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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

On Butterbeer

Quick. Name something that exists on planet Earth solely because someone—a writer— dreamed it up. 

One yummy example is Harry Potter’s favorite drink, butterbeer. On tap and wildly popular in Florida, a butterbeer can foam your lips courtesy of a JK Rowling-approved recipe. After reading a scene in the books or visiting Hogsmeade in the movies with Harry Potter and friends, who doesn’t crave a butterbeer moustache of their own?

People intuitively know a good thing when they see one—or read about one. Does your book contain any powerful objects? Are you creating symbols? Or simply cool character props? How can you tell the difference?

Harry Potter was an orphan without a friend to his name until he joined Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. His new friends reached for butterbeer whenever there was a social gathering, a weekend day off, a Quidditch win to celebrate, or a need for private conversation. Consider the butterbeer itself. It is a frothy, butterscotch-like drink, warming hands and the hearts of friends. Friendship and love ultimately gives Harry the strength he needs to defeat the villain Voldemort. It is my guess that JK Rowling designed, with great intention and purpose, thick blizzard and stormy weather conditions for student trips to Hogsmeade. By contrast, this spotlighted the warmth and comfort of butterbeer and, by extension, the important theme of friendship. Butterbeer is a powerful prop. No wonder fans make the trek to Orlando to taste it. Who doesn’t want (and need) those comforting qualities?

Consider your story’s objects:
            How necessary is the object to the scene? To the overall story?
            Are your scenes cluttered with objects? Can any be given more significance?
            Does the object represent anything else going on? Does it symbolize a theme?

Finally, is your prop grounded in humanity, no matter how fantastical its name or function? Characters come alive when they need to do things such as eat, drink, love, sleep, clean, communicate, travel and defend rights just like us. Your characters will leap off the written page and resonate with readers!