5 Things Harry Potter Taught Me About Professional Writing

My Harry Potter story is unique: even though my generation grew up with Harry Potter, I didn’t begin to experience the magic of Hogwarts until after I graduated from college.

Experiencing the Magic

As a child, I owned the first few books in the series, but never even so much as touched them (a pity) and I never bothered to watch any more of the films after the first two.

I remember watching the first two movies years ago feeling intimidated and lost because I found the British accents difficult to understand and the plot too confusing to follow. I couldn’t get into the hype of it.

To be fair, I was only six years old at the time so I could barely even understand media in American English at that point.

In the years that followed, I somehow never got around to reading or watching anything else from the Wizarding World.

During my final year of university, I was working a part-time job as a “Mad Scientist.” My job was to host educational and fun science-themed parties for kids all around the state. One weekend, I was sent to a fancy home where one family was throwing their son a Harry Potter-themed birthday party.

Check this out:

(Photographs were taken & shared with permission.)

I walked inside the house and saw kids running all around with wands and wizarding robes, candles hanging from their ceiling, and a Sorting Hat resting on the table awaiting my setup.

I was riddled with anxiety knowing I’d soon need to act a part I knew literally nothing about. It made me stop and think about why I’d never given the Harry Potter series a chance.

I did my best that evening. Thankfully, science is pretty magical in its own way.

The size of the books intimidated me in my youth, but as a college graduate who has read far more complex literature, why not revisit them? Even though I struggled years ago, I know other elementary school-aged children who have read the series three times over. Besides, no one says you have to be a kid to enjoy the story of Harry Potter.

That child’s birthday party made me realize I wanted to revisit the books.

A Fresh Commitment to the Series

At the age of 23, in late-2018, I finally repurchased Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone before boarding an international flight back to the United States of America which was how I began to read the Harry Potter series for the first time in my life.

My plan was simple: I’d watch each Harry Potter movie only after completing each book. This would allow me to really imagine the storyline and comprehend the plot before watching each movie which, by the nature of their design, would surely omit details from the books. Besides, knowing a corresponding movie would follow helped motivate me to finish each book!

No matter how long it took me, I wouldn’t give up on the series until I finally finished all seven Harry Potter books.

Merlin’s Beard, I’ve Done It!

On April 21, 2021, I finally finished reading the series and it feels GREAT. It took a whole lot longer than I intended it to, but I rarely touched the novels for large stretches of 2019 and 2020 because I decided to read various other books that I needed to pick up certain skills from.

I’m not the fastest reader in the world and longer series require concentration, focus, and commitment to complete. Many people pick up a book, but few finish.

Even though I had a bit of a gap in between the start date and end date, I have officially finished reading all 7 books and watching all 8 Harry Potter movies!

What I Learned About Writing From Reading the Harry Potter Series

Writers and bloggers can learn a lot from reading the Harry Potter series. Storytelling is an art and J. K. Rowling is undeniably skilled at this in her own way. Harry Potter’s reputation precedes her. With an entire theme park devoted to the franchise, it’s clear her writing style has had a lasting impact on those who have chosen to take a step into her magical world.

1. Know Where You Are Going

It wasn’t magic that J.K. Rowling became the first self-made billionaire author. Well, I suppose it kind of was magic… but it was really the process of creating that magic through elaborate storytelling that got her to where she is today…

I think you see what I’m getting at: J.K. Rowling’s writing is utterly brilliant.

Beginning with her plot: the foreshadowing that takes place in Harry Potter is mind-blowing. The way details from the first and second book end up playing a part in the sixth and seventh is just fantastic. If you’ve read the stories, you cannot deny that the plot was extraordinarily well-planned out.

Rowling created this spreadsheet while planning the plot:

You don’t end up with a cohesive storyline like that by pure chance. I’m sure some improvising took place while drafting the smaller details, but J.K. Rowling knew what she was going after while she was writing Harry Potter. The way everything comes together at the end is just insane.

[Skip this paragraph if you haven’t read the books.] For example, in Chamber of Secrets, Rowling mentions a cabinet inside of a shop called Borgin and Burkes. Three books later, on page 627, the Weasley twin brothers mention a Banishing Cabinet at Hogwarts. In Half-Blood Prince, the next book, we learn that this is the same cabinet Draco Malfoy uses to let Death Eaters infiltrate the school.

