Resonance is a term from movies meaning ‘To evoke a feeling that lingers in the mind’. (Or that is the way I interpret it).

Think of the movie ‘American Beauty’. There was that opening shot above the suburbs. It seemed to say, here in Middle America we will peel back the covers and reveal what goes on. The red rose, the American Beauty, has been bred to look beautiful but it has no thorns or scent, which is another comment on the film’s theme.

When I’m writing a book I collect photographs and research fascinating details which convey evocative feelings for me.

The book I recently handed over to my agent ‘The Shallow Sea’ was a fantasy set in a tropical paradise. I collected images of azure seas, exquisite lilies and details about deadly creatures. For me it was the combination of the idyllic tropical setting with dangers hidden below the surface, that was a metaphor for the book. It had a resonance, a flavour in my head as I wrote.

I know many writers play music while they write. It helps them get into the mood to create the resonance for their current work-in-progress. Music bypasses the higher brain and goes straight to our emotional hind-brain.

I used to work as an illustrator, so I think I’m more visually oriented. I can get ‘high’ on beauty. If I go to the art gallery to see an exhibition, I come away feeling as if I’m floating on air, with images flooding my mind.

Some books evoke a stronger resonance than others. It’s not necessarily the characters that linger, it might be a sense of mystery, elegance, or tragedy. It’s like taking a mental holiday to another place and time. For instance, ‘Perdido Street Station’ lingers in my mind. I’d just finished reading a book about London from its earliest times to now. The thought of those pits where they buried the plague victims, then built housing estates over the top, still makes me shudder. Almost anything by Michael Moorcock stays with me years later. I can still remember Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast and I read that thirty years ago. I think it was the layering of backstory, the obsession with detail and the eccentricity of the characters.

Resonance is not something we talk about much as writers, it’s hard to pin down.

What books have stayed with you, resonating in your mind and why?

And do you set out to create a resonance for the books you are currently working on?


  1. >Oh. Dear. Is this where I have to admit that something or some one has ticked me off, and I think of some appropriate fictional karma, generally involving a character already living in my head, then start writing?That Bimbo that cut me off in traffic? Yeah, she needs to meet Eldon. The guy talking in the theater? He's never going to forget _that_ trip to the bank. Nuh uh.MataPam

  2. >Um. The kind of resonance I tend to end up with isn't something that I consciously create and it… er… usually happens all by itself.My subconscious knows better than I do, it seems.

  3. >Kate,Until I came across this term in a workshop on movies, I wasn't even aware of it. Then, when I sat down and thought about it, I realised I was building a resonance in my head with visuals and information. And that I would tap into it, when I sat down to write, to get into the right frame of mind.

  4. >I think the books that stick with me are usually the one where I encounter a concept for the first time. Generally the first book by a particular author, but not always. I'd read a bunch of RAH before I encountered Starship Troopers or The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. The Last Planet by Andre Norton is the first SF I remember reading, and will always be close to my heart, so to speak. Odds Against by Dick Francis was the first adult mystery I'd ever read, and led me, eventually, into a long and enjoyable relationship with British Mystery writers.They are more than just "favorite books" they are books that fit into my way of thinking but also fueled a leap into a new level of complexity, before I was aware those levels up there existed.But perhaps that's more formative than resonating. And, as I said, in the writing process, the ideas that resonate for me tend to start out negative.MataPam

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