Tag Archives: JK Rowling

Character Development – The World is a Dangerous Place

I always have too many writing projects on the go.  Currently, I am:

  1. Editing my 125,000-word novel down to 120,000 so that it can be published before summer and available for summer reading lists,
  2. Stopping and starting my online novel Broken Mirrors (rather more stopping than starting at the moment),
  3. Just finished a one-act Christmas play and polishing it as part of a book of short plays,
  4. Turning my recently finished novella into a play so that they can be published together in one volume,
  5. Helping my publisher-husband flesh out the idea of a literary journal for new creative writers in the Cowichan Valley (where his company is based), and
  6. Doing character sketches for a YA fantasy trilogy I plan to write this summer.


On top of this, I am just winding up teaching a creative writing class and will be starting a new one in February; I’m working on my certification as an editor; I’m starting a bi-monthly writing workshop for people who want to submit to my husband’s new literary journal.  AND, of course, there are the writers’ groups and readings that I attend.  You know, it’s a good thing I retired from my day job!

But today it is #6 on the list on which I want to focus my attention.  The most interesting and compelling characters are the ones that are the most flawed.  Think Holly Golightly, Don Quixote, Severus Snape and Harry Potter, Holden Caulfield, Mr. Darcy, the Artful Dodger and Fagan, Lisbeth Salander, Macbeth and King Lear, the Wife of Bath.  Hell, even Max from Where the Wild Things Are.  The list is endless.  When I was a kid, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, it was a real insult to refer to someone as “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm”.  She was a sickly sweet, always positive, always upbeat, far too perfect little girl.  It is hard to create a relatable character that has no dark side.


This post will be the first in examining what makes people, and therefore characters, flawed.  I will borrow liberally from the book Into the Light: Codependency, a Spiritual Journey by my very good friend Neil Douglas Tubb.  The book is out of print, currently, but if you are interested in getting a copy, let me know and I will see if Neil has any more kicking around.




“When I come to the edge of my known universe, when I come to the end of where the light shines for me. It is from this point on that I have to be a risk taker.  It’s when I have to go blindly off into something or someplace I have never seen or been before…when I step off into my darkness and it is the darkness of my unknown, it is then that I grow.  It is then that I come to know.  It is then that I notice the light.” NDT


For a variety of individual reasons, many of us grew up believing that the world is a dangerous place and we are alone in facing it.  Let’s look at one of my favourite characters–Harry Potter.  Harry grew up locked in a closet under the stairs and raised by people who despised him and feared what he represented.  Harry truly lived in a world that was out to destroy him and, because of his upbringing, he believed that he was alone in that battle–that he had no right to ask anyone to risk their lives to help him.  In the real world, Harry would have likely been diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder:


“Even though some of the causes for reactive attachment disorder are unavoidable, the message to the child’s psyche is the same, “my needs don’t matter.” This hard-wired belief is very challenging for a child or teen to overcome – the belief that he or she doesn’t actually matter can impact nearly every facet of his or her life.”

According to Village Behavioral Health, these are some of the symptoms of children with attachment disorder:

Relationships: In relationships, a person who has RAD may be bossy, untrusting, manipulative, and controlling. They may have challenges giving or receiving genuine love and affection. Their unstable peer relationships are tenuous at best, as children and teens with RAD blame others for their mistakes or challenges.

Behavioral: Destructive, irresponsible, impulsive, and defiant behaviors. Children or teens with RAD may steal, lie, abuse others, start fires, behave cruelly to animals, or act in a self-destructive manner. They also may avoid physical contact with others, and engage in drug or alcohol abuse.

Moral:  Teens with RAD may lack faith, compassion, and remorse for their actions.

Emotional: Children who have RAD may feel sad, moody, fearful, anxious, depressed, and hopeless. These children may display inappropriate emotional reactions.

Thoughts: Children and teens who have RAD may have negative beliefs about themselves, life, and other relationships. These children and teens are unable to understand the concept of cause and effect. Additionally, they may experience inattention and challenges with learning.

The symptoms in bold and italics are characteristics we see in Harry.  The first time I thought about this, my reaction was “No way.  Harry is not any of these things.”  Yet, there are examples of every one of those symptoms I outlined above in Harry.  He is just such a likeable and relatable character, we gloss over his flaws even though his flaws and his struggle to overcome them are what make him so likeable.  His arc is satisfying because he overcomes failings that we recognise in ourselves.  JK Rowling is masterful at creating wonderfully flawed characters.

