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 fourth technique: Hide clues in lists of interesting things.
Hide Clues in Lists of Interesting Things
A great way to hide clues is to do so in a list of many interesting things. A great example is the masterfully hidden locket in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that turns out to be a Horcrux:
They found an unpleasant-looking silver instrument, something like a many-legged pair of tweezers, which scuttled up Harry’s arm like a spider when he picked it up, and attempted to puncture his skin. Sirius seized it and smashed it with a heavy book entitled Nature’s Nobility: A Wizarding Genealogy. There was a musical box that emitted a faintly sinister, tinkling tune when wound, and they all found themselves becoming curiously weak and sleepy, until Ginny had the sense to slam the lid shut; a heavy locket than none of them could open; a number of ancient seals; and, in a dusty box, an Order of Merlin, First Class, that had been awarded to Sirius’s grandfather for ’services to the Ministry’.
(Chapter 6, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)
While the truth of the locket is mentioned for the first time at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, it’s already been carefully planted in this earlier book.
First and foremost, what’s noteworthy with this technique is that Rowling doesn’t list the locket as the first or the last item, which is usually where our attention naturally falls in a list of things.
Additionally, what’s so great about this technique to hide a clue in a list is that the main clue (the locket) can be hidden by being surrounded by more interesting items. The reader doesn’t really pay attention to the locket no one can open, but instead on the unpleasant-looking silver instrument, the musical box that makes them sleepy, and perhaps even the Order of Merlin and the heavy book that speaks about the Black-family’s pureblood-mania.
The whole point of making sure all the other things on the list are more interesting is to divert the reader’s attention from the clue. This isn’t cheating the reader because the clue is present. It’s about setting up all the details for the mystery without giving away the truth or the correct answer before it’s the right time to do so.
There you have it. I hope this has been helpful.
Next time I’ll go through how J. K. Rowling dropped clues by discrediting the witness.