What Is Resonance & How Does It Sell a Story?

Resonance is a great way to sell a story

There’s a feeling I get when I find the right stories in the slushpile – it’s hard to explain – but it’s an intuitive knowing that this is a well-told story.

You should know I’m an emotional reader. I’m not the literary critic who will stay up all night examining the themes in your story. What does the seagull represent? Hmmm…..

No. I’m the type of reader who can be enchanted. I want to believe in the worlds you’re creating. I’m a closet romantic. A secret dreamer beneath my sarcasm and sailor’s vocabulary.

But I also believe in monsters. I also believe the worst monsters are sometimes the ones that live in the same house, wear the skins of familiar faces, and do unspeakable things we’ll never be able to face except through the lens of fiction.

Neil Gaiman (sigh…..Neil……sorry.) spends a lot of creative energy rethinking classic fairy tales and ancient archetypes into his fiction. He’s very subtle at times, but you feel the call of the troll beneath the bridge, the fallen star, the epic quest, the world hidden just out of sight. I’ve always loved his work, especially his short stories, for this very reason.

Neil Gaiman is the King of Resonance.

And yes, if that were a country, I’d move there (Hi, Neil. I’ll be right there.).

asian bell at temple

So what exactly IS resonance?

Have you ever been near one of those giant church bells when it’s ringing? I’m talking about the BIG ones. The ones so large it takes a grown man to ring it? If you have, you’re nodding along and know where I’m going.

You could feel the vibrations all the way to your bones. The pealing shakes you, and for that moment, you are in tune with this massive, moving, non-living thing. It’s a rather out-of-control feeling because even if you wanted to stop vibrating at the same frequency as that monstrous bell, I’m not sure you could.

That is resonance.

Resonance is powerful. It’s immediate and primal and out-of-our-conscious control. Jung and Freud tried to explain resonance and its hold on the human psyche (though in other terms). But the bottom line is that certain experiences strike us to our core and shake us just like that bell. We are moved whether we intend to be or not.

If you can harness the power of resonance and use it in your stories, you will sell like mad.

Just look at Neil.

When you write a story about a woman living on a spaceship and fighting a murderous alien, that’s a context no one on Earth has ever been through (at least, not to my knowledge). And without context, it might be hard to make the reader relate to what this woman is going through. Because aliens aren’t real and there’s no reason to be scared, right? Are you following me here?

But…

What if we overlay the story of a woman fighting a murderous alien in space with themes that resonate with a multitude of readers? Like a mother-child parallel between the woman and the alien, the woman’s struggle with her femininity in a male dominated environment, and the fear of dying alone? In space, no one can hear you scream…?

Well then we’d have Alien, and it would be a major blockbuster that appealed to both men and women, young and old and went on to spawn an entire series of sequels.

Ellen Ripley’s character in Alien resonates on some level with (I’m going out on a limb here) every fan of that movie. Who isn’t afraid of dying alone? That’s an enormous resonance bell. If you can kick that one, readers will fall all over themselves telling you how much they relate to your story.

Another example:

Let’s go back to Neil Gaiman (le sigh…) and one of my all-time favorite books, Coraline.

Coraline is technically a children’s book. Do I strike you as someone who’d be so into children’s literature that I would name one as my favorite?

Yeah. Not so much.

So what is it about Coraline that resonates with me?

Coraline is full of curiosity, but it gets her into trouble again and again. She is brave but frightened, longing for her parents but fearful of rejection, looking for a better world but missing the old. All in all, it is a battle for Coraline’s soul. The voice is that of an adult, but it’s told from Coraline’s point of view–an easy point to miss. This is how I, as an adult, can see myself in Coraline. And in Coraline, there is a darkness that children feel but adults understand. It’s on this precipice that I believe the success of Coraline lies.

Evil resonates. Fear of the unknown lives in all of us.

Take also the Other Mother and compare her to the mothers in fairy tales. Snow White’s Evil Queen. Rapunzel’s Witch. Hansel and Gretel’s stepmother. See where I’m going with this? There is an inherent power, either for good or evil in motherhood, and all of us have Mommy Issues of some size, shape, or form.

Motherhood resonates.

Saving yourself by your wit resonates.

Active characters fighting through conflict resonates.

See where I’m going with this? The list goes on and on.

HOMEWORK:

Think about your favorite book or movie. In the forum, tell me what it is about that story that resonates with you.In the forum, tell me what it is about that story that resonates with you.

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