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  #1  
Old 08-20-2010, 09:30 PM
Superhal Superhal is offline
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JK Rowling's writing style

I am going through the Harry Potter series again, and I raced through the first 4 books in the series. However, when I got to the 5th book, I'm having a hard time getting through some of her scenes. Did anybody else notice a distinct change in her writing style? What do you think caused it?

My impression is that she had a gift for juggling multiple adolescent characters in a school setting while keeping adults two dimensional. However, starting with the 5th book, where she started to deal with adult themes and adult characters, she wasn't nearly as effective. It also seems like she was under undue pressure to do things differently, but I think she could have been even more successful if she stuck to her formula: Harry at the Dursleys, Harry in school, Harry overcoming the latest plot by Voldemort, and Dumbledore with the denouement.
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  #2  
Old 08-20-2010, 09:46 PM
smiling bandit smiling bandit is offline
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She's really bad at plotting things. Really bad. Actually, she was pretty good at first. But by the 4th book, she started to go off the rails not thinking about the implications of what she'd put in. basically, you can't dump all of that magic and not give characters (who have a plausible reason to use it) a chance to chuckl it around. Ity got harder and harder to suspend disbelief when she started tossing constant streams of deus ex machinas, belated plot points which should have been introduced books earlier, and uninteresting characters to fill space.

This started in the 4th book, and it began overrunning everything else along with teen angst. And while I can tolerate a certain level of it, these were some of the whiniest teens ever. They've got magic, a kickass castle, lots of cool friends. In order to make the angst "work", Rowling basically chucked in apathetic and incredibly stupid adults to make everything worse.
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Old 08-20-2010, 09:47 PM
Mahaloth Mahaloth is offline
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Well, the 5th book is the wordiest and in some parts, the worst written.

I think having Harry be angry like a teenage boy really affects the whole book's tone. Still a wonderful book, but it was a bit odd.

Now 6 and 7 are a return to the form of the first ones.
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Old 08-20-2010, 10:07 PM
Chronos Chronos is online now
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The angst never bothered me, since they are after all teenagers. It would have been a complete violation of verisimilitude if they weren't angsty. And I think the fifth book was actually my favorite, due, I think, to seeing Harry as a teacher, and realizing just how much he'd learned.

Now, the seventh, that's the one I thought weakest, though that might just be because in all of the previous books, when plot threads were left unresolved, we could always think "maybe next book". On the other hand, though, the loss of Hogwarts as a venue didn't help, either.
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  #5  
Old 08-20-2010, 11:13 PM
The King of Soup The King of Soup is offline
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After the first million sales, willful authors don't have to be edited anymore, no matter how awful they are.
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Old 08-21-2010, 01:03 AM
AK84 AK84 is offline
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The fifth book is generally the worst. The seventh is pretty good and the sixth is the best IMO.

THe change over that you see is due to the evolution from a childrens story that adults would enjoy to what was definatly a book meant for older teenagers at the minimum. Would you give a seven year old the seventh book? I think not.
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  #7  
Old 08-21-2010, 01:21 AM
jackdavinci jackdavinci is offline
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Looking at my bookshelf, each one kept getting thicker as the series went on

I didn't notice a real change in the 5th book. I think I had a little trouble following some of the action in the MoM at the end, and I found the Occlumency/abandoned by Dumbledore subplot to be annoying, but otherwise it felt like a bit of a peak of quality in the series.

Whereas #6 seem to consist entirely of Harry watching Tom Riddle memories. And #7 seems to consist largely of wandering aimlessly in the woods and extremely tortured copyright metaphors.

Last edited by jackdavinci; 08-21-2010 at 01:22 AM..
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Old 08-21-2010, 03:06 AM
Superhal Superhal is offline
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The 7th book gave me flashbacks to Tolkien where the two hobbits are riding/being carried for hundreds of pages...I was predicting that Harry/Hermoine would get out of the forest by roughly the 50% point in the book.

