Everyone loves a good Top 10 list–and readers are no different! In this list, I tallied J.K. Rowling’s use of every word in every book. Then I sorted by frequency to get our Top 10. Here’s the list again:
- ________ (51,919)
- and (27,667)
- to (26,910)
- of (21,902)
- a (21,023)
- he (20,465)
- harry (16,758)
- was (15,644)
- said (14,491)
- his (14,290)
Ready for #1? The most frequently used word in all of Harry Potter is… the.
OK, so why does that matter? It actually does. When an author chooses to use a definite article like “the,” they are leaving readers with less room to imagine the story on their own terms. In contrast, when authors choose an indefinite article like “a/an,” they are permitting readers to picture more of what might be going on. (Even though “an” didn’t make the top of the list, adding its frequency to “a” still only comes up to about 28,000 uses. Far short of “the”.)
By focusing discussion on the author’s use of articles, readers can ask questions about the story they might otherwise ignore. For instance, pick a particularly enjoyable or powerful scene in one of the books. Reread it to see how often the author uses definite versus indefinite articles. Doing so will deepen the conversation about author’s craft instantly. How exactly does Rowling create such joy or power in the scene? Does the author leave room for the reader to picture things? Or does the author take full control of the descriptions?
Go on. Grab a book. Try it for yourself. I’m counting on you. 😉 -TLL