Bianca Marais holds a Certificate in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto’s SCS, and her work has been published in World Enough and Crime. Originally from South Africa, she now resides in Toronto with her husband. Her debut, Hum If You Don’t Know the Words, will be released July 11th. Here, Bianca shares four tips to transport readers through their imagination to places they’ve never been before.
If books are portals through which readers can step to visit worlds they’ve never been, then authors are tour guides of the imagination. As a writer, it’s your job to transport your readers from this world to the one you’ve created and then to bring them back safely, though hopefully a little bruised and scuffed, and subtly transformed by their journey. Travelers return from the best kinds of adventures with fond memories, scars that tell their own stories, respect for the people they’ve encountered, a keenness to return and sense of having their horizons expanded in ways that will forever change them. You want the same for your literary explorers.
So how do you achieve that?
If you want to immerse your reader in the world of your novel, you need to be more than a travel agent who just plans their trip and describes all the amazing stuff they’re going to see and experience. You need to be a tour guide who journeys with them, taking them into the heart of your story, and you can make their trip unforgettable by being mindful of the following:
1. Make your reader feel like a local.
It isn’t enough to show a traveler a place they’ve never been before; you need to make them feel like a local in it. Take them to the secret hangouts only the locals know about, teach them the slang and dialect that makes a place unique. A true traveler doesn’t want to feel like an outsider or a tourist who stands on the periphery watching, they want to be a part of the culture and the lifestyle, so immerse them in it. Describe your world so that it becomes a sensory experience that they can smell and taste and touch. Leave them bewildered when the phone rings and they’re forced to return to their apartment or their armchair in the local coffee shop.
2. Let your reader discover something for themselves.
Travelers don’t want to just see the sights. They want to be given the opportunity to walk off the beaten track and discover things for themselves. Spoon feeding readers or holding their hands every step of the way is suffocating; let them interpret the experience in their own way and reach their own conclusions. The more they think about your world and try to assign meaning, the more you’ve engaged them.
3. Give your reader a variety of experiences.
The best journeys are ones that are varied. Travelers may enjoy thrill seeking one moment, but require fun and relaxation in order to recover afterwards. Get their pulse racing and synapses firing, but also give them opportunities to laugh or kick back. The more varied the emotions you evoke in your reader, the more they’ll enjoy the experience. Give them characters they can love and hate; people they can root for or whose downfall they can desperately desire. Surprise them, make them laugh and then make them cry.
4. Teach your reader something or expand their world view.
Travelers leave the comfort of their homes so that they can become students of the world. If they didn’t want to be challenged and to learn about different cultures and ways of life, they would never leave the safety of their neighborhoods. Expand your readers’ world view so that they come away from your world having grown and learned something new about the world or about themselves. Leave them saying, “I never knew that before” because now they do and they will share that knowledge with others. A reader who talks about a book is a reader who has been transported and will never return to the limited world they knew before.
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