Last edited by Superhal; 08-21-2010 at 03:07 AM..
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  #9  
Old 08-21-2010, 03:13 AM
AClockworkMelon AClockworkMelon is offline
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Yeah, agreeing with some of the others. The writing style didn't really change, but Harry's descent into eye roll-inducing angst was enough to color the story.
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Old 08-21-2010, 03:38 AM
SciFiSam SciFiSam is online now
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After the first million sales, willful authors don't have to be edited anymore, no matter how awful they are.
Yup. It happens to nearly every writer.
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Old 08-21-2010, 03:53 AM
Superhal Superhal is offline
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After the first million sales, willful authors don't have to be edited anymore, no matter how awful they are.
Yup. It happens to nearly every writer.
Howcum nobody edited the early Twilight books then?
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  #12  
Old 08-21-2010, 03:55 AM
SciFiSam SciFiSam is online now
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Yup. It happens to nearly every writer.
Howcum nobody edited the early Twilight books then?
I suspect the later books got even worse, but I'm not going to put myself through the torture of finding out.
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  #13  
Old 08-21-2010, 05:23 AM
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I am going through the Harry Potter series again, and I raced through the first 4 books in the series. However, when I got to the 5th book, I'm having a hard time getting through some of her scenes. Did anybody else notice a distinct change in her writing style? What do you think caused it?
IMO the first four books are adventures written in the style of detective stories. Rather then whodunnits, they're 'Who is the hidden villain?' Book 5 is a major shift, not only with Harry passing puberty, but the primary villain, Umbridge, is right out in the open
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  #14  
Old 08-21-2010, 11:05 AM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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It's too easy to criticize Harry Potter books. You try and write a pitch-perfect modernization of the English children's adventure story. To my mind, Rowling's take on the genre is a million times more sophisticated than the Enid Blytons and Malcolm Savilles she's following.

But, having said that, there are points where the strains of creating an ambitious seven book story-arc begin to show. I think the biggest problem is that, because the series is basically about Harry Potter growing up, he's not allowed to be an adult until right at the end. I think that's probably a source for a lot of annoyance. There are times where he is less of a character, because his development is deliberately held back.

I also feel that people who don't like the books don't understand them because they miss the irony in them. I don't think I've ever seen another series of "children's books" so dripping with irony -- some of it being quite subversive. It's no accident that one of the most thoroughly evil characters in the series wears pink cardigans and works for the ministry of magic (who are supposed to be the good guys). Just stop and think about that for a moment.

But of course, the principle irony introduced right at the beginning of the series and maintained throughout concerns Harry Potter himself. Right from the start, the wizarding world treats him as some kind of freakish superhero, capable of almost anything. In reality, he's just a slightly dimmer than average kid, who never knows what's going on and who's never once in control of his own destiny. If you're attributing some of his behavior to "annoying teenage angst", I think you're missing great chunks of sub-text. What I saw in those scenes was Harry growing in the realization that he's been nothing than a puppet on a string.

Harry's inability to act of his own volition leads up to the first part of Deathly Hallows. With Dumbledore out of the picture, he finally strikes out on his own (something he's threatened to do several times throughout the series). But of course, it quickly becomes apparent that he really doesn't have the first idea of what to do. Everything he tries comes to nothing. It's only when he returns to the path Dumbledore's laid out for him that things get resolved.

That's a fairly sophisticated line to be taking in a children's book. And I imagine quite a lot of Rowling's target audience related to Harry's dilemma. Young teenagers also live in world where their lives are completely controlled by adults, not all of whom have the best of intentions. Quite a few of teenagers, I imagine, find themselves trying to live up to adult expectations that are completely over their heads.

Which brings me to the way adults are depicted in the series. I don't think that was badly done at all. I'd be willing to bet that Rowling's target audience recognized each and every one of those characters from actual teachers in their own schools. Heck, I haven't been near a school in twenty years, but I still remember all the McGonagalls, Snapes, and Trelawnys who were around back in my day. I've run across way too many Umbridges too. And remember, Rowling actually worked in the school system.

Plot holes? I don't see a lot. I know some people complain about Rowling pulling wand-lore out of her butt at the end. But it was always the nature of the series that each new book would deal with a fresh bit of wizarding-world lore. It not really Rowling's fault that all the ridiculous speculation about the last book created an expectation that it would be pieced together from all the existing bits like a jigsaw puzzle.

Finally, although no one's done it in this thread (because your an intelligent and sophisticated bunch), I have heard Rowling criticized for her grammar and usage in the Harry Potter books. I always found that absurd. Why would an English writer with an English publisher writing for an English audience adopt the American vernacular?
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  #15  
Old 08-21-2010, 11:31 AM
Thudlow Boink Thudlow Boink is offline
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After the first million sales, willful authors don't have to be edited anymore, no matter how awful they are.
Yup. It happens to nearly every writer.
I hear this a lot, but I'd really like an authoritative cite. Is it really true that new authors' manuscripts are subject to editorial revision but successful authors' aren't, no matter how much they may need it?
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Old 08-21-2010, 11:54 AM
SciFiSam SciFiSam is online now
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Yup. It happens to nearly every writer.
I hear this a lot, but I'd really like an authoritative cite. Is it really true that new authors' manuscripts are subject to editorial revision but successful authors' aren't, no matter how much they may need it?
Well, I guess it could just be coincidence, but later books tend to be a lot longer and tend to have more errors of the kind that are usually picked up in an edit, such as run-on sentences, poor punctuation and paragraphs so long you forget which book you're reading.

