Advertising
Advertising

5 Strategies for Making Your Fiction Writing Feel More Immersive

5 Strategies for Making Your Fiction Writing Feel More Immersive

Fiction writers face the challenge of getting a reader interested in their story and willing to invest a significant amount of time to reading the story from beginning to end. If you want people to come along for the ride of your story, you have to give them an experience. You want them to be so immersed in your story that they don’t want to leave until the experience is complete. Below are five strategies fiction writers can use to make their stories feel more immersive.

1. Build an Imaginative Story World

People remember the stories that took them on a journey to another world. People don’t forget the story worlds of Star Wars, The Hunger Games, or Harry Potter because those worlds are unique and vital to the stories that take place in them. Star Wars wouldn’t be the same story if it took place in modern-day Houston. What would Harry Potter be without Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?   Story worlds don’t have to be as elaborately different from our own as the examples above. They just need to be vital to the story that’s being told. The Help by Kathryn Stockett wouldn’t be the same story if it took place in modern-day London.   A well-crafted story world will bring the reader close to the story because they’re experiencing a world that is different than the world they inhabit.   Crafting an imaginative story world involves creating the world’s history, including major events that have impacted the way the world works. For example, the original Star Wars has as a part of its world history the overthrow of the Galactic Republic by Emperor Palpatine. This historical event in the story world impacts what happens in the story that George Lucas told in the original trilogy. Other considerations include:

Advertising

  • Government
  • Education
  • Culture
  • Class Divisions
  • Values
  • Beliefs

One last consideration would be the laws of nature in your story’s world. Can people fly? Is death unalterable? Does magic exist? Are humans the only rational creatures?   An imaginative story world takes the reader on a journey into a new world.

2. Write in First Person Point-of-View

One of the best ways to make a story more immersive is by taking the reader so far into the narrator’s head that they essentially experience what the narrator experiences. This is the beauty of the first-person narrative. In first-person point-of-view, the narrator tells his or her story instead of telling someone else’s story. Using first-person pronouns such as I, me, my, and even we and us, the narrator lets us see the story play out through his or her eyes. Suzanne Collins used first-person narrative effectively in The Hunger Games as Katniss Everdeen relates what is occurring in the story from her perspective. Notice the difference between the two sentences below.   Third-person: Claire picked up the necklace and placed it around her neck. First-person: I picked up the necklace and placed it around my neck. First-person narrative takes us as close to the action of the story we can get and allows us to experience the story as if we were happening to us.

Advertising

3. Write in Present Tense

Stories are often written with past-tense verbs, which means the narrator is relating events that occurred sometime in the past. Read the example from above again with the past-tense verbs highlighted. Claire picked up the necklace and placed it around her neck. Present tense verbs bring us to what’s occurring in the moment. In present-tense narration, the narrator is relating the story as it’s happening. Claire picks up the necklace and places it around her neck. Writing in present tense serves to make the readers feel like they’re eyewitnesses to the action of the story as it’s occurring. Veronica Roth used this well in the Divergent series as Tris conveys to us every moment of what she’s experiencing as it happens, bringing the reader as chronologically close to the story as possible.

4. Create an Emotional Journey

When we look back on their lives, the memories that had the most emotional impact on us are the ones that stick with us the most. It’s the same with stories. The stories that engage our emotions stick with us because emotions are the strongest and most prevalent experience we have. If a story can make us experience emotion, the deepest part of us is brought close to the story, and we’re not likely to forget it. When it comes to tapping into emotions, the stories that impact us the most tend to include moments of two people falling in love or someone losing someone they love to death. But these aren’t the only way to appeal to emotions. You can appeal to events that bring joy, anger, despair, or fear. Nobody forgets the emotions they felt when Harry Potter watched his godfather Sirius Black die in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Tapping into emotions causes people to experience something as a result of your story.

Advertising

5. Write Visually

Nothing will bring a reader closer to a story than causing them to use their imagination as they’re reading. You want the reader to see in their mind the action that you’re describing. You do this by using sensory language. Sensory language is simply writing in a way that appeals to the five senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell), and the best way to communicate how to do it is to give an example. Mark notices the chatter of people as he steps inside the restaurant. The aroma of fresh-baked bread hits him, reminding him of the way his house used to smell when Taylor would cook for him. He steps to the counter and is surprised by how much the woman behind the counter looks like Taylor with her blond curls and wide smile. He gathers himself and orders a coffee. Minutes later, Mark sits down at a table, a warm cup in his hand. He brings the cup to his mouth and takes a moment to savor the taste of mocha. Notice the sensory details in the example above. By appealing to the five senses, you cause the reader to imagine the details you’re describing, which brings them closer to the story as an experience.

The Key to Immersive Storytelling

If you want to create a more immersive story experience for your reader, the more of these strategies you apply, the closer you bring the reader into your story. And the closer a reader is to a story, the less likely they’ll be willing to leave.

Advertising

More by this author

5 Strategies for Making Your Fiction Writing Feel More Immersive 10 Books Mark Zuckerberg Wants You To Read 10 Mini Productivity Hacks To Ease Your Life 10 Influential Announcements From Google I/O 2015 10 Reasons Why Introverts Are More Likely To Be Successful

Trending in Communication

1 How to Deal With Negative Thoughts (the Healthy Way) 2 How to Cope With Empty Nest Syndrome and Be Happy Again 3 How to Increase Motivation When You’re in a Slump 4 7 Hardest Languages to Learn For English Speakers 5 8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

Advertising

I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

Advertising

I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

Advertising

Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

Advertising

Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

Read Next