The Mayonnaise Murders, by Keith A. Owens (7:04)

IOD-MayonnaiseMudersToday we see that alphabet fatigue can disorient readers quickly.

What I gleaned about the story: When a rock star is murdered on Planet 10, a glop of mayonnaise left at the scene inspires a genetically engineered crustacean to take on the challenge of finding the killer.

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Kudo: Strong opening sentence: Whoever killed Johnny Beardy ruined a perfectly good sandwich in the process. I like how this conveys the tone and genre very quickly, and tells us right up front that while it might be a tale of bloodshed and murder, it will have its wry humor as well.

WTF #1: Echoing stylistics

Analysis: See, mayonnaise kinda glues up the gills… That’s the fourth or fifth sentence on the first page to use that “See, …” structure, and for me, this is one of those stylistic devices that goes a long, long way on just one usage. But in my head, a second occurrence shortly after the first is already starting to echo, and by the time I got to the fourth on a page, it was in full clamor.

WTF #2: Spelling issue

Analysis: The story is set on Planet 10. But after a dozen or so references to that, we get the following unsignalled reference: “and a whole race of Teners gone with it.” In my spelliverse, that word should be pronounced “teeners,” and I was (I’m embarrassed to say) confused about who this new faction was. Part of the problem is that we’ve previously seen Planet 10 only in that form—as digits. This is the first time we’ve seen the number spelled out. So that, combined with my default pronunciation of “Tene” led me to the confusion. If it had been spelled “Tenners” I probably wouldn’t have tripped.

WTF #3: Alphabet fatigue

Analysis: In the first three pages I’ve met the protag, Vid, who lives in a sector called Vivacious, and now we’ve met a new character, Vee, and I’m already starting to get the names jamming up in a pile in my head. Not because three proper nouns is too many to keep track of, but because all three begin with V. When we first saw Vee, I thought, “Isn’t that the protagonist’s name?” I went back to check. Nope. It was “Vid,” not “Vee.” But this is exactly why it’s risky to pile up all your proper nouns on just one or two initial letters. Until we have a bunch of character development to associate with each name, we readers have very little to help us keep them straight, and for many of us, that initial letter of their name serves as a sort of brand logo. So if all your brands are using the same logo, chaos will quickly ensue.

This leads me to the secondary issue of repetition. A good rule of thumb is that when you introduce an important new character, you should try to find a way to use their name three times in situations that make their identity clear. That really helps to establish the character/name association in the reader’s head before you start relying on them to make the proper association without help. If that had been done with poor old Vid, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have tripped over the introduction of Vee.

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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.