Tight Focus: Resist Telling Nonessential Details

Publish date:
Image placeholder title

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.

book in the Potter series stays focused on the issues relevant to that
book. A few forward references appear now and then, but such ancillary
bits are generally slipped in amid scenes that directly connect to the
current story.

Most events, objects, and characters in Book 1
tie directly back to the conundrum of the philosopher’s stone. The
mysterious object that Hagrid picks up during the trip to Gringotts
Bank, Fluffy the three-headed dog, the troll encounter, Norbert the
dragon, the Mirror of Erised: these all connect directly to Voldemort’s
presence at the school. Even Harry’s flying ability and Ron’s skill at
chess become significant during the climactic buildup at the end of the

Ms. Rowling may have created working notes for every character in the story, all the way down to their favorite color, but she resisted the urge to belabor readers with nonessential details.

about Dumbeldore’s backstory, which is left all but untouched until the
last book of the series. Similarly, Voldemort’s backstory receives
major attention only in Book 6, Half-Blood Prince.

Though Ms.
Rowling had those backstories worked out much earlier, she resisted the
urge to dump them on the reader until such time as they were germane to
the flow of the story.

Consider also Durmstrang and Beauxbatons,
two wizard schools that get no mention at all for the first three books
of the Potter series. Even after their introduction, those two schools
receive little attention except in Book 4, Goblet of Fire, where their
presence is essential to the plot.

Throughout, the Potter series
stays focused on Harry and the problems facing him. The last two books
of the series, especially, could easily have gotten sidetracked into
global political intrigue, but Ms. Rowling studiously avoids that trap.

Azkaban, The Forbidden Forest, Hagrid’s ambassadorial trip to
the giants, the first war against Voldemort, Snape’s running of
Hogwarts during Book 7, Deathly Hallows: these are all things that
could easily have become sidetracks, but didn’t.

The books of the Potter series set out to tell a story, and they remain focused on that goal, to the delight of readers.

Next in series: POV

Photo credit: Dave Pearson

Looking for more help on the craft of fiction? Check out our Elements of Fiction series:

Poetic Forms

Rannaigecht Mor Gairit: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the rannaigecht mor gairit, a variant form of the rannaigecht.


The Writer, The Inner Critic, & The Slacker

Author and writing professor Alexander Weinstein explains the three parts of a writer's psyche, how they can work against the writer, and how to utilize them for success.


Todd Stottlemyre: On Mixing and Bending Genres

Author Todd Stottlemyre explains how he combined fiction and nonfiction in his latest book and what it meant as a writer to share his personal experiences.


Plot Twist Story Prompts: Take a Trip

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character take a trip somewhere.


Making the Switch from Romance to Women’s Fiction

In this article, author Jennifer Probst explains the differences between romance and women's fiction, the importance of both, and how you can make the genre switch.


Stephanie Wrobel: On Writing an Unusual Hero

Author Stephanie Wrobel explains how she came to write about mental illness and how it affects familial relationships, as well as getting inside the head of an unusual character.


Who Are the Inaugural Poets for United States Presidents?

Here is a list of the inaugural poets for United States Presidential Inauguration Days from Robert Frost to Amanda Gorman. This post also touches on who an inaugural poet is and which presidents have had them at their inaugurations.


Precedent vs. President (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use precedent vs. president with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 554

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a future poem.