No Mercy, by Wendy Cartmell (3:17)

IOD-NoMercyToday we see that if your character misquotes a famous saying without comment, readers might think you are the idiot.

What I gleaned about the stories: People connected to the military focus on structure over empathy.

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Kudo #1: Great opening

Analysis: The first story opens with the protagonist and his assistant discussing a failed prosecution. Not only did the difference in their reactions give me a picture of their characters within a couple of paragraphs, but starting at the point a supposedly solid case failed was a great hook: would the protagonist try again to nail the perp? Would the perp decide to take revenge?

WTF #1: Over Capitalisation

Analysis: The second paragraph ends with: “Don’t you find it frustrating when we arrest someone and then they get off, Sir?” Titles are not capitalised except when speaking about a specific person rather than the role (e.g. “President Sarkozy visited”, but “The president visited.”), so the capital on ‘sir’ (which is only a term of respect) leapt out at me.

As I was less than half-way down the first page, this was enough to count as a WTF, which knocks me on to the next story.

WTF #2: Subtle Misquoting

Analysis: The narrator says that her husband’s favourite saying was “Everything in its place and a place for everything.” The usual saying is “A place for everything and everything in its place,” so having it the other way around stood out. I paused to see whether I had misread it, and then wondered whether it was the right way around. As I was now thinking about the words and not the story, I had to flag it as a WTF and move on.

Potentially the reversal was deliberate, but without a narrator comment (such as, “…which tells you both the things you need to know about him.”) to flag that it was intended to be wrong there was nothing to kill the confusion before it reached my conscious.

Editorial note from Jefferson: Whenever a character needs to do something a reader will think of as stupid or wrong, you have to hang a lampshade on it, or the reader might think you are the idiot, rather than your character. 

WTF #3: Missing commas in dialogue

Analysis: Several times, when a character spoke to another by name they omitted the comma. I ignored the first few instances but the pattern built up until I found myself actively watching for it. As this was taking up more of my focus than the story, 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.

A Game of Greed and Deception, by John Mathews (7:42)
Starf*cker, by Ian Thomas Healy (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.