Good immersive writing is nothing short of pure magic. To be able to conjure up bold tactile images and surround your reader with your story in stereo—that’s what takes good writing to an unforgettable level.
But how do you do it?
Details, Details. I know you get a lot of modern
writing gurus warning against too many details. We have a lot of sparse,
un-atmospheric, writing out there as a result of people taking them a little
too literally. For the most part, you actually do want details in your writing.
Details are important for characterization, building a setting, creating
suspense, evoking emotions, foreshadowing and hinting, etc. Just be careful
with your timing and try to incorporate them into your beats. Don’t be afraid
of them. If they really do slow you down your story, you’ll probably be able to
tell when you read through it. Only cut what actually needs cut.
Remember who you are. That is, stay in your chosen
point of view character’s mind. Staying focused with your point of view is a
major help in keeping your reader in the scene. If you limit yourself to
showing the things that your point of view character sees, feels, hears, and
thinks, you’ll have a good start to knowing what details will actually help rather
than harm the immersive quality of your story.
Keep moving. One thing to be aware of is long
exchanges of dialogue without any action beats. I’ve found it’s a good general
rule to not let your characters sit around and converse—that is, avoid the
Counsel of Elrond. Even if you have a dialogue-based scene, try giving your
characters something physical to do, even if it’s just walking down a street. I
don’t really know why this works so well, but it does. My dialogue becomes much
more natural and interesting if my characters are doing
something—anything—besides just talking to each other’s faces.
Stay grounded. Don’t forget your setting at any
point. Every scene happens in a very specific physical environment. It’s a
certain time of day, in a particular place, with particular lighting and
conditions. Keep your characters interacting with it. If it’s a hot day, this
will affect what your characters do—how long they can keep running, how many
times they pick up their water bottle, probably their tolerance for frustrating
tasks. If it’s dark, remember they won’t be able to read subtle facial
expressions. (I’ve definitely made this mistake.) These considerations will
help your reader remember where they are, and stay there in their minds.
Those are my tips. Writing immersive scenes takes practice,
and I’m still learning. But I hope you can improve your own writing by applying
some of the tricks I’ve listed here.
Find a scene in your current WIP that feels boring and flat.
Take everything out but the basic action and the dialogue and re-write it. If
there’s hardly any action, give your readers something to do. You could also
experiment placing the same action in a completely different setting. Don’t
hold back on details. You can trim them when you’re finished writing the scene.
Compare the two scenes. Did it help?