Today’s guest post is by
Jim Adam. It is the final installment of a series on
storytelling and The
Strengths of the Potter Series. If you’ve enjoyed this series, then
you should check out Jim’s book, Destiny
Unfulfilled: A Critique of the Harry Potter Series.
the engine that drives fiction, shows up at many levels in the Potter
series, from the series-defining threat of Lord Voldemort, to
book-defining threats like Sirius Black in Book 3, to daily annoyances
such as Snape, Malfoy, and Colin Creevey.
One curious aspect of
conflict is that it ratchets up the closer to home it gets.
confrontations of equal violence, an argument with a stranger affects us
less deeply than an argument at work, which in turn affects us less
than an argument at home.
Harry doesn’t have any problem getting
into a fight with Malfoy, but confronting Hagrid about Norbert is
another matter. Even more stressful for Harry is the temporary breakup
between himself and Ron in Book 4. Similarly, Harry’s
internal worries and uncertainties—about a Quidditch match, about his
nascent relationship to Ginny, or about how he’ll survive one of the
Tri-Wizard Tasks—also serve as potent sources of tension within the
When conflict arises in a close relationship, the options
of eliminate, dominate, and avoid aren’t generally available. As a
result, internal conflict is stressful in a different way (and is more
stressful for some people) than external conflict. One reason why an
abusive spouse lashes out is that it ends the discussion. Such people
can’t handle the stress of interpersonal conflict, and so they get rid
of it in the quickest way possible. Dictators display this same
preference for an easy way out when they silence the opposition—even
though this typically means killing, jailing, or expelling their fellow
citizens; treating such people as The Enemy is ever so much easier than
seeing them as friends who merely disagree on some issue or other.
without some form of conflict tend to be less interesting to readers,
and the Potter series makes use of both external conflict (with
Voldemort, Malfoy, Umbridge, and others) and internal conflict (with
Ron, Hermione, and within Harry himself) to keep readers eagerly turning
By having a story to tell, and
by telling that story in a way that suits her, rather than by fitting
her story into a predefined category or genre, Rowling created a
seven-book series that captivated readers worldwide. Her stories are
dominated by characters, not premises or marvels, though the series is
stuffed full with both. Her prose is rich with details and specifics,
but isn’t overblown.
Active scenes dominate the narrative,
showing us events taking place, while exposition and summary are used to
keep the story moving forward with alacrity. By withholding select bits
of information as long as possible, the series enflames the reader’s
curiosity. By stretching tension, the series heightens reader
The Potter series has earned its popularity and
critical acclaim through its originality, the fertile imagination and
artistic integrity of its author, and its dedication to quality, as
evidenced in its many strengths.
But what really makes the Potter
series work, what keeps readers coming back to it above all, is story.
In the world of fiction, this is the bottom line, and this is ultimately
why the Potter series achieved such phenomenal success.
for more help on the craft of fiction? Here’s our best book on
Find out more about: The
Art & Craft of Storytelling by Nancy Lamb
Also check out Story
Structure Architect by Victoria Schmidt. We also offer an online workshop with a published
our Advanced Novel Workshop, you’ll get 200 pages critiqued.