Dark Matter: Short Stories and Poems, by Rose Perez (1:46)

IOD score cardToday we see that stories without emotional content are clad in immersion-proof armor.

What I gleaned about the stories: Some ghosts are so lacking in dramatic back-story that they become less interesting when their state is revealed.

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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: Unclosed speech marks

Analysis: The second paragraph of the first story had opening speech marks, so I parsed it as speech; and when they remained unclosed at the end, I parsed it as speech divided into paragraphs. So, the lack of a speech mark at the beginning of the next paragraph threw me out: was this speech and the absence was a typographical error? Was this narration and the absence of a speech mark at the end of the previous paragraph was a typographical error? Was it all narration and the first speech mark was a typographical error?

Although this might seem minor, when I parse something as speech, my mind adds a placeholder listener to hear the speech: perhaps a physical person; perhaps a telephone or other device; but a reason for the character to speak aloud. So, in addition to not knowing which bits of the paragraphs – if any – were spoken aloud, I was left not knowing if I needed to leave room for a listener or not.

My trust in the accuracy of the description shaken at the very start of the story, I moved on.

WTF #2: Twist ex machina

Analysis: The second story opens with a young woman describing the beauty of a forest, followed by her wish that someone might share a walk with her, then closes with the statement that no one will because she’s a ghost. While there was nothing in the preceding sentences to contradict the narrator being a spirit, there was not so much as a hint of a spooky, creepy, or inexplicable aspect to events, let alone evidence the narrator was not what they seemed.

Without evidence to evaluate (then re-evaluate afterwards), I didn’t feel any intellectual joy in the challenge. And with no mundane protagonist to have their world turned upside-down by the revelation, there was no proxy to show me the emotional power of it. Finally, the challenge of not getting to go for a walk, left me feeling the narrator’s issue was trivial so I didn’t care when it was revealed to be insurmountable.

This failure to fit both the expected format of the twist and the expected format of the ghost story – without producing a compelling subversion – destroyed my faith that the author would provide what I needed to understand events, let alone enjoy them.

WTF #3: Declarative sentence parade

Analysis: The third story opened with a sentence describing a man taking his coat off while his wife showed him some dolls. The narrator went on to tell me how the dolls were made, and what he did and what she did; and why they did it. Although there were lines of dialogue to break it up, the Pronoun Verbed constructions, delivered with the bleakness of a witness statement, echoed more and more.

Partway down the first page, the echoes drowned out the last of my interest in why the wife had made these dolls; 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.

She Dreams of Lonely Stars, by LW Patricks (1:37)
Millersville, by Brendan Detzner (1:57)

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.