflects a difference in the lists of books we’ve read in the past. HP seems character driven by characters (rather than plot, as strong as it was) in comparison to what I’ve been subjected to lately. But others’ recent literary experiences and milage may vary.
Ah, “-isms”. You know how it is. Some of us feel compelled to use them for the same reason other people feel compelled to add their voice to threads centered on books they’ve never read. Makes us feel more intelligent than we are, no? (don’t get mad, it’s just a joke)
Story Hack (Bryce Beattie) says
For me the “magic” is: characters I care about, doing stuff in a world that’s fun to think about.
And she gets you to care about Harry right off the bat. I mean, who wouldn’t side with an orphan who has been raised by an abusive uncle and aunt. After that, we immediately like anyone who befriends him and hate anyone who is mean to him.
What strikes me is the brilliance of Rowling’s mind. How in the world can she create such amazing characters, scenes, and plots and keep them all together? I’m astounded by that.
ML Eqatin says
I have to weigh in here. I have spent almost a decade following the HP phenomenon, and it is comprised of several aspects. The books are only one part, and that has been talked over above. I would put all my emphasis on the first three books, however. The last four were riding on the first three. I could not, for instance, remember most of HP6, altho I had read it. HP5 was badly wanting for a plot-driver serious enough to call it story; it bounced erratically like a pinball from emotion to emotion (one darn thing after another is what they called that back when I was in school.) HP4 had a plot hole so large you could have driven a tractor through it — the magical object that drove the end could have been inserted at any point without the tri-wizarding contest being necessary. That tells me it wasn’t very compelling.
But here’s the kicker: a mom is willing to lose her voice reading a 700-page book to two teenagers who are so intent on finding out what happens that they can’t wait. Multiply that across a whole society and HP gets a lot of brownie points in my book.
HP is like a snowball: once it’s rolling, it is the momentum that makes it go. The social experience. Many people read HP simply because so many people they knew had read it.
So I put my market research on the first books: rather ordinary snowballs that somehow started to roll. The last ones would have rolled whatever their quality. The Christian fuss definitely helped propel Potter into the limelight. It might have died of itself if the original book had not been so delightfully readable. It was readable because it was built on a basic fairy-tale structure (poor orphan really has magical powers and mean step-family can’t stop him; great evil threatens the world and hero prevails through virtue and well-earned friendships). It did this by using school experiences every kid (and former kid) could relate to, coupled with wishes that we all have for significance.
And JKR did it with a tongue-in-cheek humor that poked mild fun at today’s conventions. She kept it up for two more books, and then the humor trailed off into mostly drama, but by then the phenomenon was going strong as a cultural bonder. Kind of like the Beatles.
So I’m not going to assume that if I produce a novel like her last 4 they will sell. I don’t think those would have made much of a splash if any had been the first books. But I do recognize that JKR has trained the tastes of a generation of readers (and I bless her for bringing those readers into my market) so her style is one to be studied seriously.
Enjoy the write! -MLE
Laura Ware says
I’m going to weigh in and say part of the success is that Rowling makes you CARE about the characters. She makes them so vivid – and not just the trio. I cried at some of the deaths in 7. (I’m assuming you want this to be spoiler free?) I cheered at the victories of some of the characters who, while not the main characters, had so much life and story you cared about them as much as you cared about Harry, Hermione, and Ron.
My 2 cents, anyway. It is a quest story – finding what you need to kill the bad guy – but that’s my opinion, anyway.
Pamela Cosel says
Here’s my two cents:
First, I’ve not read a single HP book. So (to Tom), I am posting because Randy’s group here is such a lively interaction with those of us interested in writing. Second, I’ve read these posts (and really like Julie’s initial entry) to learn just what makes HP books tick and why people read them. Do your posts make me WANT to begin to read the HP series, is the question I have. That’s why I’ve lurked here to see what HP readers have to say. I too am confused: are the books plot-driven or character-driven? I suspect–since the Rowling series has been so successful–that she has accomplished both.
