Hey, I heard someone say the Hunger Games isn't immersive and I was wondering what is an immersive universe, and is it something I should be doing/writing? And how to do it? Thanks
Thanks for your question, love! I’m very much in agreement with that person’s opinion of The Hunger Games. While THG is a brilliant plot-driven series, I’ve never been able to “get into it”, for many of the reasons I will discuss here.
So immersive storytelling is definitely tricky, just because of the factors involved. Instead of trying to get readers to a certain place, you’re trying to keep them there. You’re trying to keep them from getting that feeling that you get when you’re watching TV and you notice the edges of the screen and the rest of the room and you break focus and you hear the clock ticking in the background until you completely lose track of the scene. Immersion is the reason I couldn’t stay awake through any of the Thor movies.
(Seriously, if he didn’t look like this, I wouldn’t have made it 10 minutes.)
My point in saying that, though, is that while the Thor movies have that zoning-out, thinking-about-what’s-for-dinner effect on me, they manage to totally captivate some other people! So immersion, first of all, is different for every reader, every viewer. I’m only able to give you my perspective on what makes a story captivating for me, so take my words with a grain of salt.
Anyway, now that that’s out of the way… the actual advice.
6 Keys to Immersive Storytelling
1. A Journey
A journey can be defined as many things: a physical journey from Point A to Point B (e.g. Lord of the Rings), or an emotional journey from a personal or interpersonal State A to State B (e.g. The Fault in Our Stars). It can be defined as a story in which a moral is taught, the main character is changed, or the reader is changed for reading it.
I define a journey as this: a story throughout which the reader feels they are heading somewhere, and, by the end of which, feels either satisfied that they have arrived, or unsatisfied that they never quite made it. In either scenario, there is a goal in mind – the only difference is whether or not the characters are victorious or not. But victory doesn’t define the journey. Motion does.
2. Relatable Characters
The only way for your story (and therefore, your readers) to keep moving is to be propelled by characters – and while The Hunger Games and Thor both certainly had characters, what they lacked, for me, was relatable characters. No matter how compelling the journey of a story is, the reader has to both understand and care about whose journey it is. Otherwise, you’re just watching Grey’s Anatomy.
3. Strong Imagery
Another way that the THG books fell short, for me, was their physical description of the story – the sensory experience of it. For all the experiences Katniss went through, both physical and environmental, something about the description felt singular. The reader didn’t get to experience the sights, sounds, and feelings of the environment. They didn’t get to see each environment through Katniss’s eyes, through the tint of her emotions. It felt empty, in a way.
And that’s a major part of immersion. Make sure that your story isn’t experienced from an overhead camera, but through the sensations and emotions of your POV character. Use your settings, and the way we experience them, to enrich the story and create that movie-effect!
4. Real Stakes
Even from the very first page, stakes are necessary to keep readers invested in the story. Whether they’re small-scale stakes (getting to school on time) or large-scale (getting to the bomb in time), having a mystery or impending doom or just some carrot to dangle will make it more difficult for the mind to wander and the hand to close the book.
Just be careful not to make it hyper-intense all the time, or else it can feel gimmicky or melodramatic. My main point here is to avoid stalling or creating too much lead-up/exposition without creating tension, Slow starts = quick death.
5. Rich Narration
Whether you’re narrating, yourself, or through the voice of a character, a strong narrative voice is key to a compelling story. A lot of this takes place in the second draft – editing and rewriting, once you’ve gotten the first draft out of the way. It’s like putting together a bouquet of flowers – you’re not going to use all the flowers you grow, but you have to plant a bunch of different seeds and figure out which colors you like. So let yourself out of your box! Write all those beautiful descriptions and wacky humor and long, emotional tangents about your characters’ introspection. Really fill your garden with every kind of flower you can cram in there, and let it simmer over the first draft.
Then, when you’re going back to edit, be sure not to let self-consciousness rule you. Delete the unnecessary stuff, of course, but let yourself keep the personality. Don’t try to make your story too clinical or perfect. People are reading it for you and your voice, so let yourself get swept away, and they will be, too. But if you sit there typing with your head somewhere else, that’s exactly how the audience will read it.
Seriously, this is the most important key for any story, and I can’t preach it enough: readers can tell. Everything. They can tell if you’re bored. They can tell if you’re rushing or trying to slow everything down. They can feel when you’re having fun and they can sense when you’re holding back. They may not be aware exactly what the problem is with something like The Hunger Games (or whatever story any individual person finds non-immersive), but they’ll feel that vacancy all the same.
I could’ve gotten over Thor’s sheer lack of pacing technique. I could’ve ignored The Hunger Games’ emotionless POV character. I could (and still do, for complicated reasons) continue to watch Grey’s Anatomy even though they’ve exhausted their plots and continually create (and punish) their unlikable, soulless characters. Those things are problems, but they’re not the reason why I can’t enjoy them.
The reason is that I don’t sense an honesty from the creators. I don’t feel a personality behind the voices and the storytelling. I don’t feel like I’ve gotten to know the person behind the pages (or the screen) at all. And because of that, I didn’t get to meet a part of myself through these stories, either. Instead, I’m just… bored. And lost.
Anyway, that got hugely long and it’s super late, but I’m gonna publish this now and pray for few spelling errors. I hope this answers your question, one way or another! Thanks again, and good luck :)