Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Vibe

Vibes.  I talk about them a lot.
"I want this kind of vibe in my novel."
"I feel the vibe."
"This is not the vibe I'm looking for."

But what is 'vibe' and what makes it different than 'voice'?  Most authors don't pay attention to their novel's vibe.  Or, more often, they lump it together with voice.  But I don't.  Why?  Because vibe is born from a different womb than voice.

Voice comes from characterization.
Vibe comes from world-building.

A few popular examples:
Superman's Metropolis
Batman's Gotham
Harry Potter's Hogwarts

All these examples have one thing in common--they're a collection of smaller settings that leaves a greater impression on the audience.  For those of you who are CSI fans,you might notice how each spin-off leaves a different taste in your mouth.  CSI: Vegas has a gritty vibe.  CSI: New York has a techno-vibe.  CSI: Miami has a laid-back vibe.  Or maybe you're a Star Trek fan--Is "Deep Space Nine" leave the same impression as "Voyager" or "Next Generation"? 

For those of you who aren't a CSI fan or a Star Trek fan, think of your favorite novel or television show.  Imagine yourself walking into that world.  Let it wrap around you like a coat and become part of it.  Now ask yourself "what makes it different than any other place?"

That unique feeling--that imprint a reader remembers after closing the book--is what I call a 'vibe'.  It's important to have a vibe.  Not only does it creates a sense of consistency in a story, but it creates a sense of reality.

How is a vibe created?

The saying is 'first impressions are lasting' and it's true.  The first scene in a novel typically sets the vibe.  That's why it's important to pay attention to the vibe from the first page.  If you start off in a busy cafe on a bright day, it becomes harder to create a gothic vibe.  By the same token, starting a novel off in a dark, abandoned street would make it easier.

Here's where I expect the question: "Isn't that just a part of world-building?"

My answer is NO.  World-building sets boundaries.  Vibe is created by movement within those boundaries.

It's how the character perceives the setting and interacts with it.  Remember what I said in my last post?  The character tells the story.  That means the setting must be digested through their consciousness before it can be regurgitated to a reader.  Therefore, vibe is two parts--setting choices throughout a novel and character perception of the setting. 

Example:  Metropolis is full of crime, yet there is a hopeful vibe.  I believe this is because the story actually starts at a farm in Smallville. The farm vibe is carried into the city along with Superman.

As I said before, most authors don't care about vibe.  They allow it to naturally form and just go with it. And by now, you might also be asking "what's the point in trying to control vibe?"  Or maybe even, "Is there even a reason to pay attention to vibe?"

Strengthening a vibe is like strengthening a voice.  The stronger it is, the more an audience will remember it.  And the more they remember it, the more they want to return to it.  But, unlike voice, a reader doesn't return to repeat a conversation with a character (you know, since every novel is a conversation with an author).  They return to feel.  Just like a person will return to a favorite place in the real world, they'll want to revisit a novel because it's permeated with a unique atmosphere they can't find anywhere else.

That sounds good.  Right?  If you're like me, you're pumping a fist in the air and saying "I'll make everyone fall in love with my world!"  Unfortunately, you can't strengthen what you don't control.  That's why vibe should be noticed and consciously managed from the start by carefully meshing character profile with settings.

Apologies if this seemed like another rambling post, but here's my final note:

Don't just aim for a unique voice.  Aim for a unique vibe.

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