Stirring The Grass and other stories, by David Winship (5:10)

IOD-StirringGrassToday we see that prose that doesn’t fit the established style pushes the reader out of the story.

What I gleaned about the stories: There are living creatures around us that might have more involved motives than we realise.

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WTF #1: Huge opening line

Analysis: The first line is “I noticed several caterpillars festooning the ragwort that infested the road verges on the approach to Rick’s apartment.” While I could unpack the sentence, it is an eyeful to read so I really had to concentrate. As I came out of the first sentence with less momentum than I went in, I called it and moved on.

Kudo #1: Good balance between showing character and being twee.

Analysis: The second story anthropomorphises birds. Winship includes a light spattering of altered phrases, for example “three hundred wingflaps north”, “been there, done that, got the moss stains”, while maintaining the usual terms for many things. This provided a feeling of the difference in bird’s thought processes and experience without forcing me to translate all the time.

WTF #2: Inappropriate humour for the tone.

Analysis: The story reads as a light but serious portrayal of birds as political animals, so when a supposedly earnest and tedious robin suddenly made an announcement about Twitter, the birds’ communication system, the play on words jarred against the established tone.

Had the image been played for laughs from the beginning it might not have destroyed my immersion, but Winship’s skill in selling the set-up worked against him.

WTF #3: Breaking cause and effect to no good purpose.

Analysis: The second paragraph of the third story opens with “Christina Peacock and her friend and constant companion, were out early that morning, it being Sunday”, which places the effect (being out early) before the cause (the day being Sunday). Human perception is strongly linked to time: we expect cause to come before effect to such an extent that the reversal is unsettling. While this can be used to good effect to increase a feeling of unease or confusion in the reader, in this instance there was no threat or mystery to be enhanced; the reversal therefore felt clumsy or arch and distracted me from the story to consider how I would rewrite the sentence to flow better.

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.

Everflame, by Dylan Lee Peters (5:41)
Shiftless, by Aimee Easterling (8:31)

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.