Immortal Clay, by Michael Warren Lucas (6:58)

IOD-ImmortalClayToday we see that drama is a dish best served alone.

What I gleaned about the story: Hiding out in the desert with his wife and daughter after the collapse of society, a cop is plagued by the zombie of a criminal from his past. (I think.)

Find this book on Amazon.

Note: The file is 2.7 MB in size, with no apparent fonts or illustrations. Converting it to EPUB brought the file down to 0.4 MB, so there’s probably a lot of redundant or extraneous information in the Kindle file that could be removed.

WTF #1: Forced drama

Analysis: There are lots of different voices and writing styles that I enjoy and even more that I can tolerate for 40 minutes, but one that always makes my eyes roll hard is the voice of false drama. In the first paragraph, Kevin woke up because his wife shrieked his name. This is what follows:

Kevin wrenched himself upright. Heat slammed into his consciousness. His mouth crackled like parchment. He rolled off the sleeping bag to his knees, pulling his eyes open through the sandy scum gumming them shut. He wondered how he’d slept, but then remembered—exhaustion eventually overpowers even the most voracious fear.

Those who follow these reviews will by now recognize the echoing headword problem, but today I’ll focus on the forced drama issue instead. How does heat “slam” into something when it has been there all along? Even when you’re asleep, you are vaguely aware of the environment around you, and you would certainly be aware of an oppressive heat that you had been enduring for hours. This is an example of what I call “forced drama.” Another example I often see are phrases like, “violent thoughts invaded his brain.”

Most authors know that an exciting opening is one way to hook readers, but in their well-intentioned passion to make their first scene effective, they often try to heighten the drama by amping up the verbs, but that’s not very effective. It’s just another form of telling. A more effective way to heighten the drama is not to tell me how dramatic it is, but to make me see the drama for myself.

As I’ve said in other reviews, telling is what happens any time the author tries to convey conclusions about what’s going on rather than reporting events in a way that leads me to draw those conclusions for myself. So to show me the intensity of the heat, give it to me in a way that leaves some final connection for me to make on my own. Like this: No longer drawing the shallow breaths of sleep, Kevin inhaled, and felt his lungs begin to bake from the inside. In this example, I haven’t said anything about how hot the air is. I’ve walked you to the brink, but I’ve left you to take that final step for yourself. And you probably did. This is the difference between showing and telling.

But the real problem here is not the tell of over-inflated verbs. It’s the undermining. The drama of this opening scene is supposed to be the threat that has confronted his wife and daughter. But for some reason, when she calls for him in a panic, he takes the time to notice the heat and the feeling of his tongue. What kind of guy gets distracted by his body moisture when his wife is terrified and calling for help? It seems clear to me that the author did not intend to suggest that Kevin is a colossally self-absorbed jerk, but that’s the way I interpret this juxtaposition of crises. A real hero wouldn’t even have noticed his own complaints and would already be leaping over the car to her defence.

WTF #2: Kevin had lain pinned under the narrow strip of shadow against passenger door… 

Analysis: There’s a missing word in that sentence, and on the first page, all editorial gaffes get charged full freight.

WTF #3: Continuity error

Analysis: First we see that: The gun held only two rounds… Then two paragraphs later we are told: The four bullets still in the clip… Which is it? Two or four? Then there’s the wife’s name, Sheila, which is mentioned five times on the first two pages, but misspelled twice as Shelia. To me, these are all such glaring errors, and they come so early in the book, that I have to wonder if any editors or test readers saw the final draft before it was published. The author cites a number of people as having helped in the process, so maybe this prologue was added later, without their oversight? But even a simple spell check should have caught the “Shelia” problem.

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