5 Things I Learned When I Critiqued Harry Potter

For awhile, my critique partner and I were reading and critiquing published novels. One day, he suggested critiquing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a book we’d both enjoyed. I’ve read every Harry Potter book multiple times, and while I know they’re not perfect, I also know that they’re wonderful.

But an odd thing happened when I read Harry Potter with an eye to critique it. I found tons of flaws. If JK Rowling had brought the manuscript to group, I would have probably shredded it.

It taught me valuable lessons that have somewhat changed the way I approach critiquing and being critiqued.

  1. No book, no matter how wonderful, is perfect. These books are among the most popular of all time. A book doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to invoke that magical connection with the reader.
  2. If you look for the flaws, you’ll find them. The “flaws” in Harry Potter were always there, but I wasn’t looking for them, so all I saw was what I enjoyed. When I started looking, they were everywhere.
  3. Anyone can find the dirt in someone. Be the one that finds the gold.   (paraphrased) Proverbs 11:27

  4. Flaws don’t interfere with the reading experience. I’d never noticed any of the so-called flaws before I went looking for them. In some books, I can’t ignore the flaws. They’re so glaring and make me angry. But any flaws in Harry Potter melted into the background because the story, the characters, and the setting are so engaging that the rest were just details.
  5. When writers bring work to group to be critiqued, I should balance looking for flaws and enjoying the story. It’s not an easy thing to do, read with both my critic hat on and my reader hat. I want to point out as many “flaws” as possible so that the writer sees them. That doesn’t mean they have to change everything I point out, just that they should be aware of them. At the same time, I need to ask myself, “Would I read this story if I weren’t critiquing it? Why or why not?” It makes a difference to what I point out and what I choose not to.
  6. My story is never going to be perfect, and it doesn’t need to be. When other group members ask me questions I don’t have answers to, or that I just didn’t put in the story, I feel myself tightening up, like I should have all the answers to every possible question anyone can think of. (Overachiever alert!) JK Rowling didn’t answer every question I ever had about the Harry Potter universe, and I still love those books.
  7. “Perfect is the enemy of good.” -Voltaire

  8. Critiquing Harry Potter was probably one of the best things I could have done. I can know that there are flaws and still love it. (And read past them when I reread it in the future.) Have you ever tried critiquing a published novel? What did you learn from it?

Photos and Real Life

I love taking pictures.  I annoy most people with how often I want to stop and take pictures.  When I go hiking, I could take my camera along every time.  There’s always something new to see, or something old to see in a different way.  I love taking pictures of people, but also the sky, a cactus, a flower, or just an interesting rock.

Facebook has allowed me to become a voyeur.  I steal my friends’ photos.  If they have a great wildlife picture, a great landscape, or just a cool picture of themselves or their child, I download it and keep it for my own.

My office has pictures and quotes hung everywhere.  On the walls, on the doors.  I’d have some on the floor if I didn’t have pets.  I don’t know what it is about pictures that moves me so.  Maybe it’s the same thing as writing a story.  In that moment, in that instant, I’m seeing something in a way that no one has ever seen before.

Photos never quite capture the reality.  When I look at a picture, there always seems to be something missing, which makes picture taking bittersweet.  On one hand, being able to capture the moment is so very important to me, even if I only capture a shadow of what I saw.  It’s a shame, though, because I’d like to be able to share that one perfect moment with others.  We can never capture perfection though, and maybe we never should.  Perhaps it’s the quest for perfection that makes us all continue to challenge ourselves, to learn, and grow.