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
Remember that the first plot point has to fulfill two criteria:
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.
11 thoughts on “Story Structure in ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’”
I love this diagram, and I’m not surprised the Order of the Phoenix nails each plot and pinch point.
Yes, even a beastly-long plot can be wrangled with story structure! Thanks for checking out my post and keep up the good work on your blog.
It’s startling how much I google your site to come looking for answers — especially this current book of mine. You’re a genius!
What an absolutely wonderful thing to say, Jen! I ended up taking a rather unexpected sabbatical from my blog over the summer, but I’m ready to get back to it this Fall with a fresh perspective and many exciting new ideas. I hope your book is going along swimmingly – please do keep me updated!
I’m loving going through your blog. Please keep writing more! I would love to see something like how Rowling fleshes out and develops back stories for her characters and makes them so lovable.
Thanks for taking the time to comment, Mahin. It’s so rewarding to hear that my writing resonates with other writers. I’ve been working for quite a while on a blog post about character development and Rowling’s characters. The topic has been a little beastly to get my arms around, but I’m hoping to have it wrangled together and posted sometime in the near future. In the meantime, I hope you check in again soon!
Hi. I’ve been reading from your site a long time and I have to say you have some great stuff here. I really appreciate what you do here. I would like to ask though if the second pinch point wouldn’t be the scene where Harry sees Voldemort speaking to Rookwood and then feels him torturing Avery? It’s at the 67% mark. It seems to give a bigger bang that’s the scene where he felt his happiness after the mass breakout at the 62% mark.
However is it possible then to have more than one pinch point before and after the midpoint? If that is possible then both of those could be pinch points and there could be two before. The scene where his scar hurt in Umbridge’s office during detention and the scene where it hurt after Quidditch practice. These would be at the 32% mark and 43% mark. The scene would be a bit far off from the 35% mark but it does still fit close enough maybe. Thanks.
Jonathan—Yep, you can have as many pinch points as you want. The purpose of the first and second pinch points in particular is to remind the reader of the antagonistic forces at specific moments when the story tends to drag. Other than that, pinch points are free game. (My comments on this post might help clarify: tinyurl.com/zzryefe.) Thanks for your thoughtful questions!
This is fantastic! Thanks so much for all your good insights. Every time I think there is too much to do, this simple explanation gives me hope.
What a knowledgable and insightful person you are! I LOVED reading your posts, and they were extremely helpful for me. I hit a rough point in my book recently and realized that I knew nothing about story structure, so I surfed online for some tips, and I’m so glad that I found your site 🙂
Thank you for such kind words, Jenna. I haven’t had much time to post lately, but seeing wonderful comments like yours always gets me back into blogging mode 🙂 I wish you the very best in all your writing adventures—keep me updated!
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