I thought I’d piggy-back off of Farah Mendlesohn‘s distinction between Intrusive and Immersive Fantasy in her book Rhetorics of Fantasy. Essentially, Mendlesohn proposes and axis between “immersive” fantasy on one end, and “intrusive” fantasy on the other.
Immersive Fantasy– a fantasy setting which is presented as the norm for the protagonist, while also not being the norm for the reader. Generally there is little info-dumping or explanatory narrative. Most proto-typical immersive fantasy is secondary world fantasy which remains “impervious” to its existence as a foil for our world.
Note: Not all immersive fantasy is secondary world, and not all secondary world fantasy is immersive.
Intrusion Fantasy– a fantasy setting in which the fantastic intrudes into the real world or a close approximation thereof. The protagonist generally shares the readers confusion, ignorance, and/or skepticism of the fantastic elements, unlike in immersive settings where the protagonist considers fantastic elements as normal parts of their everyday world.
Now, my proposition is this post is to expand these words to describe and sort of fictional setting. Certainly, science fiction can be immersive or intrusive. Going even further, a great deal of mystery and horror fiction is intrusive, in the sense that there are metaphorical worlds beyond the everyday world of the protagonist. Keep in mind that immersive vs. intrusive is one continuum, following one axis of possible descriptors for a setting. Secondary world vs. primary world is another such axis. So is high fantasy vs. low fantasy. Hard SF vs. Soft SF. These are not genres. They are not prescriptive labels. They are purely descriptive.
As a basic example of non-speculative fiction with an immersive intrusive distinction, consider: getting caught up in a whistle-blowing chase thriller surrounding a company’s environmental crimes is no less intrusive to “everyday” life for you or me than is getting caught up in a war between vampires and werewolves. What makes a setting intrusive vs. immersive is the relationship between the character’s perspective before and after the inciting incident. For example, the White Walkers in Game of Thrones are an intrusive element relative to the understanding of the Starks and their people.
There are, in reality, two immersive/intrusive axes in any story. One is based on the perspective of the character, and one on the reader. Proto-typical intrusive fantasy has a protagonist and a reader sharing a basic understanding of the world. Then an element foreign to both perspectives enters the story. Proto-typical immersive fantasy has a protagonist and a reader with different understandings of their worlds. But there’s no rule that the reader and character axes can’t intersect.
I believe that this method of looking at setting (and plot) can create a much closer interaction between writers of various genres, as many of the same methodologies and story-telling tools are held in common across genres.