A Unit based on the Harry Potter Series
There are many uses for the Harry Potter series in the classroom and one of them is definitely when trying to teach the concept of creative writing. The Potter books are quite long and it is doubtful that many in the series could be taught in full because of this. However, they are an invaluable resource when teaching writing skills because of J.K. Rowling's ability to paint pictures so clearly in words that we can see them in our own minds. She captures the physical and psychological aspects of her characters so thoroughly that we can truly feel for them as we would our closest friends when reading about their adventures. This is a unit I designed to teach students how to wrire about characters and settings effectively.
Lesson 1 – How do we write effectively?
The point of the story is that the more descriptive we can be in our writing, the more effectively we are able to paint a picture that the audience can see in their own minds. That is what effective creative writing is all about.
Consider these examples from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire where J.K.Rowling has descibed her characters in such precise detail;
1) A small and skinny wizard, completely bald but with a moustache to rival Uncle Vernon’s, wearing robes of pure gold to match the stadium, strode out onto the pitch. A silver whistle was protruding from under the moustache, and he was carrying a large wooden crate under one arm, his broomstick under the other (p96)
2) As she stepped into the light flooding from the Entrance Hall, she was revealed to have a handsome, olive-skinned face, large, black. Liquid-looking eyes and a rather beaky nose. Her hair was drawn back in a shining knob at the base of her neck. She was dressed from head to foot in black satin, and many magnificent opals gleamed at her throat and on her thick fingers. (p214)
3) Four fully grown, enormous, vicious-looking dragons were rearing on their hind legs inside an enclosure fenced with thick planks of wood, roaring and snorting – torrents of fire were shooting into the dark sky from their open, fanged mouths, fifty feet above the ground on their outstretched necks. There was a silvery blue one with long, pointed horns, snapping and snarling at the wizards on the ground; a smooth-scaled green one, which was writhing and stamping with all its might; a red one with an odd fringe of fine gold spikes around its face, which was shooting mushroom-shaped fire clouds into the air, and a gigantic black one, more lizard-like than the others, which was nearest to them... Mezmerized, Harry looked up, high above him, and saw the eyes of the black dragon, with vertical pupils like a cat’s, bulging with either fear or rage, he couldn’t tell which … it was making a horrible noise, a yowling, screeching scream … (p286)
4) The merpeople had greyish skins and long, wild, dark green hair. Their eyes were yellow, as were their broken teeth, and they wore thick ropes of pebbles around their necks. – 432
5) Voldemort looked away from Harry, and began examining his own body. His hands were like large, pale spiders; his long white fingers caressed his own chest, his arms, his face; the red eyes, whose pupils were slits, like a cat’s, gleamed still more brightly through the darkness. He held up his hands, and flexed the fingers, his expression rapt and exultant. - 559
- Which of these passages is the most descriptive? Why?
- Which of these descriptions allowed you to visualise the character most effectively?
- Illustrate three of the above scenes (pay attention to the details you have been given)
- Use one of the above descriptions as part of a short story. They should not be your introductions. Build your story around the description.
- Imagine you were confronted by each of the characters described above. How would you approach them? (e.g. confidently, cautiously)
- Which of these characters do you think would be the most interesting? Why?
- Which characters would be the most frightening? What lead you to this conclusion?
- Which of the following adjectives (describing words) do you think could be applied to the characters described above? - violent, massive, ancient, wrinkled, dainty, fragile, elegant, well-dressed, lean, slim, powerful, muscular, graceful, heroic, beautiful, courageous, gigantic
- Come up with a list of at least 5 adjectives that are other words to express the following words; Happy, Angry, Afraid, Excited
- Your Turn – cut out a picture from a recent newspaper of a person with an ‘interesting’ face. Write an effective description for this person (minimum of half a page) and then use them as the lead character in a short story (1-2 A4 pages).
(the draft of this could be done for homework and brought to class next lesson. In the next lesson a peer editing lesson would be useful and the good copy could be word processed and submitted or could be included in a writing folio at the end of the unit)
Maximise Your Impact on Audiences – Word Associations
‘Uncle Vernon sat back down, breathing like a winded rhinocerous and watching Harry closely out of the corners of his small, sharp eyes’ – (p8 in Chamber of Secrets)
After reading this sentence we picture in our minds a large man who is gasping desperately for breath and who seems to be a very unpleasant and rat-like person (indicated by the description of his eyes). What if, instead of being compared to a ‘winded rhino’, Vernon had been compared to ‘an exhausted, chubby cat’? Do you think that we would have reacted differently and had different images of Vernon and his personality in our own minds? Of course we would!
When we think of a ‘cat’ we think of cute and cuddly animals who are soft and mostly pleasant to be around. The fact he was compared to an ‘exhausted chubby cat’ would have made us feel sorry for him. Instead, he is compared to a rhinocerous; a fat, ugly creature with tough skin and a bad temper! Due to the fact we associate these qualities with these animals, we can see Rowling has chosen her words very carefully to make sure we do not sympathise with Vernon and the fact he is out of breath. All words in descriptions are important – they are there to give us a specific image of what the writer wants us to see.
