Rereading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

This post really should be called “Gleaning Lessons from Rowling’s Work” because I wanted to share my critical observations from this novel, but c’est la vie…

Summer reminds me of reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and eating Otter Pops in my college house at night. I’m currently rereading the fifth book in the Harry Potter series (ice pops included) and since EMPIRE (my second work) is almost done, I’m recognizing the things about the narrative that made it so successful. Firstly, Rowling can pull a scene together with helpful and exquisite detailing without overwhelming the reader. For example, she uses specific street names (Magnolia Crescent, Magnolia Lane) but then only describes the homes of Little Whinging to be “square.” Her specificity is a hook in itself. As an audience, we have the ability to imagine the houses. We get to dictate the colors, the dimensions, without being weighed down with excess.
Also, she reminds us of the Harry that we’re used to: misunderstood, undervalued, and above all, magical. What’s more is that she presents us with a new, more adult (and as such, more flawed) Harry: the bully who can use magic as a weapon; here, it’s simply a distraction, a dalliance to keep his mind of things that really matter. He uses his cousin as a verbal punching bag, siphoning his stresses into Dudley (who surely deserves it); this is our first view into Harry fighting dirty, which he taps into later in the novel. Eventually, Harry returns to himself and saves Dudley from the Dementors.

In a series, the main character is already fully developed in the first chapter. We know him. We have expectations. But that also sets us up for surprise…

In the novel’s introduction (particularly YA), authors must present an expectation and irony in the first few lines to make the character’s true self shine. Contradictions are interesting but don’t make it unbelievable (you need to settle in that if you’re working in a fantasy genre). The fickle audience needs to latch on, but in a series, well, that’s like a sales clerk trying to tell a customer how great they look after they’ve already bought several outfits. The work is done. The goal now is to get the consumer through to enjoy the book over and over until the next one comes out (as many Hunger Games fans can tell you, the only way to stem the need to read the next book is to read the book you have…again).
Introductions are important because they are the first things your audience sees (and the second thing that an agent sees).

So if you’re having difficulty with your intro, spend time reading your favorite books to get a good sense of the characterization it provides (though characterization often bleeds into setting as well). I recommend Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Mother of Pearl by Melinda Haynes, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, anything by Christopher Moore, and Rowling’s later books…

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6 thoughts on “Rereading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

  1. Love this – your observations of Rowling are spot on Carrie. You put into words something I loved about her but couldn’t give form. It’s also a compliment I gave you in my review of WAYSLM – she doesn’t over saturate with descriptions. While I totally admire your desire to help a budding author with his or her introductions and this ‘Hitchcock technique’ of leaving just-enough-to-imagination, I think it’s a talent that can’t really be cultivated; you have it or you don’t. That’s probably what I liked most about your book – in terms of descriptions, I think you echo Rowling and Steinbeck (and you know I say Steinbeck with as much reverence as possible).

    That being said, what are your favorite SINGLE opening sentences? How cool is it to write a novel that has a single dang sentence that will be remembered forever – and it just so happens to be smack-dab at the beginning of the novel?

    “It was a pleasure to burn.” Fahrenheit 451

    “Who is John Galt?” Atlas Shrugged.

    And I can’t quote it from memory, but the opening line from S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders” will stick with me forever; something about walking out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of a movie theater.

    Hope you Dan and the fam are doing well! Love ya!

    • Thanks Dave! And I can’t wait to see you again, friend. Your words are valued because I respect your opinion so much. I’ll definitely work on that first lie idea for my next post! Awesome input!

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