Saturday, September 29, 2012

Lessons from JK Rowling

I have always lived by the philosophy "Learn from what you love." JK Rowling's writing, therefore, encapsulates writing lessons that I desperately need to unveil. I love what she does and, for this, she is one of my distant teachers.

This past Spring I took the "Harry Potter for Writers" online workshop. It was an amazing experience, but I realized that, in one sense I was ill-equipped to fully grasp all the wonder held within the writing JK Rowling offered. You see, when asked what I gleaned from my own reading of Harry Potter as a writer I was always left perplexed. Before the course I had never read the books in that way. I allowed JKR to take me on a fantastic adventure and just hung on for the ride. When I look back on the text it is very difficult for me to separate the technique of JKR's presentation from my fanatical reception. It is not impossible, simply difficult.

However, I am well aware that there is much to be learned from the output of the authors I respect, so I do not want to miss any learning opportunities when they avail themselves. Which brings me to The Casual Vacancy.

I rushed to purchase my copy on day one. I set aside my day to be spent in Barnes and Noble reading until my husband came home. I knew that September 27, 2012 was going to be all about JKR's new book. I almost missed my lesson. Just as I picked my seat in the Barnes and Noble Cafe next to the window, looked down at the cover of my newly purchased book and was about to open to page one a thought occurred to me, I can't wait to see how she sweeps me away this time!


That was the key word. Anyone looking at me sitting there could have seen that I was struck by something: I couldn't hide my reaction. This is my chance! I thought, This time I can really look at HOW she does it, WHAT she does and I can see what I'M MISSING!

So began an incredibly slow read. It is now Sunday, four full days since I purchased the book, and I have only just passed page 150. This is because I am not only being taken away to another of JKR's worlds, but because I am also in JKR's course on writing well.

I've been stopping to take notes, to reflect upon WHY certain passages move me, why certain sentences are so clearly expressive and I've been thinking about what I haven't been doing in my own writing. I have already gleaned a number of basic lessons from JK, that I imagine one can gather from any author they admire, and I thought it might be nice to share the with my readers.

In short, what I have found is that JKR tells A story, she doesn't just tell THE story. This is really the "big lesson" I have gleaned from the experience so far. All the notes I have taken while reading contain all of the techniques required to make that simple distinction.

This lesson is so much clearer in The Casual Vacancy than in the Harry Potter books because, in this novel JKR is writing about ordinary people in an ordinary world. There is no magic or fantasy to spice things up - JKR is telling us about a town that is dealing with some drama, that's all. A man died which opened up an opportunity to shift the political climate in the town (I haven't finished yet, so I don't know how intense it becomes or what the conclusion is), that's THE story, but to tell A story about it, JKR puts on her storyteller hat and immerses us in the environment, the community, the emotions and the feel of the facts.

I plan to write more about this, but for now I just wanted to touch base with everyone, show that my fingers still beat on the keys as my heart beats in my chest, but I'm "in class" right now, so I hope to have lots to share with you soon!

No comments:

Post a Comment