There are several authors I want to tie to a chair until they understand how to use a semicolon.
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Old 08-21-2010, 01:11 PM
Baron Greenback Baron Greenback is offline
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]I hear this a lot, but I'd really like an authoritative cite.
The novels of Tom Clancy?
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  #18  
Old 08-21-2010, 02:13 PM
Zsofia Zsofia is online now
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Take a look at almost any successful series on your bookshelf. Generally speaking the first one is going to be the slimmest spine and be the most tightly written. George R. R. Martin, I'm talking to you. I KNOW that when I look at a shelf full of books that get fatter as they get righter, that it's not going to be because they need that much more space. It's going to be that they're going to be more self indulgent as the series rolls along.
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Old 08-21-2010, 03:51 PM
Quartz Quartz is offline
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I hear this a lot, but I'd really like an authoritative cite.
The novels of Tom Clancy?
Beat me to it. Though it was only after Executive Orders that he decided he could do without.
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  #20  
Old 08-21-2010, 03:56 PM
Superhal Superhal is offline
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Kim: Interesting commentary. I hope her work rises in literary criticism, but it's very rare for a book classified as a "children's book" (I had to go to the section of Barnes and Nobles with the shin-high chairs to get it) to be taken seriously. She really does some great stuff and shows flashes of brilliance, but I think the double-knock of being both a children's book and fantasy throw her out of the competition. I would personally like to see the Lemony Snicket books studied as well, but there's really no chance of it being done either.

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Finally, although no one's done it in this thread (because your an intelligent and sophisticated bunch), I have heard Rowling criticized for her grammar and usage in the Harry Potter books. I always found that absurd. Why would an English writer with an English publisher writing for an English audience adopt the American vernacular?
I find large stretches of her book nearly impossible understand, mostly thanks to 'Agrid (and now Tonks..."Wotcher, 'Arry? What the hell is "wotcher?") But, it's a well-known literary convention so I give her a pass on the grammar. I've found Mark Twain's use is far more difficult than Rowlings.

On a side note, I'm about half way through the 6th book, and I must say the Pensieve is a wonderful writing device. Does anybody know of something similar for relating past events that was nearly as elegant? Getting to the past memories is so quick, the memory is perfectly clear, the point of view is already set, and there's no need for a long-drawn out exit story.

Last edited by Superhal; 08-21-2010 at 03:57 PM..
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Old 08-21-2010, 03:59 PM
Superhal Superhal is offline
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Take a look at almost any successful series on your bookshelf. Generally speaking the first one is going to be the slimmest spine and be the most tightly written. George R. R. Martin, I'm talking to you. I KNOW that when I look at a shelf full of books that get fatter as they get righter, that it's not going to be because they need that much more space. It's going to be that they're going to be more self indulgent as the series rolls along.
I've got a counter example, actually. The first book in the Wheel of Time series is absolute garbage. Books 2-4 take off, and then starting with around book 5, we see the bloat that is referred to here. I got really pissed at the book where they recounted all the events from the previous book from a different character's perspective...and from characters that were nearly universally despised.
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  #22  
Old 08-21-2010, 04:29 PM
dangermom dangermom is offline
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And Pterry improved hugely as he went along; Colour of Magic isn't very good. Discworld gets good around about Mort and improves from there for quite a while. He never let himself write ridiculously long tomes, either.

I always thought Angry Teen Harry was a good realistic touch. A real 15-yo boy would be pretty angry at that point. But yeah, the books get bloated and are in dire need of editing. I'm not a big HP fan and have never re-read them, so I can't say much else; I'm perfectly willing to believe that the plots aren't tight.


Also, "wotcher" is British slang for hello--Urban Dictionary says it's from "What'cha up to?" All I know is, people in Asterix comics use it a lot so I've always associated it with Roman legionaries.

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  #23  
Old 08-21-2010, 04:34 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
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Yup. It happens to nearly every writer.
I hear this a lot, but I'd really like an authoritative cite. Is it really true that new authors' manuscripts are subject to editorial revision but successful authors' aren't, no matter how much they may need it?
I can't imagine what would constitute an "authoritative" cite, unless you were trying for a strained pun.

