You all know that I’m a massive Potterhead. I’ve lost count of how many times I read those books. Honestly, over 20 times each. And, as a writer, something that always came to my mind is: WHY??
Why are we addicted to Harry Potter in such a way?
And, of course, we have the conjectural answers. Being in the right moment in the right place. The market needed a Harry Potter. The way it was promoted, etc, etc.
But I believe that the reason goes beyond that.
And I DON’T know exactly why it happened, I don’t think anyone does.
But I really thought it would be fun for us to think about the possibilities.
Am I telling you that I know? No! But I’ll tell you what I THINK contributed to the Harry Potter phenomena IN THE BOOKS, besides all the conjecture moment.
**CONTAINS SPOILERS, so if you haven’t read Harry Potter… what are you doing with your life? Go read it! Or listen to the audiobooks that are even better, in my opinion.**
1. Harry Potter Structure Analysis: Scene
I’ve thought a lot about that (and I’m no specialist, I have to say that this is all my personal opinion), but keep reading…
All the chapters in Harry Potter have a start, middle, and end. Many scenes, especially in the first books, usually starts with the ROUTINE (I will tell you more about that soon). Harry, Ron, and Hermione are in Hogwarts, or on the train, or Harry is living his life at Dursleys. We, as readers, get to their daily lives with them. We go to classes, Quidditch, or to buy the products at Diagonal Alley.
Then, in the middle of the scene, something out of the ordinary happens. We aren’t expecting that to happen, because we are used to the kid’s routine at the school. It can be something BIG like Voldemort or it can be something like Harry bumping into Nick and he inviting Harry to a Halloween Party.
And, then, in the end, the conflict that was planted in the middle of the scene advances and she leaves it to be solved in the next chapter, so you can’t stop reading it.
So, we have this chill time in the beginning of the scene, where we just hang out with the characters and experience the magic (I’m also going to tell you more about that soon).
You can see that especially in the first books, and in the first chapters of those books, we have this time to bond with the characters.
I see this “problem” in many fantasy books: it’s packed with action 100% of the time, from the first line to the last. This isn’t a problem, you know how I tell you that a chapter doesn’t exist without conflict, however, a book with conflict only will make your readers burnout. It’s all about BALANCE. And Rowling gives it perfectly to us.
For example, when Harry goes to Gringotts for the first time. First, we get MESMERIZED by that adventure. It’s only when the scene is ending that the conflict is presented: Hagrid has to get something very, very important and secret from there (the stone). Then, the readers think: what is this thing? I’ll keep reading to find out!
When Harry flies on Buckbeak. First, it’s AMAZING, we go with Harry on the fly. Only in the end, he breaks Malfoy’s arm and we know Hagrid is in trouble: what will Malfoy do? We’ll have to keep reading to find out.
So, for me, it has a very clear scene structure in almost every chapter:
BEGINING: BONDING + Adventure + Magic + Routine – she takes the readers with the characters to live the school life, the magic.
MIDDLE: Something happens! This is the conflict that moves the plot forward, and also how she puts the clues to the mystery in the end.
END: What will happen now?? You have to keep reading to find out!
Then again, this can all be my imagination talking, but I really think it’s not. Anyway, this is an amazing scene structure that you can use.
2. The WORLD: The DETAILS that CREATE the magic
Oh, the world.
You can say what you want from Harry Potter. That the plot is predictable and full of clichés. That Voldemort is basically Hitler and it’s poorly developed. And the plot holes. Oh, the plot holes.
HOWEVER, you can’t say that the world isn’t well-developed.
And I can even agree that many things in the world don’t make sense, like the law system. It’s bad! And how on Earth did Harry and Rony become Aurors without even a high school diploma?
However, what she SHOWS us is extremely well-developed, and it lives on the details.
I recommend you read my article about worldbuilding. No author knows it all. We paint a picture of what the readers will see. We only have to show what will be needed for the story.
And Rowling goes above and beyond that. The magic makes sense and it’s full of rules. There are full books out there for you to learn all the spells used. The potions have specific and magic ingredients. It’s shown in detail how to make a polyjuice potion, for example. Even the magic candy, the magic beer.
It makes the readers dream. Dream about being there and how it would be like.
All the worldbuilding is fantastically incorporated in the story. For example, she shows us different types of magic candies and how they are used by Fred and George.
She tells us what the students should take to school and where they bought it. And how the stores were.
We WALK with Harry through this amazing world, and we grow with Harry. From when he didn’t know how to fly the broom until he is winning Quidditch games. And you’re there with him, on the broom, living all that.
This is also the difference between showing and telling. She shows us.
All the details make a total difference and I see that it lacks in other types of fantasy. You know the type of beer they drink, where the students go for Valentine’s, and HOW to make a love potion. You know the colors and differences of each house, the type of scarves they use, the animals they can take to school. You know the movement the wand makes with Wingardium Leviosa, and HOW the food is always served at Hogwarts. You know what it’s like to walk in the corridors at night because the reader was taken with Harry through it. You know different ways to breath underwater, and how to defeat a werewolf.
And ALL THAT serves the story. There is not one page full of description. All of these elements were presented inside the story, little by little, and this takes me to the next point:
3. The fact that they always go back to the same place and live a routine with the readers. We live with the characters
We know the characters’ routines. We know their schedules, and we go to classes with them. We wake up with them, we dress with them, and go to breakfast. We bought the school material with them and we went on the train as well. We ate the magic candy, we chose our wand. We were scolded by Snape and we suffered in McGonagall’s class.
See where I want to get? We live day by day with the characters. She pays a lot of attention to the daily routine. She could have skipped the train journey, or the dorms scenes, and go straight to the plot where Harry should have found the clues to defeat Voldemort. Instead, we went with Harry through his daily life, and this was as important as defeating Voldemort. This is how she presented all the details and the magic. It’s also all about the scene structure that I talked about.
She could have edited out all the magic candy. Does it serve to defeat Voldemort? No. And why did we have to sit in all those Trelawney classes? We could have gone directly to the one that she predicts Harry’s future. And why did we need to fight Malfoy so many times? She could have said he was the bully and that’s it.
However, there’re many subplots besides the main plot that is defeating Voldemort.
And, also, sometimes things are in the scene with the PURPOSE of entertaining, worldbuilding, establishing character relations. Not everything is about the main plot and conflict. The readers NEED the details, the magic, the routine, the good moments.
If Harry Potter was only the Voldermort conflict, I can bet you that we wouldn’t have a theme park about it today.
We lived Hogwarts and that’s why we love it so much.
And this brings me to my last point: us, readers, got to choose our houses. We know how we would be selected and each characteristic of the houses, how they look inside (this could have been better explored in my opinion), where they are in the castle.
We chose our wands with Harry. We know all about the different wands that we can choose from and we can have ours too!
We chose the pet that we could bring as well.
She gives CHOICES to the characters that are not only restricted to the characters of the story, but also to anyone. So we, as readers, can choose as well.
We can imagine ourselves there, living the school life with the characters. And that, to me, made all the difference in the world.
Harry Potter Structure Analysis: Why am I saying all that?
Because I strongly believe that we can use these things to improve our own stories. At least, I get excited when I think about building a story like that, where the readers will be taken along with me in a journey, they will enter in the magic routine with the characters, and have choices as well, even if they don’t realize that. Because we LIVED the magic with Harry, Rony, Hermione, and the others. It was OUR adventure as well.