I was watching Brandon Sanderson's lecture called "Gardeners vs Architects":

In short, he explains a gardener allows that part of the story (characters and/or plot/world) develop naturally, whereas an architect plans a progression for that part of the story.

Sanderson teaches creative periodically writing at Brigham Young University, so I trust he know what he is talking about.

And thinking about how the characters develop in Harry Potter. It seemed to me that Harry doesn't develop a great deal across the series, still being recklessly brave at the end of the series:

Where he is martyred to defeat Voldemort.

Which of the two techniques Brandon discusses did JK Rowling employ for character and plot in writing her Harry Potter series?

To be clear I’m asking about both the development of the plot and the characters. Specifically, I’m looking for an argument backed up with evidence and examples.

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    This seems very opinion-based. Why should she fit into one of two arbitary categories suggested by this individual?
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 16:19
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    Seems like it would be better on Writers SE. Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 17:07
  • 5
    No, but it's a question that writers might be more likely to have expertise in than science fiction and fantasy fans. Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 17:14
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    @mattgutting I'd say there's a fair amount of overlap, but it's not enough to force it over to the other site
    – AncientSwordRage
    Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 17:17
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    I think it shouldnt be hard to find whether she has a stand on how she wrote the books
    – Himarm
    Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 19:49

2 Answers 2


An Architect

What do the terms “Architect” and “Gardener” actually mean? According to George R.R. Martin, in a 2011 interview:

Yeah, to some extent. I've always said there are – to oversimplify it – two kinds of writers. There are architects and gardeners. The architects do blueprints before they drive the first nail, they design the entire house, where the pipes are running, and how many rooms there are going to be, how high the roof will be. But the gardeners just dig a hole and plant the seed and see what comes up. I think all writers are partly architects and partly gardeners, but they tend to one side or another, and I am definitely more of a gardener. In my Hollywood years when everything does work on outlines, I had to put on my architect's clothes and pretend to be an architect. But my natural inclinations, the way I work, is to give my characters the head and to follow them.

That being said, I do know where I'm going. I do have the broad outlines of the story worked out in my head, but that's not to say I know all the small details and every twist and turn in the road that will get me there.

Martin speaks in somewhat poetic terms in the first paragraph, but the last one clarifies his meaning. An Architect knows the plot details of the work, whereas a Gardener prefers to let the work develop according to the characters’ personalities and goals.

There is ample evidence, from Rowling herself, that she fits the first of these two categories. She describes her own writing style as one that relies on plotting far ahead. In addition, we have many examples of plot points that she must have known ahead of time.

Her own descriptions of her writing style

J.K. Rowling has stated her outlook on writing is "meticulous" and ordered:

I loathe books that have inconsistencies and leave questions unanswered. Loopholes bug the hell out of me. I hate getting to the end of a book and thinking, but if so and so had told Mr Y back in chapter three, it need never have happened. And so I try to be meticulous and make sure that everything operates according to laws, however odd, so that everyone understands exactly how and why.

Note that she does seem to mention that characters’ personalities matter here. Then again, one can carefully script a plot that is still consistent with the personalities of its actors.

Perhaps the strongest piece of evidence is that Rowling herself described her writing process in a style very reminiscent of the Architect. From a 1999 interview:

Q: How does the writing process work for you?

JKR: Because I had all these characters early on, and I felt I knew them inside-out, I concentrated on putting a massive amount of effort into each plot. I really love a well-constructed plot. In fact, plot is such an important framework to me when I write, that before I had finished the first book, I had plotted all seven books about Harry.

In fact, she is in many ways the opposite of the Gardener. Instead of letting minor plot details flow from the personalities of the characters, she takes the opportunity to arrange them in an interesting manner:

Q: How are you able to pack so many details into a story and keep it exciting?

JKR: If I have worked hard at the plot and it is well constructed and moves at a good pace, then I have the freedom to do the fun stuff and I can embroider the details within the plot at points where they create the most interest.

Plot points she planned in advance

If the foremost mark of an Architect is knowing the plot before setting pen to paper, JKR fits the role perfectly.

