April 8, 2011

story immersion

Since I haven’t read any new fiction lately (shame on me), I have no book review to post (double shame on me). I do have four books on their way to me that I desperately want to read, so we’ll be stocked up on book reviews for a while after this week.

I’ve wanted to address this for a while, but I was never really certain on how to go about it. With my steampunk project, I finally found the words to do so.

When I write, I immerse myself in the world of the story, not just in the words, but in the things. Last year (and part of this year), I worked on a middle grade fantasy novel set in a world similar to ancient India. I collected images of Hindu gods and goddesses. I downloaded Hindu mantras and music to listen to as I wrote. I devoured the Hindu language and read article after article of Hindu culture and history. At least one-third of the time I spent on my novel was spent doing research. I searched Hobby Lobby for things that reminded me of objects in my story. I watched films and read books set in ancient India, about ancient India, and about Hinduism. Ancient Indian history has been one of my favorite topics since the first time I picked up a world history textbook, and so all the research was fascinating rather than daunting and dull. I enjoyed it. The things I learned inspired me and kept me writing. I felt I could give authenticity to the story.

For a short time, I worked on a novel set in a pseudo-Norse culture. I did a bit of research into the Norse pantheon and culture, but especially language. I created a set of runes using the Elder Futhark. I began learning Icelandic. I downloaded Icelandic music, watched films about Vikings, hopped around as a Nord in Bruma (and so, with geeky wonder, I can't wait for Skyrim). I was more fascinated with the Nordic language and culture than the story I had originally planned to write. My enthusiasm for the story quickly wavered, so my venture into Norse culture did not last long. I’ll return to it someday. Though, I am still strangely obsessed with runes. Add that to my list of quirks.

I have always been obsessed with clocks and mechanical science ever since I was a child, so it makes sense that steampunk piques my interest. This week, I started writing the steampunk project. I actually started writing. I finished plotting Tuesday morning, and my fingers couldn’t resist the keyboard any longer. While plotting, I purchased a few things: a sweet pocket watch (as seen to the right), several clock gears, and I’m still trying to get a hold of some glasses. I read through some books of mine, tabbing important inventions that might be used in my steampunk world, mainly mechanisms. I decorated my blog with gears. I searched for steampunk novels without vampires, werewolves, zombies, or demons, and have so far been unsuccessful (do tell me if you know of any other than the Leviathan series). I have rewatched any steampunk-esque films I own, and I’ve scoured Zune Pass for steampunk-esque music, only somewhat successful. I’m immersing myself the best I can.

When I write, I want to feel what my characters feel, smell what they smell, see what they see, hear what they hear. I want to be a part of the world they live in so that I can adequately describe it, so that I can give it that ring of authenticity. I noticed how deeply I immersed myself in my Indian inspired novel, but I thought it might be because I loved the subject matter so much. I think that immersion is my way of getting in the mood for a story. The more I soak in, the easier it is to create that world, to give it that ring of authenticity.

So, my question for you is… how do you get into a story? Do you immerse yourself in the things, the sounds, the smells? Do you research your setting? Do you dress in costume?

I want to know! What crazy things have you done in the name of fiction?

Also, don’t forget about the Hogglepot contest!


  1. I write mostly science fiction, specifically the far-future flavor. So I can't really immerse myself in the culture the way you do (although I think your method is AWESOME) because there's no culture to research. The closest thing I can come to is researching emerging technology and theoretical science (I wrote a blog post about it earlier this week). So, the way I get into the story is 1) really working hard on developing my characters (the more I know them, the more I want to tell their story) and 2) I compile playlists to go along with my story (soundtracks, if you will, that coincide with the various scenes I've put together). Listening to the music helps me define and capture the mood and tone of each scene.

    P.S. Have you read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne? It's not exactly current, but it definitely falls into the steampunk category. And there are no vampires, demons, ghouls, ghosts, or angels in sight! You might also consider watching Steamboy, directed and written by Katsuhiro Otomo. It is a wonderful example of steampunk in its essence.

  2. I always thought my method was a bit crazy, and possibly near-psychotic... my husband seems to think so. I always wondered how science fiction writers did it. It's so much easier to research the past. Now with all the scientific discoveries we make every day, it could be hard to imagine where that might lead in 10 years, 100 years, or even 1000 years.

    I agree that working on characters is a great way to immerse yourself, because most of the time, you want your story to be character-driven, and the setting (whether it be in a fictional steampunk city or a far-future Manhattan) is just the backdrop for what they do. I've never really compiled "playlists" per se... There are certain music elements that I can work to effectively. For steampunk, I've been listening mostly to techno, even though it's more of a sci-fi sound. When I write fantasy, I listen to orchestral, and if the story is to a specific area, I try to find music that echoes the culture of that place.

    I HAVE read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It was my first introduction to steampunk-esque literature... I read it back when I was twelve-years-old, and the story has stuck with me all this time. I have seen Steamboy so many times, you wouldn't believe. It's one of my favorite animes. I just don't get why most of the steampunk literature that's coming out now is meshed with paranormal... I greatly dislike paranormal. I want true steampunk that's immersed in the mechanics and technical aspect of it all. Not, sort-of steampunk, sort-of paranormal. Even weird west has zombies and the like. I don't get it!

  3. In the name of fiction, I taught myself some Gaelic, found and used my old Latin textbook, and even tried on a pair of loose jeans and made them sag, then jumped off my deck in them to see what boys struggle with in their daily sartorial endeavors.

  4. This post is about a familiar subject: my total focus on what I'm writing. My wife knows when I'm immersed in a story because it means I'm not in the real world at the moment. The research, too, is interesting--fun actually--and while I know it helps me write, I hope it ends up in the story one way or another, ramping up the authenticity.