I have always found the phrase “A legend is born” to be more than a bit of a writing misnomer, as if through some convergence of energies and events… and miraculous and powerful being is suddenly conjured into existence. More often than not legends are not born, they are built.
I quite firmly believe that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter book series can be used not only as a moral tale for children but as a guideline to writers, charting the slow and steady growth of a hero character. Harry Potter starts off as little more than a frightened kid who gets abruptly thrust into a strange new world, bringing with it an extremely complex set of rules and sociopolitical systems to be navigated. Harry is put in a situation that empowers him, giving him the capability of controlling his own fate through new and fantastical abilities. These abilities however must first be learned and mastered; a process that we the reader witness over the enter book series. This gives the reader a vested interest in Harry’s ‘Wizard skills’ progression, additionally watching his emotional ups and downs over the course of the greater story arc.
This slow and steady progression through trials and tribulations, watching Harry occasionally stumble in the process, is what turns him into the hero he eventually becomes. Harry was not written as a hero, he was written as a boy who evolves into a hero. Such a fine distinction is what can make all the difference in any book series. It is also one of the greatest hurdles I face on a regular basis while hammering out the various fictional projects on which I am constantly working. I keep trying to figure things out, almost as if I am attempting to decipher some complex mathematical formula that will magically turn a written work into a great work.
I suspect that, while I normally feel this is a particular burden only born by myself, every writer actually feels this way at some point in his or her writing career.
I am a writer of stories: those stories may or may not become ‘great stories’ over the course of years but it is not my task to try and force that result. Tell the stories, develop the characters, and whatever happens will happen.