As you probably know by now I’m a huge Potterhead. I’ve loved Harry Potter from the moment I read the first book when I was not even 10 years old and the obsession stayed with me up to this day. It’s the book series I’ve read the most. I even bought the audio books to listen to while driving the car!
One of the things I find intriguing to this day is the way J.K. Rowling hides clues in plain sight without the reader noticing it apart from retrospect. Giving or rather hiding clues is a skill most authors need, so we’ll take the chance today to learn from someone who’s done it successfully over and over again.
A word of warning before we start: There are some spoilers. If you haven’t read Harry Potter yet (how dare you?), proceed with caution.
Hide Among the Masses
One thing Rowling does over and over again is hide important things among other miscellaneous stuff. If you divert the attention of your readers by describing a scene with lots of bits and bobs they won’t realize that one thing in between that was of importance.
She did this for example with the Pensieve which is mentioned among all the other weird appliances Dumbledore has in his office and you didn’t realize at the time how important this object is and how often it would be of use in the future.
Another even more important occasion she used this method is in the Room of Requirement. Harry actually passed the Vanishing Cabinet which was used to get some Death Eaters to Hogwarts and didn’t think much of it. In retrospect you’re like ‘WHAT? It was there all along. How could I have missed it?’. And even more so when Harry returned to Hogwarts in search Ravenclaws Diadem which was carelessly stuffed between other things in there.
Another great way to divert the attention of what’s actually happening is to make your readers come to the wrong conclusion. This works great if you make your protagonist observe a situation that implies something completely different than what was actually happening. To make this effect even stronger make your hero come to this wrong conclusion as well.
Who didn’t think that Snape was the evil villain in the first book? He actually played the part by being quite nasty and who doesn’t want to see evil in someone who behaves horribly? To make this suggestion even stronger Harry observes different situations that make this theory pretty reasonable. He sees Snape threatening Quirrell and he also witnesses Snape talking about Fluffy biting his leg. In combination with Hermiones testimony that Snape tried to bewitch Harrys broom it’s only human to think we found the villain.
Discredit the Right Conclusion
One quite bold approach is to hide the truth between joke and ridicule. Make a character jokingly say something that’s actually right when he doesn’t believe it to be true at all and the reader won’t follow up on the thought. Especially if the person thinks it would be absolutely ridiculous to assume it to be true.
Ron is actually the one who says some quite outrageous things throughout the books that are disguised as absurd, but happen to be actually accurate. For example did he jokingly say that Myrtle might have been killed by Voldemort which turned out to be right. What’s more he suggested quite early that Lockhart was a fraud who might not have done the things he had written about in the books, because he was jealous of Hermiones affection for Lockhart.
Mention Characters who Play a Bigger Role later
This one was used by Rowling time and time again and it’s an effective way to – especially with a book series – introduce important people early on even though they aren’t important at that time. The reader gets the impression of a well thought out story and enjoys the realization later on.
Did you realize that the first mention of Sirius Black happens in the very first chapter of the first book? Hagrid got the motorcycle from him to transport Harry to the Dursleys. Bathilda Bagshot who has an important role in the last book was the author of the book Hogwarts: A History and was mentioned throughout the series. Another person already mentioned in the first book is Grindelwald whose story also gets more important later in the series.
Use Double Roles
You can give people or things a double role to have a plot twist when it is revealed. This is a nice way to hide a clue, because readers don’t suspect a double meaning in something if it is already something that’s been revealed to them. I would use this one with caution, because it can become boring or obvious if you use it over and over again.
Probably the person with the most perplexing backstory and intention is Severus Snape who has wrongly been depicted as the villain in book one and lots of times after that. While Harry and the readers have been proven wrong and wrong again about accusing him of being the evil one, he finally turned out to be evil anyway in the Half-Blood Prince. Only to get salvation in the Deathly Hallows, being proven one of the hidden heroes of the whole story. Twisted, but intriguing. Another smaller plot twist was the realization that Tom Riddles diary actually was one of the Horcruxes!
There you have it. Five Rowling-approved ways to sprinkle clues throughout your novel without them jumping in your audiences eyes. Do you have some more ideas? Or a deep-felt love for Harry Potter? 🙂
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