The Killing Fields: Short Stories, by Nikesh Murali (4:32)

IOD-KillingFieldsToday we see that the poor flow of text can overcome the draw of the plot.

What I gleaned about the stories: In India the politicians are more corrupt, the police more brutal, and the down more trodden.

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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.

Technical Note from Jeff: Authors, if I can’t find a version of your cover image online that’s taller than 250 pixels, then you haven’t got a clue what the “publish” part of self-publishing is all about. I urge you to hire someone who does.

WTF #1: Choppy paragraphs

Analysis: A little way into the first story, I encountered:

They didn’t even have the time to bury, because the army always rolled in on their trucks after a round of shelling to ensure they had done a thorough job.

The exodus to safety had resumed.

I don’t accept that there are fixed rules for paragraph composition, but those two paragraphs felt like aspects of the same idea. Had there been a variety of paragraphs before, I might have read the break as rhetorical; but I already had a vague feeling of choppiness, so it felt abrupt and unnecessary.

Distracted, I moved on.

While I did not charge another WTF for it, I noticed the same style of multiple single line paragraphs about the same idea in the later stories.

WTF #2: Amplified echoing headwords

Analysis: A short distance into the second story I encountered a page where three out of the four paragraphs began with ‘I’, and several other sentences had ‘I’ as the subject. On its own, such frequent use of the same word would probably have been distracting; but having all but one paragraph start with the same word made my unconscious expect a pattern, making the echo doubly noticeable.

After rereading to make sure I hadn’t missed a rhetorical effect, I moved on.

WTF #3: Missing punctuation

Analysis: A few pages into the third story, I hit a missing comma and segued straight into musing on how unfortunate it was that the text got in the way of the story.

While it is minor on its own, the choppy paragraphs and echoing words had already upset my feeling of rhythm, so another stumble bounced me out completely and I pulled the plug.

Kudo #1: Intriguing plots

Analysis: Although the style didn’t work for me, plenty of other things did: the stories had a protagonist I sympathised with, started in media res, and ramped up the stakes.

Which makes this a solid example of how important the little things are: I wanted to know more about these people and events, and yet each story lost me for purely technical issues.

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.

Dark Horse, by Jay Swanson (8:45)
Witch's Sacrifice, by Crissy Moss (3:20)

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.