Meadowcity, by Liz Delton (8:39)

IOD-MeadowCityToday we see that there is more to scene description than reporting the physical facts. An eye for camera placement and visual composition helps to make the setting come alive.

What I gleaned about the story: When Sylvia returns home from a difficult overland journey, she exchanges banter with guards at the gate. I suspect there’s more.

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WTF #1: Echoing headwords

Analysis: Three separate pairs on the first page, including one pair right in the first paragraph. Two “She”-sentences, then a pair of “The”-paragraphs, and finally a pair of “The”-sentences further down.

Kudos #1: Good visuals

Details: In many indie books, the description seems limited to the physical actions, in a sort of mechanical mode of reportage. But the best writers think more creatively about the camera—more like a cinematographer.

So when Sylvia is challenged by the guard at the city gate and a voice calls out from the guardhouse to ask him who he’s talking to, I was delighted that we didn’t get some dry physicality like “Sgt. Bolt stuck his head out of the guardhouse.”

Instead we got: The man inside the gatehouse tipped his chair back, falling into view. Sylvia recognized Bolt’s gangly figure, rocking precariously on his angled chair in the warm lamplight. Both versions convey the same information, but the latter one does it with style. A style that helps me to actually be there.

WTF #2: An unusual echo

Analysis: Shortly after that bit about rocking the chair back, I ran into another trio of sentence echoes, but the one in the middle is worth looking at: She was almost always bombarded with questions when she got home from a journey. “Do you pester all the Riders like this when they return from their journeys?”

The second sentence echoes badly with the first. I suspect it wasn’t intentional, but if it was, it was probably going for the humor beat. This kind of humor—in which the character thinks something, and then repeats themselves aloud—calls attention to the 4th wall, because it only works as humor for the reader—not for the characters around her in the story. It can also have another unintended effect of making the speaker seem dull-witted, since they appear to employ no filter on their thoughts.

Note: Four paragraphs later: A third guardsman poked his head out of the gatehouse, a loaded bow in hand… That caused me a very brief pause. Is it a crossbow? In that case I’m fine with “loaded,” but it should have been called a “crossbow,” because the two weapons are quite different. If it’s a regular bow, it would be “drawn,” or maybe “strung, with arrow nocked,” or something to that effect, but not “loaded.” And being a skilled adventurer/fighter, our protagonist/narrator would have known this and used the correct language.

WTF #3: Past perfect MIA

Analysis: I’d noticed one or two earlier, but now I’ve hit a short run of occurrences and it’s begun to chafe. Especially because it was used properly in just the previous paragraph. But it was not a connected reminiscence, so it’s not the same deeper past as the previous paragraph and therefore can’t transition into simple past. It needs past perfect as well.

Schism, by Laura Maisano (7:28)
Graveyard Shift, by Angela Roquet (1:37)

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.