Using a Sense of Wonder in your writing

Having a sense of wonder in your books is important no matter what genre you write and what age group you write for, but it’s especially important that you have it in spades when you are writing speculative fiction— fantasy, sci-fi, alternate reality, post-apoc, dystopian— because it’s one of the largest reasons that fans of speculative fiction read it.

In a lot of ways, speculative fiction lends itself to evoking a sense of wonder. It’s a world we’ve never been in before (or at least a version of the world that we’ve never been in), so everything’s new and fascinating. A sense of wonder comes strongly from the setting, as well as from the magic if it’s fantasy, from the government if it’s dystopian, from how things are different in post-apoc and alternate reality, and from the vastness of the universe and the possibilities of technology in sci-fi.

But the sense of wonder doesn’t have to just come from setting. In Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction the term sense of wonder is defined as follows:

SENSE OF WONDER n. a feeling of awakening or awe triggered by an expansion of one’s awareness of what is possible

Another definition: To be filled with admiration, amazement, or awe; marvel

So anything that brings about a sense of awe, amazement, or makes you more aware of what is possible will bring about that sense of wonder that a speculative novel needs so greatly.

Like with characters. We’ve all known that person who’s just slightly crazy and spontaneous enough that they’re fascinating to be around. Or the friend that’s brilliant, and listing to them speak can open your mind to seeing the world in a whole new light. Any character that introduces the reader to new possibilities, or in ways that bring about admiration or awe, introduces your reader to wonder. Your characters can introduce a sense of wonder every bit as strong as seeing the vastness of the universe.

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It doesn’t take the vastness of the universe to evoke a sense of wonder. It can come from the tiniest of things. From something as small as a bit of magic that helps a single blade of grass grow. From watching an insect community that flourishes even though it’s inside a space ship. From seeing a single cog fall and stop a massive piece of machinery from working. From noticing the shapes that ice forms on a metal wall when temperatures outside drop rapidly.

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When you use a variety of ways to introduce your reader to wonder— from the vast to the minuscule, from setting to characters— your story will be much more satisfying.

What's your favorite way to introduce wonder?


Elizabeth Seckman said...

Excellent point- finding the wonder in the tiny stuff as well the large.

Crystal Collier said...

My hubby and I were having a discussion like this last night. He said, "But if plotting takes the excitement (awe) out of writing for you, you really should just be a panster." Me, "Yeah, but I don't want to rewrite the book fifty time!"

*sigh* There has to be a happy medium somewhere, right?

Patrick Stahl said...

It's funny how I also get a sense of wonder simply from how well-written many speculative fiction novels are. That, I believe, is moreso the purpose of literary fiction, although I am not affected the same by the literary genre.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I've never written a fantasy novel before or a sci-fi one, but I like your description of wonder. It's definitely accurate, because authors of novels like the ones you described not only utilize their own imagination but also engage ours. It's almost like being a kid again, because kids believe that fantasies can become real; writers make us see that that idea isn't so far-fetched after all.