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This page is analytical. You might find it more relevant and easier to digest once you've started writing and feel like you have a problem to solve.

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Below are both snippets highlighted so you see what is similar and what is different about them, and maybe find the secret to how Watership Down works better.

We've written some notes to help you, but you should do this comparison yourself; if you just read the notes you'll get lost. So:

  1. Read each snippet.
  2. Compare the highlighting and see what is similar and what is different.
  3. Notice any tonal qualities that stand out to you.
  4. Then read our notes to get a different point of view.

Tip: If you are lucky enough to have a big monitor, you might find it helpful to open two copies of this page in separate tabs so you can look at them side by side.

First, here's Harry Potter snippet with emotion-behaviour loop components highlighted:

Harry slumped back against his pillows as Dumbledore disappeared. Hermione, Ron and Mrs Weasley were all looking at him. None of them spoke for a very long time.

"You’ve got to take the rest of your potion, Harry," Mrs Weasley said at last. Her hand nudged the sack of gold on his bedside cabinet as she reached for the bottle and the goblet. "You have a good long sleep. Try and think about something else for a while ... think about what you’re going to buy with your winnings!"

"I don’t want that gold," said Harry in an expressionless voice. "You have it. Anyone can have it. I shouldn’t have won it. It should’ve been Cedric’s."

The thing against which he had been fighting on and off ever since he had come out of the maze was threatening to overpower him. He could feel a burning, prickling feeling in the inner corners of his eyes. He blinked and stared up at the ceiling.

"It wasn’t your fault, Harry," Mrs Weasley whispered.

"I told him to take the Cup with me," said Harry.

Now the burning feeling was in his throat, too. He wished Ron would look away.

Mrs Weasley set the potion down on the bedside cabinet, bent down, and put her arms around Harry. He had no memory of ever being hugged like this, as though by a mother. The full weight of everything he had seen that night seemed to fall in upon him as Mrs Weasley held him to her. His mother’s face, his father’s voice, the sight of Cedric, dead on the ground, all started spinning in his head until he could hardly bear it, until he was screwing up his face against the howl of misery fighting to get out of him.

There was a loud slamming noise, and Mrs Weasley and Harry broke apart. Hermione was standing by the window. She was holding something tight in her hand.

"Sorry," she whispered.

"Your potion, Harry," said Mrs Weasley quickly, wiping her eyes on the back of her hand.

Harry drank it in one. The effect was instantaneous. Heavy, irresistible waves of dreamless sleep broke over him, he fell back onto his pillows, and thought no more.

Let's make a note of what we can see in the structure:

  1. Lots of feelings: five blocks, some quite long.
  2. Thoughts clustered in the middle, which combine with the feelings to create one big chunk of emotional description.
  3. Only a couple of emotion labels.
  4. 'Expressionless': main character is low-affect, repressing emotion.

Also we can see there are five triggers:

  1. "Take the rest of your potion"
  2. "It wasn't your fault"
  3. The hug
  4. "Your potion"
  5. The effect

And what about the other tonal, rhythmic or compositional features?

  • While the overall mood is comforting, inside Harry is seething.
  • Lots of intense words to describe Harry's emotions: slumped, fighting, threatening, overpower, burning, prickling, spinning, screwing up,  howl of misery, slamming, irresistable.
  • Lots of dialogue.

Now let's look at the Watership Down snippet:

Hazel raised his head and said, "Do you want to talk to me?"

"Yes, that's what I've come for," replied the other. "You know me, don't you?"

"Yes, of course," said Hazel, hoping he would be able to remember his name in a moment. Then he saw that in the darkness of the burrow the stranger's ears were shining with a faint silver light. "Yes, my lord," he said. "Yes, I know you."

"You've been feeling tired," said the stranger, "but I can do something about that. I've come to ask whether you'd care to join my Owsla. We shall be glad to have you and you'll enjoy it. If you're ready, we might go along now."

They went out past the young sentry, who paid the visitor no attention. The sun was shining and in spite of the cold there were a few bucks and does at silflay, keeping out of the wind as they nibbled the shoots of spring grass. It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body anymore, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses.

"You needn't worry about them," said his companion. "They'll be all right—and thousands like them. If you'll come along, I'll show you what I mean."

He reached the top of the bank in a single, powerful leap. Hazel followed; and together they slipped away, running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom.

  • Only a couple of feelings.
  • Three thoughts, one of which is arguably behaviour (seeing the stranger's faint halo).
  • Only a couple of emotional labels.
  • Triggers, emotions, and behaviour are quite blended: a line of this, a line of that.

There are four triggers:

  • "You know me, don't you?"
  • "I've come to ask whether... we might go along now."
  • The view of rabbits at silflay
  • The stranger leading the way up the bank

What about other tonal, rhythmic or compositional features?

  • It's gentle and understated. Many words are soft: hoping, faint silver, feeling tired, glad, enjoy, might, seemed, slipped, easily, bloom
  • The secondary character is also gentle: everything they say is a suggestion or invitation, no commands.
  • Dialogue and description are fairly evenly mixed.

What stands out in comparison?

There are similarities between the passages:

  • Both use a mix of description and dialogue.
  • Both use all elements of the emotion-behaviour loop.
  • Neither rely on emotional labels; both prefer to use feelings, thoughts, behaviour, and mood to create their impact.

But there are some noticeable differences:

  • Harry Potter has more "chunks" of one type of description, especially if you group thoughts and feelings under 'emotion'; Watership Down is more fine-grained.
  • HP describes a lot of feelings; WD only a few.
  • HP uses strong emotional description; WD is softer throughout.
  • Mrs Weasley is more dominant, commanding; the rabbit-stranger is gentler and more inviting.

If you were to sum all that up, you might say that the Harry Potter snippet strains forward on the emotions, whereas the Watership Down snippet eases back.

That sounds like a simple distinction, but you can see there are lots of elements that combine to make that work.

On the next page we'll look at a worked example, and then you'll write your own.

You can come back to this page at any time to look for ideas.