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How to Write Transportive Fiction

Have you ever finished reading a book and realized it was 2 AM? Then, you spent the rest of your week playing out the character's happily-ever-after because you're just not willing to let the story go yet? Finally, desperate to share your experience, you tried to tell someone the plot and felt like you just couldn't do it justice?

Yeah—me neither (*shifty eyes).

What is it about some books that transport us into an entirely new world? And, more importantly, how do we write like that?

This mini workshop will help you see how to envelop your reader into your world so completely that they won't be tempted to press that cute new bookmark they bought between your pages. Whether your reader is looking for escape or experience, writing a transportive novel will ensure that they get what they're looking for.

1. Begin with nouns:

Pull out your work in progress and find a page that is mainly description, not dialogue. Next, grab a colored pen (I'm working with purple today) and underline all the nouns on the entire page. Read them out loud. Do any of them repeat too often? Would a stranger be able to describe your setting based off these words or would it seem murky to them?

We use nouns in every single sentence. They hold a lot of power. If they're vibrant and specific, your writing will shine. If they're bland and generic, your story will fall flat. So, let's take a look at how to amp up those bland nouns.

Here's a sample sentence from the rough draft of my 2015 Nanowrimo novel.

"I drop a branch from the tree, watching it fall to the ground."

As you can see, those nouns are pretty generic. If we get more specific, it will give it a more cinematic quality.

"I drop a branch from the orange tree, watching the dried limb fall to the crackled dirt."

The same structure, and yet it paints a different picture. Paired together with an entire paragraph of deliberate nouns, your reader will have no doubt about what they're seeing.

When choosing new nouns you want to keep your narrator in mind. Sure it would be easy to go to and find fitting alternatives, but would your narrator use or know that word? Also, consider your reader. A rule of thumb for children is if they need help with more than three words per page, the book is too advanced for them. Use beautiful words that will stretch your reader, but don't overdo it. Sometimes simple is best.

2. Focus on your verbs:

Verbs need to be as focused as your nouns. Verbs are the glue that bind setting to character. Use verbs that make the character active in the scene rather than merely observing. The more your character interacts with the setting, the more your reader will sense the action themselves. Let's use that same sentence and see what we can do. Underline all the verbs and find active, vivid verbs to replace the generic ones.

"I drop a branch from the orange tree, watching the dried limb fall to the crackled dirt."

"I toss a branch from the orange tree, and the dried limb shatters on the crackled dirt."

Do you feel how that sentence is emotionally charged now? This is a moment of frustration for my character, so using strong verbs helps ramp up the tension. Plus, we got rid of a filtering verb that made the character experience the action instead of the reader.

Now that you've tried it yourself, share your sentence below! We'd love to see how it changed your writing!

3. Focus on what your character "feels".

Our life experience consists of taking in the world through our five senses, then producing emotions in response. I think it's interesting that both the input and output both use the word "feel".

For example:

We feel the soft kitten, then we feel happy.

We feel the room heat up, then we feel nervous about the electricity bill.

We feel the keyboard clicking beneath our fingers, then we feel like nothing can stop our wordsprint!

Utilize all five of your character's senses as they take in the world, and then show how it affects them internally. Then, your book will come alive for your readers. Tapping into your readers' own experience by using familiar senses will help them connect even closer with your characters. For example, mention the scent of "fresh pine" and they'll immediately pull an entire schema of images into their mind to add to your story without you having to say another word about it.

Finally, when your character interacts with their environment, let them react. Very few things in life elicit a neutral response. People are full of opinions. When your character feels emotional responses to the things they're coming up against in your story, your reader will get into their head space. They'll be able to empathize with what they're feeling.

Readers are hungry for engaging writing. They want to be swept away by vivid imagery, heartfelt emotions, and empathic characters. Utilizing these three tips will give your writing a different depth that will pull readers into your world. And when you finish, send us a note! We love to read what other people are writing!

Happy editing!


I’m Rachel Huffmire, I’m an author like you, applying these same principles to my own books. I have worked as a bookstore manager, acquisitions editor, the marketing manager for a small publisher, and now, I’m the founder of Author Capital, a coaching group that focuses on the business side of self-publishing. So, if you're ready to take your writing to the career level, click here to learn more about Author Capital's online courses and coaching packages.

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