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:
- Class Divisions
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.
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.
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.