Writing about a book on writing is perhaps an odd challenge. On the one hand, I read the book because I wanted to become a better writer. On the other hand, I’m reviewing the book, telling where the author (of a book on writing, if you recall) has succeeded or failed at their attempt.
Fortunately, I face no such problems with David Farland’s Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing. Indeed, there is little I can say to criticize the bite-sized book. In a short time, it has become one of my favorite selections on the writing, one to which I expect I will return again and again in coming years.
A book on writing by a famous writer seems almost cliché. A few pull it off with great success (think On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King), for a more obvious example), while others (which, perhaps, need no mention at all) fail miserably to be little more than regurgitation of typical advice mixed with anecdotes from the writers own career.
Farland’s books on writing (I’m reading another of his, also, albeit slower as I try to apply it) are spot on, and this one is fast, to the point, and full of relevant examples. Farland’s thesis is that by writing using what resonates with readers–what’s already out there in their in the ether, so to speak–writers can pull readers in faster and with more success than by inventing something from scratch. While he cites many examples, the one that he draws on most liberally is that of J.R.R. Tolkein. Tolkein’s use of imagery, language, setting, and plot delved deep into readers’ subconsciousness and resonated with them in ways they may not have explicitly noticed.
In turn, nearly every successful fantasy since has built on the foundation that Tolkein built, and it is to him that most look for the template. Even Robert Jordan’s fourteen volume Wheel of Time series, opening with The Eye of the World, draws on scenes, characters, and even creature names (to say nothing of maps and place names) that are more than reminiscent of Tolkein.
And there’s nothing wrong with it, says Farland. On the contrary, finding what resonates with your target audience, and writing it into your fiction is his recommendation.
It’s a fascinating suggestion, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that while Farland may be laying it out in new terms, it’s not unlike what any professor of literature might suggest in a survey course of fiction through the ages. Thomas C. Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines is an example that comes to mind. It’s the best writers that are able to use what we believe and see in the world, draw on common symbols and events, and weave them together into a new story, or in a new setting, or with new problems. It’s not plagiarism, but something more: creation, using the fabric of our experience.
As Oscar Wilde might summarize it, “Good writers borrow. Great writers steal.”
Resonance, says Farland, is just that. It’s drawing on what’s already there–whether you want to call that borrowing or outright theft–to create a story that readers feel deeper than the words on the page, rooted in experience and knowledge they bring to the story before they even open the book.
If you want your story to last, make it resonate.