The Disturbing Collection, by David J Skinner (1:44)

IOD-DisturbingCollectionToday we see that telling the reader what they are thinking only works if you are right.

What I gleaned about the stories: People think odd thoughts and say odd things—except when they silently don’t think.

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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: Telling the reader what they are thinking, and getting it wrong.

Analysis: The first story opens with ‘Despite feeling how your legs are barely able to hold you, you don’t think even for a moment about stopping to walk.’

My thought from the first clause was a strong desire to stop mixed with curiosity about why I was continuing. Therefore — even leaving aside the issue of whether it could be realistic to not think of stopping — the second clause was wrong, which destroyed any sense that the narrator was right. So I moved on.

This desperate struggle to not even think of stopping could have worked in third person: Despite his legs barely holding him, John didn’t even think about stopping walking; the reader will read on to find out why John feels so strong a need to press on. But, if the sentence is written as the reader’s thought, the reader already needs to feel that need themselves. Without even a preceding sentence to create an emotion, the transition from the comfort of opening a book to pushing the body to the very limit is too abrupt.

Note: I didn’t notice until I was writing this report that the sentence also contains a contradiction: walking is a motion verb, so cannot be the result of stopping. Depending on whether the protagonist is running or not, I suspect it should either be stopping walking or slowing to a walk.

Note 2: I am fully aware of the irony of a book evaluated in a daily treadmill session failing because it didn’t evoke endurance walking.

WTF #2: Convoluted dialogue

Analysis: The second story opened with a description of a train platform expressed in modern casual language. A little way down the first page I encountered: ‘“You have already recognized me, so I can see,” was the quick response of the other, “therefore, introducing myself would be nonsense….’

Taken in isolation, the dialogue neither flowed nor sounded natural. The insertion of the apposition part way through a thought upset the rhythm further. And the voice didn’t match the preceding description.

Any one of these might have reduced my immersion or even broken it. All three on the first page wiped away any sense of fluid narrative the opening had created. I moved on.

Kudo #1: Punchy snippet

Analysis: The third story is about possible insanity. It is only a couple of paragraphs long, but starts and finishes in the right place and uses every sentence to move between the two. So the lack of context adds strongly to the air of doubt.

WTF #3: Missing words in the opening sentence.

Analysis: A subsequent story opens with: ‘Everything took place so fast, or that I thought.’

The meaning isn’t difficult to work out; but with neither momentum nor any tangible interesting details to make me desperate to find out what happens, I was out of the story before I had even fully gone in, so 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.

Ours Is The Storm, by D Thourson Palmer (9:54)
The Search for Cern, by F A Baker (1:36)

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.