Imagine the look of amazement on Harry Potter’s face when he first saw the Diagon Alley and the bustle of the Wizarding world. Schvrmmmm! FVISH! That’s the sound of a Jedi lightsaber turning on. Or VWORP VWORP VWORP, the unmistakable sound Doctor Who’s Tardis makes when the blue police box manifests.
Wonder is when you see something new, something amazing or strange, or something so cool it makes you say wow. It can be whimsical like Alice in the Wonderland, or even terrible, like the Queen of Hearts.
Fantasy and science fiction are genres rife with wonder, and that is a big reason why I’m reading them. I want to be whisked away from the mundane, every day life. I want to know I’m not in Kansas anymore.
When the character feels wonder, the reader feels it too. As writers we should expand those moments, and spend a little extra time describing them.
To feel wonder, we need to first now what is the normal in the world. You can set up the wonder by foreshadowing it by subtle hints or mentiones, and then finally showcasing the real thing in it’s glory.
Maybe your character is a worldly traveler who has seen it all already, or even a bit jaded and cynical. Surely there is still something in the world that amazes them. What is it?
Someone is always experiencing it the first time even if it’s not your main character. Their wide eyed wonder can remind your character of their first time too. And just because you’re used to something, doesn’t mean it stops being wonderful.
Harry Potter books are full of wondrous items and events, and Harry is as new to the Wizarding world as the reader so it makes perfect sense that Ron and Hermione explain things to him (and the reader).
So how do you bring the wonder to the pages of your story?
Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo: 10 Tips to Write Wonder
1) Include wondrous things and places to your story: new things, unique things, beautiful things. Think about things that you find wondrous. Do natural phenomenons like waterfalls or aurora borealis, or cool animals like elephants or dinosaurs excite you? What kind of art leaves you breathless? Now think about your characters, and what they might find breath taking.
2) Remember your favourite childhood stories. Which ones did you want to hear over and over again? Why? What things were you obsessed about as a kid? Make lists or draw a mind map. And when you next time need something wondrous in your story, draw from this material.
3) What was the last thing that surprised or amazed you? How could you include that into a story?
4) Let your characters to pause for a moment and experience something with each/most of the five senses. What would your character notice? What would make them feel a sense of wonder?
5) What kind of places are your key scenes set to? How is that place memorable and unique? Are there recurring locations? Are they cool enough?
6) Foreshadow events. When you mention a far away land, the neighbouring family, a famous sword or person, an ancient curse or a family secret, leave it at that for a moment. Allow your reader to get curious, to wonder what that thing is like and how it relates to the story. The payoff will be all the sweeter when the thing pops up again.
7) For every secret you reveal about your characters or your setting, include two new unrevealed secrets. This makes it seem like there’s always something more to see. Your worlds should be like onions, with always more layers to uncover. And maybe even you, the writer don’t know yet what those secrets mean… and that’s okay.
8) Be sparing with your big wow moments, or you will numb your reader. Try to avoid over-explaining (info dumps) and over-describing. Leave space for your reader’s imagination. What are some of the current big moments of wonder in your story? Could some scenes use a little bit more wonder?
9) Use brief but evocative descriptions. For example J.D. Robb (aka Nora Roberts) brings a touch of wonder to her murder mysteries when she describes her homicide cop Eve Dallas having “whiskey eyes”. Eve’s Irish husband has “a poet’s face” or the beauty of a fallen angel. Thesauruses are your friends for finding just the right words in the editing phase.
10) Read some poems, or listen to some of your favourite song lyrics. How did they evoke feelings in just few well chosen words?
And that was ten. *bows with a flourish* Thank you for reading.
Drop a comment below, and share your favourite wondrous moments from books and movies. If you have more tips to add, or stories of how you’ve created wonder in your stories, I’d love to hear it.