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I realize I am late to the party.
I haven’t finished the series yet. I’m getting there. While it would make me a pariah in some circles to admit this as an aspiring writer, my reading time precipitously dropped off after I no longer had to make a daily commute by CTA. It took me around 4 months to finish Goblet of Fire, although, to be honest, I feel it was one of the weaker stories that relied more on fantastic stuff existing rather than fantastic stuff happening.
Now for the admission that will make me a pariah among everyone else that’s read the book: It was just ok.
Let me qualify that. I liked it. I found it to be enjoyable, and I appreciate the depth in which certain characters and ideas were explored. In 900 pages, you’d hope there was some depth, anyway. But on the whole, the story was much better organized in the movie. I felt like there were multiple scenes in the book that were not just wholly unnecessary, but repeats of earlier scenes. Some of these were truncated to a single line in the movie.
This isn’t meant to be a book-vs-movie debate, but I feel like it is a salient point: the movie has a more coherent story. From purely a storycraft angle, Rowling missed the mark on this one. Is this elegant proof that when you’re popular enough, you can get away with anything? Not necessarily.
Do most readers notice “proper structure?” No. Do most readers care about unnecessary scenes if they’re still fun? No. But there are readers (and writers, and everyone else in the publishing food chain) who do notice, and who do care. So when someone gets sanctimonious about benchmarks for good or even just competent writing it is grating to see glaring examples where those rules are ignored. And I know plenty of people who felt this was the best in the series in spite of its flaws.
In short: readers are a lot more patient and tolerant than publishers give them credit for. Stories don’t have to be perfectly structured. And before anyone piles on about how she was already established and had more leeway as a result: Feh. I don’t care. Having an established fanbase guarantees sales, but having a bad novel in the middle of a series can keep readers from remaining fans. On some level, the story is still compelling and appealing. That’s where the leeway comes from.