However, it's common talk throughout the industry that diarrhea of the typewriter afflicts many ultra-successful writers. Robert Heinlein got 60,000 words chopped out of Stranger in a Strange Land but insisted on publishing every comma thereafter when that sold a million. (And published all the stuff that got taken out many years later.) Stephen Jay Gould collected his essays seventeen to a book (because that's what Isaac Asimov did) but his first collection is half the page count of his later collections. Ed McBain did fantastic taut gritty 150-page novels in his 87th Precinct series in the late 1950s and bloated 400-page novels in the 1980s. Even Stephen King's books got fatter and that's from a fat start. I know of dozens of examples in every genre that I could point to.

Editors go along with it for several reasons. The foremost is that they don't want to author to walk. Publishers care only about sales, not quality. They are highly subject to blackmail. But editors care less than you would think because the books not only continue to sell, they probably sell better. That's because the vast majority of book buyers of bestsellers literally can't tell a well-written book from a badly written one. What they want is to spend more time in the author's world. Fat, bloated books allow them to spend more time and make them think they're getting more for their money. And if they think so, then they are, no matter what critics' opinions might be.
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  #24  
Old 08-21-2010, 04:46 PM
Superhal Superhal is offline
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Regarding bloat: I think a lot of successful writers succumb to thinking they don't need editing. Of the writers who avoided bloat (imho, Crichton and King did fairly well, although the latter's problem wasn't bloat...just crappy story ideas) they generally hired (or, in King's case, married) a personal editor.

In Writer's Digest, editors complain about this all the time. They don't understand why writers can't believe the editor is trying to make the book better. In nearly every case, the writer feels that the editor is trying to harm "their baby." Regarding a cite, iirc, there's been an editor's complaint about this in every issue of Writer's Digest in the past year.

Last edited by Superhal; 08-21-2010 at 04:47 PM..
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  #25  
Old 08-21-2010, 05:05 PM
PeskiPiksi PeskiPiksi is offline
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I think another factor in Jo Rowlings' case was the huge demand for the next book. When she was finished writing, the publishers wanted to get those books on the shelves ASAP, and if some of the needed editing fell by the wayside, so be it.
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  #26  
Old 08-21-2010, 06:01 PM
Chronos Chronos is online now
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I think the biggest problem is that, because the series is basically about Harry Potter growing up, he's not allowed to be an adult until right at the end.
I would actually pinpoint the moment when Harry became an adult to be near the end of the sixth book, when he apparates himself and Dumbledore out of the cave. All this time it's been Dumbledore rescuing Harry, and now he's finally able to return the favor.

And I don't think that lack-of-editoritis always manifests as bloat, nor do I think that bloat is the primary reason for the Harry Potter books getting longer. The Potter books getting longer can be explained simply by virtue of the target audience aging: Each book is written for a reader of Harry's approximate age. Older readers can handle more complex stories, and the longer books that are needed to tell those stories. On the other point, I've certainly seen books where an editor (or some other form of pre-publication criticism) was needed, but it can manifest in leaving out important things, as well as in adding superfluous things. Some books have about the right amount of writing in them, but it's the wrong writing. Like, the author has wasted so many pages, that they have to call in a deus ex machina to wrap it all up in a reasonable length.
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Old 08-21-2010, 06:06 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
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Book 4 of Harry Potter is tremendously overlong, because it tells the same story three times: one for each of the Quidditch matches. Nothing is gained from doing it three times. It doesn't advance the story or the characters. Sheer bloat. I stopped reading after that so I can't comment further, but the length for audience theory doesn't work for me.
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Old 08-21-2010, 06:11 PM
Superhal Superhal is offline
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Regarding Harry's maturity cycle, I think the opposite was true: he was far more mature in the early books than the later books, which made his angst that much more annoying. The worst part to me was after say book 3, he started to become more and more of a bully.

Last edited by Superhal; 08-21-2010 at 06:13 PM..
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  #29  
Old 08-21-2010, 10:02 PM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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Regarding Harry's maturity cycle, I think the opposite was true: he was far more mature in the early books than the later books,...
I've observed plenty of that in real life as well. I've known plenty of eleven or twelve year olds who were perfectly sensible and intelligent -- until puberty came along and messed them up.
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Old 08-21-2010, 10:12 PM
PeskiPiksi PeskiPiksi is offline
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The worst part to me was after say book 3, he started to become more and more of a bully.
Interesting--I've never heard Harry described as a bully before. Can you elaborate?
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Old 08-21-2010, 10:20 PM
Superhal Superhal is offline
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The worst part to me was after say book 3, he started to become more and more of a bully.
Interesting--I've never heard Harry described as a bully before. Can you elaborate?
In the later books, he's actually the aggressor in meetings with Malfoy. He also tortures Dudley and loses his temper quite often, especially with Hufflepuffs. On several occasions, he's needlessly cruel to Hermoine and Ron, such as in book 5 where he thinks they were deliberately avoiding him during the vacation and he's very cruel in book 7 to both Ron and Hermoine, especially when he thinks they are talking about him behind his back. Malfoy, in particular, after say book 4, is pretty much victimized by everyone.