As for my tastes, I have to agree with Carrie — I am not a fan of the wizarding world. BUT…in taking these lessons here from Randy, if we are each to excel in our craft of writing, we must read “the best.” I want to be convinced that Rowling’s way is one of the best — and so, eventually, I’ll likely break down and check HP Book #1 out from the library. Many other reads and projects stand in the way, for now. Great posts, everyone.
bonne friesen says
I really tried to like the HP books and I just couldn’t swing it. I read the first one and started the second. I couldn’t make myself continue, so I rented the first two movies. I watched the first one and turned the second one off in the middle cuz I just didn’t care. I let them alone after that, but I did watch and enjoy the last two movies, as movies. I don’t think I’ll attempt the books again.
This is my personal quirky opinion and I don’t expect it to be shared.
I found the first book deathly slow off the start. It seemed really belaboured (poor little Harry, so abused) and took forever for something interesting to happen. Also, I felt that it didn’t give me any reason to actually like him as a person. He had interesting (or tragic) circumstances, but I find Harry rather dull himself. Most of the characters feel predictable although the occasional minor character is engaging.
It probably was decently plotted, but I didn’t care about the plot because it was happening to stock characters that I didn’t enjoy. It lacked Powerful Emotional Experience to this minority reader.
Oh, and in this last movie, it was amusing to compare Harry’s reaction to the death of his godfather to Frodo’s “Gandalf, NO!” moment when the Balrog took him down. My husband felt the director could have tried something more original.
My two bits.
ML Eqatin says:
“The Christian fuss definitely helped propel Potter into the limelight.” Do you think the Christian fuss is invalid? Should we be encouraging our children to get into wizardry and witchcraft? The Bible lists sorcery as one of the “works of the flesh” we should not do (see Galatians 5:20). Is it possible the devil puts a spell on those who read books about sorcery and makes them seem fascinating and good reading? Are we selling our children’s souls for the sake of their interest in reading?
Dr. Dobson said, “We have spoken out strongly against all of the Harry Potter products.” His rationale for that statement: Magical characters — witches, wizards, ghosts, goblins, werewolves, poltergeists and so on — fill the Harry Potter stories, and given the trend toward witchcraft and New Age ideology in the larger culture, it’s difficult to ignore the effects such stories (albeit imaginary) might have on young, impressionable minds.
ML Eqatin says
While I share some of Dobson’s concerns, this blog isn’t a Christian writer’s blog but a general fiction blog. Also, I study HP because I want to reach the same readers that JKR is reaching.
My husband and I raised 3 kids while running a live-in ministry to the homeless. They saw the battle first hand, and we discussed all parts of the culture, along with the effects thereof (and HP has many wonderful effects). All are now engaged Christian adults today. I fear that much of the ‘protectionist mentality’ is producing a bunch of ‘hothouse’ Christian kids who have never examined any other viewpoints and find them irresistible when they encounter them out of the hothouse.
If you saw what else is out there for kids, you’d applaud JKR: no sex, no cussing to speak of, good values — and the witchcraft is campy and fun, not new-age or realistic. Compare to Lemony Snicket, where all the adults are either stupid or powerless.
Pam Halter says
I enjoy fantasy and am trying my hand at writing it, so I can’t say HP is evil or bad because it’s fantasy. I think JKR does a marvelous job of description, and being a British author, has A LOT of description in the first few books (I’ve only read the first 4.) She has created a unique, really fun world that any kid would love to visit. The biggest problem I have is that Harry and Co. typically save the day by lying, cheating or stealing. The ends justify the means. It’s not a good lesson. But then, it’s not a moral story, is it? It’s a fantasy.
SHARON THEIL says
The biggest problem I have is that Harry and Co. typically save the day by lying, cheating or stealing. The ends justify the means. It’s not a good lesson.>>
Of course I guess it depends on what you mean by the words ‘lying, cheating, or stealing’. For example, Indiana Jones ‘stole’ an ancient relic so that it would end up in a museum and not in the hands of the Nazis. But is that really stealing? To take something that does not belong to you in order to protect innocent people? Is that not a ‘good lesson’?