‘Uncle Vernon was large and neckless, with an enormous moustache; Aunt Petunia was horse-faced and boney; Dudley was blond, pink and porky. Harry, on the other hand, was small and skinny, with brilliant green eyes and jet-black hair that was always untidy.
He wore round glasses, and on his forehead was a thin, lightning-shaped scar’
(p9 in Chamber of Secrets)
1) Which character mentioned in the above description would you say is the most;
* ugly * pleasant * remarkable * dominant * greedy * skinny * memorable
(give reasons for your answers)
2) Write a list of words or phrases that you would associate with the following terms
* neckless * moustache * boney * horse-faced * pink and porky * small * brilliant * jet-black * lightning * untidy
3) Fill in the blanks with words of your own that would also give the reader the same impression of the characters and their personalities that the original passage did
‘Uncle Vernon was ________ and __________, with an enormous moustache; Aunt Petunia was ______________ and ____________; Dudley was blond, ________ and ___________. Harry, on the other hand, was small and ___________, with _____________ green eyes and _____________ hair that was always untidy.
He wore round glasses, and on his forehead was a ___________, lightning-shaped scar’
(p9 in Chamber of Secrets)
4) ‘It looked as though it had once been a large stone pigsty, but extra rooms had been added here and there until it was several storeys high and so crooked it looked as though it was being held up by magic (which, Harry reminded himself, it probably was). Four or five chimneys were perched on top of the red roof. A lopsided sign stuck in the ground near the entrance read ‘The Burrow’. Round the front door lay a jumble of wellington boots and a very rusty cauldron. Several fat brown chickens were pecking their way around the yard.
‘It’s not much,’ said Ron.
‘It’s brilliant,’ said Harry happily, thinking of Privet Drive.’
(p29 in Chamber of Secrets)
Answer the following questions relating to this passage (Remember to explain all your answers with reference to the passage);
a) Do you think ‘The Burrow’ would be a place you would want to live? Why?
b) Do you think the house is old or new? What gives you this impression?
c) ‘a large stone pigsty’ – Why has Rowling described the house in this way?
d) ‘four or five chimneys’ – Why would a house have this many chimneys?
e) ‘A lopsided sign’ – Why is the sign described this way?
f) Do a lot of people live in ‘The Burrow’? How do you know?
g) What does Harry’s comment tell you about Privet Drive? What do you think life there must be like?
The only thing that stops people from achieving their potential when it comes to creative writing (apart from the need for a vivid imagination) is not having an appropriate vocabulary to use when trying to describe things in their stories.
Vocabulary building is therefore something we are definitely going to address.
Copy out the following Vocabulary Terms which have been taken from the novels in the Harry Potter Series
Use twenty of the vocabulary words in a beginning for a short story. It should be approximately 2-3 paragraphs long. Try to use words that you are not familiar with. Use a dictionary to find their meanings and then use them in your introduction.
1) A) The following is a passage from Chamber of Secrets. Put the sentences in the correct order.
- The sooner he got out of here, the better.
- Evil-looking masks leered down from the walls, an assortment of human bones lay apon the counter and rusty spiked instruments hung from the ceiling.
- A glass case nearby held a withered hand on a cushion, a blood-stained pack of cards and a staring glass eye.
- Nose still stinging where it had hit the hearth, Harry made his way swiftly and silently towards the door, but before he’d got half way towards it, two people appeared on the other side of the glass – and one of them was the last person Harry wanted to meet when he was lost, covered in soot and wearing broken glasses;
- Even worse, the dark, narrow street Harry could see through the dusty shop window was definitely not Diagon Alley
- Draco Malfoy.
b) When you have determined the order of the sentences in the above passage, write a paragraph to follow it which continues the mood set by this passage.
2) A) The following is a passage from Prisoner of Azkaban. Put the sentences in the correct order,
- Lupin, Pettigrew and Ron went next, looking like contestants in a six-legged race.
- Harry had never been part of a stranger group.
- Harry and Hermione brought up the rear.
- Crookshanks led the way down the stairs;
- Next came Professor Snape, drifting creepily along, his toes hitting each stair as they descended, held up by his own wand, which was being pointed at him by Sirius.
B) After you have determined the order of the above sentences write a paragraph that would precede it (go before it).
3) Using one of the following sentences (taken from Chamber of Secrets) as your title or first line, write your own short story (1.5-2 A4 pages), concentrating on describing characters and setting.
- Lower and lower went the flying car.
- The edge of a brilliant red sun was now gleaming through the trees.
- It was as though they had been plunged into a fabulous dream.
- Harry had no idea what he was talking about.
- ‘I don’t get it either’.