While the understanding is that he's paying people back for past deeds, it comes across as needless and cruel, particularly when it's clear he is far more powerful than anyone else his age.

Last edited by Superhal; 08-21-2010 at 10:23 PM..
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Old 08-21-2010, 10:31 PM
Rysto Rysto is online now
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Malfoy, in particular, after say book 4, is pretty much victimized by everyone.
Uh, "Weasley is our King"? The Inquisitorial Squad? Threatening Harry after Lucius is sent to Azkaban, and then trying to attack Harry on the train home? The cursed necklace, the poisoned mead, breaking the Death Eaters into Hogwarts?

Last edited by Rysto; 08-21-2010 at 10:32 PM..
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  #33  
Old 08-21-2010, 10:43 PM
The King of Soup The King of Soup is offline
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I apologize -- my only reason for criticizing Rowling's writing is the sprained larynx that still hurts almost a decade after reading the same damn description of Uncle Vernon's purple face aloud, verbatim, for what seemed like the third or fourth time, and nobody at the publishing company bothering to suggest so much as a synonym though they must have been even more sick of it than I was.

J.K. Rowling managed to sit at a typewriter or computer keyboard long enough to compost several old and modern heroic fantasies and force them into a traditional 1930's-era schoolboy novella template and create something that made lots and lots of money. She may not even be aware enough to realize how little of her work is original, but that doesn't matter either -- as Superhal notes, she clearly has bigger psychological fish to fry.
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  #34  
Old 08-21-2010, 10:55 PM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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On the whole escalating length thing -- in my opinion that's not to do with bad editing or bad writing, it's a fundamental limitation of the novel as an art-form. Once you go beyond a certain length (say, 60-70 thousand words), it becomes impossible to maintain a tight focus. The longer it grows, the more complex it becomes. The more complex it becomes, the more explanation it requires, and the more detailed the setting has to be. But as a writer, the more you have to explain, the more you risk contradicting yourself, exposing the weaknesses of your inventions, or breaking the reader's suspension of disbelief.

It's not that Rowling, George R R Martin, Robert Jordan, or any of those people become worse writers towards the end than they were at the beginning, or that editors stop doing their jobs. Frankly, I think it's a bit glib to make that argument. No. I think that, in expanding single story arcs out to such an excessive length, these writers are really straining the novel form to breaking point. (Indeed, Martin's inability to finish his series suggests to me that he might actually have broken it.)

Terry Pratchett was mentioned above. And I think the Discworld novels are an excellent illustration of how writers could avoid that problem. For a start, the novels are mostly episodic. The Light Fantastic is the only true sequel in the whole series. Discworld novels might not seem episodic, because sometimes changes are allowed to stand. Vimes is first the Captain of the Nightwatch, then the commander of the watch, and then a duke. But these changes are never allowed to intrude upon the plot of subsequent novels. You can read The Fifth Elephant without having read Guards Guards, and you won't miss anything important. Those little bits of details from previous novels that reappear later are more just Easter eggs, for long term readers. If you've read Small Gods, it makes you smile when you realize the Omnian's subsequently becomes the Discworld equivalent of Jehovah's Witnesses. And even if you haven't, well, the JWs reference is pretty obvious anyway. It's a clever approach to the problem of series continuity.

The other smart choice Pterry made early on is not to focus on the one setting or the one group of characters. Not every Discworld novel is set in Ankh-Morpork, or has Rincewind the Wizard as its principle character. So when things start to get a little bit overcrowded, he simply sets it all aside and goes off to focus on some other place and group of characters, and we get to read their stories. So the Discworld novels, though they're all Discworld novels, technically aren't all part of the same series. It's an excellent foil to the repetitiveness of ordinary episodic books, that tend to tell the same story over and over again.
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Old 08-21-2010, 11:12 PM
Superhal Superhal is offline
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Malfoy, in particular, after say book 4, is pretty much victimized by everyone.
Uh, "Weasley is our King"? The Inquisitorial Squad? Threatening Harry after Lucius is sent to Azkaban, and then trying to attack Harry on the train home? The cursed necklace, the poisoned mead, breaking the Death Eaters into Hogwarts?
As you know, half of those were because he was under orders from voldemort, he was scared out of his mind, and he was trying to protect his family from being killed.

