Having a Whaley of a Time, by Donna Keeley (7:03)

IOD-WhaleyOfATimeToday we see that characters who have no emotional reaction to their problems are creepy.

What I gleaned about the story: A woman barely survives her first heart attack and then wakes up only to be yelled at by her doctor.

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WTF #1: Disruptive paragraphing

Analysis: Consider this passage: But hey, I’m a type-A personality. What do you expect? For some reason, though, that second sentence is pushed to a new paragraph, and I couldn’t figure out why. There’s no hard and fast rule for where the break should come, but I think we can agree that it’s conspicuous to do so in the middle of a thought. So I started retracing my steps, trying to see if there was something clever being done, or if I’d missed a cue. But how much could there have been, because this was still the first paragraph. (And the beginning of the second.)

A single occurrence of a strange break would not normally earn a WTF by itself, but editorial weirdness in the first paragraph always does.

WTF #2: Do I care?

Analysis: I’m not sure I’ve encountered this kind of interruption before. A few pages in, I found myself pausing, and wondering whether I gave a damn about the protagonist. She had just survived a heart attack and a near-death experience, but instead of showing me any emotional juice at all, she went straight to the whining about having to lose weight and give up smoking. She was still lying on the gurney! No moaning. No grogginess. No disorientation. There wasn’t the barest blip of emotional pulse to the woman at all, other than her petty preoccupation with smoking. It made her feel alien and disturbing, but not in good way, and I just had to ask myself if this was a woman I cared to know any further.

I was also a bit disturbed that, when she opened her eyes, her doctor (and best friend) asked her no medical questions, and immediately launched into a lecture about smoking and exercise. Perhaps the doctor suffers from the same lack of a soul that the protagonist does. Maybe that’s why they’re such good friends. But seriously, waking up after almost dying has got to earn at least a cursory test of the emotional subsystems. Doesn’t it?

Part of why we read fiction, I think, is to see ourselves reflected in the characters. If I was in that situation, that’s how I like to think I’d react. But there was nothing about this cold and distant personality that I want to spend vicarious time with. She feels hollow. The kind of person that neighbors usually describe as “the quiet type who kept mostly to herself,” just after the police uncover a shipping container full of dismembered orangutans in her back yard.

WTF #3: Galloping “I” disease

Analysis: Being a 1st POV, the reflexive pronoun use was pretty rampant, but I finally hit a patch where 2 paragraphs and 3 consecutive sentences all started with “I,” and at that point, it was echoing loudly enough to become a distraction.

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.

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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.