Crime, Conflict & Consequences: Short Stories 1, by Heather Burnside (1:35)

IOD score card

Today we learn that your typography should be invisible. When it becomes noticeable, it has stopped doing its job.

What I gleaned about the stories: Sometimes someone somewhere knows to think something. Somehow.

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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: Distracting paragraph format

Analysis: Paragraphs in this story have both a first-line indent and a clear line between them. The former is usually used for fiction while the later serves most commonly in non-fiction, but in either case, each is usually used on its own. With the redundant practice employed here, I at first saccaded over the signals unconsciously, but by the end of the first page I had become aware of a sort of “down… and then in” chant echoing in my head at each line wrap.

To shake the echo out, I moved on.

WTF #2: Confusing typesetting

Analysis: The second story opens with the protagonist realising she might have disregarded her friend’s comments too easily. A couple of paragraphs in, a sentence of internal dialogue about remembering her friend’s warning terminates with an ellipsis. The next paragraph is set in italics with no speech marks around it and reads as dialogue. I parsed this as a transition from the character’s present to a memory of her friend speaking. The following paragraph narrates the protagonist’s negative reaction to those comments then closes with the exact words she spoke in response set in italics but wrapped in speech marks. At this point, my parser stumbled: why was this direct reporting of past speech set differently from the previous one?

After pondering reasons for a moment, I realised that, whether or not I’d worked out the right meaning, I had been distracted by the typesetting and setting both sets of dialogue in the same way would have avoided that without missing out any vital nuance. So I moved on.

WTF #3: Echoing filter

Analysis: The next story opens with the protagonist watching someone eat. The first sentence contains her initial assessment, tagged with: she knew. Two sentences later, another thought is tagged with: she thought. Knowing implies a different, more certain opinion than surmising, so I’d parsed the first one as suggesting some extended prior dealings or some other special reason to raise mere belief to a certainty. However, it was obvious that the paragraphs were conveying her thoughts and opinions, so the second tag seemed a sign of the author over clarifying. Which in turn raised the worry that the first tag had been an attempt to avoid using thought twice in the same paragraph, rather than a mark of certainty.

Aware that I was more curious whether the next paragraph would contain several unnecessary tags than I was about why this woman was considering the diner’s reactions, 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.

Fur Boys, by C.A. Newsome (10:10)
Of Cinder & Bone, by Kyoko M. (2:00)

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.