Let the Water Rise and Other Stories, by Matthew Burgos (1:25)

IOD-LetWaterRiseToday we see that if the opening sentences of your book are incoherent, readers will be ill-disposed to reading on.

What I gleaned about the stories: If things aren’t unearthly, they behave in an earthly manner; the converse might or might not be true.

Find this book on NOOK.

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 lose immersion, I stop reading that story and move on to the next one. As usual, I stop reading after the third WTF.

WTF #1: Incoherent opening paragraph

Analysis: The first paragraph of the Acknowledgement is,

Above all, to Heavens for reaching my frail hands and straightening my spine strengthening my head. You have caused so much gold and silver and bruised and trouble to me. I love every inch of them.

Due to my reading speed, my unconscious had started raising issues about the incoherence of the first sentence at the point my eyes were most of the way through the second; so when the second sentence wouldn’t unpack well either, I wondered if I’d managed to muddle myself up.

And, when I re-read the paragraph to give the benefit of the doubt, I could make out the probably meaning; however, it took effort. The confusion over which of the many things the them in the third sentence referred to was the final straw.

As most authors will polish the start more than the rest so the sample catches readers (or at least polish it no less than the rest), my gut feeling was that the rest of the book would be hard work. However, as I wanted to give it a fair test, I moved on.

WTF #2: Confusing sentence structure

Analysis: The first story begins with: We were both unearthly and the nature agreed.

As there wasn’t punctuation after unearthly, I expected that the “and” represented a continuing description (e.g. We were both unearthly and fully of the flesh). So a separate clause was unexpected, and – in the first line – that was enough to throw me out.

While I might have a preference on a comma, semi-colon, or fresh sentence to indicate that the “and” wasn’t a continued description, I would have accepted any of them; however, the existence of more than one clear structure made my confusion more likely.

WTF #3: Comma splice

Analysis: A paragraph into the second story, I encountered We stood still at the park, the splash of the fountain nearby was the only additional sound besides our heavy breathing.

If the quality of the previous stories had been high, I would have both momentum and trust in the prose by now, so I might not have noticed the was (making the sentence a valid parallel construction) or not been troubled if I had.

However, my previous experience had already set my effort-reward calculation on a hair-trigger. Gut reaction confirmed, I pulled the plug.

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.

Bartleby and James, by Michael Coorlim (40:00)
Death of a Hero, by C.B. Wright (16:22)

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.