Cold Sweats and Vignettes, by John Bowen (5:38)

IOD-SweatsVignettesToday we see that not checking your invented words can result in readers doubting your meaning.

What I gleaned about the stories: Something is happening. It is probably relevant to someone.

Find this book on Amazon.

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: Inventing a word that actually exists with a different meaning

Analysis: The collection starts with a claim that real people and companies are used “factitiously”. This threw me out, as factious means (1) produced artificially rather than naturally, or (2) inauthentic. I immediately started to wonder which natural forces would usually apply to a company, a creation entirely of human artifice. Almost immediately after, I rejected that interpretation and pondered why the author would go out of his way to portray real people and companies incorrectly; surely that was asking for trouble?

Moments later, I realised it was actually intended to be a fusion of fact and fictitious, to represent a fictionalised portrayal of a real thing, but I had already lost faith in the author’s clarity of description.

WTF #2: One paragraph prologue

Analysis: The story opens with a man, probably old, discussing some wrong done to him or that he has done, in a Dickensian style. At the end of the first paragraph, I hit a section break and a transition into different characters doing something unconnected in a different style.

The disjunction felt like falling into a hole: I had just started to wonder what this mysterious event was when we cut somewhere else. My initial reaction to the new characters was to not want to hear about them because they were getting the the way of whatever was happening previously.

And, as can be seen by my description, it fails as a way of giving information I would need later: some ten minutes after reading it I can’t remember whether the man was the wronged party or the one who did the wronging.

All my interest thrown away, I moved on.

Kudo #1: Well-crafted extras

Analysis: A work about the long-term effects of a temporal rip is written in a modernised epistolary style. In addition to the sound use of extracts to replicate the changing concerns of people as the event becomes part of past history, Bowen sprinkled in several mocked up web pages, magazine covers, and other extras. While I can’t comment on their quality on a massive screen, they were both crisp and realistic on my e-reader, so added an extra level of reality to the story.

WTF #3: Unclear description

Analysis: The story opened with:

Whatever had gone wrong, malfunctioned, had done so swiftly and spectacularly. A forced landing, or more likely a crash landing, was looking inevitable. Ben raced to access the emergency flight controls while the escaping particles still afforded the craft some thrust.’

The first sentence left me flat because I don’t know what is going wrong: it could be a star destroyer or a toaster; so without scale, I have no sense of consequences. However, I didn’t stall, and the second sentence gave me some idea of scale: a flying craft crashing is likely to be serious.

Unfortunately, the third sentence undercut what trust in the author’s description remained: what particles? Without more than the image of a flying craft to go on, I was expecting either abstraction or explanation; as it is, I received fine detail without context so – not knowing how long the particles would last, was back to not knowing how serious it was. And why did he have to use the emergency controls rather than the normal ones?

A little lack of clarity wouldn’t have thrown me, but with each mental image I tried to form revised in less than a sentence, I had neither a sense of consequence nor confidence my interpretation was going to survive the second paragraph. 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.

Bells On Her Toes, by Diana J. Febry (7:23)
Dark Horse, by Jay Swanson (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.