Wanna Take a Ride?, by Gary Val Tenuta (2:42)

iod-wannatakearideToday we see that one case of misused punctuation can undermine the tone of your entire story.

What I gleaned about the stories: Gold-diggers sometimes turn out to be great business managers, but that don’t matter a hill of beans if you gave away your son at birth.

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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 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: Accidental parody

Analysis: The first story opens with a somewhat stylised description clearly intended to echo hard-boiled detective fiction. While this wasn’t seamless, it wasn’t rough enough to lose my interest. However, toward the end of the opening paragraph the protagonist was described as a “still just a ‘regular guy’”. My mind parsed the scare quotes as a signal that the author didn’t intend the words to be taken literally; however, as the preceding sentences were clearly stylised, this signal caused a reinterpretation of the entire story: was this an attempt at gritty mystery, or a parody of that style?

Unsure whether I should be parsing phrases to emphasise or ignore the inherent comedy of prose noir, I moved on.

WTF #2: Declarative prologue

Analysis: The second story opens with a prologue about (presumably) a key location in the tale. The prologue is written as a series of statements rather than character experiences. The absence of clear context for the information combined with the lack of emotional connection made the reader struggle to decide which parts were key information, while also caring little about the prologue

As is likely for many readers, this reader moved on.

WTF #3: Shifting depth of view

Analysis: The third story opens with the protagonist in poor straits. After a brief establishing snippet, the focus moves to her grotty apartment. A few paragraphs in I encountered: She sat on her old thrift store couch in her low rent apartment and glanced at the clock. It was 9:45 a.m. She had a decision to make and she had to make it fast. I was starting to feel the tension; this woman was in trouble and she didn’t have much time – this was the stuff noir was made of. Then the story jumped to 10:00 with a straight statement about someone from the adoption agency arriving and her signing the papers.

Having been immersed deeper and deeper into the protagonist’s head by the shift from general life of poverty to specific urgent decision, this jump from “she’s about to struggle with the coils of the dilemma” to “15 minutes later she’d made the decision” without even being told what her dilemma was gave me a sense of being cheated.

Denied the visceral ambivalence that distinguishes hard-boiled fiction from a newspaper report of a crime, 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.

Deviants of Giftborn, by Zuri Amarcya (2:13)
Amber Fang, by Arthur Slade (40:00)

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.