The Tainted Awaken, by Jodi Herlick (8:34)

IOD-TaintedAwakenToday we see that any drama that comes from a disguised dream sequence is about as satisfying as the love you get from a hooker.

What I gleaned about the story: A magical healer is haunted by his long ago failure to save his mentor.

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WTF #1: But, as always, the boy yelped and Zuri compulsively withdrew his fingers, his cognizance already dissolving. He knelt by the cot…

Analysis: His cognizance dissolved? As in his awareness of the world around him? That seems like trouble. How can he complete the healing spell if he’s no longer aware of what he’s doing? I suspect, however, that “his” was intended to refer to the boy, not Zuri. But pronouns usually refer to the most recently mentioned noun that fits, which in this case, was Zuri. Anyway, by the time I’d figured out it was a poorly anchored pronoun, immersion had long since popped.

Note: I also have been seeing the word “cognizance” a lot  recently. It’s a fabulous word. I like it. But it has no place as a casual synonym for either “awareness” or “thinking” in a genre fiction story, which are the two modes I’m seeing it used in most often. Yes, it is a synonym for “awareness,” but unless the writing style specifically calls for a horse’s ass tone, it shouldn’t be used. It’s one of those five-dollar words that only ever appear in the mouths of people trying to sound fancy. Most of the time, “awareness” should be your go-to term for the concept. And using the word “cognizance” in place of “thinking” or “thought” is just plain wrong. Plus you still end up with that “horse’s ass” thing going on.

WTF #2: He was trapped in memory again. 

Analysis: We opened on our hero in the midst of a traumatic experience. Then I saw the quoted line. Oh. Okay. He’s not having the experience. He’s reliving it. But how much of it is memory? Is everything he’s seeing and doing now part of the memory, or is some aspect of what is happening to him triggering memory flashbacks that are being interwoven with events? It wasn’t clear what was going on until later, when I read: Zuri woke abruptly and sat up…

Arrgh! So he wasn’t trapped in memory then. He was trapped in a dream. But because the word “memory” was used, I was wrapping myself into knots, trying to figure out which part of the scene was real and which was an overlaid recollection. Turns out none of it was. And worse, it turns out all the excitement was just a dream. You know how people hate that cliché where the story ends and it was all a dream? They hate it, I think, because that revelation immediately cheapens any emotional investment they might have had in the scene as it played out. The characters were never in any real jeopardy. The stakes that appeared so high were never real. We feel cheated, and quite often just a little humiliated as well, for having believed it in the first place.

Well the fundamental problems with that cliché has nothing to do with it occurring at the end of the story. The same sense of cheap trickery applies no matter where the dream happens in the story arc. Even at the beginning.

WTF #3: He moved to her brain, massaging it delicately,

Analysis: The problem I have here is that, despite what the language suggests, he is not actually doing exploratory brain surgery. He is trying to comfort a patient using his telepathic powers. But a brain is a chunk of physical meat, and massaging is a very physical, tactile action, so these two words combined to give me a very grisly image, rather than the more tender one intended. If he had moved to her mind, or her consciousness, I’d have been fine with that. And once there, he can soothe, or comfort, but massage? That one really doesn’t work for me. So the jarring visual popped my immersion balloon.

Final Note: Any story that begins with a flashback is almost certainly starting at the wrong point in time. Think about it. You’ve chosen your starting point, and the very first thing you do is jump to a different time? Flashbacks come at a cost. They’re distancing, moving your reader one step further from the immediacy of the action your relating. In most cases, starting earlier, in a more immediate voice, is going to be much more satisfying for readers.

Fatal Infatuation, by Melanie Nowak (9:37)
The Darkness Undivided, by Jesse Jack Jones (9:27)

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.