Joleena Thomas says
No doubt Harry Potter is full of rich characters. I’m just reading number 7 now and I love the humor.
These books have a strong theme and themes: one which shows the wrongness of becoming too arrogant. Even Harry’s father was not perfect and…
On the surface, these books are about the fight against the character of Voldermort who pushes all the boundaries, becoming a megalomaniac and reaching the pinnacle of evil.
Underneath we see that the characters are all vulnerable to negative traits, but most are trying to “get along” in an imperfect world; how they respond in serious situations is a testament to their characters.
It’s teachings go against the idea of using means which destroy the soul to attain any kind of power. Voldemort does goes to such lengths and we ask “Why?” How has he become so warped? In life we ask the same questions regarding the “real bad apples”.
Characters in the 7th book “Thank God” for safety.
Additionally, it is show in the end that characters who mirror racist qualities, (Harry’s aunt, uncle and Dudley–Muggles vs. “their lot,” the Wizards) haven’t been “pure” evil as the Voldermort variety, but rather have been shown simply to be ignorant.
It’s a marvelous scene where Dudley…
I’m not going to write what happens, but we see a redeeming quality.
AND it shows that God is merciful: Even Voldemort– the worst of the worst–can be saved if he SHOWS REMORSE.
This isn’t just an entertaining series, it deals with philosophical issues.
It teaches lessons about forgiveness, pride; in the 7th I’m reading again about the trust of friends; and the sadness of betrayal.
There is the prevailing subject of courage even to the extent of giving up one’s own life and cowardice to the extent of giving up someone else’s.
The moral lessons in these books are amazing to read within the magical backdrop.
I feel for Joanne having lost her mother and I believe her loss contributed to her need which drove her to pour her heart into the writing of these books.
As I read the 7th book, it’s a continuing joy and I’m thankful to the librarian many years ago that recommended them.
The result of good writing is to leave the reader with an emotionally charged experience. When that happens, regardless of the author or genre, the book has succeeded.
Rowling’s books create a very powerful experience as does a lot of fantasy in general. I would argue that the boundaries of fantasy are rather wider than most other genres, allowing and indeed encouraging both author and reader to cover more concepts and ideas.
The very highest examples of writing will leave the reader questioning whether the story could be real rather than made up.
Witness most religious texts. They present more fantastic ideas than most fantasies could ever hope to cover.
Because they leave the reader with a highly charged emotional experience, a lot of readers think every word is true.
As writers, that reaction is what we are seeking to produce in our readers. Does the means justify the ends? Everyones answer to that will differ, just as it should.
Christophe Desmecht says
It seems logical to me that an analysis of a book as to whether it is character or plot driven is something where opinion and taste are irrelevant. I see now that I have phrased my question poorly, so let me correct that mistake.
What makes you think it’s plot driven, character driven or both?
I’ve seen comments here about liking the characters to bits, while the plot is not important. That obviously does not mean the plot isn’t there and that it isn’t solid. But it does strike me as strange that others say that the plot is what makes the books so interesting. I’m just trying to understand what’s so good about them as I find the setting in itself not very interesting.
I’m sorry if I gave you the impression that my comment was directed at you. It was a question posed to all of Randy’s blog readers.
As to your little repartee, I don’t take offense. But I find it regretful that it was necessary for you to mask your dislike for my comment with a seemingly witty remark, which in actuality was an insult in disguise.
Christophe Desmecht says
That was a Fishism I believe 🙂
Carrie Neuman says
To me, character driven means the plot grows out of who the characters are and the decisions they make. Plot driven means you could plop anyone down in the story and the same things would happen.
I say HP is plot driven because things happen to Harry. Even when he does make decisions, like to form Dumbledore’s Army, nothing really comes of it.
Reading one book and watching the movies isn’t the best way to judge the series, I’ll grant you, but that’s how I feel about it.
(I’m ducking for cover and risking censure for posting to this thread…I haven’t read or watched HP)
… But I wonder if we need the good Doctor to break into a little aside and share his definition of a “plot” vs “character” driven story?