Last edited by Superhal; 08-21-2010 at 11:13 PM..
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  #36  
Old 08-22-2010, 12:53 AM
Chronos Chronos is online now
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Quoth Exapno:
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Book 4 of Harry Potter is tremendously overlong, because it tells the same story three times: one for each of the Quidditch matches.
I think you must be getting confused, here, because Book 4 is the one without Quidditch. Well, at least, without Harry playing Quidditch; there's the World Cup at the beginning, but that's only one game.
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  #37  
Old 08-22-2010, 01:01 AM
Superhal Superhal is offline
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Quoth Exapno:
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Book 4 of Harry Potter is tremendously overlong, because it tells the same story three times: one for each of the Quidditch matches.
I think you must be getting confused, here, because Book 4 is the one without Quidditch. Well, at least, without Harry playing Quidditch; there's the World Cup at the beginning, but that's only one game.
I think Expano is referring to the fact that nearly all the Quidditch matches end in exactly the same way.

It's an amazingly boring game though. In the early books they number of points mattered, but later it didn't.

Last edited by Superhal; 08-22-2010 at 01:02 AM..
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  #38  
Old 08-22-2010, 06:24 AM
AK84 AK84 is offline
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The themes that Harry Potter deals with, love, death, xenophobia, shades of grey morality are remarkably adult in nature.
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  #39  
Old 08-22-2010, 08:57 AM
dangermom dangermom is offline
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[QUOTE=Chronos;12827037]
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And I don't think that lack-of-editoritis always manifests as bloat, nor do I think that bloat is the primary reason for the Harry Potter books getting longer. The Potter books getting longer can be explained simply by virtue of the target audience aging: Each book is written for a reader of Harry's approximate age.
Except books 4-7 are bloated. The endless camping in 7, for example--even huge HP fans admit that went on too long.
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  #40  
Old 08-22-2010, 09:06 AM
smiling bandit smiling bandit is offline
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The themes that Harry Potter deals with, love, death, xenophobia, shades of grey morality are remarkably adult in nature.
The big problem here is that these don't really impact the main plots much. It's easd, as Rowling does, to toss in background material. And there's nothing wrong with it. But nothing particularly comes of it and it doesn't have much to do with the resolution of anything except maybe Book 5, and that was only a subplot.
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  #41  
Old 08-22-2010, 11:02 AM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
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Quoth Exapno:I think you must be getting confused, here, because Book 4 is the one without Quidditch. Well, at least, without Harry playing Quidditch; there's the World Cup at the beginning, but that's only one game.
I think Expano is referring to the fact that nearly all the Quidditch matches end in exactly the same way.

It's an amazingly boring game though. In the early books they number of points mattered, but later it didn't.
There's something that happens three times during that school year. If it's not Quidditch, then I apologize for my bad memory. But yeah, when you make the entire game totally pointless because only catching the last ball means anything ... How did Rowling manage to slip that her audience?

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Originally Posted by Kim o the Concrete Jungle View Post
It's not that Rowling, George R R Martin, Robert Jordan, or any of those people become worse writers towards the end than they were at the beginning, or that editors stop doing their jobs. Frankly, I think it's a bit glib to make that argument. No. I think that, in expanding single story arcs out to such an excessive length, these writers are really straining the novel form to breaking point. (Indeed, Martin's inability to finish his series suggests to me that he might actually have broken it.)
I totally disagree with this, because it seems to me that you're confusing plot with a novel. Long, complex novels are obviously possible to write successfully and many are among the most celebrated novels of all time. Tolstoy, Thomas Wolfe, Mann, Proust, Anthony Powell, Joyce, Pynchon, Russell Banks.

Yes, it's true that very long genre novels often fail to work. That's normally because the writers can't or have no need to handle the psychological complexities of a novel. I ranted about this above, so I won't do it again. But nobody reads 900 page genre novels for the same reason they read Tolstoy. So there is no reason to write like Tolstoy. That has absolutely nothing to do with the form of the novel. It has to do with the form of the market.

Since you're new, I should state that I happen to be a science fiction writer and critic. I honor the field, but I also see it pretty clearly for what it is. There are great sf books, and some long great sf books. Nobody confuses Dhalgren or Cryptonomicon or Little, Big with Rowling, though.
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  #42  
Old 08-22-2010, 12:37 PM
cmkeller cmkeller is offline
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Exapno:

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There's something that happens three times during that school year. If it's not Quidditch, then I apologize for my bad memory.
You're thinking of the three tasks of the Triwizard tournament.

