A Very Short Collection of Shorts, by Rebecca Welch (1:15)

IOD score cardToday we see that stereotypes can work against you.

What I gleaned about the stories: Words pass under eyes. Form sentences. Pages turn. The reader is unsettled before they know why. Something is wrong. The reader seeks to understand.

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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: Basic punctuation error

Analysis: A few sentences into the first story, I encountered: “He told us he would be here. He said.” Johnny said to himself. The difference between a full stop and the (correct) comma is small, but enough to catch my eye and bring my flow to a halt. I might have considered it a typographical error that had remained after proof-reading – a sufficient issue on the first page to score a WTF in itself – but as my focus shifted from the line I was on, I noticed in my peripheral vision that the dialogue below had the same combination of full stops and speech tags.

With a consistent error in basic grammar raising the spectre of more than just a few proofing issues, I moved on.

WTF #2: Delayed critical detail

Analysis: The second story opens with a face being illuminated briefly by passing headlights, then continues with a series of short simple sentences that build a picture of the person fumbling in the dark for a candle and matches, all without a name or pronoun for the protagonist. Then after the candle has been lit and the match extinguished, I encountered a sentence that used the pronoun “her.” For an instant, I couldn’t work out why that had tripped me. Then I realised decades of the default protagonist in speculative fiction being male had biased my choice; so I’d started with the tentative image of the face as male and, when the candle was lit – giving the narrator a clear view of the protagonist – without any sign of the protagonist’s gender, that image had fully formed. So, the female pronoun contradicted the only trait I thought I knew.

Setting aside my irritation at the strength of unconscious bias, I moved on.

WTF #3: Missing punctuation

Analysis: Less than a paragraph into the third story, I hit: I allowed natures music to enter. The absence of the apostrophe leapt out at me. Whether this was a proofing issue or a misunderstanding of grammar, it was the second story with a basic error toward the top of the front page so my worry that there might be more serious issues with the prose became full blown.

My faith that the prose would be fluid and clear shattered, 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.

Broken Wizards, by Jeffrey Bardwell (4:55)
Toby Smart, by Aaron D. Phillips (1:16)

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.