Before I begin let me first alleviate some concerns by saying, no this is not some phallic reference to Harry Potter. It’s a children’s book collection for Christ’s sake. Those of you who initially thought such a horrible thing—you know who you are—shame on you!
So, what’s this article about?
Finding writing success for young adult books.
In quidditch, Harry’s Nimbus 2000 and Firebolt both set his competition aflame, sometimes literally with the help of his friends. The broomsticks are symbolic of everything he stands for: freedom, success, humanity, and magic. Magic is key here, simply because what J.K. Rowling accomplished was just that. Her success can be broken into 5 simple points.
1) Write about themes everyone in your target audience encounters.
HARRY POTTER: Themes like love, friendship, and good vs. evil are prevalent throughout the series and universal in humanity. However, a darker issue lies at the heart of the books: dealing with death.
A LIFE OF DEATH: Although of a completely different genre, my A Life of Death series utilizes many horrors that ultimately relate to this same theme. However, Alex Drummond, the main character, takes this a step further, not only attempting to cope with death in his own life but reliving the murders of those around him.
2) Draw from personal experience and explore your own emotions.
HARRY POTTER: J.K. Rowling drew from her experiences with love, poverty, a troubled marriage, problems at home, and the death of her mother. We see each of these in characters like Harry Potter with his troubled home life, Ron Weasley’s poverty-stricken family, and Hermione Granger’s feelings of isolation.
A LIFE OF DEATH: Approach your story with an understanding that the lessons within the tale must be drawn from personal experience, research, and then build off them. In A Life of Death, I pulled from my past and the stories confided in me about death, abuse, alcoholism, depression, isolation, then finally self-reliance and discovery. Impart what you know, helping your young readers feel the same joy and pain.
3) Develop believable characters with realistic dialogue.
HARRY POTTER: Rowling’s characters are alive in the minds of millions of readers. Their dialogue is realistic, short and stunted when necessary, and informal, like people actually speak. Potter could be the neighbor next door. Ron is like a friend from school. Even Severus Snape is a multilayered character you could pass on the sidewalk any day of the week. And Malfoy… well his actions and statements make him out to be the character we all love to hate.
A LIFE OF DEATH: Alex is the troubled teenager slouched in the back of class wearing a heavy metal t-shirt and jeans—the one who just wants to get out and stop by his one place of salvation, his father’s grave, before heading home to another hell. His words are indicative of a boy his age. Conversations when flirting with Paige, his school crush, or fighting with his siblings are just like you see in everyday life, often curt or apathetic. At other moments his speech may linger or be hesitant depending on the scene. Just make it real.
4) Tell a story people connect with, and leave them feeling fulfilled.
HARRY POTTER: Each book of Harry Potter’s story ends with a culmination of events, successfully overcoming Lord Voldemort and forcing him back temporarily—but at a cost. There is almost never a resolution in life without paying the piper. It might be the death of a friend or loved one like James and Lilly Potter, Cedric Diggory, or the suffering of Jenny Weasley.
A LIFE OF DEATH: Alex’s father was killed by a drunk driver. Overcoming this and succeeding when confronted by realistic villains like his stepfather Steve McCullin, known throughout as the drunk, can be accomplished. Unfortunately Charon, the ferryman of the dead, always requires payment in full. It is the same when writing a memorable ending. Suffering must be endured for success to be achieved.
5) Great villains are the true embodiment of humanity’s vile characteristics. Make yours memorable.
HARRY POTTER: Lord Voldemort is supreme and the worst possible evil known to man… or muggle. His partially formed characteristics make him inhuman, but he’s close enough to send shivers down your spine. His clothes cloak him in mystery, and his actions speak louder than words. Murder is committed at a whim without conscience. What’s worse is until the end, Malfoy appears to be Voldemort reincarnated. Now that’s a villain.
A LIFE OF DEATH: The main antagonist in A Life of Death is human and revealed early as Alex’s stepfather. He is the embodiment of evil possible within all of us, carrying out his sins as a result of his dependency on drink. Mystery about his past exists throughout the novel, being revealed slowly. The reader often wonders how much humanity remains in his soul, as with Voldemort.
To find out more about J.K. Rowling’s experiences, watch Oprah’s interview. The series is great, but the keys to the literary kingdom are out there for all writers to use and abuse. Now it’s your turn. Take Harry’s quidditch broomstick and succeed where so many have failed.
For more information about my series, A Life of Death, you can pick up your e-copy on Amazon.com and most e-book retailers. A free serialized audiobook of book 1 can also be found as podcasts on iTunes and through Podiobooks.com.