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But yeah, when you make the entire game totally pointless because only catching the last ball means anything ... How did Rowling manage to slip that her audience?
Not at all true. If your chasers are good enough, then the best seeker can't win you the game.It happened at the Quidditch World Cup finals, and it happened in one of the Quidditch matches in book 5, when Harry was banned from Quidditch and Ginny was temporary seeker. Also, the Hogwarts Quidditch Cup (and presumably this is modeled on the professional Quidditch leagues) is awarded to the team with the most points at the end of the year. At the end of book 3, Harry had to make sure the Snitch was not captured until the Gryffindor chasers made up the overall season points difference, otherwise, they'd lose the cup despite winning the game. So the rest of the scoring is in fact of great significance.

Last edited by cmkeller; 08-22-2010 at 12:38 PM.. Reason: fixed quote tag
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  #43  
Old 08-22-2010, 01:25 PM
Chronos Chronos is online now
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Also, the Hogwarts Quidditch Cup (and presumably this is modeled on the professional Quidditch leagues) is awarded to the team with the most points at the end of the year.
Actually, I always interpreted it as the team with the best win/loss record, with the total number of points as a tiebreaker. So if you win all three of your matches, then you'll win the cup, no matter how much the other house teams were running up the score in their games. The total score only mattered in book 3 because Gryfindor lost one of their matches (and everyone else lost at least one, too).

But yeah, quidditch only seems lopsided to us, because Harry was an extraordinarily good Seeker... for a schoolboy. If you had a Hogwarts team with a merely normal Seeker, or if Harry were trying to catch a professional-grade Snitch, then the quaffle scores would be much more significant.
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  #44  
Old 08-22-2010, 05:20 PM
cmkeller cmkeller is offline
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Chronos:

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Actually, I always interpreted it as the team with the best win/loss record, with the total number of points as a tiebreaker.
IIRC (I don't have book 3 on hand), prior to that last match, Harry or Oliver Wood or perhaps just the omniscient narrator ran down the list of possibilities of where Gryffindor would place in the Hogwarts Quidditch tournament, depending on how many points they scored in that last match. No mention was made of win/loss record.
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  #45  
Old 08-22-2010, 09:12 PM
Superhal Superhal is offline
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Yeah it happened a couple of times.
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  #46  
Old 08-22-2010, 09:37 PM
Thudlow Boink Thudlow Boink is offline
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I hear this a lot, but I'd really like an authoritative cite. Is it really true that new authors' manuscripts are subject to editorial revision but successful authors' aren't, no matter how much they may need it?
I can't imagine what would constitute an "authoritative" cite, unless you were trying for a strained pun.

However, it's common talk throughout the industry that diarrhea of the typewriter afflicts many ultra-successful writers. Robert Heinlein got 60,000 words chopped out of Stranger in a Strange Land but insisted on publishing every comma thereafter when that sold a million. (And published all the stuff that got taken out many years later.) Stephen Jay Gould collected his essays seventeen to a book (because that's what Isaac Asimov did) but his first collection is half the page count of his later collections. Ed McBain did fantastic taut gritty 150-page novels in his 87th Precinct series in the late 1950s and bloated 400-page novels in the 1980s. Even Stephen King's books got fatter and that's from a fat start. I know of dozens of examples in every genre that I could point to.
Oh, I fully agree that it's quite common for writers to get more longwinded later in their careers. In fact, I'm having a hard time thinking of an author whose later works are terser and more tightly written than their earlier ones. (Anyone?)

The part I was dubious about was the claim that this was because successful authors' manuscripts aren't subject to being edited the way new authors' are. When a big name author sends in a manuscript, are they pretty certain to get it published as is?
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  #47  
Old 08-22-2010, 09:55 PM
Superhal Superhal is offline
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Oh, I fully agree that it's quite common for writers to get more longwinded later in their careers. In fact, I'm having a hard time thinking of an author whose later works are terser and more tightly written than their earlier ones. (Anyone?)
James Joyce.
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  #48  
Old 08-23-2010, 04:36 AM
Kim o the Concrete Jungle Kim o the Concrete Jungle is offline
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Long, complex novels are obviously possible to write successfully and many are among the most celebrated novels of all time. Tolstoy, Thomas Wolfe, Mann, Proust, Anthony Powell, Joyce, Pynchon, Russell Banks.
The English translation of War and Peace weighs in at 560 thousand words. The Harry Potter series, taken as a whole, is roughly about a million words. That puts it on equal footing with things like Remembrance of Thing Past and Clarissa. The Wheel Of Time series, by contrast, clocks in at about 3.4 million words.

