Friday, August 5, 2016

Friday Fricassee

So, a few days ago, I was sorted into Gryffindor on Pottermore.  And I sort of cheated.

Well, it's not like you can actually cheat on something like that.  But I knew I wanted to be in Gryffindor, so I tried to answer the questions in such a way that, well, I'd end up where I wanted.

Truthfully, most of the answers I chose were truly my very own choices.  But there was one question in particular that I absolutely, positively chose the answer because it sounded distinctly Gryffindor.  Something about "which drink would you choose".  And there was this wonderful, thick-and-creamy drink that I totally would have chosen, if it weren't for the fact that I was dead set on getting into Gryffindor.  So I chose the golden-drink-so-bright-you-could-hardly-look-at-it (or something like that), because it absolutely sounded like something Harry would have reached for.

I'm nothing if not determined.

And here's the rest of the story.  A few years ago, I popped onto Pottermore with high hopes, and ended up in Ravenclaw.  Which, yanno, is probably a good fit for me, all things considered. But, come on.  Nothing exciting ever happens in Ravenclaw.

So, yeah.  I was a sore loser and left Pottermore without a backward glance.  Then, this past weekend, I found the Gryffindor tee at Target (in the men's section, because apparently men get to wear all the cool licensed tee shirts), grabbed it, and gave Pottermore another try.

Why does any of this matter?

It doesn't, really.  It's just that I'm currently rereading all the Harry Potter, because it's been many years, and because, now that I've grown so much as a writer, I wanted to read it more critically, to see if I could determine how, exactly, she makes the magic.

Know what?  It's all about the story.  Because--brace yourself--I don't like her writing much.  At all.

She has created lovable, enduring characters. She has crafted a world so palpable and whimsical and fiercely imaginative that one simply has to step inside it and stay for awhile.  She has captured (in the early books) the kind of humor that is perfectly kid-sized, while imbuing it with the kind of dry wit that keeps older readers reading.

It's genius.

But the writing itself?  Ugh.  Not so much.

For one thing, her point of view is all over the place.  There's all this "meanwhile, Ron and Hermione sat with Hagrid" while Harry is getting ready for his first Quidditch match, and constant head-jumping in scenes that should be clearly and firmly in Harry's head.  She has written in a style that is, well, older.  The kind of thing that no editor today would buy.  Today, it's so much about a close first- or third-person POV, that anything outside of that really does feel "old".

And I'm not saying "old" is bad.  Just...old.  (And, come on--the Harry Potter books aren't THAT old.  They just SOUND old.)

Worse that the point of view thing, though, is THE COMMA ERRORS.  Sentence after sentence after sentence with a comma splice.  A deplorable lack of emdashes and semicolons and happily independent clauses, which have all been replaced by errant commas.  The author has made an art form of the run-on sentence.

I give you this gem from page 221 in Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone:

The idea of overtaking Slytherin in the house championship was wonderful, no one had done it for seven years, but would they be allowed to, with such a biased referee?

This sentence makes my vital organs want to propel themselves out of my mouth.  This...this is the stuff of ninth grade book reports.  It's just WRONG.  Utterly and completely wrong.
Don't even try to talk me into thinking that there's anything grammatically acceptable about the above sentence.  

So, what am I saying here?

I'm saying that there's a magical SOMETHING about these books that transcends everything else.  A SOMETHING that made me leap at the chance to buy a Gryffindor tee shirt ($13 and worth every cent).  A SOMETHING that made me want to fudge my way into Gryffindor on a web site.  A SOMETHING that has made me want to re-read the entire series.

J.K. Rowling has given us SOMETHING, and I'm not sure it's definable.  It's just...brilliant.  Magical.

No matter whether or not you like the Harry Potter books, you can't deny the SOMETHING.

I don't aspire to write like Ms. Rowling.  But I do aspire to breathe into my own stories their own, particular SOMETHING.  And I'm sure you're doing the same thing.

It's hard to aspire to something undefinable, though.  Right?

And Mr. A just sort of rolls his eyes at me when I'm wearing my Gryffindor tee and doesn't get the whole Harry Potter thing (because he's never read the books).  It's just that there's something in me going, "Well done, Ms. Rowling.  You've creating a THING from deep inside your brain, and it's become as close to real as something from the pages of a book possible could.  You've ROCKED this story-telling thing!"  And then I feel all bookish and nerdy, and life is good.

And then I want to curl up with my own story, my own world, my own brain, and have at it.  Because, no matter what you're writing or whether you're published or not, IT'S ALL MAGICAL.  I think that, in the end, that's what keeps us coming back.  It's not the grammar or the wordcount or the mechanics of getting those words down in a less than insane order.  It's about CREATING OUR OWN SORT OF MAGIC.  A world from deep inside us that becomes real.

