What drives immersion in storytelling?
How immersive can storytelling be? On one extreme end, we have alienation. Stories that alienate the audience, making them feel detached from it. On the other end is full immersion, where audiences subconsciously perform ‘experience-taking’ – placing themselves in the role of a fictional character they can identify with.
How immersive do you want your story to be? Is full immersion always good? I’d say so unless you’re aiming for something more fact-driven than emotions-driven. If you’re aiming for full immersion, the psychologists have a say on what can drive full immersion:
Writing in first-person
Reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers from Ohio State University found that stories written in the first-person can temporarily transform the way readers view the world, themselves and other social groups.
Reveal shared characteristics early
In an experiment, participants who found out about the protagonist being gay later in the narrative reported to rely less on stereotypes of homosexuals than those who knew the protagonist was gay early on. Researchers showed similar results with white students reading about a black student. Thus, introduce characteristics that the fictional character and the audiences share first.
Avoid reminding them of their personal identity
In another experiment with participants reading in front of a mirror, researchers reported that fewer readers underwent ‘experience-taking’ because they were constantly reminded of their own self-concept and self-identity.
Encourage active participation
When viewers engage and participate actively, this encourages the ability for them to put themselves in the shoes of fictional characters.