Saturday, March 12, 2005


Acoustic resonance is defined as the intensification and prolongation of sound, especially of a musical tone, produced by sympathetic vibration.* Remember this, it will be on your final.

People talk about stories that resonate but aside from audiobooks and author readings, novels are silent. We writers may have our characters shout their brains out on the page, but our product is as soundless as if we shoved the reader into outer space. Novelists definitely have to go for something other than the ears.

The reader absorbs a story visually and processes it internally. In order to create resonance, you have to get inside your reader's head. Only we're not mind-readers, so we have to guess what's going on in there. Not just one reader; to be successful you have to figure out what's going on in a lot of heads. Whoever first gave out the advice write the kind of book you want to read should really have said write the kind of book you and a million other people want to read.

Doesn't matter what genre it is, either. Three examples: Stephen King knows what his readers fear. Nora Roberts knows what her readers love. J.K. Rowling knows what her readers wish. All three probably hit the initial reader vibe by accident. How they became blockbusters was by recognizing that first twang and building on what they did that resonated so strongly with the readers.

The reason publishing is having such a hard time at present isn't because people don't read anymore. It's because no one knows what people want to read anymore and the guesses publishing has been making are mostly off the mark. Trying to write or sell the readers what they "should" be reading doesn't work; there is no answering vibe. You can't shame people into buying books; people in the general population are no longer judged by how well-read they are.

Looking for the reader vibe won't win you friends among the literati. Case in point: Random House recently came under fire for their slow shift from publishing what people "should" be reading to what people actually want to read. But it's a sound business decision, and if publishing wants to stay alive, it's going to have to hit more vibes.

Same goes for writers.

*The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

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