Poisoned Apples, by James Loscombe (1:36)

IOD-PoisonedApplesToday we see that if you move from a colloquial voice to the absurd or overly formal without warning, the reader will lose faith in the description.

What I gleaned about the stories: The line between malady and comedy is different for each observer.

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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: Unfeasible details

Analysis: The first story opens with a paragraph about the protagonist’s obesity. The initial sentences – stock similes for being overweight – produced a reasonable mental image; however, when her flesh was described as rippling and shaking “long after” she stopped laughing, my belief collapsed.

Slight jiggling for a moment after she stopped laughing would be plausible. But the use of two verbs, combined with an extended time period, created an image of powerful aftershocks.

This might not have thrown me out if the story had primed me to accept ridiculous images; by hinting at magical realism, suggesting that the character was an alien, or otherwise making it clear the usual rules of biology were stretched. However, all I had were commonplace descriptions of a normal human.

Trust in description strained, I moved on.

WTF #2: Ambiguity in punctuation

Analysis: The second story begins with the narrator’s partner finding out a secret. A few paragraphs in I encountered: She’s an understanding girl and all but I think… As all but is a valid construction (e.g. all but devoted to me), and with no punctuation to indicate otherwise, that is how my mind parsed the sentence. Which made me trip over the second half. I quickly realised that “but” started a new clause; however the damage had already been done.

Anything that needs untangling on the first page of a story gets full weight, so I moved on.

WTF #3: Implausible Diction

Analysis: The third story opened with modern details in a colloquial voice, giving me the sense it was internal narrative and set in the present, or in the recent past. So, when the narrator introduced himself a few paragraphs in without using any contractions, the sudden formality jarred me.

While there are situations in which people would avoid contractions, the colloquial opening hadn’t primed me for a police statement or other formal narration, so my mental image dissolved.

With the narrator’s voice lost on the first page, 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.

Juma's Rain, by Katharina Gerlach (6:19)
One Kill Away, by Alex MacLean (15:32)

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.