On Harry Potter and Setting Groundwork

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The other day I started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to my daughter. It’s been years since I first read it; but my hubby and I just saw Deathly Hallows part 1 last week, so much of the overall story arc was fresh in my mind.

Several times as I was reading the first chapter aloud, my hubby and I looked at each other, kind of amazed.

“I don’t remember that in first book,” he’d say.

Or, “Look,” I’d say, “All the way back on page nine.”

Rowling set up so much groundwork for the later books in the very first chapter of the very first book. Having only read the series once, I hadn’t noticed such structure or details way back when. Heck, I was just reading for fun.

This time, however, I couldn’t help wondering, how much did Rowling plan the books out? How did she know that an item used on page nine would play a large role in book seven? Or did she not know when she wrote book one, but only realize as she wrote the final book that she could go back and incorporate those elements?

I haven’t done my homework on Rowling and how she wrote the books, but that last one has my vote.

Even so, it’s kind of stunning how the elements all hang together to create a seven-book structure.

It’s got me thinking about my WiP — which doesn’t have a seven-book arc, as far as I know — and how I can finesse the elements of the book to create that “it’s all been there right in front of me the entire time” feeling for the reader. It’s not that I haven’t considered this before, it’s just that seeing such a clear and seemless example of it has me thinking about my own process and how I can improve how I set groundwork.

It’s got me think of what Richard Peck said about writing a book’s opening:

The end is the beginning.

So, I’m curious: Is this something you think about while you’re writing? Is it conscious work, planned out, or is it something you leave up to your subconscious? Is it work you do while revising or while writing the first draft?

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3 thoughts on “On Harry Potter and Setting Groundwork

    Lisa Nowak said:
    November 22, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    I’m working on a series, and I can say that a major event than happened in Book 4 was purposely set up in Book 1. I also had things happen in Book 3 that worked well to explain the events in Book 1, but that I didn’t think of until I was outlining Book 3. I think having it all fit together is matter of both planning and happy accident. Sometimes you just don’t realize the full potential of a story until the process of writing brings it out.

    As for a single book, like I’m working on now, I’m an outliner, so I know how a lot of the stuff I set up in the early chapters will play out. That doesn’t mean I won’t discover something new and wonderful as I’m writing. Outlining certainly isn’t necessary, but I think it helps get all those ducks in a row from an early point so you can avoid major re-writes later. But even the best outliner can’t think of everything.

    amanda said:
    November 22, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    I wrote a Potter-ish post today,too, and noted the same thing in the comments…Rowling’s plotting was amazing! I believe I read that many (if not all) of her hints and introductions were placed on purpose…she already knew what was going to happen 7 books down the road!

    Not all books are meant to be continued, so I don’t think you are always thinking that far ahead. However, my current WIP is a sequel, and I definitely planted ideas in the first book that I knew/hoped could grow into bigger plot points later on. It remains to be seen whether I was successful or not…

    Laurie L Young said:
    November 23, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    There’s an interview in this week’s EW with the producer of the movies, who tells a story about when they were making the 5th film. J.K. Rowling told him a character from the book was missing, that’s going to be very relevant in the 7th film, (Kreacher.)

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