One of the biggest reasons J. K. Rowling turned the fans of her Harry Potter series into fanatics were—besides from the exceptional characters and rich world building—the clues and hidden secrets sprinkled through each book. These things had the fanatic fans searching the stories and analyzing every little detail to try and figure out what they meant.
This kind of engaged audience is what all writers want, right?
In this blog post series, I’ll show you Rowling’s different techniques of dropping clues and hiding secrets.
Note that the tips I share in this blog post can be used by any writer, no matter in which genre you write.
Warning: There are spoilers from the Harry Potter series below. If you don’t want to know more about this series, I advise you to not read this blog post.
What Techniques J. K. Rowling Used
There are many ways in which Rowling dropped clues and hid secrets in her Harry Potter series, but, I’ve chosen to focus on five techniques. These are:
- Divert attention with action
- Divert attention with jokes and ridiculous statements
- Drop clues in dreams
- Hide clues in lists of interesting things
- Discredit the witness
In this blog post, we’ll focus on the first technique: Divert attention with action.
Divert Attention with Action
A simple way to distract the reader from clues is to use action because action and movements always attract the reader’s attention. Let’s use the whole Peter Pettigrew/Wormtail/Scabbers example here (this is after all the first really big hidden secret revealed in the series).
Let’s start by looking at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when they’re inside a magical creature shop. Here, Scabbers is mentioned to having been Ron’s brother Percy’s rat from the beginning and described as being old, having a tattered ear and a paw with a missing toe. It’s also mentioned that an ordinary rat like Scabbers shouldn’t have lived longer than around three years. That’s the first subtle sign that Scabbers isn’t an ordinary rat.
The shopkeeper then wonders if Ron is interested in a new rat and indicates a group of rats that are lively skipping around, very different from Scabbers, signaling even more that Scabbers isn’t an ordinary rat. Now, the reader’s attention is starting to focus on Scabbers, possibly wondering why Scabbers is unlike the other rats, and that’s when the action comes in.
Rowling diverts attention from this information and distracts the reader from this clue-dropping by having Crookshanks the cat jump onto Ron’s head and set off chasing Scabbers. Ron and Harry hurry after to rescue and find Scabbers, which averts all attention from the clues that have just been laid out in front of us.
When Rowling later drop more clues about the Peter Pettigrew/Wormtail/Scabbers secret—when Harry overhear some of the teachers discuss Sirius Black’s alleged attack on Pettigrew, mentioning that the only thing that was left to find of him was a finger (hinting to Scabbers’ missing toe)—only the readers who were most attentive when reading the description of Scabbers would’ve connected the dots.
Besides, at this time in the story, most of the focus is on Sirius Black being the mass-murderer that’s after Harry, and so most readers would’ve probably only skimmed over the clue about Pettigrew’s finger.
There you have it. I hope this has been helpful.
Next time I’ll go through how J. K. Rowling hid clues and secrets by diverting attention with jokes and ridiculous statements.