Dark Corners, by Kelsi Summers (1:30)

IOD score cardToday we see that even if readers don’t know the relevant rules, awkward nuances can still be jarring. Sometimes jarring enough to break immersion.

What I gleaned about the stories: Nameless men who know things have a habit of standing still at dusk.

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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: Echoing headwords

Analysis: The first paragraph of the opening story contains four sentences in a row that start with He. By the third sentence, the pattern-seeking part of my mind had latched onto this, making it my primary focus. I had just enough interest in the hook to make it through the fourth sentence with some immersion left; however, the fifth sentence began So he, simultaneously reinforcing the pattern and breaking it.

The spectre of repeated He’s leavened with So he’s and Then he’s overwhelming the smidgen of story I’d so far read, I moved on.

WTF #2: Inconsistent elision

Analysis: A few sentences into the second story, I encountered: He didn’t turn to look at her, but she knew he was aware that she was watching him. A sense of wrongness washed over me. For a moment, I wasn’t certain why, so I re-read the sentence. Whereupon I realised the first potentially pleonastic that had been elided but the second equivalent that had not. The omission of the first had sent an unconscious signal to my parser to not expect optional that’s, so the presence of the second one tripped me; and, because it was a trip that wasn’t technically an error, I had no immediate idea of why I’d stumbled.

After using for a moment on the irony that the mixture of correct usages could damage immersion more than an actual error, I moved on.

WTF #3: Disharmonious adjective listing

Analysis: Partway through the first paragraph of the third story I hit: …the unyielding, dim interior… There is a standard order for adjectives in English, which places objective enduring qualities closer to the noun they modify than subjective transitory ones, so unyielding (an adjective suggesting the interior was of a hard material) programmed me to expect either a noun or further similar adjectives; thus, dim (a more subjective description of a state that could be changed with relative ease) knocked me off the track for a moment.

While this seems – when described – like a technical point, adjective order is something that is usually understood instinctively rather than being specifically learned; readers and writers feel that an order is right. So, the issue itself having slowed me enough that other parts of my mind had time to raise voice, I wondered whether – if the author didn’t hear that description as off-key – later usage would be similarly disharmonious.

My faith in the pleasantness of the prose shaken, 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 Mundane Collective, by TB Löklund (9:32)
A Threat of Shadows, by JA Andrews (13:26)

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.