Finishing each book felt so satisfying because the mysteries presented early on always came together so eloquently. Despite being based in fantasy, the sequence of events always felt logical and real. Things that absolutely should have made NO SENSE, seemed perfectly sensible!

  • Dumbledore is a wise sage. Of course he can speak Murmish!
  • Divination remains a “useless subject” even as Harry’s impending doom is repeated predicted.
  • Owls deliver mail except in the Ministry’s elevators where enchanted paper airplanes are used instead.

Rowling’s writing gives you a sense of satisfaction. You feel like you’re learning from it.

You want your reader to feel good about themselves as they follow your lessons and piece together the clues you’ve put down for them. Everything in your story has to serve a purpose and happen for a reason. The more interconnected and purposeful you can make these relationships, the more incredible the story will be.

2. Establish Vivid Characters

I thought the movie roles were cast perfectly. Every actor and actress looked the part in the Harry Potter films just as I had imagined them from the book. That could be because I watched the first two movies as a child, but I reckon it had a whole lot more to do with how well Rowling illustrated her characters.

  • Harry had striking green eyes just like his mother.
  • Hermione has bushy brown hair and large front teeth.
  • Ron is redheaded, tall, skinny, and freckled.
  • Dumbledore has a beard with long, silver-white hair.

Simple characteristics, usually 3 or 4 at most, are repeated over and over again to really paint a clear and consistent image of what the character looks like. Beyond their extremely stable physical traits, they have established and predictable personality traits. This makes them more relatable.

The main character, Harry, has his iconic lightning bolt scar. I think it’s important for authors to create something iconic like this for a memorable character and story.

If your character fits into some sort of archetype, you can use it as a mold, give people a few key details to latch onto, and then allow their actions to speak to the type of person they are.

3. Craft Challenges With Great Failures and Successes

Even as an adult, I found Harry Potter to be a challenging read at times. Hidden details that a child might gloss over or misunderstand are planted by Rowling for the keen reader. The literary puzzles are elaborate and merge ideas from different books.

All at the same time, magic, mystery, and fun are at the forefront of J.K. Rowling’s storytelling.

Harry suffers through trauma. Rowling allows Harry and his friends the space to fail. We are reminded they are not perfect. We see Harry during times that can be scary or even sad. Just as often, he overcomes the odds. Whenever Harry succeeds, we are there to observe and celebrate him in his victories. Harry, or “the boy who lived,” is a character whose very existence is described as being outstanding and mysterious from the beginning. Without even knowing Harry yet, people approach him in awe and we get to enjoy his fame and recognition balanced with modesty, integrity, and altruism.

J.K. Rowling is always presenting us with new mysteries to investigate.

In The Sorcerer’s Stone, we begin to ask ourselves so many questions:

  • Why did Voldemort kill Harry’s parents?
  • How did Harry survive? Why?
  • Will Harry survive his first year at Hogwarts?
  • Why does Snape hate Harry? Can Snape be trusted?
  • Will Harry face Voldemort at some point? Who would win?

To avoid spoiling anything, I won’t go beyond that.

Some of the mysteries (among others) are addressed in the first book, while others span the length of the series. Harry is always searching for answers and pursuing challenges.

4. Word-Choice Matters

To prevent little girls who are good at school from getting bullied through namecalling, Rowling chose the uncommon name of “Hermione” for her lead female character.

Draco, an antagonist, has a name that sounds like “dragon.” His last name, Malfoy, mixes “Mal” (Bad) and “Foy” (Faith.)

“Snape,” another antagonist in the series, sounds like “snake.”

Butterbeer is a novel drink idea referenced throughout the series that was created by merging the creaminess of butter with the refreshing taste of root beer. Even though this is a fictional beverage, you can almost taste the drink even though you’ve never had it! (Unless, of course, you’ve been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios or the new Harry Potter store in NYC where you can actually order butterbeer in real life.)

Absolutely every name in Harry Potter has some symbolic meaning related to its origin. Rowling left nothing to chance when deciding what to call different things. Her naming strategy guided her with creating her characters, the spells she thought up, and even the Hogwarts school itself.

