Author Topic: Wonder - is it just for Fantasy and Sci-fi?  (Read 918 times)

Denise

Wonder - is it just for Fantasy and Sci-fi?
« on: December 09, 2018, 12:33:10 AM »
Hey, guys, I'm always reading and trying to figure out why I like or dislike something.

One aspect that is rarely mentioned is the feeling of wonder, and I think it helps books entertain, and it might be an important element in genre fiction. By wonder, I mean the feeling of stepping in a completely different world that feels real and solid enough that you could almost imagine. Not only a different world, but one that incites awe and imagination.

The other day I read a YA novel, and the first chapter had 0 plot, a little character development (but it was a side character), and no suspense, and yet it was interesting. What did it have? Wonder. It was describing this alternate reality in an urban fantasy setting. It was interesting. I'm reading Harry Potter for my son. Book 4 gets to the Goblet of Fire only at 20%. Before that, there's some intrigue, some set up, and wonder, wonder, wonder. It gets boring, though, I don't what the editor was doing when they allowed a Quidditch world cup match described blow by blow. My son made me skip it. Anyways, for those who've read it, when it describes the camp grounds, the teams, the mascots, it's not advancing the plot, it's not really developing character, and it's not creating suspense. It's just wonder.

You could call it world building I guess, but I don't think it's just about building a world, but the feeling that it creates. Maybe I'm talking about world building, but it's not just having solid details about this world, but a sense of wow, I guess. If it were descriptions of outfits, descriptions of scenery, I would skip. I'm one of those people who skips descriptions. Descriptions can be world building. Perhaps descriptions with a feeling of wonder are wonder. I'm not sure. And I think it's not just children's and YA, although, yes, children's lit touch a lot on wonder. My favorite sci-fi author is still Asimov, and hell yeah, there's a great sense of wonder about the universes of the books, and the social theories often involved in the stories and novels. It's just something that perhaps stimulates thought and imagination.

Anyway, back to my point. I think it's mainly fantasy and sci-fi that have that, but I can see it in other genres as well. I don't read them so my examples are going to be poor. The bestseller Da Vinci Code creates a sense of wonder with its conspiracy theories. I think the thriller The Firm (sorry, I only watched the movie) has a sense of wonder (with fear, more like dread, maybe, but it has it). Horror books have dread (let's think of it as negative wonder).

So my theory is that this feeling of wonder is part of what makes people love to read books. And it's better than movies, because it's immersive, right? You can engage all the senses.

My question though, is for romance, cozy mystery, and perhaps action/thrillers with straight-up running away from bad guys.

I don't read romance. I guess if it creates a separate universe it could have a feeling of wonder. I can see how it might play out in a billionaire romance, for example, when the protagonist experiences a different universe for the first time.

I've read Jane Austen. I love her writing, but I don't think it has any wonder. For us, now, thinking about those times, maybe, but at the time it was more like a realistic depiction of small town life, with the unrealistic happy endings, sure, but focused on realism. Northanger Abbey, her first novel, is a parody, and I think she makes fun of the protagonist's sense of wonder, cause it all falls flat. In fact, I think the lack of wonder is a quality that literary fiction has, and why Jane Austen's writing is sometimes on the brink, even though it's romance.

I've also read Agatha Christie. Not sure that there's wonder there. There are solid characters, and like Austen, a sense of small town society, so there is solid, realistic world building, but I don't think there's much wonder. So perhaps in her case the suspense and the characters are enough.

Anyways, I would like some opinions. Do you agree that wonder is important for genre books? Is it only present/important in speculative fiction, though? Cause we have it in sci-fi, horror, fantasy, etc.

Do romances have that feeling of wonder or do they pull it off with something else?

What about thrillers and mysteries?

Or is is it that all books should incite a feeling of being immersed in a different universe, (even if it's similar to our own), and what I'm describing as wonder is the immersive experience which can happen in any genre?

Or maybe I'm rambling like a lunatic. I'd love to hear other people's opinions on the topic.
 
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Re: Wonder - is it just for Fantasy and Sci-fi?
« Reply #1 on: December 09, 2018, 02:43:45 AM »
That's an interesting question. I read/write science fiction so I expect a sense of wonder as part of the experience. I think you're right about the billionaire romances, because they throw the reader into a fantasy of a world that most of us will never see. So maybe that's the hook - how to create a fantasy of a cool world. The James Bond series did that by showing a fantasy of spies and ultra-villains who had cool tech and great style. Men in Black did the same thing.

