Exclusive: J.K. Rowling on How She Crafts Gritty, Realistic Characters

Posted by Patrick Brown on July 25, 2013
If you had just one question for J.K. Rowling, what would it be? To celebrate the paperback release of The Casual Vacancy, we asked the best-selling author's fans on Goodreads to submit their burning questions about the book. The response was enormous—more than 1,500 submissions! We then chose five finalists and polled Goodreads members on their favorite. Here's the winning question and J.K. Rowling's fascinating answer:

Comments Showing 1-50 of 72 (72 new)

message 1: by Pam (new)

Pam Thank you, J.K. Rowling for this long and satisfying answer, for the deeper look into your characters, and for explaining your reasons behind writing them.

And thank you, Goodreads for making this possible. :)

message 2: by Pam (new)

Pam Oh, and thanks to the person who asked the question as well. :)

message 3: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Castellanos I've waited for this question for a long time--and of course it's answer!
And what a clever question and what a really inspiring answer.
It's always gratifying to see the insight a writer gives to his/her work and Jo certainly doesn't disappoint.
I love the way she always takes her writing personal, not only in her books but of course in this speech too and I'll stay with his; "If we make decisions in small matters in the awareness that our actions can have huge impact on others, we will begin to make a difference."

message 4: by Katherine (new)

Katherine I already have this book in my to read pile and after reading this, I want to read it even more!

message 5: by Natasha (new)

Natasha Holme The Casual Vacancy shot to the top with my all-time favourites. It is a masterpiece.

message 6: by Judi (new)

Judi Wonderful question with a deep and insightful answer, which I certainly loved making me think deeper about the characters of this fabulous book.

message 7: by Gauravpati (new)

Gauravpati Singh Wonderful question & deserved the answer to be as well rounded as the stated question.Partially answered the question I myself asked on here as well!Thank you Joanne!

message 8: by Clare (new)

Clare Oh man, now I really want to reread The Casual Vacancy. I know a lot of people had issues getting into the book or didn't find it enjoyable but I found it really relevant and this answer hit a lot of the reasons why. Thanks to Jo Rowling and Anne (who asked the question).

message 9: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Great question, I'm glad this one was selected! LOVE JK Rowlings response...makes me want to reread this great book! :)

message 10: by SC (new)

SC Author Amazing answer. Thank you so much!! I loved this book (especially on the second read :D).

message 11: by Erika (new)

Erika I plan to read the book again and am very grateful for more insight into the characters. It made me cry and months later I'm still thinking about it...

message 12: by Jackie (new)

Jackie Such a good question, and such a fascinating answer!

message 13: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth Hamlet Very interesting! Curious about the Howard revelation!

message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Loved every inch of this. Would love to hear Jo talk more about Howard, I have to admit, I was a little taken aback by the end.

message 15: by Ivana (new)

Ivana Rebello This is why I love her and I loved to read The Casual Vacancy! Just as Harry Potter books are, The Casual Vacancy is about real life and real people.

message 16: by Nathleen (new)

Nathleen Thank you JO for answering this question! It's so amazing to hear you insights! very intriguing.

message 17: by Salma (new)

Salma What an answer! Perfect follow-up for this genius of a book!

message 18: by Allison (new)

Allison I admit that I did not enjoy The Casual Vacancy as much as I expected to or wanted to, but this answer has illuminated many themes present int he book I had not noticed myself, and given me a greater understanding of JKR's reasons for writing what I found was a rather depressing book. So, thank you Jo. I might have to reread TCV keeping this answer in mind.

message 19: by nicole (new)

nicole Great question, fantastic answer. So interesting to hear her further thoughts on Howard.

message 20: by Tracy (new)

Tracy Klein Great question and great answer, thank you very much Anne Ganden and JK Rowling.

message 21: by Donna (new)

Donna I have to say, I loved the question, though I felt the answer was relatively apparent through the way Jo Rowling wrote the characters and how they each changed (or didn't change) at the book's conclusion. That said---to now hear a more in-depth explanation, allowing us direct access to her actual thought process is SUCH a treat, so Anne having actually asked the question gave us even more insight to the workings of Jo's brilliant and talented mind.

