The Darkness Undivided, by Jesse Jack Jones (9:27)

IOD-DarknessUndividedToday we see that internal contradictions form pincers that can crush immersion.

What I gleaned about the story: A farm boy sees strange weather coming, but his mother won’t listen. Even the chickens seem unconcerned.

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WTF #1: A storm crawling across the ground, the froth’s leading edge was shaped like the head of a spear, a thrusting column of cloud from which swept back murky wings that ate a wide slice of the northwestern horizon. The flat green plains that defined his world were swallowed by its passage, the grass bowing before its heralding wind…

*It’s clear from additional context that a wall of dense fog is what’s creeping in, not storm clouds being viewed at a great distance.

Analysis: Aside from the slightly purple, grandiose style, I’m getting an image of a malevolent looking fog bank creeping across the landscape. But I’m also told about a heralding wind that’s blowing hard enough to make the grass bow. And those two images seem at odds to me. Fog rolls in because it is pushed by the wind, so the two travel at the same speed. It’s possible that I’m misreading the intended image here, but it’s in the very first paragraph, so the imagery should offer no ambiguities if the reader is going to get hooked.

Alternately, this might be some kind of “magic” fog. But in that case, it needs to be lampshaded, so that the reader can relax, because the author has acknowledged how odd it looks and promises that he knows what he’s doing.

For those who don’t know the term, lampshading, (or more fully, hanging a lampshade) is a writing device in which the author calls specific attention to something that is odd or out of place. The subtext of the lampshade then, is that the author is whispering to the reader, “Yes, this is odd, and of course it shouldn’t be that way, but it is. So you’re just going to have to bear with me. All will be revealed in time.” You can read more about lampshading on TV Tropes.

WTF #2: “Wrath and ruin take it,” He whispered, hand twitching to his empty belt.

Analysis: For a brief moment, I wondered if the POV character might be some kind of god, given the capitalized “He.” But later in the same sentence, the capitalization vanishes. So it turns out he isn’t a god after all, and it was just an editing mistake. But it came on page one, when my senses were at their most sensitive, and the god-no-not-god effect distracted me, causing my immersion to break.

WTF #3: A deep, grunting greeting issued from a pen on the far side of the courtyard when Mezlin smelled Thabien, but the young man had no spare attention for the aged ganter, which returned to sulkily pushing at the bare earth of its pen.

Analysis: When I read that the draft animal’s name was “Mezlin,” it gave me an immediate sense of comradeship between the boy and the beast, suggesting that Mezlin had been granted a slim degree of personhood by the boy or the family. Not much, surely, but some. However, the use of the genderless “it” as the pronoun later in the sentence completely contradicts that mental image. So I don’t know what to think. Is this just a dumb animal? Or is Mezlin a part of the protagonist’s person-scape? This conflict caused immersion to pop, because I couldn’t figure out how to classify the animal.

Note: In all three cases here, we see one connotation conveyed by a particular choice of word or spelling, and then a conflicting connotation delivered moments later. This is the kind of thing an experienced copy editor would catch and eliminate for you.

The Tainted Awaken, by Jodi Herlick (8:34)
Black, by Catherine Winters (12:43)

About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is uniquely unqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.