In my purely uneducated and often eccentric opinion, I had assumed that plot-driven meant that the plot or the action WAS the “main character”; ie what grabs the reader, what the reader cares most about, bigger than the characters and what they’re feeling. Like Carrie said, you could stick anyone in there and the story would be essentially the same (kinda like the White House). And conversely, the character-driven would be a story in which one or more characters are essentially the heart of the story, and the story hinges on what they feel, do, or experience.
But maybe I’m confusing the term. Maybe “driven” has more to do with what/who propels the story foward rather than what is central to the story, if that makes any sense?
Do the characters happen to the story, or does the story happen to the characters? (passive or aggressive? proactive or reactive? paper or plastic?)
Hmmm….Harry Potter, plot driven or character driven???
Well, that certainly is an interesting question, but if I had to answer I’d say both.
One unique thing about Harry Potter is that, in the series, some books are more plot driven then others. for example, compared to how much the readers get to know the characters by the end of book 7, book 1 just scratches the surface of all of the souls that inhabit JKR’s wizarding world. Harry, Ron, and Hermione just begin to know each other. for the most part (again, compared to the whole series) none of the characters go through a dramatic change. Really, the biggest thing that happens is that Harry embraces the wizarding world and its inhabitants. So, because we don’t know the characters TOO well in this book, I would say that it’s plot driven. At the same time, the characters are what make it such a compelling read, but the sorcerers stone is the biggest thing that happens in the book.
The second book introdices some new characters and builds on the old ones a little bit. At this point, we gain more knowledge of the world JKR created for us. Again, no really big changes occur here in the main characters. The biggest change is that Harry realizes that its people’s chices that help choose their destiny (Harry asked not to be put in slytherin and that stuff). Still, the biggest thing that happened in this book was the chamber of secrets, and that, by far, was more compelling than Harry’s doubts. So, this was a plot driven book, but still, like before, the characters made it interesting.
The third book was very different from the rest of the series. It was, or at least, I think it was, a major bridge between the comfortable world of Hogwarts with some mortal dangers and the world ouside of Hogwarts with too many dangers to count. This book introduced a lot of key characters like Siris Black and Peter Pettigrew. This book didn’t have a real strong plot, but the plot was stronger than any of Harry’s changes (which have to to with facing fears and such). It was more plot driven, but for the most part was a connecting point to the fourth book. Now, the reason JKR calls the books year 1, year 2, ect. is because he is at Hogwarts. Hogwarts, and the fact that the Dursleys are unbearable, is what keeps Harry going, this his crubicle. If I can remember right, most of the third book was just the school year rather than an actual plot.
The fourth book is by far one of the most plot driven books in the series. Harry Potter, both the books and the character, becomes darker from here on out. That is his change, but it doesn’t happen until the very end of the book. It’s plot driven due to the triwizard tournament, which, in my opinion, was very episodic. Harry also grows up a bit in this book. It is definately plot driven, but is also a connecting point into the darker world of book 5.
The fifth book is, other than book 7, my favorite. Harry, due to his rondevous with Voldemort in the previous book, becomes darker. He has the tendency to lash out, and is angry all of the time. Voldemort, through legimancy (or something like that) is literallly getting inside his mind. People that were once his friends now believe him to be crazy. The main conflict in the book is between the students of hogwarts and the ministry (Umbridge). The real climax doesn’t become apparent until the last couple hindred pages (the book is 870 pages long, for goodness sakes!). The book itself doesn’t focus on the climax, and so for this reason, it’s character driven. Although we get really mad ant Umbridge at times, we really feel for Harry because he’s now gone through what no sixteen year old kid should have to go through. Someone earlier asked why he doesn’t just leave in this book. This is because his crubicle is Hogwarts, the fact that he can’t stand the Dursley’s, and he knows that Voldemort has come back. Unless he does something about this, then many people will die, and I don’t think Harry could live with that on his concience. Also, I think that both him and the readers know that eventually it’s all going to come down to him an Voldemort.
