The Search for Cern, by F A Baker (1:36)

IOD-SearchCernToday we see that If the prose on the page doesn’t instill confidence, the quality of the story doesn’t matter.

What I gleaned about the story: Prof. Henry Coombs is a scientist. Or maybe an inventor. He has a bunch of machines connected with a pulley belt.

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WTF #1: Confusing sentence structure

Analysis: “It’s a perfect day for the experiment” declared Professor Henry Coombs as he looked around at the idyllic scene and no one felt inclined to contradict him. Without a comma after “scene,” I read the “and” as continuing the list of what he was looking around at, but clearly he was not looking at “no one felt inclined…” A comma would have properly signaled the separation of distinct thoughts and I would have sailed on happily. But there was no comma, and since this was all in the very first sentence, even a tiny speed bump like this triggers a flag.

WTF #2: Overwritten prose

Analysis: The crisp blue sky was punctuated with small lumpy white clouds while the spring sunshine lit the grassy field in gentle radiance. Apparently no noun shall go unclad in the armor of adjectives. Reading ahead, I see that not every sentence is this belabored. But this is only the second sentence, and the heavy ornamentation triggered a shudder of fear that the style would be like this throughout. Especially since the first sentence had already earned a WTF. As I’ve said many times, at the beginning of a story, when you are still an unproven writer in the eye of your reader, even the smallest problems get amplified.

When it comes to adjectives, less is more. If you call attention to every detail, they just compete with each other for the reader’s attention and weaken the overall effect. Or, as Mark Twain put it: “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them–then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.”

WTF #3: Echoing nouns

Analysis: The apparatus consisted of two machines connected by a long pulley belt, one machine being a very recognisable compact steam engine but the other machine was a more exotic device, with more than a passing resemblance to a Heath Robinson creation. The word “machine” is used entirely too often here.  Machine, machine, machine. (There’s one more in the very next sentence, too.) Why so much repetition? There was no rhetorical point being made, nor any rhythmic device that I can tease out. Without such higher purpose, overuse of a single word like this calls attention to itself, creating a cognitive echo that pulls the reader out of the story world and back to the page. And since we’re still on the first page, this instance carries a full penalty charge.

The Disturbing Collection, by David J Skinner (1:44)
Feyland: The Dark Realm, by Anthea Sharp (8:38)

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.