Marie Lu's Warcross does a brilliant job of combining an interesting futuristic world with the billionaire romance trope. She has a foot firmly planted in both the romance and sci-fi readership, thereby creating a bridge between both. As a sci-fi writer, I think that's a smart move to tap into that huge well of romance readers.

Cop, medical, legal and other dramas on TV are doing the same thing - depicting a fantasy of a part of the world most people never see. I suppose the worlds of garbage collection engineers, lawn maintenance stylists, and ditch excavation sculptors could also be made equally interesting with enough imagination!
 
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Writer

Re: Wonder - is it just for Fantasy and Sci-fi?
« Reply #2 on: December 09, 2018, 04:50:35 AM »
A sense of wonder just means experiencing something impressively different from what we're familiar with, right? So if I'm reading something set in a far away or unusual time or location, or if the characters have unique abilities, I might feel that. The more ordinary or familiar the setting is, the less likely that I'm looking for wonder as an important element, but it can still exist if something unfamiliar appears. Doesn't have to be magical, just wildly out of the ordinary.
 
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sandree

Re: Wonder - is it just for Fantasy and Sci-fi?
« Reply #3 on: December 09, 2018, 06:10:33 AM »
Hmm, Iím probably a reader who looks for wonder and if a book doesnít have it, it doesnít capture me. I would absolutely not pick up a book that is set in a contemporary world and about contemporary problems - divorce, cheating, cancer, greed, crime. I was an English major and most of what we read was depressing stories about dysfunctional people.

I want my reading to provide an escape from the real world. I do like books set in Asia and other exotic locales - probably because those cultures are so unfamiliar that it does invoke wonder. I love magical realism. Thatís another genre to add to your list. My husband canít understand why I watch some of the Real Housewives (not all - gotta draw the line somewhere) :icon_rofl: Thatís probably the billionaire romance type of appeal.

Iím sure there is another large population who feels the opposite and fuels all the other types of stories.
 
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Denise

Re: Wonder - is it just for Fantasy and Sci-fi?
« Reply #4 on: December 09, 2018, 12:22:59 PM »
Ooooh, awesome ideas! It's neat to think about that. My first post is horrendous with typos!

I think you're right about the billionaire romances, because they throw the reader into a fantasy of a world that most of us will never see. So maybe that's the hook - how to create a fantasy of a cool world. The James Bond series did that by showing a fantasy of spies and ultra-villains who had cool tech and great style. Men in Black did the same thing.

Cop, medical, legal and other dramas on TV are doing the same thing - depicting a fantasy of a part of the world most people never see. I suppose the worlds of garbage collection engineers, lawn maintenance stylists, and ditch excavation sculptors could also be made equally interesting with enough imagination!

True, I completely agree that James Bond creates a sense of wonder. I never read the books but I enjoyed the movies. I loved the crazy gadgets and impossible feats! I also agree that cop dramas, etc, could create a sense of wonder just because you can be immersed in this different reality.

A sense of wonder just means experiencing something impressively different from what we're familiar with, right? So if I'm reading something set in a far away or unusual time or location, or if the characters have unique abilities, I might feel that.

Maybe that's it: something that's not familiar.

Hmm, Iím probably a reader who looks for wonder and if a book doesnít have it, it doesnít capture me. I would absolutely not pick up a book that is set in a contemporary world and about contemporary problems - divorce, cheating, cancer, greed, crime. I was an English major and most of what we read was depressing stories about dysfunctional people.


Lol to the English Major readings. I have a BA and an MA. I didn't take a single class on contemporary fiction, though, for the reason you described. I took lots of classes on medieval lit. I guess I was like: yay, dragons! I can read stuff with dragons, and monsters, and epic fights? Sign me in! Yeah, there's learning Middle English and some Old English, but it's better than suffering with boring people with boring problems.  :icon_mrgreen: 

But it's true that a lot of literary fiction tends to avoid wonder.
 

CoraBuhlert

Re: Wonder - is it just for Fantasy and Sci-fi?
« Reply #5 on: December 09, 2018, 12:44:40 PM »
Genres other than SFF can and do have a sense of wonder.

