Just a Little Terrible, by Vincent V. Cava (1:34)

Today we see that distracting formatting can prevent a reader from even remembering your prose.

What I gleaned about the stories: True evil is not raised to brush its teeth before it goes to bed.

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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: Unclear signalling

Analysis: The second line of the copyright statement begins: All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced…. The emboldening caught my eye (as setting text in bold is intended to do); immediately my mind sought meaning for the emphasis: the use of publication to describe a book is standard, so it couldn’t be highlighting that the scope of the statement was broader than usual; there was no indication of connected matter, so it wasn’t clarifying that some other work that might be assumed copyrighted wasn’t; and—whereas there is some room for redefining words in speculative fiction—a legal declaration is not a place for ambiguity or invention.

And, even had it somehow been formatted accidentally, it stood out enough that a proof-reader would have caught it easily.

Whether it was a failed (and poorly chosen) attempt to convey something other than the plain meaning of the words, a failure of proofing, or a combination of both, it didn’t bode well for the fluidity of the forthcoming prose.

Cautiously, I moved on.

WTF #2: Formatting pit traps

Analysis: The introduction (and all body text) is set with a 2-2.5 em indent and three lines of white-space between each paragraph. This turned my normally unconscious saccade into something closer to repeatedly leaping a pit then grabbing for the edge. While I can recall having read the first half of the page, this formatting choice was overpowering enough that I had no memory of what the words said.

Limbering up, mentally, for more jumps, I moved on.

WTF #3: Bathetic description

Analysis: The first story opens with a character recalling a repeated nightmare they experienced as a child. The focus on small details (such as the shape of a tongue) and visceral metaphors (such as being raped by a smell) both dragged me into the experience and created a sense that it had impacted the character enough that they remembered everything. Then the nightmare creature was described as having a hideous warped face. After the bespoke focus of the preceding description, having the entire face reduced to two adjectives, and common adjectives for a monster at that, left me feeling cheated.

My hope that the prose would be powerful enough to make the trudge across those paragraph gulfs worthwhile died 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.

The Last Outpost, by Hannah Ross (2:04)
Power for Two Minutes and Other Unrealities, by Mjke Woods (1:18)

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.