Earth and Other Small Things, by Daniel Masterson (3:42)

IOD-EarthSmallToday we see that readers expect narrative voice to be both consistent and emotive.

What I gleaned about the stories:  People hope to solve their problems by being unpleasant to others; this usually makes things worse for everyone.

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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: Inconsistent Italics

Analysis: The first story opens in past tense. A few paragraphs later, the narrator inserts an aside about what will happen that is in future tense. The first paragraph of the aside is set in italics but the rest aren’t. When I hit the start of the second paragraph my mind parsed the Roman text as being a return to the main timeline, so hitting a string of verbs in the future tense crashed my mental image as it was forming.

My trust that typography would support meaning damaged, I moved on.

WTF #2: Conflicting Narrative Voice

Analysis: The second story opens:

The God of the Unknown sat solitary on the edge of a cloud. Or thus he fancied, being without image or shape to call his own.

It was an odd sort of thing, being the last of the gods.

The word choice and structure of the first paragraph established an archaic feel, fitting for a formal divinity. Whereas, odd sort of thing has a casual feel to it. Coming as it did at the opening of the story this disjunction was more than enough to knock me out of the story.

Not knowing which was the intended voice I was unable to escape a worry that the prose would provide the worst of both worlds, so I moved on.

WTF #3: Emotional distance

Analysis: The fourth story opens with the narrator in a bunker during a global nuclear war. The second paragraph opens with a description that the bunker is deathly silent. While the phrase seemed a touch clichéd, it wasn’t enough to push me out.

However, the paragraph then continues with a long description of what the terminal in front of the protagonist looked like. With no emotional connection to the narrator yet, my interest began to flag.

Two sentences later, the narrator described Earth as a blue marble. This second cliché so close to the first raised the spectre of the story alternating between objective descriptions and anodyne symbols.

Any emotional connection I had to the narrator gone, 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.

Rider's Revenge, by Alessandra Clarke (6:18)
Architects of Destiny, by Amy DuBoff (6:45)

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.