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.
What do you like to escape to?