The Brightest Light, by Scott J Robinson (11:59)

IOD-BrightestLightToday we see that cognitive dissonance breaks immersion.

What I gleaned about the story: Some kind of covert mission goes wrong as a man and his rag-tag squad are pinned down by musket-wielding constables. Things are not going as planned, and the near future does not look good.

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WTF #1: “Arik’s in charge of the operation, remember?” The kid was good— smart and talented— just not quite as much as he thought. He shouldn’t have been running operations. Not yet. 

Analysis: Referent confusion. I got confused here. We’re still on the first page, and I’ve been given about six people to keep track of—all of whom seem to be male—in the midst of both a fire-fight and a conversation. Who does “the kid” refer to? Arik? Is “the kid” male or female? Can I safely assume that Arik is male? This matters, because I’m not sure who “he” is. I think both “he” and “the kid” refer to Arik, but I’m not sure. I went back afterward and pieced it together. It was the protagonist talking about Arik, but I’ve recounted those frantic thoughts as I tried to piece it together on the fly as a demonstration of how easily things can come apart when the reader is taking it at speed.


WTF #2: After having been distracted by an irrelevant thought: His mind was wondering.

Analysis: An error like this makes me question whether this has been edited. Prior to this there had been a number of questionable comma situations and so forth, so by the time I got to this, I finally balked.

WTF #3: Muffled shouts. Then the huge winch thumped, a sound like a punch in the chest, and sent a hook flying into the night.

Analysis: I’m confused. A winch does not throw things. It pulls them in. It’s a coil of rope or wire wrapped around a crank. It can’t push or throw.

And now that I see this, it underscores an earlier issue that I let slide, as a large floating city thing emerged from a cloud bank: Steam and smoke streamed out behind a dozen factory chimneys to disappear amongst the cloud. The word “amongst” implies being scattered between multiple discrete objects. It can’t happen between one object. So either the “cloud” has to become “clouds,” or else a different phrase needs to be chosen. If the cloud needs to remain singular, a better phrase might have been “diffused into the cloud.”

Both of these errors created a cognitive dissonance for me, because both are cases of a word being used that’s in logical conflict with the situation being described. And that means that I focus instantly on the word itself, and pop entirely out of the story.

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.

Science Fantasy Short Stories Volume 1 by D T Yarbrough (9:02)
Sector 64: Ambush, by Dean M. Cole (31:36)

About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is underqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.