How can you make use of this?  Feel free to make your characters as messed up as you like.  It will just make the reader that much more satisfied when your characters conquer their weaknesses.  Not to mention that flawed characters are much more fun to write.


Looking Through the Cracks

I was recently asked to speak at the Cowichan Centre for Peaceful Community.  It was September 11th, the 15th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Centre.  I was caught in a conundrum.  How do I say anything positive on the anniversary of an attack that changed how we look at the world forever?  I struggled with this for a couple of weeks and then, just two days before – on the 9th, I was procrastinating, as I often do, by watching YouTube videos and I came across JK Rowling’s commencement speech at Harvard University and I knew what I wanted to say.


JK Rowling is, of course, the author of the Harry Potter series of books, and arguably the most celebrated and successful children’s writer of all time.  Her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, hit the stands and the bestseller lists and became widely known and wildly popular.  I have a bit of a stubborn streak and I often avoid the things that everyone says I “must do” or “must try” or even “must read” and so, even though my daughter was four when the first book was released and a perfect age (in my opinion) for the Philosopher’s Stone, I studiously avoided buying a copy.  That is until I was poking around in a bookstore with another mother I knew.  When she found out that I hadn’t started reading Harry to my daughter, she put the Philosopher’s Stone in my hand and said, “Buy this.” So I did.


At that time in my life, I had more in common with Jo Rowling than I knew.  We were both single parents, both out of terrible marriages to abusive men, both battling depression, and both wanting to write.  My daughter was struggling too.  Her father was not only abusive to me, he was horrible to her as well.  She was diagnosed with ADD and her teacher at school was so awful to her that year because of her symptoms, she begged me to let her change schools even though she would be moved away from her tight-knit group of friends.  And when she did change schools, she struggled for months with loneliness and depression.  That is a gut-wrenching thing for a mother to watch in her child at any time but even more so when her child has not yet moved out of elementary school.


Harry Potter handed us a lifeline.  Every night, no matter how awful the day had been, we snuggled in her bed and read another chapter of Harry’s life.  His battles felt so familiar to my daughter – a horrible teacher, an abusive parental figure, bullying, isolation – so when he fought Voldemort and Professor Quirrell and won it felt like we had won too.  In fact, we had.  We had finished the Philosopher’s Stone, just as my daughter finished that school year and we both felt like the battle had been won.  Of course, my daughter and I and Harry were handed other battles by life, as life is wont to do.  But through it all, Harry walk with us. 


There is a great deal of wisdom to be learned in Harry Potter and from JK Rowling.

What lessons have I gleaned from reading Harry Potter?  The words of Jo Rowling carry a ring of truth:

“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and above all those who live without love.”

“There will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”

“Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect.”

“We’ve all got both light and darkness inside us.  What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”


In the course of the Harry Potter books, Harry faces in Voldemort, an evil with the power to destroy any goodness in the world.  And what is it that made Voldemort, the most powerful wizard in the Harry Potter world, vulnerable to a simple skinny teenage boy with glasses?  It was that he underestimated the power of love.


Image found at http://leelastarsky.livejournal.com/115734.html?thread=1570582



Acts of love surround us every day, even – or rather especially – in times places of great evil.  Some of the stories are well known – the family that hid Ann Frank, Oskar Schindler saving the lives of so many Jews, the Christmas eve armistice in WWI, Romeo Dallaire’s bravery in the Rwandan genocide, Doctors Without Borders, Mother Teresa – but there are so many that we will never hear of because they are done in anonymity.


We are living in a time of great evil.  ISIS attacks are splashed across the news.  You have to look through the cracks to find the stories of love, but they are there. There is the couple from Berlin who started Refugees Welcome, a website that matches refugees with people willing to share their homes with them. The Ismaili activists in the city of Salamiyah in the centre of Syria refused to cooperate with the rebels and welcomed, sheltered and fed 20,000 Hama refugees in 2011.  Dr. Peter Gary, a Holocaust survivor, speaking to tens of thousands of young people over two decades about the power of love and the defeat of hate.  We don’t have to look far to find examples of love. And how fortunate we are for that.

Faith in Humanity Restored