When it comes to novels at least, most writers have their own way of doing things, a process that helps them keep track of all their plotlines - and J. K. Rowling has revealed hers. This is a hand-written spreadsheet from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix which plans out pretty much everything, from the month a chapter takes place to what is happening behind-the-scenes in character subplots:
It looks like there was A LOT of planning involved. This page in particular only covers chapters 13 to 24, but it pretty much encompasses all of the main themes of the story that we now know so well. The sheet is organized by month and then divided into columns:
- No: The chapter number
- Time: The month of the year that the chapter is set in
- Title: The title of the chapter
- Plot: An outline of the chapter’s plot
The final six columns keep track of the stories various subplots and characters, a fair few of which aren't included in much detail in the final copy:
- Prophecy: What's happening with the prophecy
- Cho/Ginny: What's happening romantically
- D.A.: What’s happening with Dumbledore’s Army
- O of P: What’s happening with the Order of the Phoenix
- Snape/Harry: What’s happening with Snape and Harry
- Hagrid and Grawp: What’s happening with Hagrid and Grawp
There are a few giveaways that tell us it's an early draft: Elvira Umbridge is mentioned instead of Dolores, Grawp is referred to as a cousin and the D.A. appears to have swapped names with the Order. You can see how the story came to life in the movie clip below:
One of the things that makes the page so charming, of course, is that it's cursively handwritten on loose leaf paper - no ruler, plenty of scribbles, seriously old school! It's an amusing insight into the mind of J. K. and also a lesson in novel planning. If you're struggling with your own writing, this should provide plenty of inspiration as it shows that a global phenomenon like Harry Potter can be plotted by almost anyone.
The sheet also makes it quite easy to see how the acclaimed author managed to slip so many fantastic fragments of foreshadowing into the story.