How to Really Transport Your Reader

When we read a story, we get transported to someplace.

For this to happen, people talk about the need for the reader to have a willing suspension of disbelief.

This phrase came from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the Romantic writer.

“In this idea originated the plan of the ‘Lyrical Ballads’; in which it was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

This poetic faith is bound to catch me off guard at times. When I am confronted by a marvelous piece of art, a story, or even a well turned phrase, I don’t even notice that my will is involved. A very real part of me is always ready and willing to be transported into other spaces.

I experience it like a hook sometimes, or like being abducted. Someone puts a big sack over me. In an instant, I’m slung over the shoulder of a giant to someplace truly great.

Along the way, I hear them talking to themselves. The giants share some commotion about their craft, where they’re headed, who they are, how they feel about each other. . .

At some point I’m delivered to the other realm.

The sense of transport

My willingness to be transported is ironically an ability of the part of me that wants to be fully here. When I am in a haze, out of sorts, I might fall into a sort of innocuous escapism but I won’t be able to make as thorough a departure as when I am wholehearted.

By being fully transported elsewhere, I am shown something about what it means to truly be here.

Transport helps me to feel my own love, my passions, the sadness and mourning. How I seek to know: Why is this world so? Who am I really?

I find myself craving deeper experience of grand mysteries.

To be taken someplace else as on a vacation. An adventure.

And to have these spaces speak to some knowing within myself. My yearning for connection, for resolution, for true self-knowledge.

To be effective at granting me a sense of transport, a story doesn’t need to be ornate or sophisticated. It can be a simple indulgence, a cheap paperback from a used book store with a space barbarian on the cover.

When I open the pages, there’s no telling where I might end up.

Speaking to the reader’s desire for transport

A reader wants to be transported, to feel along with the characters.

It’s great to have a compelling plot. The big ideas matter. Yes, the arguments you want to make in your book are cool.

But it’s really about those destinations that you actually arrive at and whether you get your reader there.

Strategies for authors

One of the best approaches I can recommend is for writers to be willing to get out of the way and let things be far simpler than we generally try to make them.

By simpler, I don’t mean to suggest that your writing should be dumbed down. Be as smart as you actually are.

Just focus on the essential feelings, the states, the spaces evoked by the different moments in the book.

When you as the author focus in this way, you naturally get out of the way. Once out of the way, you can be spontaneous and use whatever tools you have internalized or whatever tools you want to intentionally borrow from other sources you like.

Part of you wants to create something wholly original, to birth something absolute and fresh. Let yourself embody this grand quest of non-knowing, spontaneity, and adventure.

Part of you probably wants to recreate the spaces from stories you love. So share in their aspects and craftedness.

Just as Star Trek is Horatio Hornblower in space. In the end, it really doesn’t matter that Star Trek so referential. It has a life of its own.

Borrow as much as you want, but focus on the spaces that you want to transport to. The feelings and dynamics you want to evoke.

It helps when you feel that they are already there and all you need to do is reveal it. You don’t have to make anything up.

Be spontaneous and write what is there for you.

Let the flow carry you.

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