Salvation, by Lizzie Ashworth (7:31)

IOD-SalvationToo much hinting at secret knowledge can make your protagonist sound like he’s wagging his tongue at you, singing “I know something you don’t know.”

What I gleaned about the story: A young man in a truck ruminates on how life used to be, before the landscape fires, and hints repeatedly at some secret knowledge of impending doom.

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WTF #1: List confusion

Analysis: This may seem a minor issue, but it’s on the first page and the distinction is important: My dad Victor, Dan, Amos, and Granddad cured over three hundred pounds of venison jerky. Are dad and Victor the same person? Unless the protagonist has multiple dads and this reference is to the one named Victor, there should be a comma between “dad” and “Victor.” But putting that comma in makes the list ambiguous, because then we wouldn’t know if Victor is the dad’s name, or just the next guy in the list. This is a textbook classic case of comma confusion and an editor should have insisted the line be rephrased to avoid it.

Coming at the beginning of a story—especially one set in some kind of dystopian near-future—readers can’t take anything for granted about relationships and social conventions. So we have to be sensitive to subtle changes in wording, and even comma placement, during those highly influential opening scenes. Once we’ve become familiar with the world and the players, we grow more resilient to minor editorial gaffes, but at the beginning, everything matters. That’s one of the reasons I charge full freight for editorial problems that occur at the start.


WTF #2: No idea what he’s talking about.

Analysis: Only, since I got this feeling, this shivery sensation that runs up the side of my neck a few times a day, it seems like the world has tilted a little. Used to, knowing I was special, knowing the way things were headed, I had the energy of five people. What does “Used to” mean here? I had to read this several times, but eventually, I realized that maybe he meant “Used to be,” meaning “In the past.” But as written, it was a real head-scratch that completely broke immersion.

WTF #3: Broken simile

Analysis: Something is described as difficult: Like a clogged pump straining to drain. Now, I’m not a hydraulic engineer. I’m not even a plumber. So I could be wrong, but I have worked with them, and when a pump is straining, it’s trying to push water. If that push is in the process of draining something, like a swamp or a basement, then “drain” is transitive, and needs some object noun to complete the thought, such as “swamp,” or “basement.” Conversely, the only way “drain” makes sense without an object is if the pump itself is what is being drained, but in that case, it would not be “straining,” because that’s not how pumps are drained.  In most cases, to drain a pump, you disconnect the supply side and let gravity do the work. No straining required.

It’s possible the author had some other situation in mind, or some special kind of pump, but in the absence of further information, most readers are going to assume a typical pump in a typical pumping scenario, and in that context, this simile is broken.

Nightblade, by Garrett Robinson (19:15)
Love Without Gun Control, by M Christian (10:51)

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.