Musings on writing, lessons learned by an aspiring professional, book reviews, movie reviews, an occasional t.v. show review, and unashamed opinion.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Resonance in your writing

I attended a two day workshop with Dave Wolverton/Farland over the weekend, and was reminded of several tools I ought to be using in my writing.  He spoke at length about resonance, and how it's used in stories... how writers use what has come before--in their genres and beyond--in their crafting of a tale to emotionally connect with their audience.  There's a few ways to do this, which I thought worth mentioning.

First, a writer resonates with the real world in their fictional one.  For example, in Frank Herbert's Dune, Herbert spends a lot of time describing Arrakis when his characters first arrive on the planet.  Arrakis--a desert planet--resembles the Sahara Desert, which most readers are probably at least semi familiar with.  The Sahara is covered in sand dunes, so is Arrakis.  The air is dry, the winds are harsh, the sun is very hot.  You get the point.  Herbert grounds his fictional planet in familiarity.  This is resonance.  Then, after you can picture Arrakis in your mind, Herbert springs these giant, sand-dwelling worms on you, and you know you're in a fantastical place.

Second, writers resonate with previous stories.  The Lord of the Rings had to resonate with myths and legends.  (World War I as well, so it resonated on several levels.)  Modern fantasy novels (high fantasy, anyway) resonate with Lord of the Rings.  LotR had a rural protagonist, so the Wheel of Time starts with a rural protagonist.  LotR has a wizard guide, WoT has a wizard guide.  Books that I've read that resonate heavily with LotR, that I can list off the top of my head, are: The Wheel of Time, Mistborn, The Warded Man, Harry Potter, The Blade Itself, and so many more.  These books that have come after LotR not only resonate with it, but with each other.  The authors of these stories are obviously aware of the genre they write in.  

It's easy to confuse resonating with stealing.  When does a story idea become plagiarism?  This is the interesting thing about story telling.  In my opinion, Avatar is one of the worst offenders.  There isn't a single original idea in the film.  However, Avatar happens to be the highest-selling movie of all time.  Why is this?  Well... a healthy dose of advertising probably didn't hurt it.  More importantly, though, is the likelihood of it being the first version of tried-and-true tropes many viewers have seen.  I still think James Cameron was a bit heavy-handed with his "borrowing," and a lot of people are surprised when I tell them I hated the film, but he only did what every storyteller does while creating a widely-consumable piece of entertainment.  He resonated with what came before.

So I have been reminded that my stories need resonance.  How conscious should I be of this while writing?  Not so aware of it in my work that I make it as obvious as Avatar, but I can tell you that all the western movies I watch, and all the fantasy stories I've read, definitely influence Gunlord.  I'll just have to pretend I meant to do everything in it when it's published, when people tell me what stories it reminded them of.  Smile and nod, people.  Smile and nod.

An interesting tid-bit: David Farland thinks that George R.R. Martin is the best at resonance in the speculative field.  Food for thought.


  1. Sounds like you had a good time! I like to include easter eggs in my writing for resonance. But then I go back for a re-write and realize it's sticking out like a sore thumb. I'm looking forward to hearing more about how Martin uses resonance. I can't say I've noticed any with him, so either he's very good, or I'm really slow.

    Leaning towards slow myself...

  2. Glad you were able to go:) I now understand a little more why you don't like Avatar. I never thought of it that way.