Dropping Clues and Hiding Secrets Like J. K. Rowling, Part 5: Discrediting the Witness

Dropping Clues and Hiding Secrets Like J. K. Rowling, Part 5: Discrediting the Witness

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 fifth and final technique: Discredit the witness.


Discredit the Witness

A great way to hide a clue is to discredit the one revealing the clue. Discrediting can be done in several ways by, for example, having the clue come from a character that usually speak rubbish and that nobody really takes seriously, having the clue come from a compulsive liar, etc.

Professor Trelawney is probably the biggest target for being discredited in the Harry Potter series. She talks so much nonsense that no one would ever believe she says anything real and true. 

However, because she’s described this way, and is as discredited as she is, there are many clues scattered through her dialogue that doesn’t really catch the reader’s attention because we believe she’s only talking rubbish.

For example, in Harry’s first lesson with her in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Chapter 6) she tells him that he has the sign of the Grim in his teacup, which is the omen of death. 

Only pages later, Professor McGonagall discredit Trelawney by mentioning that Trelawney has predicted the death of a student each year since beginning her work at Hogwarts. And so, we decide not to believe anything Trelawney said.

However, the Grim does come. It’s Sirius Black’s Animagus. While it wasn’t true that Harry would die (just yet) Trelawney was correct that the Grimm would come and that it was a symbol of death (Sirius’ own death).

So, by discrediting Trelawney, Rowling could drop many clues in her dialogue and in her background story (how about that prophecy about Harry and Voldemort, huh?) just because Rowling knew the reader wouldn’t believe anything she said.


There you have it. I hope this has been helpful.


Have you tried hiding clues and secrets by discrediting the witness? Please do share in the comments below.

Dropping Clues and Hiding Secrets Like J. K. Rowling, Part 5: Discrediting the Witness
Dropping Clues and Hiding Secrets Like J. K. Rowling, Part 5: Discrediting the Witness



Using clues and secrets in a story is a great way to add mystery and depth. Dropping clues is not a writing-technique only for mysteries, thrillers, and crime stories, though. You can use this technique in any story where you want to add an aspect of mystery.

In this book, you will learn how to drop clues and divert the reader’s attention from clues and secrets. There are examples from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series in this book to illustrate these techniques. 

Available in ebook format: