Life in a Grain of Sand, by Geoff Le Pard (1:59)

IOD-LifeGrainSandToday we see that the comma, the lightest of punctuation, can have the heaviest impact on readability.

What I gleaned about the stories: If you wish hard enough for an exciting life, you’ll probably regret it.

Find this book on Amazon.

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: Muddled List Structure

Analysis: A short way into the Introduction I encountered this:

I have published two books to date: Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, a comedic coming of age story set in the sweaty heat of 1976 and My Father and Other Liars, a contemporary thriller that explores issues around relationships with fathers, corruption of science and religion and the coincidences of love.

As the list starts with a colon and has a comma after the Dead Flies title, I anticipated a semi-colon to separate list items, so I parsed “of 1976 and” as an embedded list (e.g “…sweaty heat of 1976 and the sudden cold snap that followed”). Therefore the next book title came as a surprise. However, the use of italics gave me enough clue that my parsing corrected without losing immersion.

The same could not be said of the embedded list that followed. Without a comma after religion, my mind parsed “corruption … love” as a single item, then reset abruptly when I hit a full stop.

I untangled myself almost immediately, but two niggles about lists within the first paragraph had already moved me from experiencing to editing, so I moved on.

WTF #2: Comma Errors

Analysis: My unconscious editor flagged a missing comma in the first paragraph of the first story; however, judging myself sensitised by the previous WTF, I gave it the benefit of the doubt and continued.

Three-quarters of the way down the first page, after several further missing commas, splices, and other curious comma usages (or the lack of) caused me to spend a half-beat on recovering rhythm and meaning, that benefit ran out and I moved on.

WTF #3: Lack of Context in Transition

Analysis: The protagonist is handed a parcel by his neighbour, who then comments on his clothing. This triggers internal dialogue about wanting to kill her, which concludes with a paragraph beginning: Why hadn’t he had the suit cleaned after he picked it up at Oxfam? he thought as he looked at the addressee.

My mind glitched at “addressee.” The several paragraphs about clothing and murder following the handing of the parcel had led me to consider the parcel-handing concluded, the reason for the scene to occur but not it’s focus. Thus, I’d packed the parcel away; and the paragraph opening with a continuation of the clothing theme gave me no reason to return it to the forefront of my mind. Which left “addressee” without immediate context.

I parsed it correctly a moment later. However, a moment of confusion on the first page damaged my trust in the descriptions. As the story was shaping up to be a spy story – a genre filled with subtle clues and constant questioning of truth – this loss of faith in what the author provided weighed doubly heavy, and 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.

Colony One, by E.M. Peters (3:58)
Cold Reboot, by Michael Coorlim (18:15)

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.