Blood and Beauty and Other Weird Tales, by Jeff Chapman (2:14)

IOD Score cardToday we see that if you don’t tell readers who your protagonist is, they will subconsciously fill in the blanks, and then blame you when their guesses turn out to be wrong.

What I gleaned about the stories: It was hard going to begin with. But after I let my coffee cool, drinking it was easier.

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: Untethered protagonist

Analysis: The first story opened with a third person PoV on an unnamed male protagonist who was watching a family approach. The second paragraph began with a statement that the monstrosity was hiding in some bushes, so I assumed that the protagonist was observing both. However, the subsequent description of the monster revealed it was the protagonist. At this point my mental image collapsed: instead of a scene of a man seeing an ambush with the open question of what he would do and why, my viewpoint was wrenched suddenly into one of the characters.

With no reason evident to hide the identity of the protagonist, this lack of clarity irritated me. Feeling the victim of a bait-and-switch, I moved on.

WTF #2: Unclear speech attribution

Analysis: The first paragraph of the next story is:

“You go on in and tell him what you told us.” Tom and his father stood on the weathered boardwalk outside the Sheriff’s office. Tom’s father wore a helmet with a lamp affixed to the front and carried a shiny lunch bucket.

With Tom mentioned first, and by name, my instinctive parsing was that Tom was speaking to his father. Which was supported by the description of his father; after all, people rarely think on their own appearance without some triggering stimulus.

However, the next paragraph turned out to be Tom’s response. Which, as with the previous WTF, damaged my faith that the author would give me what I needed to attach descriptor to described

Somewhat concerned that the same issue had occurred in the first paragraph of two stories, I moved on.

Note 2: While the third story also suffered from the same issue of opening with a nebulous description then providing key details later, I decided not to fail the book for the same issue repeated three times in a row.

WTF #3: False-flag Capitalisation

Analysis: The next story opens with an apparently ordinary man in the modern day, going to a diner to find someone who might be able to locate his missing daughter. When he enters, he is greeted by the Proprietor. Used to the conventions of fantasy and science-fiction where powerful or mysterious figures have a job title as their by-name (for example, the Doctor, the Overseer), my mind instinctively parsed this as a magical being masquerading as the owner of a cafe. However, with no preceding evidence that this was urban fantasy, another part of my mind almost as quickly suggested that it was a grammatical mistake.

With conflicting interpretations of the scene and one mistake already given a by, 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 Dark of Light, by Audrey Sharpe (7:47)
The Fire Mages, by Pauline M. Ross (29:29)

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.