Stretching the Tension: Keep Threats Alive

Today’s guest post is by
Jim Adam. It is part of a series on
storytelling and The

Strengths of the Potter Series. Check out Jim’s
book, Motherless.

We’ve

already seen that the Potter series is willing to delay descriptions of
setting and character. This willingness to delay also applies to more
substantial story elements such as the true motivations of characters,
the exact nature of a threat, and the cause of mysterious events.

Consider

again the opening to Book 2, where Dobby introduces tension into the
narrative by explaining that “bad things” are going to happen at
Hogwarts that year. His inability to say exactly what sorts of bad
things are planned makes Dobby the perfect spear carrier, as he’s able
to foreshadow without giving away anything of real substance. The
resulting mystery becomes an additional reason for readers to stick
around.

The Potter series also knows how to increase reader
involvement by keeping a threat hovering over Harry’s head as long as
possible. For example, Voldemort returns from the wilderness in Book 4,
Goblet of Fire, and he continues as a villain through the next three
books.

At a lower level, consider how the three tasks of the
Tri-Wizard Tournament are dealt with. For the first task, Harry has to
struggle to learn a summoning charm, something he manages only on the
eve of the task itself. For the second task, in typical Harry style, he
puts off trying to figure out the golden egg clue through the entire
holiday break and only begins to take the task seriously when time is
running out.

Perhaps there are better ways to stretch the tension
than to make Harry seem passive and lazy, but at a minimum, the Potter
series understands the importance of stretching the tension. By keeping
threats alive as long as possible, the series keeps readers worried
about Harry’s safety, which is to say, it keeps readers reading.

Last in series: Conflict

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Photo
credit: Jim

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