Tell the Octopus and other short stories, by Jonathan Day (40:00)

Today we see that providing a nickname or other glimpse of how a character lives can make a reader see them better than any amount of describing their appearance. [For more on this effect, see our companion video: The Power of Names.]

What I gleaned about the stories: The one thing you can predict is that humans will behave oddly.

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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.

Kudo #1: Great opening line

Analysis: The first story opens with: The tentacles of the brightly coloured octopus listening to an MP3 player wound around the walls of the underpass as it snatched at musical notes floating up to the ring road above. While the sentence was right on the edge of being unwieldy, it conjured a powerful and intriguing image so pulled me deeper into the world.

Kudo #2: Character introductions

Analysis: Many of the characters are introduced with a brief pen-sketch which provides not a list of physical attributes but a mention of their greatest achievement, former job, or other historical trait. This glimpse of not how they look but rather how they act immediately created a strong sense that they were people with lives, desires, and behaviours.

WTF #1: Incorrect foreign phrase

Analysis: Several paragraphs into the second story, I encountered the phrase, “piéce de rèsistance,” set in Roman text. My immediate thought was that, since it wasn’t an English phrase, it should be in italics. This slowed me enough that I noticed the accents were incorrect: it should in fact be pièce de résistance. As opinions differ on whether an expression has become common enough to no longer be foreign, I would have forgiven the lack of italics for such a well-known phrase. However, with the accents (whether correctly placed or not) even a basic spell-check would flag it as an error; so, this cast a question over whether the text had been proofed.

Hoping it was an anomaly, I moved on.

Kudo #3: Variety of stories

Analysis: Each story featured distinct characters involved in distinct plots, both providing a pleasing variety of tales and avoiding the sameness that can creep into collections.

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.

Dungeons & Diamonds, by Zeppy Cheng (6:14)
Maladaptation, by Adan Ramie (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.