My job as an author is to get readers “lost” in my story – as in, they lose track of time, can’t put the book down, and are fully engaged to the point of not realizing they stayed up until 2am reading and the house is on fire.
They. Are. Immersed.
Never un-immerse your reader from your story.
In order to have a great story, readers have to become fully immersed, never pulling their head up to see the world happening around them but only flowing along with where your story goes and what your story does. They get lost in the world you created.
You need many things. An interesting plot. Relatable characters. Good pacing. On and on.
You must avoid mistakes. No typos. You can’t be dull.
When it’s right, readers know it.
You see it in movies all the time. When people leave a movie, they’re pumped up after watching Rocky or they’re feeling adventurous after watching Indiana Jones. Or they are sad, crying their eyes out at the end of Love Story or Dr. Zhivago or Titanic.
When it’s wrong, readers know it.
The Angry Birds movie, if you are over the age of ten. Finding Dory. Zoolander 2. Heck, just about anything 2. Independence Day 2, whatever it was called. The Johnny Depp/Through The Looking Glass thing where he wore all the clown makeup. Come on. Clown face? That’s awful on the cover. Nobody’s seeing that.
All the things we advise you to do – spell checking, trimming, grabber openings, cliffhanger endings – are the things that help immerse your reader in your story.
Your goal is to never un-immerse them.
Typos and run-on sentences and things like that all serve to pull your reader out of the story, even if only for a nanosecond.
Un-immersing your reader from the story is the ultimate sin.
The goal is to keep them in, so anything that takes them out has to be addressed.
Look, at some point you’re going to have to end a chapter. That’s a great place for the reader to say oh it’s time to make dinner – and then they get busy with a phone call and email and then the next day they have to work late and then the air conditioner breaks and then soccer practice starts and it’s their day to make brownies for the team – and your book never gets picked back up. I’ll get to it tomorrow…
A DAY becomes a WEEK becomes NEVER.
The third Harry Potter book still waiting for me. I got halfway through it because I took two airplane flights to go snow tubing. Killing Jesus took me four months to read because I read half of it in one sitting, got busy, and didn’t get back to the second part until four months later! And those are both good books. Anything slightly less and I would not have picked it up, such as Bird By Bird or The Hero With A Thousand Faces or any of a number of other books. Or movies I recorded that I started watching and never got back to. Or TV series with multiple episodes DVR’ed and every time I get a chance to start back up at episode three, I’m kinda sleepy and Law And Order reruns looks better. A month later, the folder gets deleted from the DVR in a fit of digital spring cleaning and no one notices.
Is that what you want for your story after all your hard work writing it? No.
So you have two goals.
1: Tell a great story, and
2: Keep your reader completely immersed.
That’s what makes writing difficult.
We can all learn to tell good stories.
We can’t all tell smooth ones that readers stay completely immersed in. It’s hard work and it requires concentration and hours of furrowed brows, rewriting the same line four times and still hating it. It’s hard work to ACCEPT when somebody tells you to cut a whole chapter. It’s hard work getting up the courage to show your story to a critique group. It’s hard work to call local book store sand ask them to let you do a signing. It’s hard work = whatever you don’t like doing.
That’s why Hemingway said we are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.
If you were ever wondering HOW writers do that amazing stuff with multiple subplots and layers, most write out an outline and ADD that stuff, reworking it so it meshes and makes sense. Add layers at every level, and watch movies and read books that are like that to see them doing it – and take notes. That’s what I do, and unless you think I’m just an amazing genius, you can do it, too.
There are lots of great example. Get Shorty. Pulp Fiction. Others.
Get Shorty: A shylock needs to track down a runaway customer who owes him money. That’s a simple enough plot. Most of you would leave it there.
The shylock, a movie fan, has a few hurdles in his path:
- He just got a new boss
- The new boss is a guy he was having a fight with
- The shylock doesn’t want to be a shylock any more
- while tracking down the runaway customer, who has run to Vegas, the shylock is asked to go to LA to track down a runaway customer of a casino
- while in LA, he meets a movie producer
- the movie producer gambled away the money for his latest project
- the money he lost was lent to him by mobsters
- the mobsters borrowed the money from drug dealers in Latin America and they need it back BIG TIME
- the mob guys kill the drug dealer’s “mule” – who also happens to be the drug king pin’s nephew
Is that enough layers or do you need more? Add some witty dialogue and memorable characters and you are off to the races.
Keep throwing “what if” scenarios into your story, and make them objects the MC has to overcome – and that secondary characters have to overcome.
Emulate the best examples you can, so your stories are the best they can be.
That’s how you tell a great story.
How you keep your reader immersed is: fast pace, cliffhanger chapter endings, great dialogue, memorable characters, etc. Use the search button to track those topics down. They’re here.
Dan Alatorre has had a string of bestsellers and is read in over 112 countries around the world.
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