Short Stories of the Twenty-first Century, by Prescott Fry (1:14)

IOD score cardToday we see that if readers have been primed to expect exuberant and flowery prose, then they are less likely to automatically discard humorous misinterpretations without even realising.

What I gleaned about the stories: If YOU like stories…. stories that are Good… then…. You WANT Good stories to read….

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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: Snake-oil formatting

Analysis: The collection opens with an introduction featuring ALLCAPS, centred text, multiple ellipses, unexpected capitals, and all the other traits seen in the mimeographed screeds that are thrust at one by earnest individuals, pushed through one’s letterbox at an odd hour, or found tucked beneath the wiper when one returns to one’s car. As soon as I began to see them, I formed two opposing theories: here is an author who will provide just the right amount of typographic oddities to create an amusing pastiche of overblown rhetoric; or here is an author who hasn’t considered that they are oddities for a reason. Unfortunately, the first half a page provided no subtle winks or arch notes to indicate the author was inviting me in on the joke.

Hoping that it was a symptom of an author moved to joy at the thought of having sufficient stories for a collection (and producing a number of good stories is a sound reason for joy), rather than a sign the stories would be similarly overwrought, I moved on.

WTF #2: Improperly punctuated dialogue

Analysis: A few paragraphs into the first story, I encountered

Good boy,”

My mind parsed the comma is signalling there was a speech tag coming, so the paragraph break felt a little like missing a step in the dark. My immediate thought was that the line had somehow been broken in the middle, but the next paragraph didn’t start with an orphaned speaker. At which point, I realised it was probably a typo. In addition to making me wonder about the proofreading, this provided a new possibility regarding the introduction: at least some of the odd usage might be uncaught typos.

Unsure which possibility promised smoother prose, I moved on.

WTF #3: Comical image echo

Analysis: The second sentence of the next story was: His spotless leather shoes stepped from the work van onto the asphalt, the leaves rustling in the breeze of the languid Sunday morning. For an instant, my mind parsed the second clause as modifying the first. The real meaning snapped into place almost immediately, but it was already too late: I’d already pictured a pavement made of gently waving leaves.

Perhaps, coming to the story fresh, I might have interpreted the sentence as the author intended; however, the exuberance of the introduction had raised the possibility that some of the stories might have the same flowery style. Thus the part of my mind that handles the metaphorical and absurd was awake and watching for signs of magical realism.

With my trust in the formatting, proofreading, and description having taken a knock, 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 Prince of Ravens, by Hal Emerson (40:00)
Three Short Fairytales, by G. Wulfing (1:03)

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.