Invasion of Privacy and other short stories, by Jim Liston (9:08)

IOD-InvasionPrivacyToday we see that however intellectually satisfying a reader finds a structure, if he has to stop to work it out, it can still kill momentum.

What I gleaned about the stories: As many conflicts are caused by the meeting of flawed perceptions as by genuine disagreement.

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Note: This is a short story collection, so the rules are slightly different from standard Immerse or Die: instead of reading on every time I loose immersion, I stop reading that story and move on to the next one. As usual, I stop reading after the third WTF.

WTF #1: Unexpected flashback

Analysis: The story opens with a paragraph threatening the reader with retribution if they are the person who kidnapped the narrator’s wife and then, after a section break, starts a present tense description of the narrator’s conversation with that same wife.

While the section break signalled a change of scene, the opening had set the present time as post-kidnapping. I automatically parsed the present tense as a signal we were still in the present, so discovering it was actually in the past, pre-kidnapping, brought me up short.

As I was only on the second paragraph of the first page and was already having to rebuild my sense of time, I moved on to the next story.

WTF #2: Overwritten narration

Analysis: The story opens with a (presumably) elderly man mentally cursing tourists who, for a reason not yet specified, pause in front of his house to gawk. After several pages of internal monologue about how he got the house and other events prior to this particular day, I encountered: “Dagnabit, that’s another busload of them tourists. Look at them walkin’ up to the fence like they had every right in the world to stand there and stare at us. It’s like we don’t have any reason to complain ‘bout being stared at. Damn Tourists.”

While the ‘Damn Tourists’ might not have stood out had it been at the end of the opening paragraph, the narrator had already ranted more than once about the tourists so the cursing felt overdone. This focused me on word choice rather than description, shifting the use of dialect from flavour to conscious awareness.

As I was now analysing style rather than reading narrative, I moved on.

WTF #3: Paragraph echo

Analysis: A couple of pages into a later story a paragraph repeats the wording of the previous one with only pronoun changes and the replacement of ‘work’ with ‘home’. As several stories had passed without an issue my momentum was strong at this point, so I made it to the end of the second paragraph before I noticed an apparent echo.

The final line of each paragraph was in italics, so the echo of those sentences leapt out once I paused to identify the niggle. Noticing that was enough of a pause that I noticed a few other apparent echoes, so started comparing the two paragraphs.

Once I consciously re-read both paragraphs, the repetition with subtle changes was obvious, and I recognised the author’s deliberate mirroring of two character’s perceptions.

While the issue might not have arisen had the author not successfully immersed me to the point I wasn’t paying active attention to word-choice, losing all my momentum and then looking behind the curtain was a clear loss of immersion so I pulled the plug

Kudo #1: Powerful hooks

Analysis: Each story opened with an event that I wanted to know more about rather than backstory or character description, giving me a strong reason to keep reading.

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Download one of these free short stories, in the format of your choice, and decide for yourself.

Legacy Code, by Autumn Kalquist (4:59)
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About the author

Dave Higgins has worked in law and IT for both public and private sector organisations. When not pursuing these hobbies, he writes poetry and speculative fiction.

He was born in Wiltshire, England. Raised by a librarian, he started reading shortly after birth and has not stopped since. He currently lives in Bristol with his wife, Nicola, his cats, Jasper and Una, and many shelves of books.