The Stanton Effect: Invoking Wonder

6a00d83451b64669e2017c3652fef8970b-250wiThank you to L. Marie for asking me to be a part of this guest post series. My name is Charles E. Yallowitz. I run the Legends of Windemere blog and publish books under the same title. I think that covers the “My Name is” requirement.

Charles_author_photo_B&W   23764261

This is about one of the points on Andrew Stanton’s TED Talk. I chose to write about invoking wonder in the reader. As a fantasy author, this is a very important goal whether I focus on it or not. I have to draw readers into a world that doesn’t exist outside of the page, so there is more that I have to say. For example, I can say, “They drive to New York City,” and people will immediately visualize the city with familiar landmarks. You may have to describe some of the area, but people have a pre-existing notion of what you’re talking about. If I say, “They rode into the city of Rodillen,” then nothing very cohesive comes about. This requires that I describe the buildings, people, weather, culture, and whatever else I can slip in without doing a full info dump. This is really just to set the stage too, but it is a piece of invoking wonder since you want to draw readers into your world.


Maybe it’s because I have to tug harder at a person’s mind to get them to step further out of reality than Earth-based genres, but this is something that I feel should be done with every aspect of a story. The plot must be riveting at most points, the characters should be interesting, and the world has be both unique and recognizable. All of this is a challenge because one never knows the balance, which is where editing and beta readers can be helpful.

A difficulty that I always have is that I visualize a lot of what I’m doing, so I’m in a permanent state of wonder when it comes to my stories. An outside opinion is what helps me find out if that comes across in the finished book. Well not so much the finished book, but the first draft. My point here is that authors do have blinders on whether they realize it or not because they’re more attached to the story. This makes the invocation a little unclear to our own minds. (Note: I have Supernatural on while typing this, so invocation and similar words might be turning up a lot.)

-Supernatural-supernatural-32710241-1024-768Bobby Singer

Touching on a riveting plot, I always think it needs a good amount of both action and character developing downtime. This will prevent things from growing dull while maintaining growth for the characters.

In regards to wonder, you can aim for two things here. The first is making the reader excited that an action scene can happen at any moment, which helps them read through parts that might be slow. By action, I mean everything from car chases to a detailed shopping spree that ends with a canceled credit card. Basically, things that aren’t dialogue and exposition, but still carry the story ahead.

The other thing is that the reader starts to wonder how the characters will change. This might be the strongest area of wonder invocation that I can think of since we’re talking about the vessels that a reader will attach to. Consider several of the questions that go through your mind as you read a story. Will THEY survive their quest? How will THEY change over the course of the story? Can HE/SHE handle being rejected by someone they love? All of these involve wondering about the characters and not the main story. We get curious about these fictional people and think about how they’re going to come out of their adventure. It’s another connection that makes a person mentally plunge into the story.


Now, everyone will have their own methods and foci when it comes to invoking wonder. I’m only going to list my personal ideas here:
1. Detailed world that touches on as many senses as possible. What does the reader see, hear, and smell? Taste and touch are more situational.
2. Give the characters personality, subplots, and growth that isn’t so straightforward as “hero get stronger.” Knock them down from time to time and show what they’re like when they stand back up. The reader will be curious to see if they can keep going.
3. If your story has magic and monsters, then go wild with the descriptions. Yet always remain consistent. Try not to have a troll look different in every encounter or switch your spell system in every book. Consistency helps create a solid foundation that a reader can work off of to explore your world.

4. Foreshadowing. Hints can get a reader to keep going beyond their bedtime and return for a second read through.

To sum up here, I think invoking wonder differs from author to author. This is only what my opinion is and that’s influenced by my genre, reading history, and the specific stories that I want to tell. I’ve had people get absorbed by my books while others give up in the first 10 pages. It’s all personal preference when it comes to this arena.

One thing I do think is necessary for everyone is to go into a story with a clear and positive mind. If you read something with the expectation that you will hate it, then you’ll probably hate it. That wonder will be missing because part of you never wanted to wonder about the story. I’ve done it with books that I was made to read in high school and I still can’t bring myself to read them. This whole thing should be fun and sinking into the story with a sense of wonder is a big part of that.

Thanks, Charles, for such a great post in this series! Other posts can be found here and here.