The sixth point is another connecting point. This book, even thoug I read it a few weeks ago, is a little fuzzy for me, so excuse me if I’m wrong at parts. Harry here gets in the mind of his enemy and really learns what he’s up against. If memory serves, he’s no longer as angry as he was in book 5, but still a little ticked about certain losses that he’s had. the climax really has more to do about book 7 then it does book 6 now that I think about it… Book six really isn’t plot or character driven. He does go through some misgivings about his father’s and his arrogance and such, and OOOOO! I just remembered; he also goes through this whole thing where he really delves into some dark magic. This definately worries him. JKR leaaves the reader worrying about certain things throughout the book, but there’s no main plot, other than the whole school year thing. Yes, this one si definately character driven, but is a MAJOR connecting point.
Ahhh, Book 7. I won’t say much here, because I don’t want to give anything away, but this one is definately both character and plot changes. Harry, throughout the book, searches for and tries to destroy horcruxes and tries to find out about sme other things that I won’t mention. This book has a very interesting plot. The book rides on the plot, but it’s very journey like, almost like other fantasy epics like LOTR. This book can’t be just plot driven, because it has to be Harry, and he goes through some major changes, but at the same time, it has a strong plot that the third, fifth, and sixth books lack. I’m kinda on the fence for the last book, but if I had to say, I would say that it’s a mix, becuase the plot relies on Harry’s character.
The reason why many people here say that HP is character driven is because JKR has such colorful characters that she’s very good at bringing to life. Harry himself goes through many changes, but he’s (IMO) not nearly as interesting as some of the minor characters, like Neville, or Luna. In fact, in some of the books he’s such a jerk that I get rather annoyed with him. The series as a whole has a strong plot that unfolds well throughout the books. Mainly, though, Harry Potter is a plot driven series, but not all the books have a strong plot. That, you’ll find, is why so many people get confused.
The reason why JKR is so popular, as I said before, is that she has a compelling (other people said mystery-like, which I thought was quite appropriate) plot, but at the same time, creates such well rounded major and minor characters, that the readers jsut can’t help but to fall in love with them.
Sorry for the novel of a post, and excuse me for my terrible spelling. *SIGH* I now officially have no life. Just kidding people, just kidding!
Christophe Desmecht says
Wow Julie, that was more of an answer than I could have hoped for! Thank you very much!
I suppose it’s possible for a book to be both character and plot driven. I mean, unless choosing one or the other means determining which one is more present in a book, then it’s possible to have both. A good book that has strong characters a reader can relate to, as well as a solid plot that keeps us turning pages, will probably be driven by both.
I read in a couple of sources that plot comes second to characters, but I suppose that having a strong plot on top of a solid cast can only benefit your book. That basically goes without saying.
Tami Meyers says
What makes Harry Potter fly? I think it’s a Nimbus 2000 if I remember right from the two HP books I read.
Christophe Desmecht says
Haha, I was waiting for someone to mention the broom 😀
ML Eqatin says
For my definition, all the HP books are character driven. Except for a bit to introduce Lord V at the front of some books, the reader never leaves Harry’s POV. (Sometimes a little distant, which makes people call it Omniscient POV, but you are always following Harry. the title say it all: Harry Potter and…
You can’t imagine the books without Harry. Ron Weasly and the Sorcerer’s Stone? Albus Dumbledore vs Dorothy Umbridge?
Everything is only about what happens to him, and how he happens to them. If you examine the plots, sometimes they are not too coherent. The whole wizarding world is set up as a joke backdrop for Harry, and JKR switches thing around as she pleases. It’s no watertight Tolkien world, but nobody minds as long as it’s funny. Each plot is structured to showcase another stage of Harry’s maturing, right up to the end, where the whole thing is revealed to be an outworking of the fate of Harry.
Lord of the Rings is Plot-driven. You know that somebody has got to carry on, even if Frodo dies. The action moves around Middle-Earth, following several members of the company. The plot is the great war with Sauron, and the outcome, in which each character has his part to play.
At least, what’s how I define the two.
