Justice in an Age of Metal and Men, by Anthony Eichenlaub (17:17)

IOD-JusticeMetalMenToday’s read illustrates the immersive peril of an author-puppet protagonist.

What I gleaned about the story: In a declining post-America, one law man in the independent nation of Texas stands tall in the hover-saddle, half metal, half meat, and all kinds of folksy. But when a rancher is found trampled to death by his own herd, this iron-fisted sheriff ain’t so sure it’s as accidental as it seems.

Find the book on Amazon.

WTF #1: I wore cowboy boots… I chewed snuff derived from… I had Texas Army–issued… I carried a modified Smith and Wesson Model… I believed in traditional Texas values… 

Analysis: These are the heads of the first five sentences in the book. I’ve been seeing a lot of what I call “Galloping ‘I’ disease” lately, and this sure looks like another candidate. Although it was possible it was being done for a sort of fancy rhythmic effect. On closer examination, I didn’t see any rhythm in the sentence structures, and then further down the page I walked straight into another high-density I-storm. Nope, I don’t think it’s an intentional rhythm, and even if it is, it isn’t working for me as such, so I chalked these all up into one WTF.

WTF #2: The call came in early, so the recording was waiting for me when I got into the station.

Then, in the next paragraph:

Anyway, it was enough to get me out of bed on a Saturday.

Analysis: But wasn’t he already out of bed when he got to the station and picked up the message? Or was that “Saturday bed” thing a reference to something else? If so, I can’t tell what the other referent was. But either way, the confusion tripped me and the soap-bubble of immersion popped.

WTF #3: Inconsistent character.

Analysis: The folksy sheriff goes out to the scene of the incident. Being a “nice guy” lawman, he spends a moment hunkered down with the young son of the victim. He asks the boy for information about what happened, but the boy is too shy. Then lawman goes to see the wife. He asks her for information about what happened, but she is busy and cranky and dismissive. So he goes out to see the body. An older son hovers around watching. This son tries to offer an opinion, but the sheriff is too busy leaping to his hasty conclusions. He spends about 2 minutes examining the scene, and then decides. Yup. Accident. The boy gets angry at being ignored, and tries his damnedest to offer information – which is exactly what the sheriff has been begging everybody else to do. But the sheriff gives some flimsy excuse about not wanting to give the boy fuel for his delusions, and again rebuffs him.

In short, this is a conspicuous case of Deus Ex. The character is not behaving in accordance with his established nature, which makes it stand out as a case of conspicuous puppeteering, wherein the author distorts the character’s behavior in service of some larger plot agenda.

One of the great challenges of writing is finding a way to make the characters do what you need them to do, but in a way that keeps them true to the identity you’ve established for them. In this way, good writing is an ongoing exercise in multiple constraint problem solving. (I wrote about this in greater detail in this post about lining up billiards shots.)

Iron Pen Anthology, by Multiple Authors
A Touch of Magic, by Gregory Mahan (11:11)

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 uniquely unqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.