Short Stories Found Online, by Jonathan Day (1:31)

IOD score cardToday we see that if you fail to show your intermediate steps, readers will judge you like a teacher going through a divorce.

What I gleaned about the stories: While the arm of the law is long and heavy, sometimes it’s attached to a body that floats like gossamer.

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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.

Kudo #1: Good hook

Analysis: The first story opens with a single-line paragraph telling the reader that the bruise had started to fade. This immediately made me think of all the ways someone could get bruised and care enough to keep track of it. The next paragraph added that this meant the female protagonist didn’t have to lie any more, before mentioning a little story about asking the hairdresser for a dye job because that’s what He wants; so now I know the protagonist is abused and isn’t fighting to escape; and that people such as the hairdresser have noticed the bruise but haven’t acted. So, I’m now wondering where this is going: is she going to snap? Is someone going to rescue her?

WTF #1: Unsympathetic reportage

Analysis: Unfortunately, the next paragraph broke my immersion:

Time to go online and see if eBay listed that football strip He wanted. It was impossible without the name of the club, which she had forgotten given all the other things on her mind. She only remembered that an angel had been in its logo. How could Sophie, a woman who loathed football, be expected to find the exact shirt from all the pages available?

The start of the second sentence felt like a science report rather than the close point-of-view I’d expected for a story about partner abuse. And being told she’d forgotten because she had lots of things on her mind added to this sense of reporting fact. However, the final sentence pushed me over the edge: if He cared about football enough to want a particular strip and she loathed football, that would be a major part of their emotional dynamic: he might be triggered by her disinterest or by her attempts to appear interested; she might actually hate football because he liked it. Such a potentially rich source of emotion dismissed as a one-sentence statement created a sense of almost studied objectivity.

Feeling cheated out of my opportunity to sympathise, I moved on.

WTF #2: Bait-and-switch

Analysis: The second story opened with:

It was blue – though also came in red, yellow or pink, depending on how you viewed the world you made such laborious progress through. Blue was the colour least likely to emphasise its size and, more importantly, the customer’s size.

The first line suggested the colour was dependent on how you viewed the world, which raised an interesting question of whether this meant the object responded to emotion or whether it was down to different eyes perceiving the EM emissions as different colours. So, the revelation that it just meant a customer could choose from several colours felt like having the exciting story I anticipated replaced with a mundane one.

Disappointed, I moved on.

(Setting the reader up for one thing and then delivering another is very similar to a Show vs Tell Mismatch. Check out the video on that variant over on IOD-TV.)

WTF #3: Missing steps.

Analysis: The third story opened with:

Nobody noticed him come in.

A small man in his early forties wearing a suit, high-collared shirt and pushed back trilby just appeared before the desk sergeant. He had to be the most unlikely copper to enter their station. No one had expected the detective inspector sent to deal with the murder of a local family member noted for raising dangerous mobs to be so slight a light breeze could have blown him away.

The single-line opening emphasised his mysteriousness; and him just appearing before the desk added a hint of the mystical. Then, suddenly, he’s a mundane—if slightly against type—police officer; and not just a police officer, a copper, that familiar yet not really disrespectful face of law to the ordinary person. This transition from an occluded if not actually occult figure to an inspector everyone in the station had seen and assess left me hanging in midair, wondering where the intervening steps had gone.

My trust that I’d receive sufficient evidence to support a shift in events plummeting, I wondered for an instant why the author hadn’t used such a great opportunity to show character through the inspector’s first interaction with the sergeant, then dropped out completely.

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.

Thief's Blade, by C. Greenwood (7:06)
Download Initializing, by Adam Myhr (9:19)

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.