Want to purchase Curse of the Dark Wind? Click here.

Supernatural photo from Troll from Jim Beaver as Bobby Singer from Wizard from Fantasy book from

39 thoughts on “The Stanton Effect: Invoking Wonder

  1. Great post, Charles! Whenever I begin a new book, I’m always excited to see how the main character will evolve throughout the story. Most people don’t like change, but when it comes to writing, it’s a good thing.

    • It does seem like many people dislike change in a character. Yet they also complain when one remains the same. I’ve gotten a few angry emails about my characters’ evolutions and it tends to revolve around them not changing ‘the right way’. Especially when the change is a step backwards.

      • Sigh. It’s sad when people can’t accept that a character needs to evolve. He or she can’t stay static. However, I will admit to feeling frustrated if a character makes an abrupt change for the sake of a plot point. For example, if someone has a love triangle and a once loving person turns totally evil all of a sudden just to end the triangle. I need way more foreshadowing in order to buy that change.

      • That’s a great example. Many times an author might think it’s enough for the ‘losing point’ to turn because they’re in a love triangle. It really makes them come off as being disingenuous. I mean if they really did love the other person then turning wouldn’t be as easy. Not unless you have the real villain turn them by promising the one they desire, but that tends to push them into creepy stalker realms.

      • As per Anakin Skywalker and Padme. (Sigh.) Though he was not in a love triangle per se, since Obi Wan was not in love with Padme, Anakin had some weird issues about Padme.

      • That’s an odd one to count. We all knew he would have to go evil, so there was no surprise. I think the writers were simply lazy and were trying to make sure they hit all the points that they needed.

      • True. I was thinking about Anakin’s obsessiveness about Padme, Emperor Palpatine fed with lies about keeping Padme from dying. I’m glad that part of the story is over.

      • I only remember a lot of groaning and muttered curses. Not in the movie, but the audience. That Palpatine lie was definitely a stupid part of it. Didn’t he promise and then admit he didn’t know how, but they could do it together. For such a rage-a-holic, Anakin took that piece of info surprisingly well. I would have tossed the lying bastard off a building and used the Force to repeatedly slam him into the pavement.

      • Yes. Sadly the Force was so inconsistently used. It’s powerful enough to lift huge boulders and delicate enough to sift through the thoughts of people. Yet people without the Force can sometimes easily sneak up and punch a Jedi (at least they could in the Clone Wars series). That never made sense to me.

      • Maybe it depended on the Jedi’s mastery or area of focus. If they aren’t concerned with sensory uses then maybe they’re easier to sneak up on. I should ask my Star Wars friends about that one.

      • The use of the Force seems contrived sometimes to fit a plot point. In some episodes, the Jedi could impose their wills on people. They also seemed aware of hurt Jedi on other planets. So why is it that anyone can ever sneak up on them???

      • Ha ha!
        I really like the concept of something powerful like the Force. But I was continually frustrated by how easily Obi Wan was beaten in some episodes.

    • I agree, Jill. I like to see a character’s growth. I can’t help thinking about Prince Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender. I won’t say more about his growth in order to avoid spoilers. A character needs to change, even in subtle ways.

  2. Wonder is why I loved reading/watching Mary Poppins, Nanny McPhee, Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, etc ~ the perfect juxtaposition between familiar elements (British Nanny, Boarding School) with unfamiliar elements (tea parties on the ceiling, shifting staircases).

    Thanks for joining the series!

    • Never really thought of that. Combining the familiar with the unfamiliar definitely creates a bridge that increases the wonder. The reader doesn’t feel as much of an outsider in those stories, so they can connect better.

    • I totally agree, Nancy, for those reasons. That’s why I return again and again to beloved books or movies I love like Rise of the Guardians where wonder is primary.

  3. Charles, you had me at “Supernatural” 😉 Thank you for offering us not only examples, but also tools for use in our own writing projects. And thank you, Linda, for creating this series!

    • Thanks, Stephanie. I have to keep going back to the issue of wonder myself. It’s what keeps me going back to treasured books time and time again.

  4. Great post, Charles. I think you nail it at the end. To appreciate a story, we have to let ourselves be open to it; be willing to be affected by it.

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