J.K. Rowling: The Details Matter


After watching an interview with J.K. Rowing talking through her writing process, I am incredibly comforted. I say this because she touched on many aspects of writing a novel that scare me, and she talks about how she worked her way through it. First off, she shares my love for details. That really was the largest takeaway from the interview, that Rowling really loves details, but that they have to all “check out”. Talking about what pisses her off, Rowling talked about authors who leave glaring plot holes. When I heard this, I wanted to give her a high five through the computer screen. I fervently believe that obviously the author should be the most knowledgeable person on the world they create, and should be good caretakers of its parameters. This requires a lot of work, and most authors aren’t perfect, but Rowling comes across as someone who genuinely strives to fact check and eliminate any inconsistencies or glaring issues. She had a great quote where she mentions that the first five years of writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, a large portion of that time was just establishing what could and couldn’t happen in Harry’s world. Parameters is the perfect world, and it is something I am struggling to create for my own novel.

It really makes sense that the parameters should be set up first, because it gives a bit of purpose and linearity to one’s story. Rowling mentions that she made sure to establish that anything conjured out of thin air didn’t last, thus the need for currency (some economics professor poked a bunch of holes in the economy of Harry Potter since, but at least she tried). Rules such as this seem to be the knitty gritty details that lack the glamour of finally writing, but a necessity nonetheless. For example, I’ve had to look up altitudes that are easily breathable for humans for my story, as well as other random facts such as the average dimensions of hotels, all so that I can begin to establish an environment that is logical and thus “believable.” For an insane interactive diagram showing the connections in Harry Potter, check out this map. http://www.muckety.com/Harry-Potter/5013979.muckety

Rowling also mentioned how she amassed details that were not directly related to the plot, but were important for her in establishing her almost biblical knowledge of the world she was creating. In many ways, these details ended up being incorporated into her novels, but she didn’t know it at the time. This disjointed brainstorming process is similar to my own. I struggle to create a complete story arc, but I have enough character details and environmental details to fill, well hopefully, a book. She also made a great point on names. Rowling “collects” names, simply writing notebooks full of names until she hits the one that just feel right. I love this technique, and think that I will incorporate it myself. I struggle to find names for characters and places in my book, because I really feel the urge to get it right.

One last note was Rowling’s responses about target audiences. She says that she wasn’t aware of writing to any specific audience besides herself. She didn’t want to be influenced by what she thought a certain type of reader would be expecting, she wanted to keep her writing consistent with what she thought was great. I found this fascinating, because I feel like nowadays it is expected that you write to your audience (young adult books aren’t overly complicated or descriptive mostly, etc). Lots to think about.

Much more was covered in Rowling’s interview, but these were the highlights for me.

2 thoughts to “J.K. Rowling: The Details Matter”

  1. Steve,

    I enjoyed reading about the highlights of J.K. Rowling’s writing process. The chart you provided complemented the explanation you gave about “name collection.” You said that you too, struggle to find names for characters and places in “my book…” are you in the midst of writing a book? If so, I’d love to know what you’re writing about!

  2. Wow, you are writing a book? That is really neat. I would love to hear about it as well. I think that everything you brought up makes a lot of sense. When I read Harry Potter I really don’t question the details lining up, because it seems as if I am in an entire world that actually exists. I haven’t thought about how Rowling’s writing process ties into this feeling, but now I understand and it makes sense, that she is so invested in to creation and the inhabitation of her world that it seems real. The pages and pages of names also seems very thorough and I wonder if the names alone would give you a sense of the book. Good luck writing yours! I want to hear about it 🙂

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