[I totally couldn’t come up with a better title.]
Let us talk about immersion in writing for a little while. Immersion is where you go to your room to read, and when you stop to get something to eat you find yourself legally pronounced dead. Immersion is when you run home to continue reading a book, not necessarily because you ‘want to find out what happens next’, but because you have genuinely formed an emotional attachment to the characters and like them as people, or just find the story interesting.
Because immersion can mark the difference between a forgettable book and an unforgettable book I think that it is really important, and sometimes really overlooked. When this has gone wrong reading a book is sort of like when a cat is crying around your legs for attention when you are trying to smoke. It’s cute, and you can tell he means well, but it’s just the wrong time for it and you are not in the mood. When it goes right you can literally feel what is going on. Let me give examples of what I mean. Two examples of the good was like when I was reading V. by Thomas Pynchon, and during the chapter set in Italy I could literally almost feel the Italian sun, or when I was reading The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and during the first party at Gatsby’s house I could almost hear the revelry and almost felt a part of it. Two examples of the bad happened during Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman during a weird sort of throne room with a king-beggar and finally realised I just couldn’t accept what was happening, or during The Colour Out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft when a bumkinish local opens his mouth to let out a torrent of clichés and bad writing. Disagree with these examples if you want, and these might be unique to me alone, but everyone who has read enough will know what I’m talking about.
With both of the good examples above I found myself lost in both books, picturing I was in a cafe in Italy, or watching a drunk swing on a chandler in West Egg, Long Island; I was just wishing the narrative to go on forever, without any of the daily annoyances like eating or sleep. With both of the bad examples the exact same thing happened: I looked up, saw my surroundings, went down stairs and made myself a coffee, and played a Nirvana song or two on guitar before finally going back to reading.
This immersion into a narrative can happen in a number of ways I find, and I will list four ways here with examples:
1 – The joy of the writing itself. When reading Haruki Murakami’s After Dark I found myself able to at worst forgive, and at best accept the Lynch-esque dips into the surreal because the writing itself was so interesting, rich and alive. This is why we can accept and laugh at the borders that are pushed in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The other end of this is Don Delillo’s Americana, which – while wasn’t poorly written, was so blandly written that I find myself sometimes uninterested.
2 – The details in the story. The best two novels I can point to with this are probably The Hobbit and Nineteen-Eighty Four. Both of these books gave sufficient details of their respective worlds that made them both seem more plausible that I could suspend my disbelieve enough to really enjoy them. The other end this is Lisey’s Story by Stephen King which uses the idea of an alternative world that one can get to by thinking about it. That’s not a joke either, I’m being serious. And this alterative world – named Boo’ya Moon in the novel – was copied almost completely from Lovecraft’s Dream World stories.
3 – The real world being distorted. Murakami’s After Dark also applies here, but a better example that I can think of is House of Leaves. This is when a realistic world is presented and detailed well, and then gets turned on its head. House of Leaves built up to its weirdness with normal things acting in increasingly subtle ways until we find Will Navidson exploring a mysterious, dark-covered alternate dimension, and yet I can accept House of Leaves more than, say, Neverwhere because a good contrast between the weird and the real world was established at the beginning.
4 – Being realistic. This applies to Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Joseph Conrad. These writers structured their respective worlds and stories in such a clear, sensible, logical way; and give so many relatable details in their stories that their worlds feel very real. Their stories are all heartfelt, all well considered, and natural; and their realism really draws me in to their stories. A clear example of the other side of this is Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, which I find to be unrealistic and rather silly. Not to say that The Da Vinci Code wasn’t entertaining, it’s rather like a Michael Bay film.
These are just a four examples of how a novel can draw you in. I’m sure I have not put down everything, but this should demonstrate what I am trying to say. What I am trying to say is this: with your writing remember to consider all of the usual things, like grammar, and style, and consistency; but also remember that you are trying to draw the reader into your world and allow them to enjoy it. Immersion, then, should be king.
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