How Do You Know You Have a Jewel?


I’ve talked about diamonds; now I’m moving on to geodes. But I assure you, this is not part of a planned series on precious minerals. It just happened that way.

220px-Geode_inside_outsideEver see a geode? We talked about them in fifth grade science. But more recently I was reminded of them when I watched Hayao Miyazaki’s 1995 animated movie, Whisper of the Heart (directed by Yoshifumi Kondō). The main character, Shizuku, was handed a geode. Geodes contain fragments of different types of crystals—quartz, amethyst, jasper, agate, and others. But the thing is, you don’t know what’s inside until you crack it open.

220px-J__K__Rowling_2010I watched Whisper of the Heart a month ago. But today, after watching the movie version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (directed by Alfonso Cuarón—one of my favorites of the series; the book as well), and watching an interview with Jo Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe the other day, the subject of geodes returned to mind. (You can watch the interview at Ellar Out Loud.)

250px-Marauder'sMapObviously, I’m not the only one fascinated by the world Jo Rowling created, especially since Harry Potter is an international sensation now in its fifteenth year. But I still get giddy over elements of it. For example, one of my favorite aspects of Prisoner of Azkaban is the marauder’s map. So brilliant! I also love the time turner. There are so many great details embedded in the world. It’s like cracking open a geode and finding it chock full of diamonds. I love a series like that.

Based on the interviews I’ve seen, when the first book was released, Rowling had no idea of the impact her series would have on the world. Of course she was passionate about her world and excited to see it introduced to readers. But holding that geode in her hands, she didn’t really know what the fans would see inside of it—jewels or junk.

What are the characteristics of a world worth exploring? I can think of these:
1. Fullness of scope—The author embraces a 360-degree view of the world and doesn’t skimp on the details, even within multiple environments. Also, the magic system is well defined and compelling. There are real costs. In this whimsical world your sense of wonder goes on overload.
Buckbeak2. Characters—You know you have a great series when you can take any character—even a minor animal character like Buckbeak—and envision him and her as the star of a book.
3. Inventive challenges—All seven books had compelling obstacles that moved us deeper and deeper into the world. By the time the series was over, we were so ingrained, we had culture shock stepping out of the world.

And there are others of course. But I can’t help thinking about the above three as I craft my own world and series. What do I have in this geode? Are there priceless jewels inside (or at least semiprecious stones)? (I can only hope.)

In your own work, do you have a sense of how special it is? Is there anything within you telling you, “I’ve got amethysts in here”? What series have you read recently that made you think, This author has a winner here?

Shizuku looking into the geode image from Geode from Wikipedia. Marauder’s Map and Buckbeak from

41 thoughts on “How Do You Know You Have a Jewel?

  1. When I was a postman, and Harry Potter was at its zenith (I forget which book we were at) we had a meeting because the next day all the pre-ordered books in the next installment were due in from Amazon, and we had to make plans. How many we were required to take before the rest went on the vans for the drivers to deliver.
    At that time I had considered them solely a book for children (I know, in my having not read them ignorance) but changed my mind the following day. It was a Saturday, and people all over the town-on my round anyway-had forgone their weekend lie in to get up early and await for their book. And you know what-they were ALL adults.

  2. I hope there’s something special when readers crack open my books but I don’t think I can judge it myself. I know I love the worlds I’ve created (whether contemporary or fantasy) but it takes a reader to really see what’s inside. Great post, oh and a great story from Andy too about the Harry Potter lady. 🙂

  3. Thanks for these points to consider as I’m developing the world of my new story and hoping for jewels, not junk. The series that most recently struck me as very original is Laini Taylor’s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE series. When I read it, I thought: this author has well and truly re-imagined the world in a way that I haven’t seen before. And I loved the writing.

    • Laini’s awesome. Yeah, when I read the first page, I almost put it down because I was so envious. She writes extremely well. And yes, her series is well imagined.
      Laura, I think you can pretty much expect jewels from your world.

  4. Thanks for the pingback! And I love this idea of the geode, and paying attention to those characteristics that enrich a story and world. I think Maggie Stiefvater is off to a great start with that in her Raven Cycle.

    • You’re welcome! Yeah, Maggie’s another author whose books I wish I could take credit for. Maybe I will! As if I could. I’m glad she regularly pops into my area so that I can get a signed copy of her books.

  5. A very cool comparison. I can’t think of any other series… Maybe Lord of the Rings?

    There’s just some element that makes the readers want to become a part of the world–and that’s success, I believe.

  6. Great advice! I’m experimenting with a graphic novel that’s a collection of interconnected stories, and I don’t know if I have a jewel, but 1) I’m having fun with characters that I like, 2) coming up with endless ideas for new episodes, and 3) getting great feedback and comments (such as trying to predict what’s going to happen next and hoping it will be one outcome and not another) when I post the panels on Instagram. At this point, I feel I’m in the learning stage of a new genre but I’m also amazed at the possibilities for expressing myself via multimedia and narrating this particular story.

  7. Another great metaphor for writing. I remember one of my professors telling me that Sylvia Plath always knew when she was writing poems that would become her most successful and most famous. I don’t know how you know, but I do think that there is part of me that knows when an idea for a story is something that I really will want to keep going with, versus ideas that seem good at the start then fizzle out.

    • I see what you mean, Alison. I’ve put stories down and picked others up. The last novel I finished was the fastest one I’ve ever written. I wrote the first three chapters in a few days. Others, I’ve labored to write three pages.

  8. I have no idea if any of the ms I’m working on will ever turn out to be a jewel or junk but I’m enjoying the journey until I eventually find out.
    I love that you enjoyed WOTH. It’s one of those Studio Ghibli movies that make me cry a little. 🙂
    And I have to hang my head in shame because I’m one of those people who have yet to read any Harry Potter. I tried reading the first book and didn’t like all the telling at the beginning. I have no doubt the writing got way better. I just need to give it another chance. 🙂

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