Hidden Pictures by Angela Castillo (4:14)

IOD-HiddenPicturesToday we see that partial echoes can be more distracting than full ones if the reader is primed to accept echoes.

What I gleaned about the stories: Sometimes odd things happen, but being a bit folksy yet stilted might prevent the fear from taking hold.

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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: Confusing list marking

Analysis: A few sentences into the introduction, I encountered:

Like Alice meeting the white rabbit; or Aladdin rubbing the lamp, sometimes a small event occurs that sends your life spiralling into insanity.

Semi-colons can be used in place of commas in a list to avoid confusion when one or more list items contains a comma. Therefore, when I passed over the semi-colon and a new list item started, I was primed to see commas as part of list items. I was thus confused when the main clause started after the comma.

It didn’t take long to untangle, but it was in the first paragraph, so I moved on.

WTF #2: Stilted narration

Analysis: A short distance into the first story I met:

The lumps surrounding me did not consist of cloth, but feathers attached to birds of prey.

The combination of ‘did not’ rather than ‘didn’t’ with ‘feathers attached to birds of prey’ rather than simply ‘birds of prey’, didn’t flow as smoothly as it could. As it wasn’t the first sentence that felt overly complex and formal, I found myself thinking about the text rather than the story, so moved on.

WTF #3: Broken mirroring

Analysis: At the start of the story, the narrator relates an anecdote about her mother warning her when she started courting her husband that ‘[n]othing good came from a Halson, unless they’re dead’. When her husband dies, the narrator remarks that ‘[n]othing good ever did come of a Halson, except when they were dead.’

Because the first half of the sentences echo closely, I expected the second half to echo too. Instead, I tripped over the ‘except’.

While there are rhetorical effects that subvert the reader’s expectation, I couldn’t see a reason for not completing the mirroring. Explanation oscillating between dull note of accident and failure of intent, I realised I had lost immersion either way and 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.

Cthulhu Doesn't Dance, by Justin MacCormack (3:06)
Bells On Her Toes, by Diana J. Febry (7:23)

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.