Thursday, October 9, 2014

The "Aha" Moment

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what types of things I look for when I’m reading just about any piece of fiction. I believe that folks who enjoy reading and do it as often as they can for the sheer joy of it do so for many reasons, but a key one is because reading makes us feel a little smarter for a while.

While reading nonfiction and non-prose writing (like academic stuff) does this just as easily, readers are already coming in expecting to grow as a person and be a bit wiser as a result. We aren’t necessarily or actively looking for this effect when it comes to reading literature for fun. This is why I am especially delighted to get that same feeling when I read in genres that aren’t typically meant to exercise the analytical side of my brain.

© 2005-2014,

As many of you probably know, my preferred genre is fantasy, which isn’t reputed for its ability to make us turn on our thinking caps. However, one thing I do find fantasy works well with is those “figuring out” moments. Fantasy introduces us to whole new worlds, or at least new situations, which we don’t see in our everyday lives. This one unifying theme of less than probable things occurring in these stories that wouldn’t normally occur in the real world leads readers to have to make a lot of assumptions. We assume the people in your world look like humans, that this eternally dark land is where the villain lives, that your fierce and fanged beast feeds on the blood of the living.

Because readers are constantly guessing at things when it comes to fantasy, the fact that we get something right based on the context writers have given us tends to bring us great joy and excitement in the prose. We’ve managed to “figure out” what the author was trying to get us to figure out. Sometimes we even get to solve puzzles the author may not have even consciously considered. How many of you caught the ring motif in A Dinner of Onions by Nora Harmony Wallace, which she claims she never intentionally included (bonus points to anyone who gets that reference)?

The danger, however, in writers offering up foreshadowing and other clues and Easter eggs for the readers is spelling everything out. At that point, readers feel like the author no longer trusts in their capabilities to figure things out and that the information is now being handfed to us. As a writer, I want my readers to be like, “Wow, I figured that out,” rather than “Dude, I totally saw that coming.”

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