River of Possibilities, by Marti Lawrence (19:37)

IOD-RiverPossibilitiesIn today’s excursion, we learn that stories that don’t breathe can suffocate a reader.

What I gleaned about the story: Elizabeth Cunningham has recently lost both parents in a mysterious car accident, and is now hearing voices and seeing ghosts. Is she just going crazy with grief, or are these other-worldly communiqués trying to tell her something?

Find the book on Amazon.

WTF #1: Long journey. No resting places. I got fatigued and crashed into a bridge abutment. 

Analysis: This is a subtle issue in story-telling, but it’s absolutely crucial. Engagement is not a non-stop, round-the-clock immersion into the POV character’s world. It’s a dance, in that it’s a series of steps, which, when orchestrated artfully, gives the appearance of smooth and graceful continuity. But inside of that, there must be those distinct, individual steps. In writing, we call these beats. Beats allow the reader to break the story down into discrete chunks of attention. You read a beat, and then mentally, you pause, catch your breath, and then move on to the next beat. I don’t mean that the reader actually pauses in the reading. It’s more like the pause between inhale and exhale as you’re breathing.

Without beats, a story does not breath. That’s what it means for a story to be “breathless.” As a reader, I feel an increasing sense of panic, and a need for the writer to just stop talking for a minute and let me catch my damned breath. I start to rush, skipping ahead, looking for the next pause point. And in that rush, things get missed. In this case, I missed a turn, left the road, and hit a boulder out in the middle of a field. Then I had to back up quite a ways to find the road again, before I could continue.

And that happened to me twice.

WTF #2: Talking head syndrome.

Analysis: This is a particularly common trap for 1st-person narratives, but it’s crucial to find ways to get out of the narrator’s inner discourse from time to time and just look out at the world. Between Elizabeth talking to herself, hearing voices, and having conversations with her friends, I found that there just weren’t enough visual touchstones for me to keep my bearings. I had a vague “floaty” feeling through most of it, as I wasn’t really sure who was where, or what the surroundings looked like. I had no camera view into the story world. A bit like watching a video on YouTube with a bad internet connection. The audio kept playing, but visually, I was getting infrequent, low-res updates. And that kept popping me up into meta-think mode, trying to rationalize what must be going on, rather than just experiencing it.

WTF #3: Really? They just went back to bed?

Analysis: Consider this: three young women spend the night together in a strange new place that is otherwise empty. It’s a loft apartment above a paranormal bookstore. In which somebody was recently murdered. The women are awakened in the middle of the night by a thumping noise. They investigate. There’s a pile of books stacked on the floor that weren’t here earlier. Then a ghost appears. Then there’s a creepy phone call.

And then they go back to bed and sleep on until morning.

I had to jump back and re-read that again, thinking I’d missed something. But nope. That’s what they did. And when I jump out of the book to check something, that’s a WTF.

Kudos: The writing is actually pretty good. The situation seems interesting, the dialogue is decent, and there were a couple of chuckles along the way.

Suggestion: This story would benefit greatly from a pacing revision and a stronger cover.

Ultimate Duty, by Marva Dasef (19:45)
The Improbable Rise of Singularity Girl, by Bryce Anderson (40:00)

About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is underqualified in just about everything. That’s why he writes.