Analysis of the Success of Harry Potter Serial

An article that is focusing on the key points that made Harry Potter sell, from the point view of a reader and an author.

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Harry Potter billboard at Warner Bros. Sutdios
Image by Karen Roe. Source: Flickr.

How to be as famous as J.K. Rowling? The answer is quite simple: Write a serial like Harry Potter! So, the real question is: How to write a serial like Harry Potter? This article is focusing on the key points that I think make Harry Potter sell.

Let’s first take of look at the stats Harry Potter serial has made: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” sold approximately 44 million copies, the whole Harry Potter serial sold approximately more than 400 million copies. Compare its success with other contemporary books, what’s the difference?

Sign: The making of Harry Potter
Image by Karen Roe. Source: Flickr.

First and foremost – it is targeting younger readers:
Why does “targeting younger readers” work? Because by doing so, the series won’t be competing directly with other highly rated novels (novels highly rated by editors or professional reviewers are in general containing deep thought and targeting older audience). Moreover, in today’s world, younger readers have the access to, and extra money to, buy books. While in the past, the greatest books (A Tale of Two Cities, War and Peace, Jane Eyre and so on) were mostly for adults and younger people were not in general interested in buying books. Thus you can see the young readers (from 10 to 25) today are forming a new area of market. So let us write a novel that’s targeting young readers.

Second of all – readers can substitute themselves into the characters in the novel and be excited experiencing the plot in person.
In Harry Potter, the main character is a very normal boy, and the decisions he made in the novels are just like any other normal boys, e.g. how to treat friends and study, nothing heroic. Most young people can just imagine Harry Potter to be himself, or maybe herself. So, let us write a novel that the main character is ordinary in most ways.

However, “becoming the character” must come with “feeling excited.” No one wants to think he or she is just some random person being bullied by others in the novel. They want the main character to do things that are cool and exciting. Just like in TV shows and movies, the main character is always a normal guy, but he or she can achieve something extraordinary. How did J.K. Rowling make Harry Potter the person that readers want to be?

  1. Generate anticipation – you (Harry Potter) are destined to save the world.
  2. Create ultimate powerful evil boss in the end – you know you must save the world from an extremely strong enemy.
  3. Do things small but exciting on your way to save the world – save someone from danger, get into a fight and own. Even maybe show your talent in sports.
  4. Level up your main characters and let him/her learn new spells – move to higher grades, learn spells from the masters, become stronger.

As you can see, they are all overly used techniques. Harry Potter got nothing new or special in making people feeling excited, the main point is how to use it. Here is what I learnt from J.K. Rowling:

1. The anticipation must be unclear: Maybe you will defeat the boss, maybe yourself are the evil guy, or maybe you are just a normal person involved in a secret task unwillingly. Change the anticipation once in a while in a novel, the readers will feel the uncertainty and be excited.

2. The ultimate boss must demonstrate his/her/its power and super strength in a way to show that there is no way to avoid the final conflict. The conflict and the strength of the ultimate boss must be recurring and appearing in different ways. For example, to show the strength of the boss, you may indirectly show that someone is strong but be beaten by the ultimate boss easily. Or, you may let the ultimate boss do some strength test (in magic or whatever) and give him/her/it an extremely high rank. Or, you may show that most people are afraid of him/her/it. Directly or non-directly, the readers will be revealed to the certainty of the climax, the ultimate battle and be excited. Remember that most of the readers are just normal people, they want to see a normal guy catch up with his ultimate enemy’s strength gradually.

3. To do small things and let readers feel excited, your story must be in a good tempo. It should be something like, “Conflict starts. Take a break. Small conflict. Take a break. Larger conflict. Take a break. Final conflict.” The each “taking break moment” is comparatively relaxing than the previous conflict. For example, in Harry Potter with the Goblet of Fire, it is like this, “Acknowledging the tournament. Some school life. Contestants’ arrival. Some school life. Entering the tournament. Some school life. See the dragons. Learn the magic. Start of the first task. Waiting for others to finish. Compete himself.” The build up is just like those in movies – always remember the relaxation.

4. Compare to the super heroes who already got their abilities at the beginning, which make people rather excited. Moreover, Harry Potter gained new spells, abilities throughout the whole story, thus making the readers feel the excitement throughout the story. I think leveling up is the easiest approach to use and the mostly rewarding, as it fits social needs of young people – what you learned make you stronger, what you studied are useful, as long as you work hard, you will be rewarded. Compare to other novels, this one have much more character development (ability-wise), rather than the character relationship development.

So, make the readers constantly feel excited about the character, his strength, his past, and what he is going to do.

Harry Potter main characters posters
Image by Karen Roe. Source: Flickr.

The third point is to have the ability to write a long story. It is best to have the story be able to build up long, so that if it turns well, you can write sequel after sequel to further explain the story line. The techniques J. K. Rowling used were to make her story happen in a purely fictive magic world. So the story is wholly based on her imagination. She didn’t need to worry about history, reality, even rationality. That gave her the flexibility to expand the story as much as she wants. So, she fully exploited the potentiality of Harry Potter serial after the first few books turned out to be successful and became a billionaire.

In conclusion, the success of J. K. Rowling and her Harry Potter taught us the following: Write to young readers, make your main character reader sustainable and grant the story line the capability to be expanded. Keep these things in mind and you can write a novel more attractive.