The Three D's:
‘Destination, Determination and Deliberation’.
Wilkie Twycross, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
In Form and Plot we will learn the value of planning or knowing our destination. Rowling herself has stated that the last chapter of the final book (in fact, the epilogue) was completed before the books were published ‘in something like 1990’.
J. K. Rowling was also determined to use the talents she had. She had always wanted to be an author, but it was in fact poverty that forced her to succeed like never before. However, the third ‘D’ in Wilkie Twycross’ formula can be learnt from the way she expressed herself.
Deliberation means: Long and careful consideration or discussion, or, slow and careful movement or thought.
Although we know J. K. Rowling best for Harry Potter, it is true to say she always wanted to be a writer.
An Author by Age Six
Born in 1965 in Yate of South Gloucestershire, Joanne Kathleen Rowling (often still referred to by family and close friends as Jo) grew up in a household where literature was revered and enjoyed by all of her immediate family members. ‘There were always plenty of books in our house, because my mother was a passionate bibliophile,’ said Jo in one early interview.
According to a number of interviews and print articles about Rowling’s early life, rabbits played a major role in some of her first writing, largely due to the fact that she and her younger sister Diana (Di) both desperately wanted to have a pet rabbit. As a very young girl, Jo recalls that she told Di many stories, several featuring rabbits as characters. One leaned heavily on the Alice In Wonderland theme, for the heroine fell down a rabbit hole and was fed strawberries by a kindly family of rabbits! Her first written book, penned at the tender age of six, was also about a bunny, and was aptly titled Rabbit. The plot line was built around Rabbit catching the measles, and visits from some of his friends during his recovery, including a giant bee named Miss Bee.
When Joanne was nine years old, her family moved out to the countryside of Church Cottage, near Chepstow in South Wales. She loved roaming the beautiful fields with Di, and they also enjoyed playing by the River Wye. Jo has described herself as ‘a quiet, non-athletic little girl whose favourite subject was English.’ She spent many school lunchtime periods weaving colourful stories for her chums, which often featured strong themes of heroic derring-do.
Upon graduating from public school with highest honours in English, German and French, Jo’s parents encouraged her to pursue a degree that would help her land a nice, secure secretarial job. Her college studies were done at Exeter University where she pursued a B.A. in French and Classics; studying in Paris for a year was part of her coursework. Upon graduation in 1986, she moved back to England and took a position at Amnesty International’s London office as a researcher and bilingual secretary. She was living in Manchester at the time, and has often been quoted as saying that it was on the long, four-hour train trek from Manchester to London in 1990 that the genesis for Harry Potter first dawned upon her. The story idea of a young boy attending a school of wizardry essentially “came fully formed” into her mind. She began writing... and a mass of material was generated over the next five years.
J.K. Rowling's mother died at the end of 1990, following a ten-year battle with multiple sclerosis.
Following her mother’s passing, she moved to Portugal to teach English as a second language. There she met her first husband, Jorge. ‘They talked about literature. Joanne invariably had The Lord of the Rings with her,’ confirms both her friend, Maria Ines, and her lover, Jorge. Jorge proposed to Jo on August 28, 1992 and they married shortly afterwards. Their daughter Jessica was born in July, 1993. Unfortunately, by November, the marriage had reached breaking point. After one stormy row, Jo fled with baby Jessica to her sister who was living in Edinburgh. The following year, she filed for a divorce.
While dealing with all of these emotional and mental challenges, she began to direct all her energy to finishing the only work that mattered to her. In 1995 she finished the first book, and two years later, The Philosopher's Stone was published.Jo lost her mother, miscarried a child, got slapped by a jealous lover and had to cope with raising a child in abject poverty, all in the space of a few years. Unsurprisingly, in ‘A Year in the Life’ Part 1 Elizabeth Vargus Documentary, Jo lists her most marked characteristic as being "a tryer." You could easily take that up a few notches and additionally label her as a survivor who used her creativity to carry her through her own dark night of the soul when she was diagnosed as clinically depressed and yet had to find a way to keep going in order to provide for her daughter.
‘Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve. I was determined to try. I was determined to try because, frankly, my life was such a mess at this point, what – what was the worst that could happen? Everyone turn me down? Big deal.’
J. K. Rowling
When Bryony of Christopher Little Agency picked up the Harry Potter submission, she didn’t just like it, she loved it so much she told everyone in the office about it. The rest of the manuscript was requested and the Agency sent Jo a contract offering to represent her.
The attribute of Jo’s character that shines through more than any other at this stage of her writing career has to be her determination, which ultimately enabled her to succeed.
One high school friend, Carl Wood, says, ‘She was always very determined and particular. (Her writing was very neat, she was always very organised, never seemed to get overly flustered....) However, there was never any talk that I remember of becoming a writer or being famous. Just her dogged determination not to give in to life's ups and downs meant that she was destined to be successful.’
