Houses, Camps, and Factions: Categories and Why We Like Them
Image via Flickr courtesy of Alex Schultz
I am a Ravenclaw (or Ravenpuff if you don’t mind the merging of Houses), Athena’s child, and probably Erudite/Amity. I own a Ravenclaw scarf and eagerly tell my friends that I am a member of that House. Magical groups are one of the most popular things in YA fiction. To classify as being part of a Hogwarts House, or Half-Blood Cabin, or post-apocalyptic faction; that’s exciting!
But why? Why do we enjoy it so much? Why are we, as readers, so intent on declaring a side?
I think it is because our brains like patterns and classifying things. But I also think it is because we are given such broad terms that define what the house/camp/factions stand for, that we can easily find ourselves in the characters’ perspectives. We can see each part of the groups having a little bit of us in them. We are all at least a little Slytherin and Gryffindor. People naturally have traits that fit in various categories. It helps us relate to characters, because they can see themselves that way as well.
But there are some pitfalls that some authors fall into in this undertaking. One faction often falls into the stereotypical “bad guy” role. Like the entire Slytherin House. They are all considered evil and horrible. Yes. There is a possibility that some of them have grown up with prejudices and whatnot. But people can learn and move beyond that. Make sure that you know your characters can move beyond what you set up for them.
That is where the pitfall is for categorizing characters. And it can be the biggest criticism for a series. Just because you put a character in a House or whatever, does not mean your character(s) emulate the worst possible option for that category. There will be characters that do. That is fine. But as a reader and a writer, you have to keep an open mind to interpretations. Characters grow and change during a series or story, while a stigma that shows up near the beginning will last a very long time. Beware locking characters away because they are the designated “evil” category.
With that warning in mind, it might seem easier to skip out on the categories if you have already started on them. Don’t. The effort is well worth it. And I think as readers, we enjoy looking to see where we would belong in the world that has been created. That is one of the things that makes Houses in particular so successful. We got to explore different common rooms and see what the characters were like that we thought we would fit in best with. So know that whatever you are giving your readers, they will find joy in knowing more.
Categories give you great opportunities for your characters to explore. This also helps readers to get a better foundation for the world and what the characters experience when they aren’t going off on adventures.
So explore and experiment with different kinds of categories. This could be by magical ability, or personality, or something different altogether. Give your reader an opportunity to connect with your characters and the world you have created for them. Be careful not to lock away some amazing characters, but you should give stigmas for your characters to break. Do what your story and characters need, but keep your mind open to giving them something they don’t expect.