Ours Is The Storm, by D Thourson Palmer (9:54)

IOD-OursIsTheStormToday we see that when a mistake occurs regularly, it can sensitize the reader to seeing it everywhere, even when it’s not wrong.

What I gleaned about the story: A girl with strange powers is sad when a friend is killed on a hunt. Meanwhile, an unnamed young man is being held captive in a cell. Could the two stories be connected? It’s too early to say.

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WTF #1: Sloppy proof-reading

Analysis: Then, they shooed Ahi’rea from the tent, telling her to go wait by the fire. What on Earth is that comma doing there? It feels as though it’s about to introduce a dependent clause, as in: Then, when the silence had grown too thick for words, they shooed Ahi’rea from the tent, telling her to go wait by the fire. But what follows is not a dependent clause at all. It’s just the continuation of the thought. The comma is completely superfluous. And worse, it made me stop to reread the sentence, trying to figure out what I might have missed. But even so, I let the first occurrence pass, despite being near the top of page one.

Then it happened again, further down the page. Then, she focused her mind, as Father had taught her, and felt the Sight come to her. Again there is no dependent clause. It feels as though the author is perhaps going for a dramatic pause, but two such pauses on the first page? If that’s the intent, I’d say it’s overwritten. The drama of a scene should come from the events being portrayed and the consequences we know they’ll have for the characters involved. Not from the insertion of extra commas. More likely, the author has absorbed some “rule” of comma usage from school and not yet unlearned the habit. An experienced editor would almost certainly have caught this, and then directed the author to expunge them all. And that would have been helpful, because the power of search shows me that there are an awful lot of them.

A typical bonus comma would not have earned a WTF, because they are often entirely benign. But when they force the reader to rewind on page one, twice, that’s too disruptive to ignore.

WTF #2: Echoing headwords

Analysis: The second chapter begins with a storm of “He”-headed sentences. Four in a row, right after the first sentence. Two paragraphs also echo on that headword and there are three distinct groups of echoes on the page. In one case, it might have had rhetorical merit, but the effect was completely drowned out by all the other echoes on the page.

The cause of all this “He”-echoing is the anonymous POV character. When the only thing the reader knows about the focal character is his maleness, what else can you call him but “he?” There are two tricks that writers can use to help minimize this kind of echoing. First, employ pronoun phrases instead of bare pronouns. Instead of “he,” drop in a few references to “the boy” instead. Or in this case, “the prisoner.”

The second trick is to vary the sentence structures so that you don’t keep repeating the subject, verb, object structure that keeps placing the pronoun at the start.

WTF #3: Echoing headwords

Analysis: Two or three pages on, I ran into another storm of “He”-sentences. But to make matters worse, this coincided with a repeat of the “Then-comma” sentence as well. It was only after I’d halted to examine the headword issue that I noticed that the Then-comma was actually used correctly here. This time around, there was a dependent clause. So while this WTF is ostensibly about the echo, I want to take a moment to explore the more interesting notion of the erroneous comma that wasn’t erroneous.

After having passed two or three of these curious Then-comma sentences, my detectors had become tuned to seek them out, so when I encountered this case, they threw the switch and I halted to investigate. Then, overhead, the silhouette vanished and he panicked, trying to shout and producing only a hoarse gasp. The word “overhead” is an aside, so it is properly set off with bracketing commas. But the thing to note is that I had to stop and study it to be sure of that. My internal comma-alarm had already been trained by the previous examples to watch for these, so when a valid one came along, it got swept up in the dragnet. It was only later, after investigating, that I realized it was not one of the droids we were looking for.

And that’s one of the costs of frequent errors—they can even call the clean writing into question. Guilt by association, until proven otherwise. So in an odd way, even clean writing can break a reader’s immersion if it stands as a conspicuous exception to the established pattern of mistakes.

The Park, by Voss Foster (21:13)
The Disturbing Collection, by David J Skinner (1:44)

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.