For crime, mystery and thrillers, the setting is often important. The popularity of the so-called Scandinavian noir in both literature and film/TV is at least partly based on setting and the films/TV shows actually have a lot of sweeping landscape shots. The popularity of regional crime fiction like the Longmire books (forgot the name of the author), James Lee Burke's Robicheaux books, Tony Hillerman's and Dick Francis' books is also at least partly due to the settings. Ditto for Tom Clancy type thrillers. Most of us may never have been aboard a submarine (I have and I'm not a fan), but Clancy puts us there. A lot of crime novels and thrillers also give us glimpses into the unfamiliar world of law enforcement, spy agencies, drug rings, the mafia, etc...

The James Bond films and books get a lot of mileage out of their exotic settings and the glimpse they offer at jet set lifestyles in the 1950s and 1960s. This is even more notable in the books, where whole chapters are extended travelogues and we get detailed descriptions of what the characters are eating, drinking, wearing, driving, shooting, etc... I once read an essay where someone actually analysed all the brandnames mentioned in the James Bond novels (many of which no longer mean anything to us) and found out that those were not actually the brands the upper class of the 1950s/60s used, but the brands that middle class people who wanted to be upper class bought. This shows that either Bond or Ian Feming himself were pretending to be something they're not.

As for cozy mysteries, a large part of the appeal are the sweet small towns with their quirky inhabitants where those books are set. Even if there is no witch involved, there is a certain sense of wonder. Coincidentally, the combination of idyllic small towns and quirky residents is also why so many people watch Midsomer Murders.

The same applies to the romance genre. A lot of romances have an interesting setting (Regency England, the Scottish Highlands, the American West old or new, foreign cities and exotic holiday resorts, a quirky small town with quirky characters) or offer a glimpse into an unfamiliar world (billionaires, motorcycle gangs, sport teams, rock stars, etc...)

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Re: Wonder - is it just for Fantasy and Sci-fi?
« Reply #6 on: December 09, 2018, 05:12:14 PM »
Genres other than SFF can and do have a sense of wonder.

For crime, mystery and thrillers, the setting is often important. The popularity of the so-called Scandinavian noir in both literature and film/TV is at least partly based on setting and the films/TV shows actually have a lot of sweeping landscape shots. The popularity of regional crime fiction like the Longmire books (forgot the name of the author), James Lee Burke's Robicheaux books, Tony Hillerman's and Dick Francis' books is also at least partly due to the settings. Ditto for Tom Clancy type thrillers. Most of us may never have been aboard a submarine (I have and I'm not a fan), but Clancy puts us there. A lot of crime novels and thrillers also give us glimpses into the unfamiliar world of law enforcement, spy agencies, drug rings, the mafia, etc...



Yes, that's what I love about Elmore Leonard and Richard Stark novels. They take you into these seedy underworld settings I wouldn't otherwise be privy too, and I'm often thrilled and instilled with that sense of wonder to be given a glimpse of these secret places and when I bear witness to what transpires once I'm there. Part of it too is meeting really interesting characters and watching them as they're forced to negotiate their way through a gauntlet of unimaginable hardship. There's awe in that as well.
 
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Denise

Re: Wonder - is it just for Fantasy and Sci-fi?
« Reply #7 on: December 11, 2018, 12:54:00 AM »
Genres other than SFF can and do have a sense of wonder.

Awesome examples! You also answered my question about Jane Austen and Agatha Christie, and if quirky, small town settings cause wonder, then these authors do have wonder.

So I guess wonder is indeed a thing, and I'm starting to think it's important.

For me it matters because I used to rush to the plot. I look at a scene and ask:
- Does this advance the plot?
- Is there any conflict?

Great questions, but I think conflict, character development, etc, need also some wonder surrounding them, especially in SFF. This is something I plan to improve in my writing. And it's not more descriptions. I skip the boring descriptions in Lords of the Rings, for example, because detailed landscapes don't tend to do much. Not that there isn't wonder in LOTR, obviously, I'm just saying that just having more descriptions is not the answer. Or maybe the answer is that descriptions are fine, if they create a sense of wonder.

I also think I know some genres without wonder. Someone correct me if I'm wrong.

I was thinking that romance doesn't have Joe from accounting as love interest, because then there's no wonder, but Joe from accounting is a perfect LI for chick lit, for example.

