There are few greater pleasures for those who love storycraft than picking up a book, easing into the first pages and then–bam–finding an entire afternoon has simply vanished. You know, those times when pages dissolve into a realm so convincing you find it hard to pull free. Over the years I have encountered many stories with intricate plots and clever narratives. But rarely does the whole of a tale envelop me, compelling me to walk with the characters, breathe their air, see through their eyes and, at times, even cry their tears.
I began pondering the matter during the recent WU Breakthrough Novel Dissection exploration of Station Eleven, a National Book Award finalist from author Emily St. John Mandel. Among the group a consensus arose that, despite the intriguing concept, the narrative at times distanced the reader. Early on, Liz Michalski described the book as “a story behind glass,” an assessment that resurfaced throughout the discussion, even as participants praised many attributes of the tale.
For me the criticism echoed days afterward for, you see, I have been similarly struggling. Despite chipping away at the outline of my current WIP, I have yet to feel fully immersed in the world of my characters as I did with my first novel. In a situation many of you will recognize, voices of doubt followed, taunting “If you can’t experience a sense of reality with your own story, how on earth will anyone else?”
Warding off full-blown anxiety, I began a quest for the keys to an immersive reading experience. Not surprisingly, given complexities of our craft, I found no definitive techniques. Still, I gained insights from revisiting books that had stuck with me, those that had transported me to worlds beyond my own.
For each, I asked a simple question: What made the experience “feel real”? [Read more…]