The Lust for Blood, by Charmain Marie Mitchell (2:05)

IOD-LustForBloodToday we see that even deliberate echoing can be distracting if the surrounding prose doesn’t support the effect.

What I gleaned about the stories: Even ordinary people living average lives eventually stumble into something odd.

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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: Broken rhythm

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

…She always termed herself as average. She had an average face with no huge or ugly features, but then again no beautiful features either. She had average mousey brown hair, which was cut into an average shoulder-length bob. An average figure, nothing to write home about; but then again nothing to complain about either. Nicola was an average person, and she admitted to herself that this was her downfall – she just did not stand out from the crowd…..

Unlike most echoing head-words, the repetition here came across as a deliberate rhetorical flourish; however, the section dragged rather than building. After a moment considering it, I realised that – while the repetition of average itself was solid – the remainder of the sentences weren’t carrying the rhythm: similar constructions use either a comma or a semi-colon rather counteracting the effect; clauses are more verbose and formal than necessary, weakening rather than emphasising the crescendo.

Hoping this marked the bottom end of rhetorical reach and not the top, I moved on.

WTF #2: Lack of payoff

Analysis: The first line of the second story is: Andrew and I had always planned to move to Cornwall, but it just so happened that we ended up moving about twenty years earlier than we thought we would. The phrase Just so happened made me think strong coincidence (e.g. When I fell from the window I was certain I would die, but it just so happened a lorry-load of mattresses was parked outside.); however, the rest of the first page was a narrative of the first ten years of the characters’ marriage.

A little way onto the second page, the narrator reminded the reader that they’d already said the move was unexpected, then returned to setting out events of those first ten years.

With two statements that the story was interesting, but no reason yet to be interested, I had the strong sense of being trapped in the corner by someone who wasn’t getting to the point.

Not being trapped, I moved on.

Note: This narrative choice might be a selling point to some readers; I had exactly the same sense of someone not getting to the point with several Stephen King novels.

WTF #3: Ambivalent construction

Analysis: The first sentence of the third story is: I have always wanted to be famous, actually, I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t want to be famous. As both I have always wanted to be famous, actually and actually, I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t want to be famous are valid sentences, as soon as I passed the second comma my unconscious flipped back and forth trying to work out which one the author meant.

While it took only a moment to decide the second was more likely, a first sentence that is neither clear nor obfuscated to hook the reader is a clear WTF, 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.

The Dark and Shadowy Places, by Caitlin McColl (2:27)
Juma's Rain, by Katharina Gerlach (6:19)

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.