And I have to add that, although THE CASUAL VACANCY is a great departure, in genre and subject matter, from the "Harry Potter" series, they are the same in the same respect that's contained in Jo's answer to this question: all her characters are "real" and flawed, and through their behavior and thought process, convey all-important "core" matters of humankind that need to be brought to the forefront and kept there. Her outstanding gift as a writer does that in a way nothing else can. We, as her readers, are not only appreciative, but VERY lucky :D

Thanks to Anne and Goodreads for the question and the opportunity to hear from Jo Rowling herself in this way :D

message 22: by Kathryn (new)

Kathryn What a great question and answer.

message 23: by Sigourney (new)

Sigourney Brilliant insight!

message 24: by Charlotte (new)

Charlotte Although I wasn't really impressed with The Casual Vacancy, I am impressed with your insight on this Miss Rowling. :D

message 25: by Erica (new)

Erica An excellent answer to an excellent question! I love the way JK Rowling discusses the characters of the book as more then just characters but as real people. It a very interesting thought that she disagrees with many of her characters yet right them all the same. I think this is one of the elements that makes JK Rowling's writing stand out.

As for Howard, I think he would have stopped and taken charge of Robbie. I don't think he would have stopped with the motivates of ensure no harm came to Robbie but with the intention of determining who would be so negligent as to leave a child alone. The difference is subtly but I feel it represents best Howard's thought process.

message 26: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer i love that answer and also what a great question.

message 27: by Nuno (new)

Nuno J. K. Rowling has to be one of my favourite people in this world. She's absolutely brilliant. Thank you to both!

message 28: by Debbie (new)

Debbie Bentman Wonderful question. I highly suggest rereading the book. It helps to get into the depth of topics and understand J.K. Rowling's reasons for writing the novel.
J.K.Rowling thank you for helping the reader understand.

message 29: by Emerald (new)

Emerald Radiance You're a genius JKR, there's just no need to doubt that ever. Nobody could have wriiten and analysed those characters in such a way that you have. All hail to Queen Rowling!

message 30: by léamh (new)

léamh Lástima que no pueda leerla, no hablo inglés. Igual gracias por avisar. Con un traductor leí la pregunta, pero no la respuesta. Too bad you can not read it, do not speak English. Just please advise. With a translator read the question but not the answer. Thanks.

message 31: by Jan (new)

Jan Leotti Wonderful question and a really insightful answer. I love the way you think and (consequently) write, JK Rowling!

message 32: by Bethany N. (new)

Bethany N. Absolutely invigorating answer, Ms Rowling! Always love to hear from my favorite authors. Thank you for giving us readers the time to answer one of our questions!

message 33: by Anna (new)

Anna Oslo Wow, how it is that J.K.R. has this way of touching the most decent and real parts of us that make you want to be better and do better by showing the ugly sides of life and people and ourselves? Your writing and you are a gift J.K. and I hope you never stop writing. We need you.

message 34: by Laura (new)

Laura Well said, Anna. Amen.

Keep writing, Jo. Your work is important. We love it, and you.

message 35: by Abigail Lennah (new)

Abigail Lennah Thanks, Jo!!!!!

message 36: by Mariana (new)

Mariana Thanks to the girl who asked the question. Jo, you are amazing. You can do anything just with a pen and paper. All you write is wonderful. Keep in mind that.

message 37: by [deleted user] (new)

As always, Jo's words are food for thought.

I like the idea of Shirley being Barry's true opposite, instead of Howard. What I like most about Jo's writing (both in The Casual Vacancy and the Harry Potter series) is the message that our actions define us; that regardless of where we come from, it is in us to decide (and take action to ensure we follow the path to) where we want to go.

