Rotten Bodies, by Steve Jenkins (2:53)

IOD-RottenBodiesToday we see that a little italic emphasis goes a long way.

What I gleaned about the stories: Sometimes zombies aren’t the worst thing in your life, but they don’t make it better.

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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: Unsubtle emphasis

Analysis: A couple of paragraphs into the first story I encountered:

I remember the grass, the sky, the buildings, and the…people. I could never forget them. I don’t remember my previous friends and family; their memory is long gone. No I only remember the flesh.

The combination of ellipsis and italics to emphasise people was noticeable enough that flesh came across as the eyebrow wiggling of someone laughing at their own joke.

Used carefully italics can add a subtle nuance of pronunciation that prose might lack, but here I not only read the tone but noticed I was doing it. Effect spoiled, I moved on.

WTF #2: Heavier italics

Analysis: I went into the second story half-expecting frequent italics, so pushed past several instances. However, the density seemed to increase, making the use leap out rather than fade into an unconscious effect. Any word that a person might put stress on was italicised, more so if a child spoke. As this built I found myself mentally marking up the rhythm of the piece like a formal analysis of a poem, rather than picturing events.

Shaking the dum-diddy out of my head, I moved on.

WTF #3: The italics lose meaning

Analysis: Half-way down the first page of the third story I encountered:

No I can’t. It’s not safe. He’ll catch me. I’ll be a sitting duck. I can’t risk it. It’s better to keep moving. I’m faster than him.

Depending on style and density of inner dialogue, some authors italicise the narrator’s thoughts and others don’t. However, here it seemed that some were italicised and some weren’t. After two issues with italics, I had been determined to push past the issue; however – unlike the intrusive emphasis of before – here I was uncertain what the italics meant.

The italics having distracted me enough to overcome a deliberate decision to accept them, I pulled the plug.

Considering it as I write the report, I wonder if the narrator was arguing with themselves (either metaphorically or due to an actual second personality in their head), but there had been no definite indication of that; and had it been a true dialogue, the two voices should surely have been on separate lines.

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.

Brooding City, by Tom Shutt (7:17)
Blade of the Destroyer, by Andy Peloquin (4:46)

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.