Running Into Time, by Douglas R. Black (5:03)

IOD-RunningIntoTimeToday we see that there’s an important distinction between a world in which people talk like Victorian soap opera stars, and narration that does so.

What I gleaned about the story: Atris and his friends are floating a suburban train, writing flowery poems with their mind-pens. I think.

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WTF #1: Adjective infestation

Analysis: The story opens with four paragraphs of description, painting in the details of three or four teens—where they are standing, what they are all wearing, etc. While I know some readers love all these details, I find such minutiae distracting—especially when I don’t know who these people are yet. But what made me roll my eyes here was all the adjectives. Consider this example: Her ashen-blonde hair was drawn about the sides of her pale-white complexion, set back into a long fountain ponytail. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this sentence, taken by itself. But when every sentence carries descriptive baggage for each noun, and then they pile together into multiple paragraphs of this kind of description, I end up feeling firehosed with so many details that I can’t internalize them all. So instead of making the visuals memorable, this steady parade of adjectives makes them all disappear as I gloss over them. I don’t want to know every detail of every garment worn by every character. Just give me one or two details about each person and move on.

Furthermore, I think it’s a mistake to introduce all your characters in one big chunk like this. Characters don’t become real for me until I’ve got some actions, dialogue, decisions, and attitudes I can attach to them. So for me, the entire first page could have been replaced with: There were three teenagers on a subway platform. Because that’s about all I managed to internalize.

WTF #2: Intentional obscurity

Analysis: I have no problem with mystery that arises from characters talking about, and reacting to, a world I don’t understand yet. So long as the reportage seems authentic, I’m willing to go along for the ride, expecting that the author will soon fill me in. But when the narration attempts to drum up mystery and drama artificially, I very quickly sense the hand of the author trying to manipulate me, and I don’t like it. Consider this excerpt:

Atris closed his pen and sheathed it in a small nylon holster affixed to his belt. He found safekeeping for his ink more crucial than the sheath’s intended use of housing a small flashlight, even though soon they would be navigating darkened streets. They didn’t need any light source; they had greater methods to utilize in their search, means far more intangible.

Atris seems to hold the POV at this point, so are we to assume that he thinks this way to himself? There’s no evidence of that in the preceding text, so it feels to me that this is now the author’s voice intruding, trying to drum up a bit of excitement. But as soon as I start thinking about the author directly, it’s a clear sign that I am no longer immersed.

WTF #3: Distracting style

Analysis: I actually have no idea what to make of this excerpt:

“Act two, if only we knew.” She governed ink in gorgeous swirls, the words flowing seamlessly from her mind and through her fingertips. “He and I, travelers forever, architects of the life force. No one ever knows what’s in store. Draw the curtain, lock the door. For together we’ll shape a world inside these walls, born of sheer energy and the promise in truth to each other.” The train banked into a sharp turn that sent Juli against Atris. Her concentration and pen falls were unaffected.

Maybe other readers love this sort of ornamentation in their fiction, but I find it intrusive. Particularly because I think the ornate stylistics are interfering with my understanding. Am I to infer from the first line that she’s ejecting ink from her fingertips? Because that’s the image I got when I read it. And for me “pen falls” is an allusion to “foot falls,” which convey a plodding up, down, up down—in complete contradiction to the previously stated “gorgeous swirls.”

At this early point, I can’t tell whether the ornamentation is a feature of the world or an affectation of the writer, but having been bumped out three times now for issues of style, I think it’s fair to say that I’m not being drawn in.

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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.