Ghost Stories, by Ron Ripley (1:33)

IOD score cardToday we see that telling readers something they can easily work out on their own can destroy a mental image as easily as missing out a key detail.

What I gleaned about the stories: Often when someone asks a question or makes a suggestion someone else answers, which in turn triggers the original speaker to speak again.

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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: Distracting speech tags

Analysis: The first story opens with a conversation between two characters. Each character’s dialogue comes with a speech tag – usually ‘said’ but sometimes ‘answered’, and sometimes with an adverb or adverbial phrase. After a couple of lines from each of them, the expectation of a tag on every line was great enough that I found myself trying to guess whether a character would say their next line or answer the current speaker, and whether they would do it in a particular manner.

No longer immersed in the story, I moved on.

WTF #2: Misleading capitalisation

Analysis: A few paragraphs into the second story, the protagonist discovers damage to a mesh fence, and immediately concludes that it was A Dog. As dog (the canine sometimes kept as a pet) isn’t a proper noun, my mind parsed the capital as indicating significance or variation, i.e. that this wasn’t some unidentified dog but rather something that was a proper noun such as an alien race that had been named for it’s similarity to a dog. While the previous paragraphs hadn’t suggested the story was science-fiction/fantasy, they hadn’t contained anything that ruled it out either, so I didn’t immediately stumble. However, a few sentences later, the protagonist complained to his wife about the dog getting in, which contradicted the first (capitalised) reference. My theory that this might be set on another world faded, and with it some of my trust.

Not only was this an error on the first page – throwing the proof-reading into question – but it had also, however slightly, misled me about what sort of story it might be. So, I moved on.

WTF #3: Flat recitation of events

Analysis: The third story opened with a few paragraphs mostly stating facts about Jack, the protagonist, and his actions rather than showing character reactions. This wasn’t drawing me in deeper, but the hook at the start was interesing enough that I still had a little momentum. Then, a little way into a description of a passing police officer, I hit: Jack had seen the officer. My mind spun off in two directions, neither progressing the story: first, a sense of tedious distance from being told something that was obvious enough to infer – if Jack is the viewpoint of the scene then we only see what he sees; second, where was the interesting detail – what did this description add to my mental image.

Faced with a shift from unemotional narration to stating of unnecessary facts, I feared the remainder of the story might similarly feature over-explanation of surface detail, so 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.

A Light Rises in a Dark World, by M. D. Boncher (4:20)
Heaven’s Jubilee And Other Short Stories, by Faith Blum (1:10)

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.