You know what fiction is all about. The purpose of a novel or short story is escapism. This is also true of television and cinema.
I have been watching Homeland, which got me thinking about escapism. It’s a spy drama and I would recommend it for one compelling reason. The show manages to recreate for you, the viewer, something of the spy mentality.
That is how escapism works, in TV or fiction. You are not just trying to create vivid imagery and realistic dialogue, but also using your writing to manipulate the reader’s thoughts. You want a small part of them to believe in the story.
How you achieve this will vary depending on genre.
Spy or thriller
Escapism in spy fiction is about making the reader think like a spy. What is a vital characteristic of fictional espionage? Trusting no one.
Your characters are frequently betraying each other and undermining their plans, or at least appearing to or being suspected of doing so. If this happens, which character will your reader trust? No one. This gets them thinking like a spy character, pulling them into the story.
Thrillers operate in a similar way. They are stories about the changing psyche of a character. Their primary goal is excitement. Run the tap on hot and cold to create escapism. Rather than showing how depressed your character is (and I realise this is quite cruel), make the reader feel that depression. Give them something to feel down about.
Historical and fantasy (inc. sci-fi)
Now we can return to my niche. Your job may be harder if you write historical fiction or fantasy (or both!). There is no set preconception for how a historical or fantasy person thinks, unlike spies.
The first step is setting up the scenery. This is true of any genre, but especially these two where setting is of such importance. Now place characters in that scenery who are believable as real people. If they were alive today, would your reader still empathise with them?
You are also lucky in a way. Readers approach historical fiction and fantasy anticipating the need to jump from their world into another. So they already have their seatbelt fastened and baggage stowed in the overhead locker.
Give them a place and people which seem real and the reader will jump in on their own.
Again, the crime genre creates some problems when it comes to escapism. This is because the genre’s title is limited. Is your story about a criminal? A detective? A victim of crime? There are so many different approaches that one mindset does not fit all (again, unlike spies).
What you need to do is make the crime hit the reader. Something as simple as having your phone stolen or a brick thrown through your window may have a profound impact on your life. It can change the way you act, think and feel.
Draw the fictional crime unsettlingly close to reality. You could write “Bob shot Jess” and the reader will hardly blink. Create a vivid picture of Jess looking over her shoulder everywhere she goes after someone pickpockets her driver’s licence. This will leave the reader’s skin crawling.
Are you blushing? Romance is messy. There. I ruined it for you.
That is a good way to approach the genre. A romance can build slowly over time, steam-rolling each obstacle in its path. There is nothing wrong with that, but why not throw out some curve balls?
When the first roadblock springs up in the relationship and your characters run around it like headless chickens, your reader will sigh and say “such is life”. When it happens again a second time, “aaaargghhh”. Fourth, “are they stupid?”. Fifth, “JUST ACCEPT HE LOVES YOU!!!”.
And then the sixth, where the characters finally address their problems, allowing their romance to blossom (or they die tragically etc.). Now your reader is reaching for the tissues and reminding themselves “it’s not real” or “if only it was”.
So, if you aren’t already, start writing spy fiction. It seems a lot more straightforward. Does that help?