I love it when a story sucks me in, pulling me so far under that I actually forget the real word exists, and just an afternoon (or half the night) exploring an entirely different place.
Such experiences of total immersion in a story seem to come more and more rarely for me. I’m not sure why – maybe because I tend to be more distracted when I read? Or maybe because many of the books I choose these days are more character driven, or tend to go light on the details of the world in which they take place?
In any case, it’s something I have given a great deal of thought to. As an author, I want to create experiences that overwhelm the reader with a sense of actually being on a foreign world: of breathing the acrid, overly warm air of a heavy planet whose skies are purple streaked with gold.
But how do we, as writers, accomplish this feat without overwhelming our readers with too many little details?
The secret, I think, is figuring out how to live in those worlds ourselves, first.
I’m currently working on a new trilogy, one that falls between The Ariadne Cycle and The Oberon Cycle. It’s essentially a recasting of the original story I told in this universe, way back in the mid-nineties – one that never got published.
I’m starting from scratch, rewriting it as an entirely new tale, albeit with some characters I originated in that first version. But something’s off, and it took me a long time to figure out what.
It’s feeling too… derivative. Too much like all the others. There’s something missing.
I’ve been sloshing this thought around in that mass of wet tissue I call a brain for a few months, trying to figure out just what that is. And it finally hit me. I’m not immersed enough in the world. I can’t feel its magic.
The bones of the story so far are sound, but I need to connect with Forever, the generation ship/world in the store, in a visceral way. I need to see it, feel it, understand it, so that when I write, it vibrates with light and life on the page for me and, eventually, for my readers.
So I’ve taken some time to start making notes, looking back at the story before it and the one after, figuring out how things might have evolved and changed since the last time I visited Forever.
I close my eyes and try to feel the world. What is it like to stand on its soil? How does it feel to see its walls curving up above me to vanish into apparent infinity?
How have my characters’ liminal abilities evolved and changed? What’s it like to walk down the street, among a spacefaring population that’s nevertheless used to “magic”?
I take all of it in, and hold it for a while, and then sit down and breathe it out again onto the page. And at last, I can feel the world taking life underneath my fingertips.
When you truly know your world, inside and out, the defining details come naturally through the work. Think about when you describe visits to your grandmother’s house as a child. The smell of a roast in the oven, the soft folds of grandma’s apron, the sparkle of the glass chandelier above the modest dining table that does its best to class the place up. The details just flow, and your world comes alive for the reader.
If you want your readers to truly live in your worlds for a few hours (or a few days), how can you not do the same? Figure out your world, what makes it exceptional. All the little things that make it tick. Then write it, and those details will shine through, making your world a must-visit place for your readers.
To my writer friends – how involved do you get in the worlds you write? Any tips or tricks you’d like to share?