So… Not the beat this J. K. Rowling thing to death, but…
You have to ask yourself: if you were going to write a story like Harry Potter, how would you do it?
First you have to come up with an idea. A boy is a wizard; let’s go have fun in the magic world.
Then you get to create the pre-story of how did the boy become a wizard? Or was he always one because that’s just a line of the human race and he just didn’t know. (Making him not know is more interesting.)
Giving him a mean uncle is more interesting…
But what you do, at least what I would think you would do, is write your outline or write your basic story – and then let it rest.
And while it’s resting, you are thinking about how you can add layers. How you can throw more rocks at your characters. So let’s make him an orphan. That creates sympathy. Make him Cinderella, with a wicked uncle instead of wicked stepsisters, and make him do all the work. Lock them away like they did Cinderella – but put him… under the stairs. That’s cruel and humiliating = more potential sympathy. (BTW, my character who was punished by being locked under the stairs in The Water Castle, I thought of that before I read or saw any Harry Potter stuff. Just sayin’. I think Allison will back me up on that.)
Let him get picked on and teased and bullied at school – by his cousin/Cinderella’s stepsisters.
That part’s fine.
Another layer… is creating a different vocabulary.
Tolkien did that with Lord Of The Rings, and before that Edgar Rice Burroughs did it for Tarzan (Burroughs made up an entire ape language and even had an english-to-ape dictionary in the back of the book). The writers of the Star Trek created Klingon language.
Another layer would be to have names for the different types of characters in this world. Muggles. Stuff like that. Tolkien did that, too.
As of the writing of this post, around mid-November 2016, I had yet to read an interview by J. K. Rowling, but I intend to do a lot of reading of them when I am done reading her book series. And watching her movies.
And it won’t surprise me to see what her influences were, if she knows them. Or if she mentions them. (12/21/2016 Update: Here’s a Wiki link that addresses her acknowledged influences; not sure it’s vailidity but it’s a start. Here’s one by EW.)
Personally, I’m a big believer in not letting the audience know the magic trick.
Or as Hemingway said, “It’s none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way.” So I might tell them I had influences other than what I did, but…
odds are even if I tell people what to do, they can’t do it – so where is the harm?
That’s not meant to sound arrogant. It’s hard work, and most people aren’t up to the task. With some, maybe they can do it, but they won’t. They know better. Or they believe differently.
I’ve just told you a trick. (Please tell me a trick from time to time.)
Anyway, let your story rest while you think about it, that’s what gives you the ability to add layers. If you can think of those layers while you are writing it, so much the better. I have no insight into what Rowling did, I’m just providing a compass for you if you were trying to do something along those lines.
And it doesn’t have to be a wizard boy and a magical world. It could be a horror story. It could be a romance. Adding layers is what makes every story interesting. Layers and hidden meanings.
Creating a new world and adding those layers and it is more challenging, but I think it’s the same process. And I’ve done it in everything I’ve ever written, so that’s how I do it!