Immersion: Closing the Gap between Reader and Character

I saw a Facebook post recently that asked the question, “What mistakes did you make in your early writings?” Naturally, I offered an honest answer. In past scribbling, I was guilty of “distancing” my readers from my characters. However, I have since learned how to close the gap between reader and character.

What Are Distancing Phrases?

You create distance by telling what the character saw, as opposed to letting the reader see through the character’s eyes. Instead of listing every possible manner of distancing and its fix, I’ve decided to write a small paragraph which displays distancing. Yes, I know there’s an element of the old Show vs. Tell going on here, but I’m concentrating on the relationship between reader and character.

tortoise

This Is True for Filmmaking as Well

Remember the last time you watched a well-made film? You were completely immersed into the world and characters presented to you. So much so, that you forgot about the real world. Notice what happens if the film breaks or if there’s a commercial interruption. You become jolted out of the immersion.

A Sample

Let’s say your main character is John. Here’s some text loaded with distancing.

John offered the diary to Mary. He could see her hand trembling with nervous trepidation as she grabbed the little green journal. “The page is marked,” John said. He watched as she took hold of the white ribbon and turned to the infamous page. As her eyes scanned the entry, John noticed her curled lip.

She closed her eyes and dropped the book. “I can’t believe my sister did something like that.”

He felt terrible about revealing the truth to Mary and decided to hug her.

Therefore…

If the main character is John, then everything written is from his point of view. Everything seen, felt, smelled, or heard happens through him. Therefore there is no need for “He could see…”, “He watched…”, or “He felt terrible…” Also, once these distancing expressions are removed, you get locked into heightening the points for added drama while editing.

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A Rewrite

John offered the diary to Mary. Her trembling hand reached out and then recoiled away. He stretched out his arm, forcing the book closer to her. “The page is marked.”

After a deep breath, she held out her hand. John planted the little green journal into her palm.

She opened it to the infamous page marked with a piece of white ribbon. Her lip curled as her eyes scanned the entry. “I can’t believe my sister did something like that.”

With an aching in his chest, he lurched forward, wrapped his arms around her and drew her close.

Guilty

There is a vast difference between my first short story, “Stasis,” and my latest one, “Night Flights.” Although improved, I was still not completely satisfied with my writing. However, I’ve learned so much about editing over the past year, and have applied that knowledge to my forthcoming fantasy novel.

How About You?

Did your early writing distance the reader? Did you do a bit too much “telling” and block your readers from getting immersed in your characters and world?

Every Time You Reply – Little Frankie Doesn’t Cry

francesco25

14 thoughts on “Immersion: Closing the Gap between Reader and Character

  1. Guilty. Oh, I was guilty of so much in my early days that I should have been sentenced to life. But I’m a lot more innocent now.

    Here’s an argument I’ve heard over the past few years, and I think it’s because these readers are unaware that if the scene is written from–in this case–John’s view that everything revealed is exactly from his view, not another character’s.

    Some writers of my work have suggested I needed “he watched” and “he could see”. The reason behind this is because they think if these phrases are not there, it is possible the point of view is another character’s. Each time I hear this from these readers, I’m baffled. I think, “the whole scene is supposed to be from John’s view, so you can assume correctly it is John taking note of these things’.

    But they don’t always think I should leave assumption up to chance.

    Have you heard this argument?

    Like

    • Hi Diane,
      If an author is guilty they should be “sentenced” 🙂
      It is difficult to establish in a small snippet as in the above example. However, in a novel or short story, showing your MC alone and adding in a few italicized inner thoughts will firmly establish your MC. Most of the material I’ve read on blogs and in craft books, clearly say that an author doesn’t need to hold their readers hand and baby step them along. Always give your reader credit.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I always have to struggle with remembering to describe my characters’ feelings. Left to my own devices, I would write almost all action and dialogue and hardly any description of their inner or outer world. Of course, my favorite first date was when I picked up a woman at 7 pm and we went out to dinner and talked and talked and talked until I dropped her off at home at 7 am.

    Like

    • Just remember to appeal to the character’s five senses. That is the device that not only immerses the reader, but also builds a sense of a real world around them.

      Kind of reminds me of a get together. We met just to take some pix for a gaming groups webpage. It wasn’t even a date. But it went on till the wee hours. We got married a year and a half later. Did you marry her?

      Like

  3. I suspect I’m guilty. I daren’t read my first book because I’m certain I’ll want to rewrite the whole thing. Since it’s published by a publisher and not self-published, i don’t expect he’d be too impress, especially as it’s the first one in a series.
    I think (hope) my later ones are better.:-/

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is one of my biggest writer flaws. I have been working on it, but still…old habits are hard to break. It’s how I think through my character’s eyes…to see what they see and attempt to convey that, rather than reaching into the reader’s soul to draw them in. It’s deeper than what is on the page. It’s similar to how I relate in social situations. I deplore small talk. Yet, I find that people withdraw when you attempt to go deeper into meaningful conversation. I want my characters to develop meaningful relationships with my readers.

    Like

    • Hi S.K., welcome to my blog and thanks for your input.
      You have to get inside the character and see what they see, feel what they feel, think what they think, etc. Like the character is simply an Avatar, and you get inside for the experience.
      Try to get into “small talk” because you do have to convey it as well within your pages.

      Liked by 1 person

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