Immersion Technique versus World Building


World-building is great fun for us writers, but if we put too much of it on the page, it can get a little bit heavy for readers. Readers want to connect with a vibrant story set in the world a writer has created, rather than getting bogged down with the minutiae of how that world runs. This relates to two distinct and opposite schools of thought about how best to conjure up a fictional environment for readers: immersion, or world-building. The general concensus is that world-building is outdated, whereas immersion is pacey and exciting, and something modern readers prefer. 


Immersion technique pulls the reader into the fictional world quickly, with no explanation or lengthy introductions. Readers are literally parachuted into an adventure which is already unfolding, and we’re asked to keep up with the narrator to learn about the world on-the-hoof. Immersion technique therefore doesn’t spend many pages scene-setting, or stop to explain, to spin out backstory, to tell stories within stories, or to backtrack to include more information than is strictly necessary to the immediate unfolding scene. Modern writing (particularly anything with a thriller or mystery element) relies on immersion to create a story which unfolds at pace. 


World-building was once a staple of science fiction and fantasy novels. Writers who’ve been influenced by older fiction may be unaware of the change in trends. I've covered reading through the lens of time in my article Reading as a Writer (here). Believe it or not, your reader will pick up everything they need to know from the ongoing story as it happens, because you already know the world in your mind, and this will come across naturally, in light touches - you won’t even have to try. 


The hardest thing will be to keep reminding yourself that us readers don’t need the detail. We just need story. This is why your world and its machinations are an invisible scaffold to hang the real story on. 


29th September 2003


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