She planned out many plot points in advance. For example, she knew the role that thestrals would play when she was writing Goblet of Fire:

At the end of Goblet of Fire, we sent Harry home more depressed than he had ever been leaving Hogwarts. Now I knew that the thestrals were coming and I can prove that because they are in the book that I produced for Comic Relief, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

As mentioned in this question, she knew in 1999 that Harry having his mother’s eyes would be important in the later books:

Q: Do you know what Harry’s parents look like?

JKR: “Yes. I’ve even drawn a picture of how they look. Harry has his father and mother’s good looks. But he has his mother’s eyes and that’s very important in a future book.”

The whole reason Harry caught the Snitch with his mouth, according to Rowling (via the reputable Melissa Anellion), was to provide motivation for opening it that way in Deathly Hallows.

I had to work quite hard in finding a very particular way for that snitch to be caught because I knew I was going to do that later; initially, as my British editor can confirm, I had Hedwig catch that snitch. She wanted that changed, and I thought, ‘Oh, God, back to the drawing board.’

Actually that’s what sealed Hedwig’s fate, because the plan was for Hedwig to open the snitch, because touched it first, but, by making it Harry, then it was time too kill her earlier. I think she was going to die anyway, eventually.

There is also substantial in-book clues that certain plot points were present very early on. For example, in the second book Riddle describes himself as pouring his "soul" into Ginny Weasley:

“I grew powerful, far more powerful than little Miss Weasley. Powerful enough to start feeding Miss Weasley a few of my secrets, to start pouring a little of my soul back into her….”

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Of course, we later learn that the Riddle from the diary is literally a piece of Voldemort’s soul.


“Voldemort put a bit of himself in me?” Harry said, thunderstruck.

“It certainly seems so.”

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Of course, there are many other examples, such as Dumbledore’s triumphant look when Harry told him that Voldemort had taken his blood, or the statement that Professor Trelawney had made two correct prophecies.

With multiple statements by Rowling on her propensity to plan many details far in advance, and ample evidence that she did exactly that, it seems clear that she fits squarely in the category of Architect, as described by George R.R. Martin.

  • Which book was his mother's eyes important in?
    – ibid
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 21:16
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    @ibid - Book 7. Harry’s eyes were a constant reminder to Snape that he was Lily’s son.
    – Adamant
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 21:40
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    @ibid - The relevant passage: “Her son lives. He has her eyes, precisely her eyes. You remember the shape and color of Lily Evans’s eyes, I am sure?” “DON’T!” bellowed Snape. “Gone. . . dead. . . ” “Is this remorse, Severus?” “I wish. . . I wish I were dead. . . ” “And what use would that be to anyone?” said Dumbledore coldly. “If you loved Lily Evans, if you truly loved her, then your way forward is clear.”
    – Adamant
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 21:41

My immediate feeling would be Architect. The books are in general very tightly plotted, with an event-driven structure, rather than emerging from the actions and behavior of the main characters such as Harry Potter. Those few events driven by character tend to be fairly minor, like their behavior in seeking dance partners, but in general they're reacting to events that are thrust upon them, as one might expect from a series that focuses primarily on school (and later, a vicious civil war.)

  • Could you provide examples of what from the book is "tightly plotted"? And are you saying both characters and plot/world are architected?
    – AncientSwordRage
    Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 21:07
  • I'd this the sort of thing that you are on about?
    – AncientSwordRage
    Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 21:20
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    @AncientSwordRage Dumbledore realising about Harry being a horcrux in OotP is a very clear example, and lots more. Rowling is clearly not making the plot up as time goes. Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 21:34
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    @AncientSwordRage See also the answer to my question, What parts of Half-Blood Prince were originally written for Chamber of Secrets?
    – Izkata
    Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 23:12
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    @AlfredoHernández -- While I definitely agree that J.K. Rowling did not make up the plot on the fly, I do want to point out that Harry is not really a Horcrux. Making a Horcrux is a three step process: Murder -> Object/Soul container -> Horcrux spell. Voldemort did not complete the Horcrux spell when he murdered Lily and the piece of his soul latched onto Harry's. :) Commented Feb 9, 2016 at 3:38

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