Itch: Nine Tales of Fantastic Worlds, by Kris Austen Radcliffe (1:53)

IOD-ItchToday we see that even if a scene is well-written, it won’t engage readers if it doesn’t follow the previous prose.

What I gleaned about the stories: There is weirdness in the world, but people exist to clean up the evidence. Some of those people have happy marriages.

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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: Incorrect adjectival form

Analysis: Each story begins with a tag line. The first story is described as being about a dystopic future. Dystopic is the adjectival form of physical dystopia (e.g dystopic kidneys); the adjectival form of a social dystopia is dystopian. I knew what they meant, but word confusion on the first line damaged my trust, so I moved on.

WTF #2: Distracting formatting

Analysis: The first eight words of the second story are set in a larger size. As, even on the small default size my reader is set to, they stretched over onto the second line this gave the appearance of the text being wonky.

A moment later, I realised it was intended as decoration. However, it had already pushed me out enough that my next thought was that eight seemed an odd number to highlight, followed by not recalling there being that many at the start of the first story. So, I flicked back to check: the number of words highlighted was lower; and when I flicked forward that of the third story is different again with no obvious pattern.

Caught on oddities of formatting before I’d had a chance to be hooked, I moved on.

WTF #3: Dangling question

Analysis: The third story opened with a crime scene and references to “humans”, so seemed to be urban fantasy. After a paragraph about the difficulties of these sorts of cases, the third paragraph opens:

Sometimes a member of my firm is close enough to make it to a scene before the press and the detectives. I was ten minutes away with my husband in our little café, the one where he proposed. He laughed at my jokes tonight, his wonderful

The first line made me wonder about this firm, and whether they’d get there in time this time. The second line opened with a time that added tension: ten minutes is potentially faster than police response time, but were they notified straight away? However, instead of ramping up that tension, the paragraph shifts to describing the cafe, the meal, and the husband. Reading it back to extract the quote, it is an interesting scene displaying the narrator’s relationship; however, at that point I was focused on whether they’d make it to this crime scene in time, so it felt like a wall rather than an insight.

Tension having fizzled 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.

Call Me Yesterday, by Tim Beresford (3:40)
Wrong Side of Hell, by Sonya Bateman (5:25)

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.