Concerning Writers: Harry Plotter

Edited screenshot from New Line Cinema's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
Harry Potter finds out he’s a wizard and goes to school, keeps to himself, excels at magic but doesn’t have much ambition and ends up working as a janitor at St. Mungo’s.

Sound familiar? No? That’s possibly because J.K. Rowling meticulously outlined her books before she wrote them. She thought the story through, she worked through potential problems, she made informed decisions about where Harry was going to go and what he was going to do, while avoiding pitfalls of boredom. And the result was an amazing, interesting, and well thought-out and pun-intended magical story (in my opinion).

If you write novels, you might be familiar with the question: are you a plotter or a pantser? A plotter plots and plans ahead while a pantser, as you can expect, flies by the seat of their pants.

You can see how important character relationships are to a story.

I used to be a pantser, but I got frustrated with the amount of rewrites I had to do and the lack of direction in my plot. That was when I decided to take a course on plotting, not because I thought I would actually learn anything, but because I wanted the kick in the pants to actually do the nitty-gritty work of plotting out my novel.

To my surprise, I was introduced to a unique way of plotting that helps me understand my story and characters better before I start writing. The technique, by author Suzanne Johnson, outlines the novel first by figuring out relationship arcs between the characters. Suzanne calls these relationships the building blocks of a novel, and if you think about it, this makes perfect sense.

If you take every main character in your novel and write down what their relationship is to each other at the beginning and how it has changed by the end, you already get an idea of what needs to happen in between. Take a few of the relationships in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, for example. To our American brethren we mean Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Characters who we fall in love with (e.g. Fred Weasley) or hate with a passion (e.g. Delores Umbridge) are what make a novel great.

1. Harry and Ron
Beginning of book: They are strangers.
End of book: They are best friends.

2. Harry and Malfoy
Beginning of the book: They are strangers.
End of book: They hate each other.

3. Harry and Voldemort
Beginning of the book: Harry doesn’t even know who Voldemort is.
End of book: Harry hates Voldemort for killing his parents, Voldemort has tried to kill him, and Voldemort wants Harry dead more than ever.

Now, Suzanne’s method is much more detailed and she also explains how to insert major plot elements that drive the story forward, and if you want to take her 30-day online workshop it is called Quilting 101 and is quite fun. Not to be confused with Underwater Basket Weaving 101.

But even with the above short example I think you can see how important character relationships are to a story. Characters who readers can invest in and fall in love with (e.g. Fred Weasley) or learn to hate with a passion (e.g. Delores Umbridge) are what make a novel great, and relationships that change throughout a story are what make it realistic and captivating.

Allison Barron

Allison Barron

Commander at Geekdom House
Allison is like Galadriel, offering wisdom where needed but turning treacherous as the sea when competitive games are involved. She is the executive editor of Area of Effect magazine, co-host of the Infinity +1 podcast, and staff writer for Christ and Pop Culture. When she’s not writing, designing, or editing, she is often preoccupied in Hyrule, Middle-earth, or a galaxy far, far away.
Allison Barron

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