11.09: Q&A on the Element of Wonder

Gama Ray Martinez joins us at LTUE to field questions on the Element of Wonder, which were submitted by members of our audience. Here are the questions:

  • How do you create wonder in non-genre stories, where there are no super-powers, spaceships, or spellcasters?
  • How do you avoid making the wonder stale?
  • Are there stages of wonder, similar to the stages of grief?
  • Does wonder come from the style of the prose, the pacing, or from other things?
  • How would you foreshadow wonder?



Have a world-weary character, one who is not in awe, and find ways to help the reader experience wonder despite being in the POV of a character who is not.

Shadowguard, by Gama Ray Martinez, narrated by Adam Verner

6 thoughts on “11.09: Q&A on the Element of Wonder”

  1. The 4 stages of wonder according to Mary: Denial, Awe, Bargaining, Acceptance. It’s interesting that it makes total sense and yet mirrors the stages of grief so well. (Different words were used, but disbelief is Denial, internalization is acceptance, etc).

    1. I went back to the classic five stages of grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I think a parallel set for wonder would start with disbelief (denial), then segue into surprise (anger) as the gut response. Next we probably do have an attempt to understand or explain (bargaining). Fourth, I would put awe or perhaps excitement, as the inverse to the pit of depression that we usually fall into with grief. Finally, of course, we run into acceptance, when the new car smell goes away and shaking hands with a dragon is just an everyday event. So, for me, I think I would suggest the five stages of wonder are disbelief, surprise, attempt to understand, excitement/awe, and acceptance. Needless to say, your stages may vary.

  2. Where do you find awe, wonder, and amazement? Well, the fantastic four plus one (Gama Ray Martinez!) answer questions from Life, The Universe, and Everything just for you. And we have a transcript, in case you’re wondering! Yes, in the archives or right over here


    Now you can find out how wonder, whimsy, caramel and dessert go together. Or do they?

  3. I couldn’t help but think when listening to this podcast that wonder is just the other side of the coin from horror as a subgenre. The ingredients are similar: new thing, wrestling with comprehending the new thing, etc. The difference is in the character/reader reaction being positive or negative.

  4. I’m trying to figure out whether or not Wonder is one of the key things I’m going for in a sci fi story I’m working on. I don’t know if being in awe at something new and interesting is the same as intellectually exploring a concept. The book The Left Hand of Darkness didn’t evoke a sense of wonder for me the way The Wizard of Earthsea (by the same author) did. But the intellectual exploration of an alien culture was still satisfying.

  5. @ Amanda J. McGee. That’s actually a really interesting point. Wonder is a visceral pleasant surprise. Horror is a visceral unpleasant surprise. Seems like there might be something in that.

    In terms of evoking wonder when a magic system or technology is well described or understood, the Dresden Files does this well. Usually, the wonder comes about through meeting something that doesn’t neatly fit within the well established rules that Harry Dresden has already elaborated. Sometimes also, the wonder in tDF is simply delivered through someone’s act of high sacrifice, or heroism.

    Also, getting to see something through new eyes can be an elegant way to refresh a character’s sense of wonder. I’m reminded of having friends from Europe visit, and then we going hiking: I often find I’m re-reminded that there’s a bunch of strange animals and weird plants and wonderful landscapes in my corner of the world that I’ve really gotten a bit used to. Good recommendation on The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms too. Definitely an interesting story in which the contrast between new eyes looking on wondrous things, and old, jaded views of the same, are set up against each other nicely.

    In terms of whimsy and wonder, I’m not sure they are strongly connected. Or at least, inasmuch as I’d define whimsy as a playful, naive, twee, fanciful form of humour. I’m not sure that whimsy requires wonder, or vice versa… it would sort of be like stating that irony requires horror, or vice versa. Irony does occur in horror stories, but they are not really deeply inter-connected things. I guess I’m thinking about how Alice in Wonderland contains whimsy (and also wonderment), whereas The Prisoner has a lot of whimsy, but little to no wonder. In fact, The Prisoner is probably a rather unusual matching up of whimsy and horror.

    I guess, I’m thinking that wonder could just as easily to attached to irony, satire, wit or other forms of humour. Maybe wonder and whimsy fit well together, and so are a sort of natural pairing?

    Anyway, just some thoughts. Great show as always.


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