Patch That Leaky Grecian Urn

Art is immersive, and the best art is the most immersive. Great work don’t just draw you in, but leaves you no method of escape, because every path turns back on itself like the dozen characters on a Grecian urn, each leading the eye to next, round and round forever.

Contrary to what some might say, immersion is not a function of world-building, but rather of human psychology. Our superpower as authors is to hack our readers brains such that they feel more alive inside our stories than out. Getting good at this trick just takes a willingness to wonder: How does my brain work? Here’s some ideas to get you started…

  1. Humans seize on negative emotion far more readily than positive. Keep readers hooked by tweaking fear, anger, sadness, and disgust in unique ways. Like a sadist might.
  2. Humans respond well to positive reinforcement, so reward readers with joy and surprise at regular intervals. It’ll build up their endurance for deeper experiences further along.
  3. Humans experience life as a single stream of sensations. So keep your narrative continuous, even if you change POVs. Don’t rouse them from dream with a jolt.
  4. Humans see the world as reflections of themselves, as you might in a hall of mirrors. Warp every detail of your story until the whole thing feels preoccupied with your theme.
  5. Humans like to feel respected. If the story allows, initiate readers into the “good guy” tribe. Or leave space for them to feel superior to a flawed and tragic cast. Give them dots to connect—without help. Don’t expect them to swallow nonsense. Treat readers like they know better.
  6. Humans hate to feel patronized. So leave readers free pick their own tribe. Or to empathize with a flawed and tragic cast. Steelman the arguments of your antagonists. Give readers the dots to connect—without help. Never put your finger on the scale of a lazy plot.

Above all, to deepen the immersion of your next novel, keep an eye out for insight into how humans are. You don’t have to look that far. You’re living inside one right now.