Thanks to fantasy author Clementine Thorn for this guest post:
I’m a little bit of a contradiction, because I worry about how well my book is going to do whilst simultaneously giving the middle finger to commercial conventions that would probably help it do better. Then, there’s my complicated relationship with immersive writing. It wasn’t enough for agents—but it was too much for my first round of beta readers.
I want to dig into this idea of immersive writing, because it’s been the trending style of late, especially in YA, but I never feel like anyone quite hits on what, exactly, they want from a deep POV.
Disclaimer: I adore deep POVs. Immerse me in their thoughts and feelings. Action scene? Meh. Show me the internal turmoil. More than that, draw me into the book so completely that nothing else matters.
The issue is, being immersive not only fails frequently as a story-telling device when writers refuse the chance to suspend disbelief, but it neglects the sensory perception of arguably the most important character: the reader.
There’s something truly gratifying (and a little meta) about exploring how the reader ingests my words.
And we need to play the hobbiest to do this. A sensory dive into the reader’s experience requires you to not only be a writer, but a musician, a painter, and a sculptor.
There’s a chance your book might be read aloud. So, how do the words actually sound, coming off the page? Are they easy over your tongue? Or do they trip you up? Either can be an effective device, but it should be a deliberate choice.
Is there a rhythm to the consonants and vowels? Don’t think about it like a writer, either, with nonsense like iambic pentameter. Think like a musician. How does the prose cadence? Forget the meaning of the words for a minute—how do the words actually sound against your ear? Is the mix pleasant? Jarring?
This is your chance to play the composer. Take it. That’s why poets like Rupi Kaur have had so much success—their words are music, too.
Some readers will only ever see the text on the page.
Is it visually enticing?
Does your structure draw the eye in?
Or is it easy to get lost in the sea of words? If you’re reading fast, does the eye catch important moments? With tools like the dreaded em-dash and paragraph breaks, you can adjust the pacing visually—the rate at which your reader visually absorbs material is as relevant (and I’d argue the same) as dramatic pacing.
Fonts matter, too, and things like line spacing and text alignment, but those often get moved into some sort of editorial category, because they’re Serious™ things. Writers, too, are told that their editors/agents will help sort that stuff out, and that’s fine—but it’s equally fine to play the painter and take control of those elements yourself.
Ways to Go Deep
For instance, consider this:
She froze. Time stopped.
She froze. Time stopped. Nothing moved.
One takes a poetic approach to structure; the other doesn’t. Neither is wrong.
I’m a sucker for a good paper-back. I don’t mean good, as in well-written, either.
I’ve been known to buy books just because they feel good.
So, if you’re inclined to publish a physical copy, and you have the resources to pick your printing supplies, that’s another chance to interact with the reader. Does your medieval fantasy have a slick, glossy cover, or can you get something parchment-y and heavy? How thick are the pages? It’s another kind of world building, crafting a tome of your own—and there’s something to be said for a book that sits well in the hand.
When someone says immersive, I want them to mean it. I want prose about music to literally sing. I want my eyeballs to be part of your epic chase scene. I want to feel the rice-paper thin sheets in your dystopian world.
There’s a lot readers can forgive when you’re interacting with them beyond the words. I don’t mind continuity or plot issues if the prose is hits my ear just right.
And honestly, there’s a lot more that I can forgive in my own writing if I know there’s other factors at work.
This isn’t by any means a pass to skip over editing. Refining your craft isn’t always easy.
But just because it’s hard work doesn’t mean it has to be Serious™.
We’re allowed to have fun.