So humorous chick lit, some women's fiction, literary fiction, contemporary YA in regular plain high school or home settings, don't have wonder in them, I think. They replace it with a sense of "realism" (never real, cause fiction isn't real), or humour.

Thanks everyone who's replied, this really helped me understand a little this concept. I've never seen it mentioned in any books on writing (not that it isn't mentioned, just that I haven't personally read them), and I think it's neat to think about it.

 

Vijaya

Re: Wonder - is it just for Fantasy and Sci-fi?
« Reply #8 on: December 11, 2018, 04:36:43 AM »
Denise, I write for children and it's the sense of wonder that I draw upon the most, whether fiction or nonfiction. It's important for grown-ups too. Lots of stories are merely competent and there's nothing wrong with them, but they do not inspire or take you to new heights, whereas the great books transcend ordinary storytelling. These are the books you read over and over because there are so many layers to them.   

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Rosie Scott

Re: Wonder - is it just for Fantasy and Sci-fi?
« Reply #9 on: December 11, 2018, 09:56:37 AM »
Genres other than SFF can and do have a sense of wonder.

I agree, and I think the setting is truly important. Personally, I get the most sense of wonder out of historical nonfiction which is a genre I haven't seen anyone mention yet. I am obsessed with history, and "visiting" various cultures, lands, and historical figures in different times brings me under a trance of immersion. These wars and battles and historical events really happened, but the world has advanced past them. It's a sense of wonder that comes with a heavy dose of nostalgia for experiencing events I never had a chance to due to my time of existence.

What an interesting topic!  :goodpost:

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CoraBuhlert

Re: Wonder - is it just for Fantasy and Sci-fi?
« Reply #10 on: December 11, 2018, 01:48:26 PM »
So I guess wonder is indeed a thing, and I'm starting to think it's important.

For me it matters because I used to rush to the plot. I look at a scene and ask:
- Does this advance the plot?
- Is there any conflict?

Great questions, but I think conflict, character development, etc, need also some wonder surrounding them, especially in SFF. This is something I plan to improve in my writing. And it's not more descriptions. I skip the boring descriptions in Lords of the Rings, for example, because detailed landscapes don't tend to do much. Not that there isn't wonder in LOTR, obviously, I'm just saying that just having more descriptions is not the answer. Or maybe the answer is that descriptions are fine, if they create a sense of wonder.

IMO the "every moment must contain conflict and advance the plot" advice is harmful, both for authors and readers. As with all writing advice, it contains a kernel of truth, namely that a story should have a plot and shouldn't be just an extended piece of description. And yes, a lot of beginning writers produce beautiful descriptive pieces in search of a plot. I saw a lot of that when I read slush for our university magazine. Endless descriptions of a couple having breakfast or a woman baking cookies while remembering her grandmother or someone camping trip to Scandinavia with nothing at all happening. At least the breakfast couple eventually had a quarrel.

However, "avoid plotless vignettes" does not mean that every single word has to advance the plot and create conflict. Sometimes, it's okay to admire the scenery for a while.   

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Denise

Re: Wonder - is it just for Fantasy and Sci-fi?
« Reply #11 on: December 12, 2018, 02:26:29 AM »
Denise, I write for children and it's the sense of wonder that I draw upon the most, whether fiction or nonfiction.

Yes, wonder is super important for children's books. My last upper MG/lower YA novel severely lacks on wonder.  :HB  :HB

At least I know where I have to improve. I used to think plotting was my biggest weakness, and spent a looooong time reading everything I could read on plot. Guess what? Reviewers enjoy the plot. So I think focusing on one skill works. I'll focus on wonder now, which I just found out was a thing.


I agree, and I think the setting is truly important. Personally, I get the most sense of wonder out of historical nonfiction which is a genre I haven't seen anyone mention yet.

Wonder in nonfiction! And I guess you're right.



IMO the "every moment must contain conflict and advance the plot" advice is harmful, both for authors and readers.

Yeah, it's because I studied script writing. It was very hard for me, who was a fiction writer (not pro, but writing fiction since I was 9), to focus and insert conflict everywhere. I hated my scriptwriting classes. Perhaps it was harmful. I don't know.