Thanks to Anna Gunden for submitting this stimulating question, and J.K. Rowling for such a thought-provoking answer.

message 38: by M.L. (last edited Jul 27, 2013 10:05AM) (new)

M.L. Hi Ms. Rowling, Thanks for taking the time to share your insights.

In reply to your question to readers about Howard:
Would he have helped Robbie? Yes. Howard has a buried streak of decency that would probably erupt.

Was Howard a happy person? Not really; maybe in a deluded way:
- he is morbidly obese and dismisses doing anything about it
- he has a somewhat leering way towards his daughter-in-law
- his own daughter, when she was young, happened upon him in a gross extramarital situation
- most people view him contemptuously / think he is disgusting

In a way, I felt sorry for Howard because I think he was set up as someone to mock and not left any dignity. But in my mind he does not reinvent as "happy".

message 39: by Paul (new)

Paul Lovell She comes across as lovely compassionate woman, full of understanding. I want to read the book now.

message 40: by Imogen (new)

Imogen I read the book but now I may have to reread it in light of your comments Ms Rowling. Thank you for taking the time to answer. And on an unrelated point, can I just say how very disappointed I was in human nature following the recent leak of confidential information. All that work wasted by a thoughtless act. Appalling. I feel deeply for you.

message 41: by Donna (new)

Donna I didn't realize it was a "leak" that revealed the pseudonym. I thought it was just a "timing" thing and that it was intended to let the news out at some point. That's very upsetting :(

message 42: by Yehia (new)

Yehia Shehata I thought that that last sequence in the casual vacancy with the 3 people was one of the best written sections of a book that i had ever read

message 43: by Alannah (new)

Alannah Clarke I am glad this question was chosen, thank you J.K Rowling for the great answer.

message 44: by Sejal (new)

Sejal Wonderful Jo!! It kind of reminded me of her Harvard's Speech.
Particularly "If we make decisions in small matters in the awareness that our actions can have huge impact on others,we will begin to make a difference.If we chose to understand the other person's point of view,if we make the effort to understand before rushing to judgement,all kinds of different vistas might become apparent to us."

message 45: by Joan (new)

Joan Others have expressed my admiration of Rowling, so I'm going to skip that and instead request Goodreads to continue such conversations with authors. This adds so much depth to a story that I was extremely impressed with to begin with!
OK, I give in and will address Ms. Rowling: I so admire Ms. Rowling for how she overcame her life circumstances. I wish more people would look at Rowling's background, being on the Dole...equivalent more or less of welfare in the States...and now being one of the richest people around. She also has stated that she is perfectly fine paying taxes on her income because she knows it will go to help others in such situations. I have been on welfare and it is a nasty business. I now pay my taxes perfectly happily for the same reason. Without the welfare, as nasty as vicious people made it, it led to me being able to finish school and have a career that pays above average wages.

message 46: by Kathy G. (new)

Kathy G. This was delightful. I can't wait to read the book. Characters are so "real" in books because they are pieced together from the knowledge of what humans can be, and that is often neither wholly good or bad. And the reader takes those characters like a mirror to read into our own souls to find out who we are. What would we do in the same situations? Or, more aptly, what do we think we would do? Sometimes we can't bear to think about those situations.

message 47: by Anagha Uppal (new)

Anagha Uppal What a fabulous and inspiring answer. Thank you, Ms. Rowling! I am currently enjoying The Casual Vacancy thoroughly and have found much insight into the characters that I previously lacked.

message 48: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 27, 2013 06:58PM) (new)

Mrs. Rowling, this has been such a beautifully written answer. I have used this information to become a better writer, myself. I am beginning to write, and want to become an author, and this answer, and along with your great books have inspired me to become a better writer. Thank you so much for your time and effort to write this. I hope you will write other amazing books for many people. You are really, and truly amazing!

message 50: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Thank you, Jo!

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