Character-driven and plot-driven seem too confining.
I find it more useful to talk about (what Orson Scott Card calls) the MICE Quotient: Milieu, Idea, Character, Event.
I like OSC’s version much better. And it makes it easier to talk about character development and plotting needs.
Every story uses one of these four kinds of stories to greater extent than the others (at least, every good story does), while all are probably present. The primary one determines characterization needs and plot needs.
Obviously, Character and Event seem to fall most closely to what has been discussed so far, but here is a taste of each (from what I remember after reading Characters and Viewpoint).
Milieu – The place is the most important thing. The author wants to show it to us. Usually, this is done with having an outsider come in and experience things. It ends when the character goes back (or decides not to). Think Gulliver’s Travels and Wizard of Oz. Main character characterization is usually non-existent. I usually would classify Lord of the Rings here as well since Tolkien’s whole purpose seems to have been to show off this world and he has has almost no characterization and some loosely tied plot points(don’t jump all over me, I love that series). However, I also believe the story morphed for him into more of an Event story, so it has much of that in it as well (see below).
Idea – A problem or question is posed and the beginning and is answered at the end. This is the format for murder mysteries and caper stories. Characters in these rarely change, they are only exposed for who they really are. The main character usually stays the same throughout (think Sherlock Holmes).
Character – This is a story about a character who is trying to change their role in life at the point where it is most intolerable. It ends when the character gets the new role (or gives up). This kind, obviously, requires the fullest amount of character development.
Event – This type of story shows a world that is somehow out of order and the story is the effort to restore the old order or establish a new one. In general, something happens and it has causes and effects. The story begins when the main character enters the “fight” and ends when they accomplish (or don’t) their goal. Examples would includes The Count of Monte Cristo, Oedipus Rex, much of Lord of the Rings. Characterization is up to the author for these. There can be none at all or lots for the main characters.
So, I place the Harry Potter series as mostly Event. It does begin where Harry joins the fight against Voldemort (at the point just after he gets the scar that places him as the one who must try to defeat Voldy. It ends at the point right after he fights him for the last time (I’m being careful here not to give any more of the plot away). I think Rowling felt compelled to include the Afterword because we’ve been with these characters so long we want to know what happens to the ones who live after it is all over. Obviously, the series also has much of the Milieu elements about it, as well as Character (Harry trying to figure out his place in the wizarding world) and Idea (the question being will Harry win and figure everything out). But, Event is definitely strongest, at least in my opinion.
That’s why the story works. She follows the Event “formula” perfectly and gives us someone who is real, someone who makes choices between following the Rules and doing the Right thing, and someone that we root for through all the events of his life.
Anyway, this has been way too long, so I’ll sign off for now. Hope this has helped.
Yes, that is true, but at the same time, it doesn’t have to be Harry. True, JKR makes Harry’s problems interesting for the reader, but at the same time if it was Ron, Hermione, or even Neville that was destined to kill Voldemort, then not much of the storyline would change. True, somethings are bound to be different, but the main plot will remain relitively the same.
I was thinking about this whole plot vs. character thing overnight, and I came to a sort of relization or theory. I’m going to be a sophmore in high school, and last year in english class we learned about all the different kinds of “journeys.” There are journeys of the hero, of the family, of the heart, ect. Any individual story can have several different kinds of journeys. I figure that this is similar to Harry Potter. While Harry Potter represents the journey of the hero and the journey of the heart/soul/mind (an inner-self type of thing), the stronger and more evident being the journey of the hero.
The journey of the hero is obviously more of an epic quest sort of thing and is almost always a plot driven story. Here, the main character is out to do something specific, like (ML mentions this) destorying the ring. Although Frodo learns about friendship thoughout his journey, the plot is big deal. After all, Frodo wouldn’t have learned about friendship if he wasn’t given the task of throwing the ring into Mt. Doom, would he?
