Crimson Night and Other Short Stories, by Jaron Camp (1:12)

IOD score cardToday we see that a typographical error can trick the reader into expecting a different story from the one they get.

What I gleaned about the stories: Crime scenes and laundry baskets share an essential muddled appearance.

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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 onto the next one. As usual, I stop reading after the third WTF.

WTF #1: Bait and switch

Analysis: The first story opened with Felix bags up the petri dish of the two blood samples…, which hooked me: why did the Petri dish contain two samples? Immediately, I pictured a rogue scientist testing infection by exposing one sample to another. I wasn’t sure if this was mundane biology or an antidote to vampirism, but I wanted to know more.

Then a second character enters and they discuss the evidence the second character found which the first character says they’ll add to the blood samples they collected inside. Suddenly my mental image contorted: the first line wasn’t talking about two separate samples deliberately mixed as part of an experiment; it was talking about two samples taken from the scene of an incident.

Fast on the heels of this shift, my mind threw up questions over whether this was a typographical error (the author intended petri dishes plural) or a sign that the character had actually mixed samples because he was bad at forensic investigation.

Not only had my mental image been cut from beneath me but I’d also been left with doubt over what I should replace it with.

After lamenting for a moment for the vampire story that never was, I moved on.

WTF #2: Inaccessible internal dialogue

Analysis: A few sentences into the second story, I encountered: How could he make them understand that their sadness for him wasted their time, and leaving him alone is desired? This stalled me out for two reasons. First, “could” implies a consideration of past instances not present events, so “is” rather than “was” jarred. Second, it didn’t feel like someone thinking; it’s a linguistically valid sentence, but I couldn’t imagine a person saying it in anything other than a very old book (this didn’t seem to be an homage to Gothic literature) or as deliberate irony (which didn’t fit the character’s irritation).

My trust in the fluidity of the prose damaged, I moved on.

WTF #3: Unnecessary absence of facts

Analysis: The third story opens with:

Raef cracks his knee against the bedpost while rushing across his room. Clothes fly into the air as he finds the source of the clamor in his clothes basket. He must’ve dropped it in there during his drunken stagger entering his room.

It was only when I reached the end of the second sentence I found out why he was running, where the clothes were, or why they were flying; but knew nothing about the noise: is it a scrabbling, an electronic beep, some other noise? By the end of the third I knew it was an item that could be dropped, but still didn’t know what it was: a pager? a phone?

The entire first paragraph had left me propping up my mental image with loose pieces of wood while I waited for nouns to fill in the blanks. Then, when it was complete, it amounted to nothing more interesting than a man bashing his knee when he dived for his phone.

Had the author opened with, for example, the trill of the phone assaulting Raef’s aching head, I might well have found the slapstick of knee and clothes characterful; but as rendered, these details instead obscured the one thing I most wanted, so 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.

A Threat of Shadows, by JA Andrews (A minority report)
The Mundane Collective, by TB Löklund (9:32)

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.