Dancing and Other Stories, by Harriet Steel (2:14)

IOD-DancingToday we see that mistakes on the first page of a story can push a reader away before they’ve found any reason to continue.

What I gleaned about the stories: People are constantly in motion – unless they’re waiting.

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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.

Note 2: The second story was written for a competition to complete another author’s story. To avoid unfairly scoring an issue that was caused by another person, I skipped over it.

WTF #1: Overloaded sentence

Analysis: The first story opens with Singing in the Rain starting on the radio. A few sentences later, I hit: With a tea towel doing duty for the umbrella used as a prop in the famous song, I pirouetted around the sunny kitchen, so lost in the music that I didn’t hear the back door open. My mind keeps parts of a sentence in buffer, so – while the commas did provide an indication of where each bit of the image ended – the wordy explanation of tea-towel use weighed me down enough that I lost the flow before it developed.

Which allowed the analytical part of my mind enough slack to point out the over-explanation: the reader already knows Singing in the Rain is playing, so even people who haven’t seen the routine would infer the action without …doing duty for the umbrella used as a prop in the famous song…. Had the sentence been short, it might not have mattered, but the layered chronology was complex enough that making me think about more things overloaded my image.

Pondering whether the long description would work if the sentence were split in two, I moved on.

WTF #2: Inconsistent hyphenation

Analysis: Halfway down the first page of the third story, I encountered the third compound adjective. The first two had not been hyphenated, whereas the third one was. This deviation from the building pattern jumped out at me.

Hyphenating only where necessary for clarity is a recognised style, so I might have given a pass. However, the meaning was not debatable in the third instance either.

Whether a deliberate choice not to apply the style consistently or a proof-reading issue, having it on the first page damaged my trust that the work would be smoothly edited; thus, I moved on.

WTF #3: Gurning dialogue

Analysis: About half a page into the next story, I found “Yes,” I smiled. A smile is an upward curving on the mouth, so one cannot smile dialogue. A smile is also a generic description, so didn’t wow me as a poetically if not technically correct phrasing. For a moment, I wondered if the comma was intended to be a full stop; however, I’d already had reason to consider the editing, so a typo wouldn’t save it.

With a trip on the third first page in a row, 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.

Broken People, by Ioana Visan (3:24)
Magic Unbound, by Jill Nojack (3:43)

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.