The Life Changing Power of Profound Awe (A Writers Perspective)
Any parent will tell you that when their baby arrived was such a moment of profound awe it changed them for life. Some of us experience that moment in a museum or overlooking the Grand Canyon but there is no denial that you are fundamentally altered by the experience.
Christopher Bergland wrote the article ‘Wow! The Life-Changing Power of Experiencing Profound Awe’ for PsychologyToday.com in which he discusses what astronauts experience when first viewing the Earth from space.
“You’ve seen pictures and you’ve heard people talk about it. But nothing can prepare you for what it actually looks like. The Earth is dramatically beautiful when you see it from orbit, more beautiful than any picture you’ve ever seen. It’s an emotional experience because you’re removed from the Earth but at the same time you feel this incredible connection to the Earth like nothing I’d ever felt before.” (NASA Astronaut, Sam Durrance)
Abraham Maslow describes this phenomena by saying: “Peak experiences are especially joyous and exciting moments in life, involving sudden feelings of intense happiness and well-being, wonder and awe, and possibly also involving an awareness of transcendental unity or knowledge of higher truth (as though perceiving the world from an altered, and often vastly profound and awe-inspiring perspective).”
It is noted that the greatest sense of awe is often observed in nature. But I guess that would depend greatly upon what takes your breath away and makes you rethink your place in the big picture.
In the world of writing, awe is not so much in the writer but in the reaction or epiphany the writer wishes the reader to experience. We want the reader to see our vision so clearly it takes their breath away.
Whether it is a view from a mountain in a world only imagined or the sudden realization a character has spent their whole life waiting for this particular person to love, your character is experiencing a life-changing event. It is your job to make it real and just as important to your reader.
So how do we do this? I like to put myself in the character’s place and write what I am feeling in that moment. It’s not my feelings. It is my character’s feelings, if that makes sense. Paint your image with not just colors but imagery, vivid imagery. Tie in the character’s personal experience and why this moment tugs at their soul.
In ‘Rappaccini’s Daughter’ by Nathaniel Hawthorn is a master of visual imagery but it is not until the conclusion that you realize the true journey you have been on. The epiphany of what is truly good and evil is revealed for your decision. It is an amazing story. Her final words still haunt me.
That is what we writers strive for…to create an image or thought that moves our readers to remember our story far after it was read. We want awe, maybe not life-changing every single second awe, but strong emotion.
Think of Nicholas Sparks. Now you may or may not like him as an author but he knows how to get a message across to his readers. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings touched millions with concepts of friendship, loyalty, determination, and sacrifice amidst overwhelming odds and incredible scenes. And, with a swish of a wand, a boy becomes a hero.
Make your characters memorable, your settings awe inspiring. Give your readers your absolute best. In the end, it will be you that will receive the greatest reward… pride in your accomplishment.
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