Black Cat Tales: Black Anne and Other Short Stories, by Andy Morris (0:56)

IOD score cardToday we see that if your first paragraph loses the reader, the rest don’t matter.

What I gleaned about the stories: There is a treehouse that influences the future – unless it doesn’t.

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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: Critical missing comma

Analysis: The first story starts with

All five kids were asleep in bed and the home breathed with the brittle stillness that can only be found in the very early hours of the morning. So when the sudden sharp knocking on the front door shattered that silence it brought a sense of puzzlement and mild irritation to Rose.

Because the first sentence connected two separate major clauses with and, that was the structure in the front of my mind when I entered the second sentence. Thus, when I passed silence, the lack of a comma caused me to assume this was another pair of conjoined clauses; which left me feeling a little wrong-footed when the sentence was actually supporting a major clause.

Had this been deeper into the story, it might not have thrown me (both because I’d have a mix of structures rather than one, and because I’d be more immersed); however, a stumble in the first paragraph leapt up waving a flag.

Hoping this was a single slip rather than evidence of extensive proofing errors, I moved on.

WTF #2: Description overload

Analysis: The second story opens with

Imagine you are in a very dark room; a cellar” the undertaker tried to explain. His deep doom-laden voice brought a slight chill to cosy living room of the vicarage. The way his tone rumbled with the rich eloquence of a classical education mixed with a delicate blend of sympathy and depression was fabulously macabre, Nigel Timmis mused.

Doom-laden suggested a voice weighted down, so deep felt a little unnecessary; but not enough to push me out. However, when the following sentence added so much more description to this voice, my image started to collapse under the weight. Which bits were important? What did a classically educated, sympathetic, chilling, deep, depressed, doom-laden voice sound like? The final straw was in the musing: musing is a casual, sitting-on-a-sofa-pondering, sort of an act; whereas this voice is chilling enough to make a cosy room not.

Utterly boggled about both whether I should see a comic or tragic scene, and what the undertaker’s voice was supposed to sound like, I moved on.

WTF #3: Tense confusion

Analysis: The first sentence of the third story is: If only I hadn’t gone up into that old rickety treehouse, I may never have lost my little brother; Harry. My mind tripped over the may. May indicates something that is possible now or in the future; the correct tense for hypothetical alternate outcomes in the past is might. As this sentence gives the impression that descriptions of events in the character’s past will play a major part in the story, I’m especially interested in the distinction between present and past events being clear; so a tense muddle in the first line struck at the heart of my trust that reading the story would be effortless.

It occurred to me that this type of casual misuse in dialogue can be a deliberate attempt to show a character’s dialect, lack of education, or such. However, the remainder of the sentence construction is complex rather than basic, which suggested it wasn’t in this case.

With both my trust damaged and my head in editing mode, immersion was gone; so 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.

The Chained Adept, by Karen Myers (4:50)
Rite of Rejection, by Sarah Negovetich (40:00)

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.