Friday, March 8, 2013

Vicarious Experience

What's the main reason why readers fall in love with a book?

Lisa Cron, at her post here at Writer Unboxed,  lists five reasons why readers love a story, and why (thanks to the dopamine buzz they get from it) reading a good book often feels exactly like falling in love.

But what really jumped out at me about this post, is she says it's more than great characters, a good plot, or a vivid writing style; what readers love about a book is the vicarious experience. Reading about someone else (and putting ourselves in there right along with them) as they go through an experience, even if we've never been through it ourselves.

That is so true! At least to me. I love to "experience" situations or places that I haven't in real life. It broadens my life; it reminds me of the quote that through reading we don't get to live just one life, we get to live many lives.

In my own writing it's the same, it's experiences that I think are fascinating (like my current book which starts out in a regular American high school  but ends up traveling through space) or another story I've written that goes back in time.

But I think we also crave vicarious experiences for other reasons. Most stories include a lot of bad, even terrible things happening... like failed relationships, betrayal, getting fired, losing a loved one, etc. Part of the vicarious experience here is going through these struggles with the character and seeing them (hopefully) find their way through to a happier, or a least a wiser, ending (personally, I love a happy ending that is just a touch bittersweet, too, because that's closer to real life).

If you are currently going through a bad time or a huge disappointment (and I confess that's where my family is at right now), part of the enthralling vicarious experience in a book is that if the main character can make it through their bad times, well maybe there is some hope I will too.


  1. Carole Anne CarrMarch 8, 2013 at 6:38 AM

    Love your post, Margo, hope that bad time is soon over, and wishing you a happy International Women's Day.

  2. Oh I hope you and your family's vicarious situation improves and resolves itself happily!! All the best! Take care

  3. True. I wouldn't want to experience what many book characters do, but it enriches my life experience by reading about theirs.

    I hope your own 'stuff' resolves in bittersweet fashion.

  4. Sooooo true! That's also why I love fantasy.

  5. Stina LindenblattMarch 8, 2013 at 5:28 PM

    You've nailed the reasons why I love to read a great book. I get to live through the dramas without having to experience them for real. Much better that way. :D

    I hope things work out for you, Margo!

  6. Definitely. It's much more about the emotional experience. I'll take mediocre writing and great experience over great writing and the lack of emotion. Of course, the best is when the two are combined!

    Sorry your family is going through a tough time. Hope it gets better.

  7. i think fiction, even the fantastical stuff, helps us make sense of life, and you need the bad as well as the good to do that. Then there's the more wish fulfillment type of story where things just work out, and I'd say we all need a dose of that too.


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  9. You described the magic of stories so eloquently. Your posts are always a wonderful experience and I bet the same goes for your writing. Your current book sounds very cool, by the way! I hope things work out for your family. Mine hits rough patches as well and I know how hard that can be. I'm sure that as always, you will come through with grace and compassion.

  10. Why else read? LOL No, really. I've used books to escape and experience life vicariously many, many times.

  11. Sorry you're going through a rough time now, Margo. I agree with you on reading and vicarious experiences. The books that stay with me are the ones that took me on an emotional journey.



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