Surviving the Fog, by Stan Morris (15:33)

IOD-SurvivingTheFogThe take-away lesson from today’s reading is the importance of managing narrative time flow.

What I gleaned about the story: a vast colony of interstellar spores has invaded Earth, and it’s up to a bunch of teens from a mountain retreat sex-ed camp to save the world. (No, really. I think that’s what it’s about.)

Find the book on Amazon.

Kudos: I thought the attitudes of the few kids I met were quite authentic.

WTF #1: So these kids are not just at a sex-ed camp. They’re at an abstinence training camp. And then, all 48 kids are left in the care of a single counselor, while the other counselors drive into town for a few hours?

Analysis: I’m sure such things really do exist, but really? They exist? And kids agree to attend? Without barbed wire and cattle prods to keep them there? Anyway, my first real problem is that I find it hard to believe that such a camp would be co-ed. Isn’t that like inviting the Jets and the Sharks to an anti-violence workshop? (And that can either be a theatrical reference, or a hockey reference. It works either way.)

My second problem with this scenario is that, having gathered your kindling and gasoline into a single bucket like this, the camp organizers would then only provide four counselors to stand between all that gas and all those flammable sticks.

My third problem is that, within this explosive environment, the counselors keep a boxful of contraceptives on display. So essentially, that bucket I was talking about is now littered with burning cigarettes.

And finally, if this wasn’t enough farting in the face common sense, three of the four counselors then hop into a Jeep and drive into town for the afternoon.

I hope the whole sex-ed camp idea becomes really important later, because if it doesn’t, it will have created a huge burden of disbelief that I have suspended for no reason. However, since all these concerns stem from the same root, I’m only counting it as one WTF. But it’s a big one for me.

WTF #2: Continuous narrative time flow.

This is a problem I see commonly among indie authors. At its worst, we begin with the character getting out of bed, and then follow them through every moment of every day. (Yet still, somehow, we never get dragged into a bathroom.) In this case, we don’t actually begin with that clichéd wake-up ritual, but once the camera begins to roll in mid-day, we do stay in character POV continuously. Walking down the road. Walking into a room. Walking out of a room. Picking something up. Putting it down. Etc. It’s exhausting. A landslide of minutiae.

The trick is to tell the story in vignettes. The important things. Skip the to-ing and fro-ing, the ingress and egress. Drop us into a cabin for the sullen confrontation with the remaining counselor. Then jump us into the Adminstrator’s cabin, just as the door bursts open and the worried teen squad comes scurrying into the forbidden nerve center of the camp. Not only will the pacing pick up by skipping the trudgery, but by tearing the camera off the narrator’s shoulders and moving it around a bit, the action will be more immersive too, because the reader will then have to do a tiny bit more work, connecting the dots between the scenes. It’s another case example of my emerging mantra: immersion is about leaving some dots unconnected and making the reader do it.

WTF #3: Mike goes into the administrator’s cabin… It took Mike many days and many trials to… Mike leaves the adminstrator’s cabin.

You have to respect the arrow of narrative time flow. When I am told that the POV character took several days to accomplish something, I instinctively advance the narrative clock, and I assume that we’ve moved those several days into the future. So in the next paragraph, when I see Mike standing back where he was before those days passed, I’m wondering why he’s come back, and it wasn’t for another paragraph or so that I finally picked up enough details to realize that time had not advanced at all.

This flash forward is a violation of narrative time flow, and it’s especially troubling because of the unbroken continuity of that flow, mentioned in WTF #2. I’m not a fan of the flash-forward in any case, but if you must use it, signal it. This example would not have tripped me up if it had read: Eventually, it would take Mike many days… But I did trip, and that was the third WTF of my time in the fog.

A Noble's Quest, by Ryan Toxopeus (9:11)
Self Made, by Darusha Wehm (18:09)

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.