The end goal of recreational fiction is to experience free emotions, or sensations that don’t cost anything. Refreshing fiction gives and does not take.
There are two different kinds of fiction. One kind, literature, makes you smarter, more empathetic, and kinder to other people, and the other kind, escape fiction, distracts you from the pain and mundanity of everyday living.
In happy books, both types combine into an alchemical mix of educational and distracting material; you get a story that makes you smarter without requiring any significant concentration.
Literature vs. Pulp
There are times in life when distraction and pure froth are much more useful than exquisite prose. Delving into the human condition is great and all, but relaxation and not-thinking are often necessary to the keeping-up-with of routine living.
Of course this is a big overgeneralization, and of course there’s an endless spectrum of entertaining fluff running over into unreadable erudition, with infinite blendings along the way, but there is a kind of judgment you can make of how fun or serious a piece of writing is, as far as what it intends to communicate and accomplish in the reader’s mind.
How To Create Actual Escape Fiction
Now, the reason I bring all this up is that I, like many other authors, am engaged in the study of achieving that happy medium, the blend of escapism and significant subject material. It’s kind of the holy grail of writing, to create a story that feels timeless, important, and utterly absorbing all at the same time.
In order to make fiction that lets the reader escape into another world, you first have to figure out what the emotional transaction is between an author and a reader. So then we get into emotional cost.
Reading really heavy material about human relationships takes effort, mentally and emotionally. Particularly if the style or the subject matter are dark or negative in any way, the reader has to invest a lot of themselves into the story in order to get out the payoff. This type of dense, profound literature is kind of like an expensive vending machine containing little snacks. You put in a buttload of money, in terms of time and mental investment, and you get out a really small, delicious, one-of-a-kind snack that most people don’t enjoy eating. Like, it’s a vending machine for sun-dried calamari, maybe.
Escape fiction, on the other hand, is like a free hot dog stand, with really generic hot dogs and just a dash of mustard, and maybe some ketchup if you want it. You don’t have to pay to eat the hot dogs, but they are the really cheap kind, and you feel sort of queasy if you eat three in a row, and maybe the condiments aren’t arranged with very much attention to proportion, so you get too much mustard sometimes, and not enough another time.
Choosing Between A Bite of Calamari And A Couple Of Hot Dogs
Some people really hate hot dogs. Some other people despise fancy exotic morsels. Lots of other people like both at different times, depending on the circumstances. What’s important for us to look at today is the cost, for the reader.
Many many many authors want to be significant, and they attach a high investment cost to their reading material, to the detriment of the reader’s enjoyment. Many other authors are chasing commercial popularity, and secretly (or not so secretly) don’t give a shit about the quality of their prose.
So, How Do We Create Escapist Fiction That Is Easy To Get Into?
The key here is accessibility. Does your reader have to spend time and mental energy getting into the world of your book? Do they have to metaphorically dig out a wad of appropriately sized bills or the correct number of coins in order to mentally and emotionally grasp the inner world of your fiction?
Or are you holding out a sizzling, well-proportioned hot dog in an attractive napkin that they can pick up and eat, mentally speaking, without any thought or care first?
If you take care of the reader’s emotional needs, and are generous and thoughtful about their ability to relax and enjoy themselves, they will get fond of your cozy food stand, your fiction, and they will start to go out of their way (and dig out their wallets) to access more of your stories (presumably by buying your books, which you have presumably made available in some ready form for purchase and consumption).
His naked torso heaved, powerful and thick with muscle. Ribs of buried, supple silver metal hugged against his ribs, where slits of skin pulled open under his desperate breath. His cheeks had strips of metal, too, and his arms and thighs gleamed with hints of glistening alien silver.
He was in a tiny room, about fourteen feet square with a low ceiling. He could barely stand upright.
Ethan’s naked torso heaved, powerful and thick with muscle he’d been forced to grow under the alien machinery and chemical diet. Ribs of buried, supple silver metal hugged along his ribs and massive chest, where slits of his skin pulled open under the motion of his desperate breath. His cheeks and nose held buried strips of silver metal, too, and his muscular arms and thighs gleamed with hints of concealed alien metal, all silver, and all shimmering like living moonlight.
Ethan bent double in a small room constructed of thickened organic matter, about fourteen feet square with a low ceiling. He could barely stand upright, and when he rose, his thick brown hair brushed the hard surface of the ceiling.
- There exists a vast spectrum of fiction that ranges from fluffy and playful to deep and significant, but a happy balance of accessible and meaningful creates the most desirable recreational fiction
- Think about your reader’s emotional and mental expenditure, as far as what you require of the reader for them to get a payoff, emotionally speaking, out of your work
- Make the reader’s experience enjoyable, cost-free (in terms of mental energy), and emotionally satisfying (as in, relatively significant without being at all overwhelming or excruciating) to achieve an optimal reader experience
You’re reading Victor Poole. The above example is from the opening chapter of my cyborg series, which I am reworking to make into more of a gourmet feast than a frustrating vending taste-test.