Books that mainly include the journey of the heart/soul/mind are all about the main character. Udually, they change in a very big way. For example, in Titanitc, Rose, because of Jack, changes from being a stick up rich girl. Rose is getting sick of this though, and is jsut yearning to get away from it all. Then, we are introdiced to Jack, a free spirit, who travels the world with only but the clothes on his back. The plot is not all about the sinking of the Titanic, it’s mainly about Rose’s change from being restricted in the world of material possesions and money, to being free. Stories like this are character driven.
Usually, the way I think about it, is whether or not the plot is dependent on the character’s change. In LOTR, it is not. No one cares about Frodo realizing friendship as much as they do about the battle for middle earth and the ruin of Sauron. So, it’s plot driven. On the other hand, the titanic does’t need to sink in order for Rose to change. Sure, Rose saving Jack from drowning while he’s locked up is showing us that she did change, but honestly, she would’ve changed anyways. So, Titanic is plot driven.
So, now lets talk Harry Potter. The threat of Voldemort, even in the earlier books, is emminent. He’s coming back, and people need to stop him. It doesn’t have to be Harry though, because Voldemort needs to die whether or not Harry changes if he does or does not kill him. Heck, without the prophecy (5th book) anyone could really kill him. So, it’s mainly journey of the hero, but becuase he changes along the way, it’s a little bit of the journey of the heart/mind/soul. So, it’s mainly plot driven.
Wow, it’s hard to imagine that I actually learned in school.
By the way, Christophe, you’re welcome :)!
JKR is too darn good! She’s making this WAYYY too difficult for us!
I think HP flies because JKR has done what many of us wish to do, combine strong characters with strong plot. Both major and minor characters are interesting and memorable, and all the action, which is clearly a growing battle between good and evil (I haven’t finished Book 7 so don’t ruin it for me!) makes readers want to see which side comes out on top.
This isn’t romance so happily-ever-after isn’t promised yet there is a presumption or expectation or strong hope that Harry will be the victor.
The other thing, which someone mentioned, is the wizarding world. Set in contemporary times, this parallel world is fascinating, and JKR does a fabulous job of making the reader at home in this foreign land.
Put it all together–strong characters, great action, a battle between good and evil, in a complete and gripping fantasy world, topped off with some controversial buzz and great marketing–and you’ve got the HP phenomenon.
Darcie Gudger says
HP is just plain addicting… JKR is a good storyteller with a great epic story.
Well said Patricia, I agree.
“I had assumed that plot-driven meant that the plot or the action WAS the “main character”; ie what grabs the reader, what the reader cares most about, bigger than the characters and what they’re feeling. Like Carrie said, you could stick anyone in there and the story would be essentially the same (kinda like the White House).”
Thanks for the laugh!
What makes HP fly?
A little background first: I have been reading HP since the release of 4 (my best friend convinced me to read them and loaned me all four books). And while everyone posted reasons why they’re so good, I couldn’t honestly agree or disagree because I read them all in about a week. (I haven’t even started on 7, I’m getting it for my birthday this weekend!)
They were mesmerizing. And if I had to choose one way or the other, I’d say the characters do it for me. You start with a boy who is victimized, and finds out he has an escape. As you go through these books, you’ll find that Harry has found Home at Hogwarts.
As we all know, Home is never perfect, but you’d rather be there than anywhere else when it hits the fan, right? I mean, we all have had fights with our families, or I guess I should say “disagreements”… But there have been great times, too.
And honestly, if JKR made Harry a perfect saint, no temper to speak of, no turmoil… just nobility coming out of his young wazoo… do you HONESTLY think that you’d like the story, or even want to suspend belief and take a trip into the wizarding world?? Everyone’s been a jerk at least once at some point in their life.
I’ve read a lot about plot holes and who drives what… to be, again, honest, I wasn’t paying a bit of attention to the mechanics of the books. I read them straight through, enjoying every minute of it, without a single worry as to whether anything was misplaced.
This is what makes HP fly.
Readers of all ages, if even the least bit curious, can read these books without thinking, and enjoy themselves… enjoy the progression of the story… waiting in a line 200 people strong for the next book at midnight, knowing that you’ll have it finished before the week’s end? That has to count for something.