Monday, February 14, 2011

Characters that Resonate

If you've ever been to music store you've likely seen rooms with dozens of guitars hanging along the walls for display. I love stores like that. A few years ago I bought my dream guitar, a Taylor made of koa wood.

If you stand in a quiet room with guitars all around you and strum a chord on just one of the instruments, something interesting will happen. The strings of the guitars around you will begin to vibrate. In fact, I've been told that if I wanted my guitar's wood to age (guitars often sound sweeter as the wood gets older...hopefully like experienced authors, huh?) that I should leave the guitar out on a stand instead of always stored away in a case so that the guitar would be exposed to sounds in the room. The strings will vibrate as a result of being exposed to other music.
This is called resonance. It's an important part of fiction, too. What causes readers to remember a story long after the last page? I think it has to do with resonance. Something about the character or their experience or their emotional response to a conflict strikes a chord within the reader and they find themselves nodding their heads in agreement.
It isn't as simple as fashioning a character who acts, looks or thinks just like your readers. No one wants to read about characters who are just like themselves. Protagonists have to in some way be bigger than life. Readers want to read about characters that they wish they were.
But a character can't have qualities that are out of reach. They have to be admirable, but also human. That raises sympathy for the character, something that is necessary if your readers are going to stick with you for the length of a novel.
This also works in life. We all carry our personal stories and we should be sharing them with others. But sometimes we fear that our experiences are unique, different, or weird and that others won't relate to them. Opening up to others about our humanness can be scary, but is almost always freedom-producing. In reality, most of our stories will find resonance with others and will serve to bind us to them in ways that conversations about the weather can never accomplish.
I'm always on the look for qualities in my characters that will find resonance in my readers. And along the way, I need to share my personal stories with those God puts in my path. When I pluck my guitar, other guitars around me start to vibrate.
Just think about it.


jel said...

is that really true about the guitars?

hope all is well!

gnofziger2 said...

This is so true. I have found that I am most inspired to share my faith when I see others sharing theirs, especially when they are not afraid to speak about their faith in public.

Linda Maendel said...

I've never heard this about the guitar. My brother plays. I'll see if this 'resonates' with him.