Sometimes, when you find yourself a bit stuck, it can be really helpful to see how a very successful writer you admire handled the same challenge you’re facing. This makes sense for a number of reasons.
First, there’s the very appealing fact that the writer already figured out the problem you’re grappling with in a way that attracted readers. Second, there’s the possibility that reading the completed work will spark an idea you can use. And finally, there’s a distinct likelihood that analyzing someone else’s artful work will highlight a structural or character flaw in your own.
Since I’m still grappling with some issues in my opening chapter, I decided to go for the gold and revisit Chapter 1 of the first Harry Potter book. Not only is it fun to read, it’s also fascinating — not just because of what J.K. Rowling put in, but because of what she left out. A few takeaways:
The story starts stealthily, not with a bang: Instead of pyrotechnics about Harry’s birth as a wizard, his tale starts on an ordinary street in London where jarring events begin to occur. We start with the boringly familiar, then move to the strange. What a great way to ease readers into a new world!
Harry’s special qualities are only hinted at: We see just a few fractured glimpses of Harry’s unique lineage. We learn more about the dreary Dursley family than we do about Harry, which makes us wonder exactly what’s going on — and sets us for the muggles-wizard contrasts to come.
The arch-villain Voldemort is absent physically: His evil presence is felt only through snatches of conversation. His absence actually intensifies his impact. This is the perfect way to tantalize the reader without revealing too much.
How about you? Is there a writer whose work might illuminate your own?