Recovered, by Amber Polo (6:01)

IOD-Recovered.jpgToday we see that there’s more to telling a story than just stringing together a sequence of dramatic events.

What I gleaned about the story: Bliss is a dogshifter who can become a greyhound whenever she wants to, but apparently she can’t outrun a clumsy dogcatcher, so Harry has to turn into a wolf and come to her rescue.

Find this book on Amazon.

Note: Normally for IOD, I read the book, stop each time my immersion breaks, make a note about whatever it was that tripped me, and then dive back in. But I’m dispensing with that usual workflow today. This is one of those books that rubbed me the wrong way right out of the gate, but after tripping and stumbling my way through two pages and six immersion breaks, (a number of echoing headwords, several implausibilities, and some show vs tell mismatches) I hadn’t found anything clear and distinct enough to explain in a writeup. I was tempted to just skip this book altogether, but instead I decided to go back in and see if I could find something more substantive amid all those quibbles. And I’m glad I did.

For the record, I’m charging Echoing Headwords and Show Vs. Tell Mismatch as the first two WTFs, but I’m only going to talk about #3.

WTF #3: Rushed writing

Analysis: Consider this quick summary of the events I read:

Bliss is enjoying the moonlight in dog form. Bliss is late for a meeting. Bliss-as-dog can run really fast, and does so. Bliss is attacked by a dog-napper. Bliss confronts the dog-napper. Bliss is captured by the dog-napper. Harry is late for a meeting. Harry is walking to the library. Harry owes a great debt to Bliss and is glad to be able to help her with her problem in return. (Harry might be falling in love with Bliss.) Harry sees a suspicious vehicle at the library. Harry investigates. Harry finds Bliss being kidnapped by dog-nappers. Harry changes into his wolf form. Harry attacks the dog-nappers. The dog-nappers threaten Harry. Harry threatens them back. The dog-nappers argue over what to do. The dog-nappers leave. Harry and Bliss compare notes on who the dog-nappers might have been.

All of this took place in just two pages.

How is it possible for so much to happen in so short a space? Well, once I’d asked myself that question, the answer was obvious, and it’s also the reason I wasn’t able to immerse: There was no time for me to think about any of these events before the next one happened.

Over the two years that I’ve been doing IOD, I’ve come to believe that immersion is the process by which a reader experiences the story; raises questions in their own mind about what is happening, where it’s all going, and what it all means; and then waits for the resolution, which either validates or invalidates their speculations. To achieve this, we need the three elements of story that we often hear talked about in writing seminars—a clear goal, a struggle toward that goal, and a resolution to that struggle. But there is a fourth element that is just as crucial, and without it, the reader cannot become engaged.


That process of internalization and speculation requires that the reader be given quiet time in the book, time to let those thoughts happen. This is why good plots have ebb and flow in their pacing: periods of quiet between the peaks of mayhem, in which the reader transforms “Event X happened to Joe” into “I wonder what Joe will do next?” and finally “I hope Joe does Y.” But without that time to think, readers are simply firehosed with story events, which set no roots in our imagination.

You know that old adage about time? That it’s the thing that keeps everything in the universe from happening all at once? Well it turns out that there’s a similar concept in fiction. It’s called pacing.


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.

Autumn Harvest, by Mark Kasniak (0:53)
Ten Orbits of the Sun, by David Milligan-Croft (4:58)

About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is underqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.