Ten Orbits of the Sun, by David Milligan-Croft (4:58)

IOD-TenOrbitsToday we see that a single mistake can overwhelm good prose if the mistake is one common to poor work.

What I gleaned about the stories: The uncertain, even if mundane, can be more unnerving than the most extreme of monsters or events.

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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.

Kudo #1: Engaging opening

Analysis: The first story opens with the narrator watching a woman with a secret, a secret that explains the scars and bite-marks she hides beneath her clothing. However – as is natural for someone who knows something well – the narrator reacts to the sight with a snippet of thought yet doesn’t reel off exactly what the secret is. Immediately, I wanted to know the secret.

WTF #1: Dragging sentences

Analysis: The second paragraph of the first story ends, I had tried to coax her back into bed, but she was having none of it. I had slipped my hand into the thin triangle of fabric as she was putting her tights on only to have my hand slapped playfully. The echoing “I had” hooked my mind, the expectation that it was meaningful enhanced by the author not using a contraction. While still immersed enough to forgive a single echo, the lack of punctuation in the second sentence added to the sense of over-length that the echo had left.

Feeling as if I had trudged rather than flowed through the paragraph, I moved on.

WTF #2: Punctuation errors

Analysis: The second story opened with a good hook and flowed well. So while my unconscious suggested there might be occasional punctuation issues, they didn’t push me out. However, a few pages in, I encountered “Hello?” Came a male voice before he’d even had time to dial a number. The capitalised attribution was such a cliché that it reignited all the things I’d half-noticed, shattering the feeling of crafted prose.

Trust that the book would give a smooth experience damaged again, I moved on.

WTF #3: Unclear time shift

Analysis: The third story opens with the protagonist in their kitchen, and is cast in past perfect tense. It continues with a girl arriving, having a conversation, and leaving, all still in past perfect. As the girl walks away, the protagonist reminisces about the girl’s history and current (to the scene) circumstances. Then, in the middle of a paragraph, the narrator states that the girl still lives in the same house although it’s falling apart now, cast in present tense.

My immediate reaction was that the author had muddle tenses. A moment later, I realised that the sentence worked as an aside if the protagonist were telling the story in the present day. However, the first page of the story had described the protagonist as making a pie today, rather than making a pie on that day or some other clear flag that the events weren’t set in the narrator’s present, so the time jump seemed to come from nowhere.

Concerned that other, potentially more critical to understanding, shifts in time period also wouldn’t be obvious, 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.

Recovered, by Amber Polo (6:01)
A Secondhand Life, by Pamela Crane (2:16)

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.