But how can you develop this kind of determination? Remember, that determination is a quality of successful people. This ability to remain focused on the task at hand; not giving up when obstacles arise will help define your future. Jo desperately needed a break that would enable her to rise from rock bottom to a more secure place. If you come to your writing with the same attitude, that you must win, that your whole livelihood is riding on this, then you will make it work.
The author of Harry Potter is undoubtedly a wordsmith—that is, one who is an expert of language. J. K. Rowling knows the origins of words and how they are grouped together to form word families.
‘You would have to be fairly inattentive not to be struck by Ms. Rowling’s fondness for alliteration in her Harry Potter novels. She uses the repeated first sound of a word in naming persons (Peter Pettigrew), places (Ministry of Magic), things (Smelting Stick), animals (Buckbeak/Witherwing), plants (Whomping Willow), events (the TriWizard Tournament), even school subjects (Defense Against the Dark Arts, a Doubly Alliterative D-a-D-a).
It’s hardly surprising, then, that the Weasley twins, alliteration incarnate as mirror images, have a special fondness for initial repetition, if Weasley’s Wizard Weezes is still a delight and the contents of a Skiving Snackbox are exactly what you’d expect from playful, literate twins: Puking Pastilles, Fever Fudge, Canary Creams, Ton Tongue Toffee, and Nosebleed Nougat.’
- The Hogwarts Saga as Ring Composition and Ring Cycle, John Granger
No doubt, she developed a love of the English language in all its rich diversity from her time abroad and at university. She also had knowledge of German, French and Portuguese languages. When she learnt the classics, she would have perhaps included Greek and Latin in her studies. Her knowledge would have given her a veritable fountain of language to draw upon in her later writing.
She didn't stop, however, with the knowledge of European languages; just like J.R.R. Tolkien, she made and imagined her own language, spells that were based on Latin and magical descriptive words that would have sprung from her wellspring of word families. She was so successful at this skill, in fact, that we have adopted the term 'Muggle' into the Oxford Dictionary:
A person who is not conversant with a particular activity or skill: she’s a muggle: no IT background, understanding or aptitude at all.
1990s: from mug1 + -le2; used in the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling to mean 'a person without magical powers'.
Who can forget all those wonderful names in Harry Potter like Dumbledore, which means bumblebee. Or Mrs Norris, inspired by Fanny Price’s aunt in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. Dudley Dursley happens to be two close towns in the vicinity of Gloucestershire, where she grew up. Gilderoy was taken from Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable and Lockhart was found on a war memorial.
‘I am a bit of a name freak. A lot of the names that I didn't invent come from maps. Snape is a place name in Britain. Dumbledore is an old English dialect word for bumblebee, because he is a musical person. And I imagine him humming to himself all the time. Hagrid is also an old English word. Hedwig was a saint, a Medieval saint.
I collect them. You know, if I hear a good name, I have got to write it down. And it will probably crop up somewhere.’ Interview on Larry King Live, aired October 20, 2000.
Being a wordsmith is more than just knowing the tools of your trade; it has to do with being passionate about those tools too, which in this case is language. Jo describes herself as a ‘name freak’. This is no passing fancy, this is more of an obsession. She is so tuned into the power of words that Steve Kloves was inspired to coin Dumbledore’s famous expression:Now be honest with yourself. Is grammar something you have difficulty with? Do you know where to put commas or semi-colons? Do you really love language? If not, then maybe you should brush up on your skills. If this is your area of weakness, aim to become a wordsmith like J. K. Rowling.
‘Just thought you might like to know that my personal best for Expert Level Minesweeper is now ninety-nine seconds. This goes to show how much time I have been spending at this computer, typing The Half-Blood Prince. To those who suggest that I might get on even faster if I stopped taking Minesweeper breaks, I shall turn a deaf ear. It’s either Minesweeper or smoking; I can’t write if I have to give up both.’ J. K. Rowling
‘The game (Minesweeper) requires spatial reasoning and logical elimination of possibilities based on the information given on cleared squares. A good Minesweeper player quickly eliminates possibilities and discovers openings and bombs on all points of the grid. A great player instantly recognizes geometrical patterns of possibilities that reveal what is hidden beneath multiple squares.’
And here is the clue we’re looking for: ‘recognizing patterns’.
J. K. Rowling’s proficiency at Minesweeper is evidence of her method of thinking which is keyed into patterns. This uncanny ability to think in this manner enabled her to generate such a complex and compelling fantasy.
‘Thinking like Ms. Rowling, Minesweeper Extraordinaire, means working with patterns based on tangential or diagonal lines of possibility. How does she think? Answer: “She plans meticulously and her cranium is hard-wired to see things in patterns.” The patterns she chooses to write with, because she plans her novels (see secret 1) so carefully, are our surest means to understanding her books, and why millions of people around the world love them.’