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 that were 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 second technique: Divert attention with jokes and ridiculous statements.
Divert Attention with Jokes and Ridiculous Statements
One of the funniest ways to drop a clue in a subtle way is to place it in a dialogue that includes a joke. This will draw attention from the clue and have the reader chuckle instead (hopefully).
One great example of this can be found in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when Harry and Ron discuss the T. M. Riddle diary:
[Harry:] “I wouldn’t mind knowing how Riddle got an award for special services to Hogwarts, either.”
“Could’ve been anything,” said Ron. “Maybe he got thirty O.W.Ls or saved a teacher from a giant squid. Maybe he murdered Myrtle, that would’ve done everyone a favour…”
(Chapter 13, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)
While Ron is joking—and the reader is probably chuckling at the humor because they know how annoying he believes Myrtle is—the last part of his joke is actually true. But, because he’s so obviously joking, the reader doesn’t see it as a real clue.
Additionally, what’s so great about this clue is that it’s Ron’s third alternative in a list of increasingly crazy ideas, and therefore makes it the most ridiculous one from Ron’s point-of-view. That’s why the reader doesn’t recognize this as a viable clue. Instead, it’s nothing but a ridiculous statement.
Another joke Ron makes that’s meant as a distraction from a clue is after the Defence Against the Dark Arts class with the Boggart in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The Boggart showed up as a full moon in front of Professor Lupin to reveal his werewolf side (though it wasn’t directly described to be a full moon but a silver orb that hung in the air and then as a crystal ball). While the students are discussing the Boggart, Ron slips in a joke directed at Hermione:
“What would it have been for you?” said Ron, sniggering. “A piece of homework that only got nine out of ten?”
(Chapter 7, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)
This joke takes the attention from the discussion about Lupin’s Boggart even though it isn’t clearly stated that the Boggart turned into a full moon. Perhaps Rowling wanted to make sure the description of the silvery orb that hung in the air wasn’t too obvious, and therefore ended their discussion (and stole the reader’s attention) with a joke from Ron.
There you have it. I hope this has been helpful.
Next time I’ll go through how J. K. Rowling dropped clues in dreams.