Thoughts on writing about the wondrous

Hey everyone, I hope you all are doing well. I haven’t posted much in a while - my book just came out last week so that’s been eating up most of my limited time and brainpower. Now that I’ve got a moment to myself though, there’s a question that I’ve been turning over in my mind and I’d very much like to get your thoughts and insight:

When we write about the strange, wondrous and obscure, is it that the place or thing itself is awe inspiring, or is it that we make it so (or more so) by writing about it?

I realize that in some cases, of course, the subject matter is simply so jaw-droppingly odd and astounding that it calls out to be document, while in other cases it’s the hidden history or backstory that makes the place or object noteworthy. Regarding the relationship/difference/overlap between those different types of curiosities, I am now curious to hear your thoughts on the matter.

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Great discussion idea, Ginsberg. I believe most obscura are inspiring through the story only, because to be obscure you must have less on face-value and more importance through the emotional, non-physical aspect. This is why Atlas Obscura pays more attention to the smaller, more intimate areas than the larger tourist trap/landmarks famous for looks only, like Mount Rushmore. There are rare obscura, however, that are awe-inspiring themselves; these were most probably once considered mainstream landmarks when they were built, but now have fell into disrepair or demolished completely. Abandonment is the only way to make an awe-inspiring place obscure, otherwise all obscure things in life are only special due to the story or emotion behind them and not the obscura itself.

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I think it’s the energy of the beings behind an obscure place that make it awe inspiring; the will to create despite any sort of traditional or financial support. Of course this doesn’t address naturally awe inspiring places…

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For me, it is all of the above. Sometimes, the place is awe-inspiring and the history and backstory is intriguing, which we get from Atlas Obscura’s great articles about places.

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Absolutely for me, the writing. Take any five adults with basic writing skills and get them to write about the same experience. While the elements may all be there, the ways they use to express them will differ. Let’s guess that at least one will be interesting. 20% chance. So I’m an optimist.

There are so many techniques that frequent writers use that they won’t think about anymore. Onomatopoeia, staccato phrasing, alliteration, fluid prose, florid vocabulary. Sometimes understatement and foreshadowing. Engaging all the senses.

Way back in the dark ages of BBS days, I was on a CompuServe or prodigy forum on probably creative writing and someone posed the question “are some situations inherently non-sexy” and my contention was that there is potential in any description for sensuality, or humor, or morbidity, or absurdity. That depends on the writer. And maybe the editor. (And I wrote a 'graph about a very sultry fast food meal. Nothing salacious, nothing too bold, but the references amused me and pleasurably titillated others, tended more toward the sensual than the sexual.)

There are some things one can write about most eloquently by writing sparingly, with no hyperbole. Human tragedy of fairly recent occurrence, for instance.

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I like your observation here, and I agree, I think it’s the story behind the location that often, for me at least, makes it noteworthy. I think there’s also probably another big category for places made special by the stories of the things they house or contain; “objects of intrigue” like the fascinating, leech-powered “Tempest Prognosticator.”

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What a great point - that style as much (maybe even more than) content can create the desired effect, be it wonder, sensuality, etc…

Also, I have to admit, I’m am now intrigued by what a description of a “very sultry fast food meal” looks like.

Wonder is in the obscurity.
The mystical with the practical, when I find myself, '*huh, didn’t know that!
Or when gobsmacked by the beauty, man or nature made.

To write from there for me is poetry, not prose. To see and reflect lends itself in my mind to hold it lightly, for wonder if fleeting and fragile. To that end, I’d rather try to capture with photography, letting the limits of the view-finder be the frame for the obscure, to be lightning in a bottle.

History is not hidden, we don’t see it.

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Well put.

thank you. I have not been writing and I promised myself I would start Sept 1st.

I was supposed to be going to Paris at the end of September. I have not left the North American Continent. So. . .here I am wondering in Travis County, which is not the same as the sensation of wonder.

stay well. thank you for your work.

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I’d say when it’s not a giant crater of fire or a building with a lightning storm inside it, the history tends to carry mystique. Mystique can go a long way. Just judging stuff on this site, the Madonna Inn looks bizarre to anyone, but a sink that Einstein used wouldn’t have any allure unless someone told you about it. That said, go ahead and plug yourself. What’s the book you just finished?

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@tralfamadore Thanks and I agree with you that I think most of what makes something wondrous is the esoteric backstory / hidden history. I’ve also been thinking about how there’s something metaphysical that happens once we are made privy to such information - suddenly our experience and relationship to an otherwise seemly normal and boring sink or staircase or manhole cover is changed by what we now know about it.

Regarding my book (and only because you asked, of course :wink:), it’s titled “Secret Tampa Bay: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure.” It is part of Reedy Press’ series of such book, and signed copies are available here: https://secrettampabay.com/

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i think much of nature is wondrous in and of itself while “man made objects” ( encompassing everything not naturally occuring) often needs a backstory to make it wondrous.

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That’s a great point and something I hadn’t considered - the way that natural vs man-made ties into it.