Understanding/Identifying Signposts (Harry Potter and Dramatica)
(Grand Rapids, MI--USA)
Question: You often use examples from Harry Potter; can you identify one or more of the overall, main character, and impact character signposts in the Harry Potter story?Answer:
Now that's a heavy question that requires a little work. So, in answering this, let me first give a few caveats....
First, answering this question requires some subjective analysis on my part. Someone else who sees the story differently might come up with a different yet valid response.
Second, bear in mind that stories with a perfect structure are rare. A writer should always follow his/her instincts over structural rules, and most writers do. Theory is only there to help flesh out an idea or to help fix a story that isn't working. The Harry Potter books are excellent stories, but they are not a textbook example of theory.
Third, you didn't specify which Harry Potter book you have in mind. So, I will consider the entire seven book series as one story. (This is perfectly legitimate, since dramatica is recursive and can be applied to series, books, subplots, and even isolated scenes.)
Finally, this will be a little off-the-cuff and I might do a better analysis with more time and thought. But here goes...
Dramatica theory states that each of the four throughlines (those of the Overall Story, Main Character, Impact Character, and the Relationship between the latter two) should be assigned to a different domain. The four domains are:
Situation (external state)
Activity (external action)
Manipulation (psychological change)
Fixed Attitude (psychological state)
Harry Potter is the main character, and for most of the series we see him being thrust into situations he didn't choose. He didn't choose to live with the Dursleys, or be the “Boy who Lived.” Nor did he choose to be a Triwizard champion, nor to be Voldemort's nemesis, Dumbledore's secret weapon, nor a thorn in the Ministry of Magic's side.
So I'll give Harry the domain of Situation.
I also see Voldemort as the Impact Character. Harry's habitual approach to solving problems (copied from his mother) is to put himself in danger to save others, whereas Voldemort offers the alternative approach of killing others to protect himself (by making horcruxes).
Usually, if the main character's domain is Situation, the Impact character's domain will be Fixed Attitude (its polar opposite). Certainly, Voldemort's attitude remains fixed throughout the entire series. Even at the climax, he refuses to reconsider his actions and shows no remorse.
The Overall story concerns Harry's evolution from an underdog who sleeps a cupboard and is bullied by his muggle cousin into a confident wizard. That process of becoming something suggests that this throughline belongs in the domain of Manipulation. Certainly, Harry is manipulated and groomed by Dumbledore.
That leaves the domain of Activity for the Relationship throughline.
Now, let's consider how each domain breaks down into 4 signposts. Please note that the best order for the signposts varies with each story. Below is the order that makes sense to me for this story.
The signposts for the Situation domain are:
1. The Future: A prophecy is made that Harry will become Voldemort's nemesis and that only one of them will survive. This future fate is sealed when Voldemort kills Harry's parents.
2. The Past: Harry
starts out ignorant of his past, but gradually learns more about it. He finds out how his parents were killed, learns about Voldemort's past as Tom Riddle, meets his godfather, etc.
3. Progress: Harry starts making real progress when he stops being pursued by Voldemort and becomes the pursuer. This begins in The Order of the Phoenix
when he deliberately sets out to rescue Sirius. By the time he encounters Voldemort at Hogwarts in the seventh book, he is fully confident of his abilities.
4. The Present: At the end, we see Harry as a happy family man with a wife and children. His scar never hurts, and all his problems seem safely behind him.
The signposts for the Fixed Attitude domain are:
1. Memories: As the series begins, Voldemort has become just a bad memory which everyone is trying to forget.
2. Innermost Desires: As Voldemort returns, he starts pursuing his deep desire for absolute power and immortality – which depend upon eliminating Harry Potter.
3. Impulsive Responses: As the climax approaches, Voldemort seems to abandon his habit of careful planning and stealth. Instead, he starts acting on (often murderous) impulses. In The Deathly Hallows
, we see him frantically rushing around trying to obtain the Elder Wand, confirm the safety of his horcruxes, and lead a brazen attack on Hogwarts to flush out Harry Potter. In his desperation, he kills Snape (even though he seems a valuable ally) to win the Elder Wand, yet makes only a superficial attempt to confirm Harry's death.
4. Contemplation. In the end, Voldemort proves unable to contemplate remorse, hence he cannot be saved from his own killing curse (whereas Harry can).
The signposts for the Manipulation domain are:
1. Conceiving an Idea: In book one, Professor Dumbledore comes up with the idea of leaving Harry with the Dursleys, both for his own protection and so his fame won't go to his head.
2. Developing a Plan: Voldemort develops his plans to return to power, while Dumbledore develops his plans to defeat Voldemort. He figures out Voldmort's secret (horcruxes), stages his own death (to prevent Voldemort obtaining the Elder Wand), and equips Harry to fight Voldemort.
3. Playing a role. At the climax, Harry assumes the role of a sacrificial lamb to save everyone – the role he has been groomed for.
4. Changing one's nature. After Voldemort's death, Harry has become a much wiser person than even Dumbledore, as illustrated by his rejection of the Elder Wand.
The signposts for the Activity domain are:
1. Understanding: In the first book, we come to understand that Harry and Voldemort have a special relationship. Harry's scar burns in Voldemort's presence, and Voldemort burns when he tries to touch Harry.
2. Doing: Harry and Voldemort do things to harm each other in the early books. Harry destroys Riddle's diary (the first Horcrux). Voldemort returns to life by taking Harry's blood. Yet neither is able to do what they ultimately must: kill the other.
3. Gathering Information. Harry learns the truth about Dumbledore's past and the Deathly Hallows. Voldemort tries to get information about the Elder wand from Olivander and
Grindelwald, but fails to learn when Harry becomes its master.
4. Obtaining: Ultimately, Harry obtains victory over Voldemort.
Hope this helps.