What’s resonance? dictionary.com calls it “the quality in a sound of being deep, full, and reverberating” or “the reinforcement or prolongation of sound by reflection from a surface or by the synchronous vibration of a neighboring object.”
At least metaphorically, though, resonance isn’t limited to sound. In photography, we might consider resonance a layering (that “deep, full, and reverberating” aspect) and a connection through “a surface or by the synchronous vibration of a neighboring object.”
Obviously, undoctored photos capture only what’s there. But it’s all about the angle. Juxtaposition and reverberation reveal what isn’t immediately visible.
This introduces the potential to see and perhaps feel something we hadn’t previously. Fiction does its work this same way.
To “resonate” literally means to bounce back and forth between two states or places. Resonate comes from the Latin word for “resound.” In sound, resonance is a prolonged response to something that caused things to vibrate…. Resonance in writing is something that affects us the same way. It’s an aura of significance, significance beyond the otherwise insignificant event taking place. It’s caused by a kind of psychic reverberation between two times, places, states, or spheres… — “Literary Resonance in the Art of Writing,” Lighthouse Writing Tips
Language and description are tools for layering comparison, contrast, texture, insight, and, above all, empathy—that “faculty to resonate with the feelings of others” (Matthieu Ricard).
To illustrate, here’s a sentence without resonance:
Her undiagnosed dementia only affects current recollections.
The language is clinical. You encounter this character without much noticing, much less feeling, and as George R. R. Martin observes, “fiction is about emotional resonance, about making us feel things on a primal and visceral level.”
How does that happen? Resonance. In Dean’s novel, individual loss reflects the broader cultural one, because the primary plot merges with the subplot. Instantly comprehensible metaphor transforms an intellectual understanding into an empathetic one. Here’s the original sentence:
Whatever is eating her brain consumes only the fresher memories, the unripe moments― Debra Dean, The Madonnas of Leningrad
This no longer describes the plight of an individual. The portrait has become universal. Resonance accomplishes that via a metaphor that causes us to look differently, which is a primary purpose of fiction. Without losing focus on the protagonist, complete the picture by introducing reflection, background, or unexpected emphasis. What can you reveal to make readers stop and take notice? How can you make this feeling, this moment resonate?
Tip: Construct a fictional world that's fully dimensional rather than predictable and flat.
**** Laurel's new book, Beyond the First Draft, is now available from Amazon or Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing. ****