But SF books are, by tradition, tightly plotted. SF writers can't get away with being as discursive as someone like Proust, or as long-winded as your average 17/18th century novelist. As you rightly point out, you don't read Harry Potter the same way you read War and Peace.

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I totally disagree with this, because it seems to me that you're confusing plot with a novel.
I don't believe I am. Not unless you've been reading too much of the wrong sort of EngLit criticism, and you think that "novel" means something else other than a long-form work of fiction.

My point is, an SF novelist who starts out with the intention of writing seven or twelve books with a common story arc, must by necessity develop a plot that's complex enough to go the distance. As an SF writer, she doesn't have the luxury of padding it out with essays on morality, like Henry Fielding did in Tom Jones, or turning it into a dynastic saga, or writing something essentially plotless. The story more or less has to be plotted, as per the expectation of an SF audience.

The trouble is, a massively extended plot becomes overly complicated, which as it grows, tends to require more and more explanation and supporting detail, and that's the source of the bloat that turns what should be a 70 thousand word novel into 190 thousand words. That's the limitation of the form I'm talking about. Extremely long works cannot be tightly plotted without becoming increasingly convoluted and bloated. The solution is to do pretty much what writers like Tolstoy do, which is, to mostly do away with plot -- or perhaps, like Gulliver's Travels, make it episodic.
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  #49  
Old 08-23-2010, 08:13 AM
Zsofia Zsofia is online now
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Dude. Let's not use "SF" to mean "speculative fiction" here, because it's foolish in this case. Fantasy novels, specifically, have a long-deserved reputation for series bloat.
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  #50  
Old 08-23-2010, 09:07 AM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
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Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
Long, complex novels are obviously possible to write successfully and many are among the most celebrated novels of all time. Tolstoy, Thomas Wolfe, Mann, Proust, Anthony Powell, Joyce, Pynchon, Russell Banks.
The English translation of War and Peace weighs in at 560 thousand words. The Harry Potter series, taken as a whole, is roughly about a million words. That puts it on equal footing with things like Remembrance of Thing Past and Clarissa. The Wheel Of Time series, by contrast, clocks in at about 3.4 million words.

But SF books are, by tradition, tightly plotted. SF writers can't get away with being as discursive as someone like Proust, or as long-winded as your average 17/18th century novelist. As you rightly point out, you don't read Harry Potter the same way you read War and Peace.

Quote:
I totally disagree with this, because it seems to me that you're confusing plot with a novel.
I don't believe I am. Not unless you've been reading too much of the wrong sort of EngLit criticism, and you think that "novel" means something else other than a long-form work of fiction.

My point is, an SF novelist who starts out with the intention of writing seven or twelve books with a common story arc, must by necessity develop a plot that's complex enough to go the distance. As an SF writer, she doesn't have the luxury of padding it out with essays on morality, like Henry Fielding did in Tom Jones, or turning it into a dynastic saga, or writing something essentially plotless. The story more or less has to be plotted, as per the expectation of an SF audience.

The trouble is, a massively extended plot becomes overly complicated, which as it grows, tends to require more and more explanation and supporting detail, and that's the source of the bloat that turns what should be a 70 thousand word novel into 190 thousand words. That's the limitation of the form I'm talking about. Extremely long works cannot be tightly plotted without becoming increasingly convoluted and bloated. The solution is to do pretty much what writers like Tolstoy do, which is, to mostly do away with plot -- or perhaps, like Gulliver's Travels, make it episodic.
I can't see any way of reading this that doesn't make your argument circular. To paraphrase: SF must be tightly plotted because without a tight plot they aren't SF books.

This is not inherent in SF books, though. It is inherent in books written for the market, of whatever type or genre. Even that goes too far, because there are many bestsellers that are not tightly plotted, although they do predominate today.

The bestseller is a genre unto itself today, one that crosses traditional genre boundaries. Books in the bestseller genre are different from more literary books and that is obvious to all readers. Critics don't need to say a word.

I'm still unsure why episodic plots or quest books (Tolkien and all his imitators) don't qualify for tightly plotted, though. They can be tight on many other levels. Of course, the more I think about it, the less I understand what your definition of a tightly plotted book is in the first place, since you give no examples. I also am not clear how you define plot in a single long novel as opposed to over a series of books. I need clarity.
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