Ghostoria by Tam Francis (8:16)

IOD-GhostoriaToday we see that consistency of voice and tone is doubly important in a genre that relies on a growing sense of wrongness.

What I gleaned about the stories: People are scared by the unexpected and very ready to accept an explanation that isn’t scary.

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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 loose immersion, I stop reading that story and move on to the next one. As usual, I stop reading after the third WTF.

WTF #1: Missing conjunction.

Analysis: Part way into the second paragraph of the first page I encountered ‘She had the look of an abused puppy mixed with a drowned rat, dark brown eyes that would look sad even if she were happy, which she clearly wasn’t.’ The structure of the sentence suggested a list of qualities, so I was expecting drowned rat, dark eyes, and…. But, when I hit “which” followed by the end of the sentence it threw me out.

Depending on style and the weight of each feature, the overall look and the description of the eyes might be joined by either “and” or “with”, but it needs something to make it clearer it isn’t a longer list.

WTF #2: Wobbly tone

Analysis: The second story is narrated by a young boy and – to the point I reached – contains only children. However, the tone of both narration and dialogue shifted between casual and formal. I finally stopped believing I was listening to children when I hit ‘“No, this is my first time here. My father is the new caretaker. We’re just moving in,” she answered with no hint of recrimination to Vinnie’s awkward come-on line.’ Both the inconsistency in contractions (‘my father is’ rather than ‘my father’s’ yet ‘We’re’) and the feel of educated adult produced by ‘recrimination’ pushed me out.

It is the shifting between voices that troubled me. As this is a collection of ghost stories, I would have been more accepting of a consistently formal child; whether as a sign all was not as it seemed, or as a red herring.

WTF #3: Variable distance

Analysis: The narrator has just encountered an unexpected woman:

A shimmering woman in a flowing dress stood before me and offered me her hand. I closed my eyes and muttered under my breath. “Not real, not real, not real.” Fear washed over me in alternating waves of nausea and excitement.

No one had ever said anything about the office building being haunted, but it was old and I couldn’t explain the figure in front of me. Could it be a spirit? I opened one eye to see if she was still there. She was. A violent shudder ran through my body.’

The first paragraph built a good sense of fear, but the start of the next one (particularly the second sentence) is much more narrative, which killed the sense of terror that was building.

The conflict between being scared enough for waves of fear and rational enough to consider evidence in an even-handed fashion fatally damaged my belief in the narrator’s voice, so I pulled the plug.

Kudo #1: Good description and pace

Analysis: While there were three issues that broke the tension, for that to matter there needed to be tension to begin with. Each story, through a combination of description and pace managed to quickly build an air of uncertainty.

Even with the tension weakened, I had a strong desire to read on to unravel the mystery. So I will definitely be coming back to this collection.

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.

Purenet, by HJ Lawson (5:32)
The Upheaval, by Erica Stevens (8:45)

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.