Comedy Shorts: Four Short Stories….., by Robin Storey (2:30)

IOD score cardToday we see that commas are not the only punctuation that can get repetitive.

What I gleaned about the stories: Sometimes comedy opens with a funeral rather than ending with a laugh-until-you-die punchline.

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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.

Note 2: the five-dotted ellipsis on the cover really niggled me, but I didn’t charge a WTF for it.

WTF #1: Scare quotes

Analysis: A few sentences into the first story, a character is accused of living in an ‘alternate reality’. The quotes threw me: wrapping a word in quotes is sometimes used to signal it doesn’t bear the common meaning; however, phrases about someone being in another world are common enough no one would assume the character actually lived in another reality anyway, so I instinctively parsed the quotes to mean that the metaphor wasn’t being used in the normal sense. This left me confused as to whether he really did live in a different physical reality, or that there was some other meaning of the phrase that was eluding me.

After a moment, I decided that the author must have intended the common meaning and therefore the quotes confused matters rather than clarifying. My trust in the punctuation shaken, I moved on.

WTF #2: Pervasive em-dashes

Analysis: About a page into the second story, I hit: On the other hand, it was a terrifying thought – you’d never know when you went to bed each night if tomorrow you wouldn’t wake up. As the second half of the sentence explains or expands the first, the usual way to punctuate would be a colon rather than an em-dash. Where the author’s style features frequent sentences comprising multiple clauses, I find prose that includes occasional em-dashes often feels less repetitive than that solely using commas. However, this was one of many em-dashes I’d encountered in approximately one page of text, so the unusual usage gave an impression of going too far the other way: rather than seeking to avoid overuse of the most common punctuation, the author seemed to be determined to avoid it wherever possible.

Shaking the echo from my head, I moved on.

WTF #3: Unintentionally humorous description

Analysis: A short way into the third story, a character leans into the protagonist’s field of vision. The protagonist’s first thought is: Tanned, hard-edged, bleached hair. Because my mind doesn’t complete parsing until it has a complete chunk (a trait that has lead to the downfall of many a long description in past reports), the subject of the adjectives wasn’t set in stone until I hit a noun. So, my immediate image was of hair that was tanned and bleached with a hard edge. This corrected almost instantly into an image of a tanned, hard-edged person with bleached hair, but my faith that the description would be clear was already damaged. In another genre, this might have been a small enough prang to be forgivable; however, comedy relies on intentionally humorous statements, so losing crispness of language hit doubly hard.

Plug pulled.

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 Fall, by M.J. McGriff (3:11)
Toils and Snares, by Robert L. Slater (27:08)

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.