Inner Mind/Outer Space: Four Short Stories and a Novelette by the Author of Alien Within, by Karen Forrester (0:53)

IOD score cardToday we see that if you echo a well-known phrase, you should either match it or subvert it – not fall between the two.

What I gleaned about the stories: The song that the birds are singing is seldom related to the ceiling-seeking properties of mashed potato.

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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: Misleading capitalisation

Analysis: Rather than the traditional format of a fragment dedicating the book to someone/something followed by any message on the next line, the dedication is set as a single paragraph with the dedicatee and message separated by a colon. However, the first letter of the message was still capitalised, as if they were entirely separate sentences. There are two instances in which the letter following a colon is capitalised: if the sentence starts with a proper noun or if (as occurs above) the title and subtitle are set on a single line. As the message didn’t start with a proper noun, my mind automatically parsed it as a subtitle, which caused me to stumble.

The acknowledgements section immediately below the dedication had the same formatting, which hooked my other metaphorical foot out before I could regain my balance.

My momentum stalled, and the spectre of further punctuation choices that would interfere with a seamless reading experience raised, I moved on.

WTF #2: Distracting echo of a cliché

Analysis: The first story opens with the character waking up. A couple of sentences in, I hit: The sun was shining, and birds were singing outside her window. The first half of this sentence matches the cliché ‘the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and all was right in the world’ (which might be so well known that I’m insulting your intelligence by stating what it is), so my mind anticipated one of two possibilities: either I was about to meet a character whose character includes using clichés; or there was about to be an amusing subversion such as ‘… the birds were singing early Nineties pop hits’ which would supply a powerful image of the world. Instead, I received something that was neither the cliché nor a nugget of interesting description: that the character’s bedroom had a window. This left me with a sense that something was missing and a sense of being told too much; neither of which was good for my faith in the prose.

With the sense that something definitely wasn’t right, I moved on.

WTF #3: Implausible internal narration

Analysis: A paragraph into the second story, the narrator’s friend speaks. However, rather than use their name, the narrator merely calls them my friend. Whenever I think of someone whose name I know, I think of them as Aloysius, Jasper, Cyrene, or whatever their name is, not by their relationship to me. Even where I do include the relationship it’s part of my name for them: Uncle Jedikah, Aunt Hepsibar, Gorthrad-from-work, rather than the relationship alone. It’s only when the relationship becomes quite distant, such as my dentist’s wife, that I don’t think of them by name. So, someone’s first mental reference to their friend not being by name ruined my sense that the narrator was a real person.

Pushed out, I didn’t return.

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.

Toils and Snares, by Robert L. Slater (27:08)
A Conspiracy of Shadows, by Randy Nargi (2:35)

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.