Colossus, by Jette Harris (6:26)

IOD score cardToday we see that one disruption of immersion can be the cause of more disruptions later.

What I gleaned about the story: Avery Rhodes is a man on a mission, and to achieve that mission, he needs this abandoned house. But first he needs to kill the homeless man who’s living there.

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WTF #1: Declarative sentence parade

Analysis: I’m on the second page and I’ve found myself skimming forward a couple of times. The dry rhythmic trudge of prose made up mostly of simple declarative sentences feels like it is only serving half of me.

The part that visualizes the scenery is being well fed, but the other half—the half that wants something to think about, something to chew on—that half gets frustrated and bored. Hence the skimming. That’s the analytical part of the brain taking control of the ship to go off in search of something to do. So when I’m hungry for that and all I’m getting is a diet of the chair was here, he went into the kitchen, it was behind the parlor, etc, I get impatient. And that’s when immersion pops.

WTF #2: Echoing sentence structure

Analysis: Consider the following excerpt:

Glancing at the book cover, Rhodes was surprised to find a high school year book. Shoving the book back into the bag, Rhodes glanced down at the body.* Bag in one hand, he grabbed a corner of the woolen blanket in the other, and used it to drag the body to the front door. Brought into the light, Rhodes could now see that the vagrant had been far younger than he had guessed, perhaps in his early twenties. Cleaned up, he might have even been attractive.

Do you see the pattern? With one thing happening, another thing happened. I call these parallel or simultaneous declarations. To parse them, the reader has to pause at the comma and hold that preliminary thought in limbo while waiting for the rest of the sentence before he can properly assemble the image. This is easy to absorb on an occasional basis, but it completely upsets the rhythm of the reading if they come in rapid succession. Even two in a row can be conspicuous, so use them judiciously.

* There was an additional sentence here—He needed light—but I omitted it to make the pattern more clear for the purposes of this discussion. Its presence did little to mitigate the echo of the sentences around it. 

WTF #3: Inconsistent character description

Analysis: Our charming hero has just murdered a sick vagrant, a man of some years. But then after flipping through a book he found in the guy’s knapsack, he’s suddenly referring to “the boy,” even though nobody else is present. Was he talking about a boy he’s seen in the book? Eventually I went back to reread the preceding stuff and discovered that amid the bumpy road of echoing sentence structures, there had been a line I missed about the vagrant being younger than Avery had first thought. Normally I don’t charge WTFs for something that turns out to be my own mistake, but in this case, I see it as a delayed complication stemming from the previous flag, so it stands.

It also shows us yet another way that immersion breaks can be problematic. Not only do they disrupt the reading experience, but those disruptions can then metastasize, causing further disruptions later.

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Try the free sample on one of my books or short stories and decide for yourself.

Clutch: Book One of The Wrecked Earth, by CEL Welsh (5:14)
From a Foreign Shore, by Andrew Knighton (40:00)

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.