What’s your favorite book? Is it the Harry Potter series? A Stephen King novel? What about a children’s book that takes you back to yesteryear?
Some stories grab hold of us and just don’t let go. We laugh and cry and our palms get sweaty and we feel as if we’re living these stories. These are the ones that become our favorites. Sometimes we don’t like the endings. They may even make us angry, but we still end up loving them anyway (hello My Sister’s Keeper…you ripped my heart out but I still love you).
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What is it that makes these stories so unflinchingly lovable?
They put us right in the thick of the story. We feel like we’re living these stories because the author has taken steps to make sure we’re fully captivated. We forget that it’s words on a page that another human being has written. We forget that hundreds of other people could be reading the story at that very moment. It’s our story. Just us and the characters and their world.
We’re all in.
Talk about writing goals, right?
Immersing your reader is different than just hooking them, it’s keeping them hooked. These tips should be used throughout your novel to help keep the reader plugging along and, hopefully, evoke some kind of emotional response. Preferably one that doesn’t involve you getting hate mail.
To help you get there, I’ve compiled 5 methods I’ve learned to help you immerse your readers in your story. If you want to be just as good as your favorite authors one day, then read on!
(Don’t judge me for being tempted to say “Use the Force.”)
How often do you go through your day and not use your senses?
Hmm, that’s a toughie.
Oh yeah, it’s never. Unless you’ve got extenuating health-related circumstances, you use all of your senses on any given day. In your writing, don’t feel constricted to just the original five senses, though. There’s some pretty interesting ones that you shouldn’t forget about!
You’re familiar with see, touch, smell, hear and taste. But what about proprioception, how you’re able to tell where your body parts are relative to one another? Use this when you want to portray that your character is dazed and unable to properly function. Perhaps they fell or they’ve been hit in a fight. Equilibrioception, the sense responsible for being able to keep your balance, can also be used in a similar fashion. Some others include pressure, itch, hunger and direction.
Why am I throwing these strange senses at you? So you can use them of course! These are naturally occurring senses for all of us, and we shouldn’t forget to use them in our writing. Making use of the senses enables the reader to get a better picture of what’s really happening to your characters. It brings a depth to your writing that can’t be replaced with anything else. If you’re in the editing phase and find your writing is a little detached, go back and make sure you’re putting your senses to work.
This is also a fantastic way of creating really immersive writing. Deep POV basically means that you limit the “author intrusion” and let the character tell the story. It can accomplish in third person what writing in first person can – so that the reader forgets about the author altogether. This allows the reader to establish a strong connection with the story, making it feel like they’re living the journey with your characters.
Start with the mindset that you should never write anything that your character already knows to be true. If you go to the grocery store, you wouldn’t jump into the brief history of the grocery store while you’re shopping. Even if it’s pertinent to the story, you’re going to have to think of a different way to do it. Deep POV is more in-the-moment, so reflection on weird things like this is a no-no!
You should jump at the chance to use words that are more meaningful to the character telling the story. This allows your characters to show through on the page more since a tomboy wouldn’t describe a story the same way that Miss USA would. I particularly like this aspect, since my WIP has multiple POVs. I can still get the essence of first person, without confusing the reader by changing who is saying “I” and “me.”
But tread lightly! Remember to only change POV during scene changes and make it obvious. This is a huge pet peeve of mine, and I talk about it more here. This is referred to as head-hopping and gives your reader metaphorical whiplash. If your audience has to re-read a passage to make sure they know who’s telling the story now, then you have some reworking to do! This is also a great item to have your beta-readers look for, so they can let you know if you’re guilty of this!
If you want your readers to live in the world of your character, then you need to make sure you’re living there while you’re writing the story. And make sure you never leave! Don’t say “Her brother, Eric…” because we hope by now that the main character would know that Eric is her brother. Instead, you can use introductions, flashbacks, or dialog to establish that Eric is her brother. For example, your main character’s best friend could comment on how her brother just got accepted into Yale. Your main character could then respond using Eric’s name. Boom! Your readers are smart, and they like it when you leave it up to them to figure stuff out.
This is often grouped in with deep POV, but can stand on its own if you’re not ready to take the plunge into that style of writing just yet. The less the reader thinks they’re reading a story, the more realistic it will be for them. Narrative tags can signify who is speaking (dialogue tags), or when your character is thinking something (filter tags). Both should be minimized so that your reader never get pulled out of the story.
Words like “said,” “asked,” or “wondered,” detract from your story telling. It’s a pause in the narrative that doesn’t need to be there. Instead, follow up dialogue with an action to signify who is speaking.
“Get out of my room, you brat!” Evie demanded.
Mark made a face at her. “Make me!” He retorted.
Now read the following, with narrative tags removed.
“Get out of my room, you brat!” Evie tried to shove her brother into the hallway but his recent growth spurt made it difficult.
“Make me!” Mark contorted his face and held his ground.
The latter reads a lot more smoothly and allows the reader to draw a picture in their minds of what’s going on.
Think about the last conversation you had with someone. Did you pause and think about who said what? Or did you listen and take in their body language and actions simultaneously? This is what you want to emulate in your writing. Make it real and drop those tags!
Want your readers to cry when your main character’s mother passes away? Then you need to convince your reader to adopt the same emotions as the character, hooking them in the story. And this starts well before the climax of your story. If the climax involves the death of your character’s mother, then you need to establish why your character cares so much about her mother.
Do this by making their relationship real, so that the reader feels just as crushed as your character does when she passes (hurray for crushing readers!). You need plenty of time to build the foundation up – thank goodness you have three quarters of your novel to do just that!
Remember the movie My Dog Skip? Or Marley & Me? I know these involve dogs and it’s so much easier to get attached to animals, but bear with me. We knew what was coming (because hello…it can’t end well) and through both movies we were shown the bond that formed between the dogs and their humans. Their ups and downs and in betweens brought them closer to one another.
Your story should do the same thing. In order to make your climax so climactic, the events that take place have to be important first to the character, and then highlighted to the reader. An emotional impact on your reader, whether good or bad, is always what you strive to accomplish in your writing.
You never want your reader to get bored of your writing. A fast way to assure that they do is by using boring verbs and nouns. While your writing doesn’t have to be fifty shades of purple prose, you should have fun with putting a little character into the words themselves.
Weak words are ones that aren’t very descriptive to the situation. Verbs and nouns are both great opportunities to create a more detailed mental image for your reader. If weak verbs are used, you’re missing a chance to build tension and strong emotion. But if weak nouns are used, you’re leaving your reader in a circle of hell with nothing but vague descriptions.
The best way to get this point across is through examples. If I use the word “boy” in a sentence, there’s a lot of possibility as to what I could really mean. Depending on your reader, it could encompass an age range from 0-25. Think about the words “toddler,” “teenager,” or “infant.” These words are much more descriptive and afford your reader a better picture with the same word count.
This is also something that can be accomplished easily in the editing phase, after you realize you’ve said “run” four times in three pages. Instead of using the verb “run,” try using “dash,” “trot” or “scamper.” They each have slightly different connotations and can make your writing seem a lot less repetitive. You should always look for ways to have the most impact with as few words as possible, and strong verbs and nouns are just the way to do that!
We all love writing, and it’s our job to make our readers love our writing too. Like anything, keeping your reader engrossed in your story takes practice. If you’re a beginning writer, or even a seasoned one, keep these tips in mind next time you sit down to write or edit!
Let’s discuss this! What do you think of my tips? Do you have any other tips you think serve you well with immersive writing?
I hope you all have a wonderful day!