Newfound and Unexpected Respect for J.K. Rowling

The rewrite was going badly. This is an understatement. So I took a week off in the Forest of Dean, as you do, and when I went back to it I decided to replan the rewrite. This I managed through one day of solid work.* We’re talking 10am til 4pm – not quite 9 – 5 but still pretty good. This is not quite the point I meant to make, so I’ll just jump straight to that.

Plotting a novel is a nightmare. I had no idea of this fact before I attempted to plot mine. Or rather to replot mine after making a few novel-changing discoveries in the process of the first draft. I used to think novels just sort of wrote themselves and one thing just happened naturally after another. Wrong. Everything that happens in a novel is carefully planned. It does not just happen.

Take Harry Potter, for example. I often thought, while struggling to replot/rewrite my novel, that Harry Potter must have been easy to plot because it’s just one thing following another. Then I discovered this:

This is part of J.K. Rowling’s plan for The Order of the Phoenix and, as you can see, it’s pretty intense. She’s got 6 subplots going on there. 6! I’m pretty new to this whole subplot thing – I’ve never really thought of novels in this way – which might explain why I’m having so much trouble. Now I’ve identified my main plot and subplots, at least, which has enabled me to replot the opening 15,000 words, although I haven’t done it as J.K. has – i.e. with separate sections for the subplots, etc – mine’s all as one. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. We’ll have to see. But if it doesn’t, I’m going to try her method next.

Because the thing is, yes, J.K. Rowling’s writing style isn’t great – adverbs, cliche’s, clumsy dialogue, info-dumps, some cirnge-worthy metaphors (Harry’s Ginny-inspired-lion springs to mind) – but when it comes to plot, she’s a genius. Anyone can write a good sentence but to weave a main plot and 7 subplots together seamlessly like she does is a talent. So hats off to you, Joanna. You’ve earned my respect and I now look forward to reading The Casual Vacancy.**


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*I didn’t actually replan the entire novel, just what I hope will be the opening 15,000 words at least.

**Previously, I hadn’t wanted to read it despite the fact that the blurb interested me because it was written by her and I didn’t think she could pull it off. Soz Jo.


12 thoughts on “Newfound and Unexpected Respect for J.K. Rowling

  1. Although I do agree with a lot of what you say, I do also have to believe that writing isn’t all planned and constructed. I say this because my stories do just flow out of me, new thoughts popping up rampant in the caverns of my imagination waiting to be grasped.

    Sometimes I grab them early and say, hey, that belongs here. And know that it will get written later but I do not plot.

    We shall see how my revisions go though.

    • I agree that it’s not all planned – I definitely had a lot of surprises while writing my first draft – but I do think you need to do some planning during the rewriting process because that’s when you’re crafting the novel and you need to be in control of the structure at this point. The writing process is different for everyone, though, so the extent to which a writer needs to plan at every stage will vary a lot.

      Thanks for the comment and good luck with your revisions.

  2. I’ve seen that chart before, and admit that it’s impressive. And she can certainly do some serious plotting.

    I, personally, believe you probably need to plot something out like that if it’s a mystery. But I think you can get by without doing it that way if it’s not a mystery. Stephen King is probably the best example of this.

    Speaking for myself, I’ve found when you plot something out like that, it just becomes work. You know where you’re going and you just sort of write away. While I’ll agree it’s probably more effective as far as completion rate, I think it takes away the enjoyment of writing, of discovering where a story is going and what a character will do, and thus I believe that in the end, writers who plot like this end up not producing as many works. Or staying in the field as long. It’s just not as enjoyable. It becomes nothing but work, and I’m not saying writing should be like art and you should only do it when you’re inspired. I’m just saying it needs to be more of the middle ground.

    • I think this is probably true for me, too. I have the most fun writing when something happens I didn’t expect. Following the plot is just work. And all this plotting is tedious, to be honest, but because of the deadline, I’m terrified of writing a bad draft; having to scrap it and running out of time. So I’m trying to sort out the structure before I write the second draft (again).

      • I wish you luck, and trust the gods of deadline will come through for you! (They usually do, after all. Nothing like sheer fear and nights and nights of little to no sleep to make you get it done!)

  3. I really need to mark my paper up like hers when I write a novel and create some sort of spreadsheet. I heard (rumor) that at one point she had a whole wall dedicated to just plot points in Harry Potter. A whole wall that looked like that sheet of paper filled to the brim! I mean..that’s just insane. I guess that’s what it takes to create magic though – good luck with your novel!

  4. That is really incredible! I’m not one for plotting, but it’s fascinating to see how she managed to weave all her plots together. And that’s just one book. She probably did the same thing for every book in the series.

  5. I wrote five manuscripts before I figured this out. I am gradually acknowledging that a level of outlining is good. Whether you do it before the first draft or after revisions is up to whether you are a pantser or a plotter. But in order to see why parts of your story might not be working it helps to break it down.

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