Wednesday, March 13, 2013

On Butterbeer

by Suzanne Y. Cordatos

Quick--Name something that exists solely because a writer dreamed it up. One yummy example is Harry Potter’s favorite drink, butterbeer. On tap and wildly popular in Florida, a butterbeer can foam your lips courtesy of a JK Rowling-approved recipe. After reading a scene in the books or visiting Hogsmeade in the movies with Harry and friends, you can’t help but crave a butterbeer mustache of your own.

Does your writing contain powerful objects? Do you create symbols? Do you simply hand your characters a cool prop when convenient? People intuitively know a good thing when they read about one. Make your object important and they’ll remember it.

Consider butterbeer. A frothy, slightly fizzy, kid-friendly butterscotch drink, butterbeer is on hand to celebrate a Quidditch win or relax on a day off school. Is it a coincidence that Harry's friends often smuggle the stuff into their cozy common room? Is it an accident that the worst wintry weather coincides with pub trips? In contrast to the cold outside, the friends holding the mugs take on the warmth and comforting qualities of the drink. Who doesn't need friends, warmth and comfort? I'd guess J.K. Rowling designed butterbeer moments with great intention. 

The orphan Harry was friendless as can be before arriving at the wizard school. It is friendship—love—that ultimately gives Harry the strength he needs to defeat the villain Voldemort. Friendship is a powerful theme in the Harry Potter books, and butterbeer is a symbol of that theme. No wonder fans make the trek to Orlando to taste it!

Ordinary objects can hold great significance. A photo of a person or place your character hopes to see again. An apron once worn by a treasured grandma who knew how to cook her way into a family’s heart. The smell of a flower or a few notes of a melody remind your character of a person, place or aching need.

Create a symbol:
            Is it necessary to the scene? To the overall story?
            Are your scenes cluttered with objects? Can fewer be given a spotlight?
            Does the object represent anything else going on? Does it symbolize a theme?
            Fantastical or ordinary, is your symbol grounded in humanity? 

Characters come alive when they need to do things such as eat, drink, love, sleep, clean, communicate, travel and defend rights just like us. Your characters will leap off the written page and resonate with readers.            


  1. Great article. I didn't know all that about butterbeer.In my current wip I haven't invented anything but use a butterfly bracelet that is important to the story.

  2. Hi Beverly, I love the butterfly bracelet! What genre story is it? In my current wip the main character loves red-hot atomic fireballs. For a bullied character, the fireballs make him feel strong, like he can "take the heat". Thanks for your comment!

  3. Once again, you've caused me to think about things in a new way. Great article!

  4. Thank you for another great blog post. Your comments about butterbeer made me feel all warm and fuzzy, AND it's got me thinking about what powerful objects I can add to my own stories.

  5. Great post! Another idea to be sure to incorporate into my WIP. I think it's a brilliant tool to help identify with a character or to create a bonding element for many character. Love this!
    Kristi Rhodes

  6. I love the supportive circle of writers who always challenge me to make it real. When you think about how much significance we tend to place on objects in our lives, it makes sense to let our characters have a few favorites!

  7. Love the insight, Suzanne. I just started running through my WIP in my mind to see if I have attached some special object to the story. Might have to go re-read the entire novel tonight...and then create something!

  8. Great post, Suzanne. I agree with Debbie, you created a warm and fuzzy feeling just talking about how and when the characters used Butterbeer. Great example of imagery and helpful writing advice.

  9. Thanks, everybody, for passing the warm fuzzies around!

    Just thought to add a caution. Stereotypes shouldn't be confused with symbols. For example, rain on a funeral to create a gloomy mood might be a stereotype to avoid. However, if the weather in a fictional world plays an important role in the story, like maybe it mirrors the mood of the main character, the rain on a funeral might be a fine symbol. (Hey, that might be a fun story idea--I call it!)