The Plan and other short stories, by Stephen Brandon (1:32)

IOD score cardToday we see that if something in your fiction causes a reader to recheck the copyright page, your hook isn’t even in the water.

What I gleaned about the stories: Qualities possessed are, by some characters, used as evidence for conclusions reached.

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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: Appearance of missing text

Analysis: The first story opens with:

Author’s Note 2

However, any concerned parents would desire their children grow up with the wisdom they’ve accumulated. Their plans, if possible, would be to leave their children in a much better position for success.

This story starts that way and then develops its own life into the Saturn series.

The first Author’s Note is on the copyright page. I recalled it being merely the standard statement that events and persons were fictional. But the However at the start of this one suggested the continuance of a previous statement, so I flicked back to see what I’d missed. As remembered, the previous Author’s Note was generic boilerplate in it’s entirety.

Returning to this note, I was once again struck with the sense it expanded on a previous statement. I realised that if I ignored the first word, the note became a teaser introduction that placed this story as falling within one of the author’s series. The key to doing that however was defining part of the text as incorrectly included, perhaps from a previous draft.

With either the style being confusing or textual artefacts having escaped the proof-reading process, my trust that the prose would flow without issues was damaged. So, I moved on.

WTF #2: Tangled meaning

Analysis: The second story opens with a junior officer delivering a report on a new civilisation. After a few lines of declarative sentences (which, in the context of a report didn’t challenge my immersion), I encountered: Religion, language, and skin coloration seem to be some of the divisions and reasoning they use for their atrocities. Compared to the previous sentences, which used a simple (Pro)Noun Verb {Object} structure, this felt backwards: why didn’t the report say “They seem to use religion, language, and skin coloration—” Which was when the second confusion hit me: the author (almost certainly) intended to say that the race used those things to justify atrocities; but the sentence actually says that they use them for the atrocities.

The purpose of a statement is to provide observations in as clear a manner as possible. Whereas, this sentence both took longer than needed to untangle and was inaccurate once I had.

Perhaps an author might deliberately tangle a character’s words to demonstrate pretension or lack of rhetorical skill; however, with no evidence that was true in this case, my instinct suggested it was more likely more evidence of the same issue as the previous WTF

WTF #3: Obvious lack of punctuation

Analysis: The third story opens with: It was another disastrous event that finally broke the camels back. A Taliban suicide bombers truck Tuesday swerved into an orphanage and exploded. With the first two sentences both lacking a possessive apostrophe, any sense that the book had been proof-read vanished and 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.

Forge of the Jadugar, by Russ Linton (38:56)
A Light Rises in a Dark World, by M. D. Boncher (4:20)

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.