Heady stuff.  And a bit geeky.

I love stories.  I love being a writer.  I love sharing my thoughts with you, because YOU GET IT.  We're fashioned from the same lump of clay, and I LOVE THAT.

Go on.  Grab your Gryffindor tee shirt this weekend, before they sell out.  Tell them Authoress sent you.  :)


  1. I'm reading Harry Potter to my son for the first time (the illustrated first one). It's reminding me of the very magic you're talking about here. More importantly, it's introducing the magic to him. (I have Gryffindor sweatpants, even though I'm a Ravenpuff!)

    1. Do you do voices for all the characters? ;)

  2. I hear ya on those comma splices! Ack! Many times I've thought the books could've used an editor with a heavier hand. Rowling"s plotting and world-building are exceptional though, and I could learn much from studying her work.����

    I'm Hufflepuff--reluctantly at first, but I've realized it's actually right for me. Smart sorting hat. (Hmmm...A middle-aged woman believing she's been accurately sorted by a magical hat perhaps says a great deal about Rowling's talent as a writer. Heh.)

    1. You nailed it exactly!! It says a GREAT deal about her talent!

  3. I read HP for the first time this year, and I couldn't agree with you more! There was something incredibly compelling that made me keep reading, but the writing itself left me....not very impressed.

    Regardless, I'm glad I've read them now!

    1. Yep! It's one of those you-just-have-to-read-them things.:)

  4. Cheater! Haha. I wanted to be in Gryffindor as well but I have embraced my destiny as a Hufflepuff.

    Yes, the writing is not the most refined prose ever--the one thing that sticks out to me is the number of times Hermione says something "scathingly" to Ron (seriously go count.) But if you'll read them all in order, you'll notice it gets better as the books go on, and by Deathly Hallows she's really honed her craft, in my opinion.

    1. You realize, of course, that now the word "scathingly" will jump out and scratch my eyes as I continue to read. ;)

      She does all SORTS of annoying -ly adverbs and pretentious dialogue tags, for sure. It will be interesting to watch her writing change as I plow through (I'm only on Chamber of Secrets right now).

  5. And see, I always thought of myself as a Ravenclaw, but have twice been sorted into Gryffindor on Pottermore. Trade you? :)

  6. I was a big HP fan too, and kept reading the books over and over again (the earlier ones) -- I just loved escaping to Hogwarts and being immersed in that wonderful, vivid world. (I haven't tried the sorting quiz, but I've always thought of myself as a Ravenclaw -- that house seems the best fit for creative, artistic types!) But I agree that Rowling is definitely in the category of writers that I would describe as 'a good storyteller but not a good writer'.

    But the sad thing is that I was so disappointed in the final book that it pretty much ended my infatuation with the whole series, and I haven't been able to enjoy them in the same way since. I know a few other people who feel the same way, but I'm honestly very surprised that I haven't encountered more readers who also feel that Deathly Hallows has serious flaws (far beyond punctuation issues) that cause it to simply not fit with the rest of the books.

    For me, two-thirds of that book was awful -- the pages were a chore to read and sounded as if they'd been written by a different author; they completely lacked the warmth and charm that pulled us all into that world in the other volumes, and the voice came across as cold and flat. My guess is that all the pressure put on Rowling (and the editors as well) to get the book out quickly led to it being released when it still needed extensive editing.

    Whenever I think about it, I just wish I had been in her editor's shoes and could have given her a thorough R & R request, detailing all the things that needed to be changed to bring that book in line with the rest of the series. I know it'll never happen, but I still think it would be great if there were some way to get her to rewrite that book the way it should have been, so the series would be truly complete.

  7. I don't know why anyone thinks of it as cheating or fudging. The Sorting Hat totally takes your own preferences into consideration. That's canon. Choosing your answers is just a way of "asking" it to put you in the house you most value, I would think.

    1. Wow -- you're so right! It totally took Harry's desire not to be in Slytherin into consideration. I FEEL BETTER NOW. :)

  8. I felt the same way after reading the Harry Potter series. It wasn't the writing that drew me in. I fell in love with her world! Oh, and I have to take my Pottermore test again. I'm Slytherin for gosh sakes, and snakes just creep me out, lol! Love the t-shirt...

  9. I disagree totally about points of view. Many excellent writers use omniscient and numerous. Rowling is but one. How about Colum McCann?
    Charles Dickens? Jane Smiley? Changing POVs bothers me not at all. I think the insistence on one is a modern hang-up and most frequently enforced with genre fiction. The same is true of some grammatical "rules" that you've mentioned. The final judgment should rest on if the author has achieved an acceptable work.

