Yes, I am stealing this title directly from a great writing website, Creativity Hacker created by the author Jefferson Smith.
Or… rather I am paying homage to it.
Why? Because one, that title is sure to catch your attention and it has a literal punch to it. And I want your attention with this blog. Two, this is one of the most important things you have to know as a writer in my opinion. If you are not pulling that reader in and capturing their complete attention, then you are not fulfilling your obligation to take them away from their lives and take them by the hand into your world, your story.
A break in immersion occurs at the point when a reader has to stop and analyze any sentence for any reason. If they are thinking about your words, they are not thinking about your characters.
The concept behind Jefferson Smith’s Immerse or Die is that he takes new submitted books and reviews them while doing a 40 minute walk on his treadmill. If his “immersion” is broken three times, he puts the book aside. Later he writes up his reviews and then posts the results. He highlights the stories that live through the test period so they get full glory and recognition.
I spent a lot of time there and learned a lot from his ideas and rules to keep readers immersed in the story.
Look at the following chart that shows you the outcome of his reviews in 2015:
Here is the Blog Link to his blog review.
Here are some of the most common errors to keep in mind especially when you are editing!
Clarity! Be careful when you are writing your prose. Keeping it simple and at the same time “poetic” is a very fine line that you have to tightrope walk.
The Hemingway App Editor is a great, free resource that will help your writing. It will identify and highlight sentences that are not in an easy to read format or structure. It will also detail what grade level the work is. The lower the grade the more relatable it will be to the readers.
Another way to keep the reader immersed is avoiding Echo Words, Echo Headers and Repeat Passages. This one was a huge problem for me and I was not even aware of it until I applied the rule during my own editing phase. I had repeat words and overused phrases everywhere!
An example of an Echo Word or Echo Header is when the writer uses the same word for several sentences in a row or within the same paragraph in the prose.
Example: The robot failed to stop the invaders. Henry saw the aliens slip past the machine. The robot raced behind the attackers as they bolted up the stairs. At the top, the aliens pounded upon the metal doors. The robot then sounded the alarm to alert the compound.
Yes, this is an obvious example, but it does happen often. Other examples include when you use the character’s name over and over on the same page. I try hard to limit it to three or four times. Also over using the pronouns instead of the name can be very distracting or repetitive to the reader. Repetition equates to lack of unique description or lack of originality in the work. Come up with synonyms like the man, the boy, the warrior or the teacher, etc.
Another problem I still wrestle with revolves around names. If you have too many names that sound similar or use the same starting letter (i.e. too many M or T names), readers may get confused on who is doing what. If you have too many complex names (which is my dilemma), then the readers are always pulled out of immersion as they are trying to pronounce the name. I felt at the time since I was establishing a fantasy world then they wouldn’t have the usual Bob or Mary names. Yet, my “style” overrode my “message” and I got a lot of feedback on reviews about the complexity of the names. It was obvious that it stuck with my readers and thus, they weren’t always immersed in the tale.
Plot or Story Continuity is also critical in immersion. If the characters are doing something in one scene based on knowledge of an event that has not happened, that will cause any reader to stop, shake their head and try to piece the puzzle together.
Or if the characters act out of character or do something for no reason, this also frustrates the reader. Be sure on a final read-through to take the time to write out your plot events on a timeline as they happened. You should do this even if you are a writer called a “pantser” (write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style writer) and do not use outlines. You have to be sure that during your editing you didn’t move a crucial point or event out of its correct time. The timeline will keep you on track. And it is easier to spot any potential plot holes or inconsistencies.
Keeping immersion also means that the reader can feel, breathe, smell, hear or even taste the elements of the scene. They are living through the story and not being told a tale. One way to dull your prose or separate your reader from the character is using Filter Words. Filter Words are just that – words that appear when the reader’s experience has been filtered through a character’s point of view.
Filter examples (and any tense of the words): To Hear, To Know, To Decide, To See, To Notice, To Feel, To Think, To Assume, To Believe and To Note. There are a lot more out there, but this gives you an idea of what to look for.
Here are two paragraphs as an example:
Danny thought about tomorrow’s car race and he wondered how he would perform against all the other, more experienced drivers. He heard a car horn blare at him from the traffic waiting behind him. It was then that he decided that he had to put aside his worries and do the best he could.
A vision of roaring race cars flashed across Danny’s mind. The day of the race had almost arrived. How would he do against the other more experienced drivers? A car horn blared behind him from an impatient driver and interrupted his thoughts. He shook his head to clear away the doubts. “I have got this!” he said aloud to himself.
Not all uses of the words above are considered filtering. But, it is a tough trap to avoid and like I said before, one must walk a fine line. Restrict your Filter Words to when they are critical to the meaning of the sentence.
The last Immersion Alert I want to hit upon is Exposition — The “writer’s diarrhea of the mouth”. Do not fill your pages with tons of historical facts (real or imaginary) or with complex, scientific exposition. If you do not bore the reader, you will certainly confuse them. Yes, you can relay some, but everything has to be in moderation.
Also in step with this, don’t fill your pages with huge paragraphs or have exhaustive chapters. The reason for breaks in writing is just that: a mental and physical break for the reader.
The current readers today are conditioned to fast action or events happening at the same time or in rapid order. Producers have designed video games, television shows and movies to cater to short attention spans.
Fine-tuning your writing so that the reader lives through the character is a tall task, yet it is a very rewarding endeavor. Don’t water down your message or limit your story’s potential by ignoring the rules to immersion. After all, the very reason we spend hours pouring over our writing is to bring the reader inside, right?
In terms of jumping into a character’s skin, I try to immerse myself in the role as much as possible to bring me closer to them. All I do is what’s required to achieve what I want to achieve. – Dougray Scott