01 July 2006

Harry Potter fill in the blanks

This is an unauthorized mash-up of two powerful brands: Mad Libs and the Harry Potter books. ®®®®®!

In the following passage, fill in the blanks with adverbs (if the blanks end in “ly”) or with adjectives or nouns that signal basic emotions and facial expressions. Then check page 458 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (U.S. edition) to see how many you guessed.

“Did you kiss?” asked Hermione ________ly.

Ron sat up so fast that he sent his ink bottle flying all over the rug. Disregarding this _________ly he stared _________ly at Harry.

“Well?” he demanded.

Harry looked from Ron’s expression of mingled ________ and ________ to Hermione’s slight _____, and nodded.


Ron made a __________ gesture with his fist and went into a raucous peal of _______ that made several _____-looking second years over beside the window jump. A ________ ____ spread over Harry’s face as he watched Ron rolling around on the hearthrug. Hermione gave Ron a look of deep ________ and returned to her letter.

“Well?” Ron said _______ly, looking up at Harry. “How was it?”

Harry considered for a moment.

“Wet,” he said ________ly.

Ron made a noise that might have indicated __________ or _________, it was hard to tell.

“Because she was crying,” Harry continued __________ly.

“Oh,” said Ron, his ______ fading ________ly. “Are you that bad at kissing?”

“Dunno,” said Harry, who hadn’t considered this, and _________ly felt rather worried. “Maybe I am.”

“Of course you’re not,” said Hermione _______ly, still scribbling away at her letter.

“How do you know?” said Ron in a ______ voice.

“Because Cho spends half her time crying these days,” said Hermione ______ly. “She does it at mealtimes, in the loos, all over the place.”

“You’d think a bit of kissing would cheer her up, said Ron, grinning.

“Ron,” said Hermione in a ________ voice, dipping the point of her

My guess is that most readers will score pretty well. Not because we’ve all memorized HP5 by now, but because most of the missing adverbs and identifiers of emotions aren’t necessary for understanding the conversation. As I’ve written before about this same page, it’s a nice dramatic scene with a good feeling for adolescent psychology.

Now try to play the reverse game with pages 96-7 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (the first U.S edition, as you can tell by the title). Circle all adverbs. There are only three! Underline all identifications of emotion. You’ll find only two, and in one case the character is clearly acting, trying to make the emotion obvious. And that’s over two pages, not just one.

What’s more, that scene in HP1 is a complex writing challenge. It’s Harry’s first experience with the Weasleys, overhearing them on the train platform. Rowling introduces a whole passel of characters at once. Her point-of-view character doesn’t know their names. He can’t see them clearly. The scene is almost all dialogue. And yet it works on the page. It works damn well.

In contrast, the HP5 scene involves the three main characters of the series. We know them intimately--if not from the first four books, then from the preceding 450 pages. But Rowling had apparently lost the confidence or the desire to cut unneeded adverbs and change some verb-adverb combinations into stronger verbs.

As the passage from HP1 shows, Rowling and her editorial team can do this. And now that the promotional juggernaut for the final book has started, let’s hope they do.


xiaomu said...

Thanks for the work here, and saying everything I have thought and said for the past few years. Thankfully, many of the adverbs and throw-away action words were edited out for book 7!!

J. L. Bell said...

Many, but not all.

I think at times HP7 demonstrates the opposite problem with dialogue tags. Instead of spelling out who said everything and exactly how, there are several stretches of conversation with no dialogue tags, or sentences describing actions that could function as implicit tags but appear in paragraphs separate from the speeches. I found some of those conversations hard to follow without effort.