Discordia: Short Stories from The Golden Apple of Discord, by Lauren Hodge (0:51)

IOD score cardToday we see that an overly stylized narrative voice can push readers away rather than drawing them in.

What I gleaned about the stories: Supernatural entities can easily be identified by their use of convoluted phrasing replete with abstruse jargon.

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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: Non-standard punctuation

Analysis: The first story opens with: This takes place during chapters one and two in The Golden Apple of Discord – Aggie of the Milunfran Toronto coven. While the first clause parsed as an author note, my instinctive understanding of a dash followed by a name is as an attribution of a quote. So, my parsing hopped the tracks: the name sounded in-world, so it didn’t seem like a quote, which meant the punctuation didn’t mean what I expected.

After a moment, I wondered if the name was the protagonist or narrator of the story. However, by then I’d already noted that the author created new punctuation rules that didn’t have a meaning clear enough that I didn’t have to pause to riddle it out.

The spectre of further puzzling semiotic choices in the future looming, I moved on.

Note 2: As subsequent stories began with the same ‘timeline – name’ paragraph, I concluded my guess was correct and did not penalize further instances.

WTF #2: Context-free jargon

Analysis: The second story began with:

What went wrong? Draco trained us to turn her and keep her under Cothelas’s verbal mind control. She is not only able to use his power; she also cannot be contained by it.

Taralie.

The density of fantasy labels in the first paragraph was immediately noticeable, but not enough to push me out. However, the single-word second paragraph tripped me. It wasn’t in quotes or different formatting so it wasn’t speech, internal dialogue, or a magical text message, so I had no idea whether to parse it as a name (perhaps the potential second unnamed female in the first paragraph), a race, a curse, a power word.

I could take a reasonable guess, but having to guess at things at the top of the first page didn’t bode well for the level of context in the rest of the story, so I moved on.

WTF #3: Stilted phrasing

Analysis: A few sentences into the third story, I encountered: Even with an area so broad as to encompass Portland to San Francisco, your inability to conceal your allotted kills is unacceptable. While the meaning wasn’t unclear, the phrasing didn’t feel like something a person would ever naturally say; at which point my unconscious pointed out that the narration prior to the dialogue hadn’t been fluid either.

I was torn between it being an unconscious issue with the prose and a deliberate attempt to capture the patterns of an archaic or pretentious protagonist-narrator. However, whichever it was, it raised the concern that the rest of the story would take effort to read, 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.

The Fire Mages, by Pauline M. Ross (29:29)
The Day That Never Comes, by Caimh McDonnell (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.