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J. K. Rowling and the Wizard World

This Wednesday, wizards and witches from all over the world will dress up to go see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth installment in the Harry Potter series.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Source:  MTV Movies Blog

It’s amazing to see how, since the first book was released in 1997, an entire franchise has arisen from such humble beginnings.  J. K. Rowling, at the time she wrote the first book, was living on welfare as a single mother, raising her daughter.  While sitting on a train one evening, the idea of a small boy wearing dark-rimmed glasses fell into her head–a boy who didn’t yet realize that he was a wizard.  And, like all writers, her best idea had occurred to her at a time when she had no access to a pen.

While Rowling’s stories about Harry Potter have taken the world by storm, expanding faster than she ever dreamed, what should be more important to us as writers is Rowling’s story.  She wrote these stories while in a situation that many would consider hopeless, and, through luck and a compelling story, was able to create a world that excited children (and adults!) in a way that few other books can claim.

Rowling created the first two Harry Potter books in coffee shops like the Elephant House in Edinburgh.  While the Elephant House has a much better view than a typical coffee house (you can see the Edinburgh Castle from the back room), it’s interesting to note that Rowling, like so many other writers, started her work  in such a common settingAlso like many other writers, she had a difficult time finding time to write–once her daughter fell asleep, she would, according to her own phrasing, “… dash off to the nearest cafe and write like mad.”

Elephant House

Elephant House

http://www.flickr.com/photos/25413523@N08/ / CC BY 2.0

What’s also interesting about the Harry Potter novels, from a writer’s perspective, is Rowling’s development as a writer.  Her dialogue from the first novel is simple, even mundane–when I first read the book, to see what all the commotion was about, I was shocked to see her dialogue mostly surrounded by “he said,” “she said, ” and the occasional “he/she asked.”  From what I had learned at that point in time, in order to be considered an excellent writer, you had to have extraordinary skill with organizing words on paper, eliminating redundancy so as not to bore the reader.  What I did not yet realize (but understand now), is that saying something well is important, it is even more vital to have something important to say.

After reading the first book a second time, ignoring the simplistic writing style, I started to catch on to what others had been talking about…for what she lacked in traditional literary style, she more than made up for with a compelling story, borrowing elements from dozens of other children’s books.  These elements were stirred in a soup of paper, poured into a cover, and became (quite literally, at least for her), gold.  If she’d only started with lead, she would have been the ultimate alchemist.  The ideas were presented in a fashion that was accessible to many, and encouraged an entire generation to read (and for some generations, to start to read again).

And, I have to admit, I too became hooked.

As time went on, Rowling’s books became a worldwide, cultural phenomenon, a story that easily crossed country borders, eventually translated into 67 languages–something very few books have accomplished in the short, twelve-year lifespan (so far) of the Harry Potter books.

Also as time went on, Rowling’s skill as a writer also grew, no doubt, at least in part, to constructive criticism she received from her early books.  She was also able to write more complex stories because of the fact her readers were aging at (approximately) the same rate Harry was.  For me, it was fascinating to watch her skill grow as Harry himself grew.

While Rowling loved her books (as all authors do), she had no way of knowing that her stories would become so well-known and adored by people all over the world.  My opinion is that this is the same with all writers–while we hold out the hope that our story will become as beloved as the characters in Rowling’s stories, we always also have a bit of self-doubt that our story is quite good enough.  However, if Rowling had listened to her own doubts, we may never have seen the effect her stories would have on the worldIgnore your own doubts–if you don’t get your story out to the world, you will never know what effect you may have had.

As time went on, Rowling created and released more and more of the series.  By this time, however, the books themselves had taken a life of their own.  The problem was not getting enough people to read her books — the problem was making enough books for people to read. This culminated in the release of the seventh book.

For a few rare moments, millions of people stayed up, waiting for the midnight release of the seventh book–something very few books have ever successfully done.  I was one of those anxious readers waiting at a local Barnes and Noble for the release of the final book–while I wanted to read the book, I was even more interested in watching the people as the excitement built that night.  As a writer, I was more interested in how the event came to be, rather than the event itself.  What might the story be for these people–why were they compelled to come and stay up that night for a book?

At the time, I thought to myself, “Look at the passion in the faces of these people.  The woman who wrote the stories is responsible for inspiring these people to read more–and there will be more writers in the world because of her.  I want to be someone who inspires people to create more, create something better, and create something meaningful.”  WritAnon is one way I plan to help make that happen.

This weekend, several friends and I watched all of the Harry Potter movies in sequence.  We were able to see the characters grow (literally as well as figuratively) as the story evolved.  We stopped worrying about the inconsistencies (though we noted some of our favorite parts that had been stripped out), and saw how Rowling (and, in the case of the movies, Warner Brothers) had created a universe that captures the imagination of minds all over the world.

This week, or sometime in the near future, enjoy watching the sixth Harry Potter film.  While you watch, though, look for elements that you can borrow and mix into your own story.  Look for the pieces that most interest or inspire you–if something inspires you, you can reshape it to have the same (or greater!) effect on your own readers.  And learn a lesson from Rowling–no matter where you’re from or what your skill level is, you can always work to inspire others.  All you need is a pen.

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