Since writing my series of posts on story structure for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I’ve been asked numerous times to analyze another Potter book, particularly one of the longer, more complex ones. So I’ve picked the longest, beastliest book of the bunch: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
(Of course my analysis will only be as helpful to you as your recollection of Phoenix, so feel free to skim through a summary of the plot for a refresher.)
This post will be a quick look at the specific plot points and pinch points in Phoenix—I won’t be repeating all the lengthy definitions and explanations of story structure from my first set of posts.
(If it’s been a while, you can reread my post, or you can simply buy Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering, which landed on my 2012 list of best writing books and is the bedrock of everything in this post.)
What Story Structure Looks Like
All right, let’s get down to it. Below is a graph of story structure in its most basic form:
Now here is a graph of the pinch points and plot points in Order of the Phoenix:
How to Identify the Main Storyline
Rowling has several subplots in Phoenix. To name only a few:
- Harry’s romance with Cho;
- Harry’s Occlumency lessons with Snape;
- and Harry’s ongoing feud with Dolores Umbridge.
These subplots, however, still tie in to and enhance the main plot, which is:
Voldemort’s attempts to acquire a secret weapon and Harry’s attempts to stop him.
[Note: It’s important to know as the writer exactly what your main plot is, because your main plot determines what your story’s pinch points will be.]
What You Need for the First Plot Point
1) The hero needs to get his marching orders.
2) He needs to set out on a journey (otherwise known as “the point of no return”).
No one wants to read about a hero who has a mission but nowhere to go, or vice versa, a hero who’s going somewhere but has no mission.
Harry gets his “marching orders” in Phoenix when Sirius tells him that Voldemort is trying to acquire a weapon; soon after Harry sets out on his journey to Hogwarts.
Understanding Anomalies in Story Structure
In both Phoenix and Sorcerer’s Stone, the placement of Part Four of story structure—The Resolution—falls short of the expected 20-percent mark.
This variance is typical in books that rely heavily on uncovering a mystery (in these two cases, a stone and a weapon). Once that mystery is revealed it’s a mad rush to the finish, thus the shorter ending.