But once the "conflict in every scene" advice set in, I started to think that it's wonderful advice, actually. Most of the best novels have conflict (even if small) in every scene.  So it's good advice. That said, conflict is only one aspect of writing, and people don't read books just for the plot, but for the immersive experience, so conflict needs some padding with other stuff, such as wonder.
 

munboy

Re: Wonder - is it just for Fantasy and Sci-fi?
« Reply #12 on: December 16, 2018, 01:48:12 AM »
The folks at Writing Excuses did 3 podcasts on wonder and they do cover wonder outside sf/f genres. Take a listen to it, some good info.
They're episodes 6, 8, & 9.

https://writingexcuses.com/category/season/season-11/
 
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Denise

Re: Wonder - is it just for Fantasy and Sci-fi?
« Reply #13 on: December 16, 2018, 10:01:30 AM »
The folks at Writing Excuses did 3 podcasts on wonder and they do cover wonder outside sf/f genres. Take a listen to it, some good info.
They're episodes 6, 8, & 9.

https://writingexcuses.com/category/season/season-11/


Oh, that's amazing, thanks so much! I was disappointed at first because I hate podcasts (I'm a hypocrite, cause I'm a podcaster). But then, surprise: they have transcripts!!!!

Anyways, I loved reading their thoughts. Funny how they also noted the strong presence of wonder in Harry Potter, and their comments on James Bond and Indiana Jones.

I liked how they described some techniques to create a sense of wonder in the writing, and the idea that even characters falling in love or small things could have a sense of wonder. That's very relevant to what I was thinking, and also explains a bit how wonder might be present in romance.

Thanks so much for the link!

And yeah, I'd never heard of wonder before, and I'm happy to have seen it addressed as such.

I was also thinking why in the world do I need to know if wonder is present in genres other than SFF, if I only write SFF. I think I wanted to double check that it is indeed something important in writing. If it's important, it's going to be present across genres, and it's neat to find it outside fantasy and sci-fi and to realize how important it is.

Lots of food for thought.
 

Wonder

Re: Wonder - is it just for Fantasy and Sci-fi?
« Reply #14 on: December 16, 2018, 02:37:51 PM »
I am everywhere.  :angel:
ďThe world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.Ē

― W.B. Yeats
 
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OfficialEthanJ

Re: Wonder - is it just for Fantasy and Sci-fi?
« Reply #15 on: December 29, 2018, 04:39:02 AM »


I was also thinking why in the world do I need to know if wonder is present in genres other than SFF, if I only write SFF. I think I wanted to double check that it is indeed something important in writing. If it's important, it's going to be present across genres, and it's neat to find it outside fantasy and sci-fi and to realize how important it is.


I think, at the risk of coming off as mansplaining, that "wonder" could be shorthand for "the reader needs to see with the character's eyes." I try to be cognizant of this even when not writing SFF. For example, there's a fancy restaurant called The Cotillion in some of my books, and it's not enough to say "it's fancy." I wanted the character to be awed and transmit that feeling to the reader.
 

Denise

Re: Wonder - is it just for Fantasy and Sci-fi?
« Reply #16 on: December 29, 2018, 09:57:28 AM »

I think, at the risk of coming off as mansplaining, that "wonder" could be shorthand for "the reader needs to see with the character's eyes." I try to be cognizant of this even when not writing SFF. For example, there's a fancy restaurant called The Cotillion in some of my books, and it's not enough to say "it's fancy." I wanted the character to be awed and transmit that feeling to the reader.

It's different from being in the character's eyes, I think. Wonder as I described and as described in the podcast (exact the same as I described it) is when the reader gets a feeling of awe (or wonder or I also think terror) when reading. A meal described in detail, for example, doesn't create wonder. GRRM describes meals, for examples, and those descriptions are boring as hell. He also describes clothes, etc. Again boring. I like GRRM, don't get me wrong. But description is different from wonder.

Now, if the character is in awe, then there's wonder, so I agree with your last sentence. And then again, it could be created with something other than description. If a character comes to a city, stops and catches their breath as he/she sees it, it could help create the feeling of wonder (this is what they say in the podcast).
 

Cathleen

Re: Wonder - is it just for Fantasy and Sci-fi?
« Reply #17 on: January 11, 2019, 12:19:58 PM »
I mostly read fantasy, but James Herriott's country vet books have a real sense of wonder to them. They're not cheap, but your library probably has them. He described the network of farms and interweaving relationships, both animals and humans, and made you care