    1. Hi, Bonnie!

      The modern novel is a fluid art form, as are all art forms. A clean POV is something that has evolved from the older style. Dickens, after all, wrote over 2 centuries ago. Austen, my favorite author of all time, constantly shifts POV. In her novels, it doesn't bother me, either.

      But today's novel isn't the novel of the 19th century, and it shouldn't be. I believe that writers need to read a lot of NEW works to learn what the 21st-century novel looks like. A story can certainly be told from separate points of view (I have done it myself), but that's not the same as the head-hopping that is a hallmark of older works.

      As for comma rules? They are rules, period. Now, the Oxford comma is up for heated debate, for sure (I'm a strong supporter of it). But a run-on error is always a run-on error, and I believe that, as writers, we really need to understand the basics of sentence structure. And as editors? Equally so.

      A clear POV is not so much a hang-up as it is simply where the novel has evolved. Have you ever looked at Medieval art? It is 2-dimensional, completely lacking depth and perspective. People don't paint that way anymore, though in the time period, that's what art WAS. Art changes, and we have to be willing to change with it.

      I also want to point out that the adept use of the omniscient POV is what I consider an advanced skill, one that some authors can pull off beautifully. But that isn't the same as randomly head-hopping.

    2. Careful. Your Ravenclaw is showing. ;)

  10. LOL, I kept waiting for this post to be about diversity in fiction, because I've looked at that shirt several times now and it still reads "Gayffindor" to me -- a shirt I totally would have bought, by the way. Top down processing, I guess, because of all the interesting talk about LGBT characters in fiction.

    1. Funnily, I posted a similar picture on my "real me" FB page the other day, and one of my gay friends commented, "Gayfinndor?" It was a funny moment. :)

  11. HELLO Authoress...

    I LOVE your post. I am a HUGE HP fan. I was also sorted into Ravenclaw and was happy to stay there. I'm not obsessed with being a Gryffindor.

    You are spot on about the writing. Ms. Rowling is the QUEEN of the Adverb! She has hundreds on every page. But yet.... I LOVE the books! Read them all at leas ten times. What I love is the CHEMISTRY with her characters. Genius....

    Have you read HP and the Cursed Child. I finished it in one day. Was it great? No... and she didn't do the writing, but the story did hold my attention. The sad thing... the chemistry was not there. It saddened me...

    1. I have not! I read the first couple pages in a store, and I realized it would be a stretch for me, because I really (REALLY) don't enjoy reading screenplays. I wish I could see the play!

      And YES, the adverbs! Ugh!! And how the characters are alway snarling and hissing dialogue. Fortunately the world is so strong that it's easy to ignore!

  12. I'm reading Harry Potter aloud to my kids -- the first time I've reread them since I originally read them like 15 years ago or something. And I TOTALLY agree with your statement. The writing physically hurts me sometimes (it's even harder to read aloud: scene breaks are in strange places, chapter endings are just kinda... there, etc), but OH MY GOSH this is such a fun world and story.

    (Also Ravenclaw forever. I never joined Pottermore, but that's my house. I just KNOW.)

  13. Your post and the comments capture what is so alluring and challenging about writing. Good books require so much, on the microscopic and macroscopic level: plot, character, voice, grammar, dialogue, etc. It's extremely difficult to master them all, and very fun to try. ;)

  14. I just finished a re-read of the HP series, but I listened to it on audio, which means I'm not paying attention to grammar and can't see those comma splices ;)

    I'd always been sorted into Ravenclaw and was pretty fiercely loyal to that house, but recently started getting Hufflepuff. I was not. happy. But then, during my re-read, I realized that yeah, actually I am a Hufflepuff. Probably a Huffleclaw to be specific.

    I agree with Shari above that the fact that people get so passionate about the houses definitely speaks to the magic of the world Rowling created. The other day I saw a VERY heated debate on Twitter about which house the characters of Hamilton belonged in. It was delightfully geeky.

  15. I was sorted into Ravenclaw, also. Now you've made me want to re-read the books. It's been years since I've read them and I'm hankering for some magic and some SOMETHING. Spot on about why we keep coming back to writing.

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  17. I think the main problem you seem to find with Rowling's writing stems from the fact that British and US writing standards differ widely. We love our adverbs here... and our commas. We're not so adverse to head hopping either.
    My books are all written in 3rd person omniscient. My US editors are very good and make wide allowances for my style because it works for a British audience.
    This doesn't mean you aren't allowed to dislike the way she/we write... it just explains why we do. It's not poor writing, it's just different. :)