5. Treat Writing Like a Job

Solitude can be great while writing, but it is just as important to have a group of people to work with. Fellow creators are a great source to collaborate with, discuss with, and bounce ideas off of. Whether you are starting a blog or a book, having key people to ask questions to is paramount.

Identify your Dumbledore’s Army early on.

All Creators need a D.A. (Dumbledore’s Army). With the help of external accountability and additional sets of eyes, you’re far more likely to review your work and stay on top of your writing habits.

You have to do whatever it takes to banish your Dementors. Pop a piece of chocolate and write on!

Writing takes time. The words you choose matter. If you don’t treat professional writing as a job, it’ll pay you like a hobby. (Of course, writing as a hobby can be rewarding in its own way too!)

In an interview, J.K. Rowling famously said, “You’ve got to work. It’s about structure. It’s about discipline. It’s all these deadly things your school teacher told you you needed. You need it.”

Sometimes writing isn’t fun. At times, it can be a lot of work! At least if you put in the work, you’ll have something tangible at the end of it.

Slow down, take your time, and think about the details in your writing.

Put Pen to Paper & Take Flight

When you can’t travel, getting lost inside a great book is the next best thing.

With nothing but words on pages of paper, Harry Potter constructs an entire universe within the mind of its reader. In my opinion, this process is what makes J.K. Rowling exceptional.

Her books make you want to write better. At least for me, they reminded me to think bigger and certainly more creatively. It also proved to me that creating something of this magnitude is possible. It may not be easy and it certainly won’t be fast, but it’s been done – and that’s what matters.

If she could do it, then so can you.

Create something. Be original. Be you.

At some point, we all encounter stories that teach us to write better. They inspire us, enlighten us, and empower us in various ways. For many of us, those lessons are why we read in the first place.

Writing is an art. Reading helps makes you better at it.

Closing Thoughts on Harry Potter :

My Favorite Book:

I’d have to say Order of the Phoenix. (No, not because of the phoenix/bird reference. I just really enjoyed the Harry & Professor Umbridge storyline.) Honestly, it’s hard to pick one because I truly enjoyed all seven books – almost equally as much!

I know Voldemort was supposed to be the main villain, but I think Umbridge was worse.

My Least Favorite Book:

If I really HAD to choose, probably Goblet of Fire… I hit a slump with the Triwizard Tournament part of it and quit reading it for a long time. Then, once I got back into it, I realized I was right on the cusp of the excitement and had given up too soon!

My Favorite Movie:

I really enjoyed the first two movies the most. The Sorcerer’s Stone is the most magical and the Chamber of Secrets takes me back to my childhood because I remember seeing it on TV.

My Least Favorite Movie:

I guess the Half-Blood Prince because the movie wasn’t terribly memorable. Maybe the Deathly Hallows Part 2 because of how the ending was portrayed.

ALSO… I enjoyed Goblet of Fire, but that one infamous scene where Dumbledore ATTACKS Harry after seeing what happened with the Goblet of Fire… was so jarring. I actually paused the movie and opened the book to see how it was written because I certainly imagined the scene playing out quite differently. It literally says in the book, “Dumbledore asked Harry calmly.” The rendition of the scene was so bad, I still chuckle when I think back to it.

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Share Your Thoughts

If you haven’t read the books, I HIGHLY recommend them!

Get the first Harry Potter book today.

Harry Potter certainly has a huge fandom. If you’ve read the books or watched the movies, what did you think? Have they made you feel any certain way?

How about as a writer? Did J.K. Rowling inspire you to write any differently?

I would love to hear how the series has impacted you.

2 Comments

  1. This was a great series. I read them all with my daughter and grew quite attached to the characters by the end of the series and didn’t want to let them go. (I would still love a new series!) I did think she left things in a good place at the end with things mainly resolved but a little curiosity about the future. This was a fun read Rocky!

    1. Thanks so much! Reading Harry Potter with your daughter sounds fun. 🙂 I keep telling my three younger cousins that they need to give the series the chance. They don’t seem too keen on reading it. I can’t blame them. I wasn’t interested in when I was their age either. What a mistake that turned out to be though! The characters and storyline are so brilliant. Definitely one of my all-time favorite series. 10/10 would recommend to anyone.

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