Nightblade, by Garrett Robinson (19:15)

IOD-NightbladeToday we discuss how villains who are easily duped undermine the dramatic tension of a situation.

What I gleaned about the story: Living in a nowhere little village in the forest with abusive parents, Loren dreams of the day she can flee the trap of her rural existence. And then one day, a fleeing wizard stumbles past her farm.

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Note: She let her eyes wander, gazing upon her tiny house where a thin plume of grey emerged from the smokestack.

This painted a strange image for me: a tiny ramshackle house with a tall smokestack, like a factory. My understanding of the term is that the “stack” part implies height, which is needed to increase the draw and thereby eject the noxious fumes further away from inhabited areas. And indeed, Google’s definition of the term is: a chimney or funnel for discharging smoke from a locomotive, ship, factory, etc. and helping to induce a draft. Pertaining to heavy industry. IMO, the word “chimney” would have been much more in keeping with the setting, but since this might be an issue of regional variation, I’m not charging a WTF for it.

Note: I really am seeing a lot of stories in which the protagonist’s status as a social misfit is underscored by giving them green eyes. It’s a definite cliche, but I can’t say it jerked me out of the story this time, because the cover art had already given it away. I sighed when I read the line, but immersion didn’t actually break and I was able to stay in the story.

WTF #1: “When one must flee in haste, one must seize upon the garment closest to hand.”

Analysis: This is an example of the wizard’s dialogue. Sometimes he speaks normally, other times like this. But it isn’t just him. The protagonist, Loren, thinks and talks normally, but then sometimes she utters things like, “A place may be a waystop, yet men make for it when occasion rises.” Everybody seems to drop into this stilted, fortune-cookie speech pattern at seemingly random moments. If they always talked like that, I could chalk it up to the stylistic reality of the milieu, but dropping in and out of it with no apparent cause is very distracting.

WTF #2: Echoing headwords

Analysis: In response to feedback I’ve had from IOD followers lately, I held off on calling the echoing headword problem for as long as I could. But after ignoring it seven or eight times, I can’t say it’s just a isolated occurrence and let it slide. Nor can I justify ignoring it simply because IOD readers are tired of hearing me talk about it.

WTF #3: Bad geometry

Analysis: Loren chased a wizard through the woods after seeing him pass her home. He’s fleeing pursuers, moving across country, so he is moving in more or less a straight line. After catching him, she then leaves him in a clump of trees to wait for her and returns home, only to find his pursuers already there, asking questions. To protect the wizard, she claims to have seen him, and then points in the direction directly opposed to where she left him.

The problem is, the direction opposite where she left him must be more or less back the way he had come from, which must also be more or less the direction from which his pursuers had just come. Yet they don’t comment on this. They don’t say anything like, “Really? He doubled back? We didn’t see him.”

But okay, maybe she didn’t point directly back along their trail. Maybe she pointed off to one side a bit, so that he might plausibly have gone that way without crossing their path. Even so, they should at the very least be suspicious about why their quarry would have made such a sudden and drastic course change. But they don’t. They simply accept her word and then go haring off after him.

And for me, that neuters them as a dramatic threat. It’s easy to outwit stupid villains, but doing so saps them of any credibility as villains. Surely the lord who sent them would not have sent his stupidest trackers after an escaped wizard. They should have been harder to trick than a simple “Look over there!”

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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.