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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:

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  • 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.

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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.

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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.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

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