5 Tips for Writing the Best Books for Escapism

Lately I seem to have more and more need for escapism. The news is terrifying, social media can be stressful, etc., etc. We all have our reasons to bury our heads in the sand… erm… I mean read.

Music offers an escape. Beautiful lyrics offer an emotional and fantastical escape from the everyday.

But here, we are writers, and if your goal is to entertain and offer your readers a chance to step out of their lives, to leave their worries behind even if only to experience someone else’s worry, then read on for some tips and examples.

This poll from the Pew Research Center, though oldish, shows that over 27% of all people who read, read to be entertained and to escape. So, I’d say offering escape is a pretty great goal to have as a writer.

Some of this is obvious, but what the hey. I’ll mention it anyway.

1 – Set the book some place where most of your readers don’t live.

If you live in the United States and write mysteries, thrillers, and suspense, chances are most of your readers live in the United States, and in areas other than urban ones. Except for Brooklyn. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that 50% of all readers on the planet live in Brooklyn.

That said, set your novel somewhere you’d love to visit and give us, readers, the gift of being in that place while we read your wonderful novel. Scandinavia, France, Italy, the British Isles, Greece, the Middle East, India, give us what most of us don’t have on a regular basis. Let us smell it, feel it, taste it.

I just finished Rachel Hawkins’s The Villa, and boy did I love being there.

2 – Set the book some time when most readers haven’t lived.

Yes! Historical fiction. I don’t care if you’re writing about Cleopatra, Napoleon, or Elvis, I want it. Please. I just finished, and adored, Kate Atkinson’s Shrines of Gaiety set in 1926 London. A twofer! The past AND another location.

3 – Give your character a larger than life problem

(and make sure they climb on top of it and beat it)

We’re talking about escapism, here, so go ahead and make it BIG. But it’s important that your hero survives to tell the tale and, not only that, thrives on the other end. The real world is gruesome enough. Give us characters who face the kind of problems that make us want to shrivel and die, and have them triumph over their disasters.

Jennifer Hillier’s Little Secrets is almost a perfect example of this. The problem the main character faces is so immense, so breathtakingly horrible, I almost couldn’t read it, but I also couldn’t put the book down because I needed to find out how it would resolve. I’m very happy I persevered.

4 – Make your character gifted in some special way, yet relatable

We all want to imagine ourselves having some special power. Give us characters who are brilliant hackers, smart wizards, beautiful dancers, driven athletes, and, what the hey, sentient animals. From the octopus in Remarkably Bright Creatures, to the clever and devoted pup in Lessons in Chemistry, your characters don’t need to be human to entertain, enhance, and deepen the reader’s experience.

5 – Don’t forget love

There’s a reason Romance is the most bought and read genre. People love to fall in love. Readers love to feel the feels, root for their favorite ships, mourn the breakups. I would argue that romantic love is the engine behind all the best stories because it is one of the most primal motivators, and those stories don’t have to be in the romance genre. Take a look at the NYT bestseller list and see how many love driven stories are in the top ten. Last week’s has five in the top five for Paperback Trade Fiction, and of the next ten, eight are love driven.

Just sayin….

What do you like to escape to?


  1. You are so right–and great tips. Reading gives us the ability to escape from the world as we know it and travel to another time and place. Honestly, I can’t imagine how non-readers survive.

  2. Romance is my escape reading and writing. The struggle is difficult for the characters but it is human sized and solvable, and there is always a happy ever after or at least a happy for now. It’s very soothing.

    Love Among the Ruins, my latest romance, takes place on a month long luxury tour of Italy. Writing it allowed me to spend months thinking about Italy, my happy place, and mentally revisiting all the beautiful areas the tour takes my characters. Almost every reviewer commented that they felt like they were in Italy.

    1. A twofer! Romance and Italy. I love it. I agree that writing a setting somewhere else is as good, or better, an escape for writers as for readers.

  3. So true, Emilya. Reading has brought me through the darkest times in my life. Whether I am depressed, angry, or frustrated when I begin to read, when I finish, if the negative feeling is not completely gone, it is diminished and manageable. And I am thankful for libraries because they give everyone the vehicles to escape in and to teachers who taught us how to use them.

    And I must add, Connie, that I also don’t know how people without pets get through life! A book and a dog. Perfect.

  4. Emilya, you are SO right: Reading gives us it all—from travel to romance to solving mysteries to learning about another time. I just finished a two-fer, Sujata Massey’s The Mistress of Bhatia House, set in 1920s Bombay.
    I feel sorry for people who aren’t readers…

  5. Great advice Emilya.
    I made my protagonist Italian-American and gave him roots in two cities I used to visit in Italy a lot for work: Ferrara, where I actually also lived for two years; and Brindisi.
    In the book I just finished, he visits each place. I’m planning on setting the next one in Ferrara.

  6. This is so helpful, Emilya. I also like to look for a community of characters I’d like to know. That’s why I loved Gentleman in Moscow so much. I missed them when the book was over.

    1. I keep circling around that book. I took it out several times and returned it without reading. I’m always so hesitant to read Russian novels by non-Russians. They often get so much wrong! Too many samovars. Not enough sarcasm. But one of these days, I’ll gird my loins and dive in.

  7. I have always loved to read and it has gotten me through so many things! My parent’s miserable marriage, being unbelievably lonely in college, many break ups, bouts of depression. It’s probably one of the only reasons I’m still (happily!) alive. And it is what made me feel, even as a kid, that I could write because I had so many wonderful “teachers”. I still have the stories I wrote in 6th grade! Lol! How people get through life without reading boggles the mind.
    I’ve tucked my cozy into a small part of London that I love, then moved it to the country, my protagonist is climbing a hill that will, I hope, resonate with all readers that have had a tough life, and while there is resolution to some of her issues at the end, there is still room for more which, if the fates look kindly in my direction, will be resolved in books #2 +#3! : )

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