Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Magic of Rereading Harry Potter

This story starts with the worst ear infection I've ever had. It happened, interestingly enough, during the week which contains Harry Potter's (and JKR's) birthday, the 31st of July. (Tidbit: Harry would be 33 years old this year!) Anyway, without getting graphic, it was bad enough that I quite literally couldn't function, except to lie down in a stupor. For almost a week, the only agreeable activity I could manage was to listen as my mom read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to me, like she used to when I was little. (Yes, I am an adult. Yes, my mom read to me while I was sick. I am not ashamed.)

After I recovered, I continued reading Sorcerer's Stone where we left off, and continued on to finish the series about a week ago.

I've never read all the books in order one after the other like that. (When Deathly Hallows came out, I think I only reread books 5 and 6 before the release date.) If you're a HP fan and you've never read straight through all the books, not stopping or reading anything else in between, I absolutely recommend it. I saw plot setups and details that wove through all seven books, and am utterly amazed at the story (and backstory! and worldbuilding! and characters! and consistency!) JKR created. There were details from book one that impacted book seven. She had control the entire time. She had all this planned out from the beginning! I know it seems obvious to type it out like that, but when you think about the time and care that goes into crafting ONE good novel, and then multiply that by seven! To create a series that gets BETTER with every book, instead of staying the same or going downhill, (which unfortunately has happened to some of my favorites.) Not only that, but the books have so many emotional layers. I found myself, as an adult, identifying with the older characters in a way that I didn't when I first read the books as a kid and a teen.

I really could go on for an entire dissertation about this, so I'll stop here, and assume that if you're still reading this post, you agree with me that Harry Potter is an excellent series, full stop.

During my reading adventure, I noticed something else interesting as well. JKR uses adverbs. And passive voice. A lot.

This is perhaps the best realization I had: her writing isn't perfect.

Listen to me now. Her writing isn't perfect.

And it DOESN'T MATTER. This may go against everything your 10th grade English teacher ever said to you about what makes good writing, but those instances of passive voice and adverbial usage didn't make the book explode. There are no neon postit flags attached to the pages, pointing out the not-academically-perfect use of the English language. The flaws in her prose do not detract from everything GREAT about those books. If I didn't have a Bachelor's in English and a masochistic desire to write novels I might not even have noticed that stuff, because I was reading fast and so engaged in the story.

Why is that important? Because you and I do NOT have to be perfect to write stories worth reading. So often, learning to be a good writer can feel like pulling weeds. We're always after those parts of our writing that aren't up to par. We're always looking for flaws we can make better. That's a good thing.

But we also need to remember to do what Harry did in the 1st task of the Triwizard Tournament. We need to play to our strengths. Don't get so caught up in finding what's wrong that you forget to emphasize what's right about your story. Because when you connect with a reader and magic blossoms between your words and her imagination, she's not going to notice that clunky sentence or that flat-ish minor character. She's going to be enchanted with the things you did that are amazing.


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