25 July 2007

Is J.K.Rolwing a Genius?

Why do we love Rowling? It’s easy: loveable characters and fun. These books are such fun to read.

I have spent the last couple of weeks analysing Rowlings books to find out what makes them tick. Lets take bk4 as an example:

Storylines: The main plot appeals to all ages. Good versus evil with a sufficiently large consequence of failure and therefore a satisfying payoff at the end. The main plot has a universal appeal to children and adults alike. There are, though, other storylines, some of which have very little to do with the main plot (e.g. Hermione’s SPEW campaign and who’s going with whom to the Yule ball). Both of these could have been cut to concentrate readers on the mail plot, but these storeylines are particularly aimed at children and provide most of the fun elements of her world, and the laughs. She intertwines these storyline expertly, giving us tension, conflict, and fun on every page.

Characters: Rowling’s ability to present character and characterisation is brilliant. Nothing unusual about writers creating great characters, except that everything and everyone is slightly exaggerated. With the exception of the three main characters, everyone is a caricature to a greater or lesser extent. The eccentric wizarding world she has created lends itself to caricatures, and therefore fun. The interplay between the three main characters and the extent to which she brings them to life and makes you care about them is dazzling – this is where her main skill lies.

Writing: I find the HP books difficult to read aloud. Rowling's sentences are often long and rambling, and often run on, but she gets away with it. There are several reason why she makes it work: Her rambling style matches the eccentric nature of the wizarding world; she knows when and how to crank up the pace; she uses the rambling sentences to convey the fun, the laughs, and the eccentricities of the wizarding world. They are in essence in character with the setting. But above all, Rowling has one writing attribute that is quite rare: comic timing. She can turn on the fun and the laughs without becoming cynical. Whatever the deficiencies of Rowling's writing style, readers either don’t notice or are prepared to forgive her because the read is just such fun.

Book 7: This one is different. Because she no longer has the setting of Hogwarts to fall back on, her available child-centric storylines are limited. This is, in essence, a chase story, whereas all the previous stories have been puzzles/mysteries. In consequence, she has had to throw in a lot more action to keep the plot moving and keep the reader’s interest. The laughs in bk7 come mainly from the interaction between the characters, but if we had not learned to love these characters in the previous books could she have pulled it off? Interestingly, there are few laughs associated with new characters.

So, is JK a genius? No. What she is, is a good writer who has the gift of comic timing, a flare for creating memorable characters, and an idea that allows her to draw on her strengths (which as far as I’m concerned is the holy grail of fiction writing). The rest is shear hard work.

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