The Dark and Shadowy Places, by Caitlin McColl (2:27)

IOD-ShadowyPlacesToday we see that poorly balanced clauses trip the reader and make otherwise minor issues more intrusive.

What I gleaned about the stories: Human senses do a poor job of rendering the shifting complexity of reality, so take a map if you go to the corner shop to buy milk, just in case.

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: Scare quotes

Analysis: The introduction opens with: This book is a collection of short stories or ‘flash fiction’,… As it was the first sentence of the book – apart from publishing boilerplate – I had no basis to judge the author’s style, so the quotation marks confused me: were they an attempt to invert the meaning, to suggest the stories weren’t actually flash fiction; were they an indication that the author had decided to flag words they considered neologisms.

After coming to a halt, I realized that, in addition to the punctuation harming rather than aiding effortless reading, all of the reasons I could think of for doing it would either be invasive or arch.

Having hit a double issue on the first sentence, I moved on.

WTF #2: Unbalanced clauses

Analysis: Toward the bottom of the first page of the first story I hit: It’s frustrating when you’re trying to get to the grocery store, but make a wrong turn, and then you come to a dead end. As the second clause reuses the you from the first clause, the you in the third broke the rhythm.

After rereading the sentence looking for a reason for breaking the pattern, I started wondering if adding you to the second clause or removing it from the third would work better, or if there was nothing in it.

Reeling myself back from nuances of rhetoric, I moved on.

Kudo #1: Interesting hooks

Analysis: The first lines of the first two stories are: I’m from Labyrinth and It smelled red. As soon as I read each of them, I wanted to know more. Neither of them is long or complex. In fact the brevity works in their favor; the snippet of information provokes questions without giving any answers, so the only solution is to read on.

WTF #3: Unclear set-dressing

Analysis: The second story opens with the narrator going to a window and lifting a slat. This mention of slat was the first evidence of there being a blind over the window, so – while blinds aren’t uncommon – my image of the window was still in a nebulous state that included open or closed, curtains or blind, glass or not. Therefore, I stumbled over whether the window was louvered or had a blind over it.

This might not have thrown me completely; however, the narrator’s actions were described in a series of unbalanced clauses which tipped me over the edge.

Intending to come back to the collection when it didn’t matter whether I lost immersion, 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.

Rated R: Kill Team One, by Mike Leon (11:02)
The Lust for Blood, by Charmain Marie Mitchell (2:05)

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.