You know that fantastic feeling you get when you're so totally into a book that it really feels real? You know that I mean, you're so into the story that you feel like you're living it right along with the characters. That's the fictive dream, part of what makes fiction so amazing.
James Frey noted three stages that enable the writer to reach the subconscious and thus fully transport the reader into the fiction dream:
Sympathy: “Sympathy it is the doorway through which the reader gains emotional access to a story.”[i] It requires that a character be placed in a situation which will evoke an emotion so intense—loneliness, repression, danger, embarrassment—that the reader will feel sympathy for the character.
Identification: “Identification occurs when the reader is not only in sympathy with the character’s plight, but also supports his or her goals and aspirations and has a strong desire that the character achieve them.”[ii] In order for the reader to support those goals and aspirations the writer must make clear what the character does or does not want to happen.
Empathy: A writer can “…win empathy for a character by detailing the sensuous details in the environment: the sights, sounds, pains, smells, and so on that the character is feeling—the feelings that trigger emotion.”[iii] Empathy is a much stronger emotion than sympathy, and it is through empathy that the reader will feel what the character is feeling. This is achieved by using sensuous and emotion-provoking details that suggest to the reader what it is like to be the character and to experience what the character is experiencing.
For more information on the fictive dream and how to invoke it, read James Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Novel II: Advanced Techniques for Dramatic Storytelling. New York: St. Martin’s, 1994.