LTN 003 — Creating and Maintaining the All-Important Story Bubble

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As readers, we’ve all experienced the magical phenomenon of getting so involved in a novel that we are no longer living in this world, but in the world of the story. I call this the story bubble. How does a novelist achieve this effect? What things break the story bubble and how can we avoid them?


As readers we’ve all experienced the phenomenon of getting involved in a story so deep that when we look up from the page we are almost startled to find ourselves once again in the present world; not only startled by it, but disappointed that we are no longer in the fictional world.

If you aspire to write this kind of a page-turning novel, you have to learn how to create and maintain a story bubble.

That’s what I call it. A story bubble. Other writers and teachers have other names for it, but for me the concept of a bubble works best. For one, it reminds me of the fragile nature of the experience. And if creating and maintaining a story bubble is the chief goal of a storyteller, then anything that bursts that story bubble is the unforgiveable sin.

The first great task for a writer of novels is to draw your readers into a fictional world that is so real it supersedes present reality.

If you fail to create a story bubble—if you don’t lure your reader out of this present world and into the world of your novel—within the first couple of pages, the disappointed reader will set the book aside and continue living this present reality.

As the storyteller, what will you do in the first few pages of your story to entice readers to cross the threshold that separates present reality from fictional reality?


Ask yourself: What types of scenes do readers in my genre like best? This will give you some clues as to how to mold and fashion these standard novel writing techniques for your genre readers:

  • Start the action. In fact, start in the middle of the action.
  • Create a mystery, a puzzle that begs to be solved
  • Create a crisis with dire consequences, and start the clock ticking.
  • Create danger or impending danger
  • A striking sentence
  • Introduce an eccentric character or cast of characters

The KEY is the weaving together of two strands: ACTION and DETAIL, but not just any detail—significant detail strategically placed.

Significant: detail that introduces key aspects of your world, and detail that sets the mood. Be selective about the details you use.

Strategically Placed: use details like breadcrumbs leading the reader deeper into your world. Think of yourself as a cinematographer; you decided where to point the camera for maximum dramatic effect.


  • Typos and grammatical errors
  • Errors in logic
  • Errors in detail
  • Errors in consistency
  • Author intrusion
  • Great writing

What? Aren’t we supposed to strive to be great writers? Yes. But if the sentence you’ve written—possibly the best sentence you’ve ever written—is so clever, so well-put that it draws attention to itself and breaks the bubble of the story, your reader is left admiring your writing skill and is no longer immersed in the story. The best novel writing is when the author is invisible!

It’s impossible to craft a story that has absolutely no bubble bursting elements in it for everyone. There are some bubble bursting elements we have absolutely no control over. Nevertheless, it is your goal as novelist to craft a story that is inherently sound for the people who read your genre.

How can you train yourself to do this?

Go to the bookstore—whether a brick and mortar building or online—and read a lot of Chapter 1 openings in your genre. Look for ways other writers have pulled their readers into the story and created a story bubble.

A programming note:

I had originally planned to release one Let’s Talk Novels podcast a week, but I’ve decided to do two a week with the second episode being a little different.

The first podcast each week will release on Tuesdays. These will be teaching podcasts like this one where I share tips and techniques about writing and publishing novels.

The second podcast each week will be a little shorter. In it I’ll talk to you writer to writer sharing some personal stories of my life as a novelist over the years and some of my favorite motivational quotes, stories and anecdotes that have been popular at writers conferences.



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