I finished writing my 10th novel early this morning, but as I reflected on that all day, I found myself instead thinking about a boy wizard--the boy wizard, of course--and the fact that today was his birthday, and if it wasn't for him, I'm not sure I would have completed my 10th novel at all. Or perhaps I should say, if it wasn't for the indomitable J.K. Rowling--whose birthday is also July 31st--I wouldn't have completed my 10th novel. In fact, I'm not sure I would have written any of my novels, at least not with any measure of success, because it is one thing to be a writer, and it is another thing entirely to be a storyteller.
Everyone who loves Harry Potter loves the moment in book 1 when Hagrid proudly says, "Harry--yer a wizard." We've all endured Harry's misery at the hands of the Dursleys alongside him for a good portion of the story up to that point, and when it's revealed that Harry is special, and magical special, and not just magical special, but going-away-to-be-trained-at-a-magical-school, magical special, we the readers feel a collective relief for him. There is a sense of rightness about Harry's situation at that point in the story. Finally, all the dissonance in his life begins to resolve. Obviously there will still be many, many trials for our young wizard, but now Harry has a drive, a purpose, an identity.
For me, this was my realization that I was a storyteller. I always knew I was a writer. I'd been writing bits of things for years, going way back to my childhood--far younger even than Harry was when he received his first letter to Hogwarts--but writing and storytelling don't always line up. Many great writers are terrible storytellers, and many great storytellers are terrible writers. It is a select few who capture the magic of being able to do both, or at least, who capture the magic of storytelling well, and then harness the writing as a vehicle to tell their brilliant stories as they need to be told. When I was young, I didn't realize that learning to story-tell was something I had to do. I believed if I had a story in my head, I could write it, and it would make sense and capture people's hearts and imaginations, and wasn't that all there was to it? Obviously I was wrong, but I didn't know it, and if you don't know you are wrong about something, you can't begin to learn how to do it right.
There were many authors I admired when I was young (and of course still admire)--authors like Lewis and Tolkien--but it wasn't until J.K. Rowling came along and Harry entered my life that I realized storytelling was a discipline to be learned and harnessed as a skill if I wanted to succeed myself as an author. I knew I loved Harry, and I knew there were big, transcendent themes in the story, but lots of stories contain lovable characters and big themes without ever approaching the success and the widespread appeal of Harry Potter. And it really wasn't that Rowling wrote any better than any other writers out there. One could argue that her prose is not as good as many comparable works. So when I sat down to study the phenomenon that was Harry Potter, the conclusion I came to was that the secret must lie in Rowling's storytelling methods, and that if I wanted to truly ever approach mastery in my writing, then I must study not her prose or her themes, but how her stories are woven together.
My studies of Rowling's Harry Potter novels have led me down rabbit holes of literary alchemy and ring composition. They've led me away from Harry and back to ancient, classical, and medieval works, and back to modern favorites like The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. They've helped me see patterns in films and TV storylines, and they've inspired me to always work harder, to always dig deeper, to never write lazy.
When I read Harry Potter for the first time as a teenager, I had no idea where it would take me. I had no idea that, almost twenty years later, I would teach writing seminars based on the storytelling methods J.K. Rowling used to write them, or that I would myself be the author of an award-winning six-book fantasy series that I wrote following her methods. I certainly couldn't have guessed that I would write 10 books in 9 years, but I'm thankful to be where I am, and I'm thankful for the epiphanies I've had from studying her work. I'm a novelist, a writer, but mostly, I'm a storyteller.
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