Lily Marin: three short steampunk stories, by Paul Kater (1:21)

IOD score cardToday we see that focusing on minutia can damage the reader’s trust as much as leaving out key details.

What I gleaned about the stories: If you’re a singer in backstreet hostelries, don’t forget your hairbrush.

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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 highlighted detail

Analysis: A couple of sentences into the first story, I hit: In the smudgy mirror, which was flanked by oil lamps with cracked leather caps, she saw the outline of the owner of the bar. I didn’t know what cracked leather caps signaled – or even exactly what they looked liked – but it was clearly important enough to mention, so I stuck them clearly into my mental image and waited for the pay-off. Half a page later, the protagonist left the bar without the caps – or any part of the lamps – featuring in events. At which point, I felt the loss of the story I’d been awaiting. While the rest of the story so far was almost certainly interesting enough that it would have held my attention, the sudden absence of something I’d been expecting made it feel hollow.

Realising the description of the lamps was probably intended to merely give colour to the scene, I moved on.

WTF #2: Sudden backward leap in narration

Analysis: The second story opens with the protagonist getting ready to go out. The first paragraph ends with them thinking they’ll need this. The next paragraph moves onto where they’re going to go and why, followed by an aside about why they’re thinking of it in those terms rather than in another way. Then, in a new paragraph again, the narrator indicates that this is a hairbrush. This threw me, because when I hit the long explanation of where and why they were going, my mind parsed the lack of specificity in the previous paragraph as a deliberate signal that the protagonist was doing a routine act: a gathering of items so commonplace they didn’t need to think about what they were doing; so I wasn’t expecting the clarification.

After an instant of pondering whether hairbrushes were uncommon enough one would need to highlight that a character had one, I moved on.

WTF #3: Doubly missing capital

Analysis: The title of the third story is Lily and doctor Drosselmeyer. As the title of a specific person, doctor should be capitalised. As part of the story title, doctor should be capitalised. With two rules suggesting there was an issue and that issue occurring in (due to typesetting and location) the least likely place to skim over without noticing, the spectre of further uncaught issues didn’t so much rise up as surge forth waving and singing. 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.

Evenings with Littleberry and Other Short Stories, by A.S. Morrison (1:28)
The Fall, by M.J. McGriff (3:11)

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.