Wonderful. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if readers used that adjective to describe your current novel? Or your every novel? I imagine so. What if you could be sure of provoking that feeling every time? Is that possible?
Let’s start by breaking down the experience of wonder. What does it feel like to undergo wonder? Dictionary definitions say that the feeling of wonder is excited by, a) what is strange, and, b) what is surprising. Wonder is puzzled interest, tinged with admiration.
I think that the dictionaries understate it. Wonder isn’t a mild feeling. It’s exuberant. When we feel wonder we are more than simply surprised, we are amazed. We are more than merely puzzled; we are intrigued, excited and delighted. It’s a feeling of childlike discovery. It’s a kind of awe.
What conditions provoke such strong feeling? We are overwhelmed by wonder when the impossible comes possible. When something we’ve never seen before appears. When something that we imagined could not happen actually does.
When the unreal becomes real we are astonished. Dumbfounded. We can’t believe it. But we can’t deny it either. We are experiencing something miraculous. That’s especially true when that miraculous occurrence feels good. Wonder has a quality of joy. It feels like a delightful gift.
Think about snow days. Second chances. Flashes of inspiration. Declarations of peace. Shoes that fit. Walking on the Moon. The theory of Relativity. Card tricks. Catches on the flying trapeze. Finding a twenty. All your kids napping at the same time. Home runs in the bottom of the ninth. Flowers blooming in the rubble. Answered prayers.
All of those things are surprising, but also things that we desire. Things we believed that we’d never see. Things that we feared would never happen. Things that felt impossible…but they are possible, they do happen, and we’ve seen them with our own eyes.
Thus, to excite wonder with our stories we can start with two principles. First, cause readers to believe that something could not possibly happen. Second, make that impossible something a something that is desired.
Wonder also provokes the question how can that be? Well, “it” can. You have made it so. You just haven’t told your readers—yet—why their beliefs were wrong. So, here is the third principle of exciting wonder: There’s a reason for the impossible to happen, but not one that’s obvious.
Okay, let’s turn all that into steps that get the results on your pages:
- What would amaze the people in your story? What would amaze you? Who can change completely? What occurrence would reverse our expectations? What simply cannot happen? What is a joy too great to hope for? In the world of your story, what would be a miracle?
- Demonstrate that the particular miracle you have in mind doesn’t happen here. Show that it’s the reverse that happens, and that is the norm.
- Show that your protagonist hopes for something he or she cannot have. Let your protagonist hope for something less than you are going to give.
- Bring about what is wonderful…then reveal how and why it came about.
- Choose a scene. What would be a big surprise here? As you open that scene, send your POV character into it expecting anything other than that surprise.
What’s strange to readers is not strange to you. You planned it. What’s surprising to them is no surprise to you. You simply thought of it first.
You also discerned what we hope for, and projected that hope into your characters. When you then fulfilled that hope, or exceed it, it feels to readers miraculous…but actually it’s a miracle that you engineered. Because of that your story is full of wonder. Wonder. Full.
BTW, wondrous surprises can also be bad. Instead of being miracles what we desire, they can be horrors beyond anything we have feared. The process of engineering a bad surprise is essentially the inverse. The intention and the outcome for readers is the reverse. Instead of feeling wonder, readers feel despair.
But that’s another post.
What wonder have you come up with for your WIP? How is it strange? How is it surprising? Why do we desire it? What allows it to happen?
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