Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Resonance -- writing tip

Question: Hi, Arline. Thanks for the "foreshadowing" tip.  You were right about that and my writers' group experience has been much improved, except for one member (a librarian) who says, "It just doesn't resonate for me." Resonate? Am I pounding a drum, here?

Answer:  As with sub-text in dialogue, how a piece of writing resonates is a personal thing for the reader. It often depends on the experiences the reader brings to the work. If a writer describes a church, every reader will imagine a different one, often one they have known and attended. But each reader brings his own imagination into play to create the images of the described church.This is why reading is so much more fun that watching a film. Watching is passive. Reading is participatory.

Unlike images, "resonance" is the feeling readers brings to the words you give them, and the insights they  glean from it. Usually, resonance comes from the reader's reaction to the words, not from anything the writer plans to build in. Each reader will perceive it in a different way.

Take a look at the following:

Good writing can always be read at two levels and sometimes at more than than. Take the old Robert Frost poem for instance:

    “...The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
          but I have promises to keep,
              and miles to go before I sleep.”

On the surface it’s about someone who stopped to admire the scenery and then went on about his business. But when we take a second look, it says a lot about how we often deny ourselves the things we long for and enjoy in order to keep promises to others, or because we have duties to fulfill. This is an age-old problem for any writer.

For many years I wanted to write, but I didn’t start until my children were almost grown, because I would have been torn between my need to write and my need to mother. I think that’s what Frost was saying, too.

Yet different readers would react differently. A veteran would think one thing; an escaped felon, another; the lawman who tracked the felon would find a different way to experience the words.

You might want to ask in your group: "What does it say, finally?" to see if their perceptions match what you want them to understand from what you wrote.

If it is only the ONE person who feels your work doesn't "resonate," it's possible that she just isn't getting your message and the other participants are. I wouldn't worry too much unless they all agree.