Beyond the Plains, by Travis Bughi (9:08)

IOD-BeyondPlainsToday we are reminded of the pitfalls of too much exposition without anything to draw the reader’s attention to the plights and perils of actual people.

What I gleaned about the story: The angel Quartus is sad. Everybody is going to die. Too bad he cannot say anything. Maybe he should have pantomimed a warning. But alas, we’re never told why he doesn’t. Poor Quartus. Poor everybody.

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WTF #1: Confusing story point

Analysis: We open on a prologue in which a silent angel sits brooding on his throne. Then we get:

The silence wasn’t by choice. He was cursed—or perhaps blessed, depending on one’s viewpoint—but in this case most certainly cursed with the lack of speech. Words could be formed in his mind, but his lips opened so rarely that he counted the occurrence in years. If a helmet were fashioned for him, it would be made with openings for only the eyes, for the only sustenance angels required was sunlight.

I quite liked that bit about sunlight, but I’m confused by the exposition that precedes it. Is the angel’s speechlessness an actual curse? As in, some kind of magical restriction placed upon him? Or is the narrator speaking metaphorically, saying that he had some affliction that was a burden to him? But the really confusing part is that, apparently, his lips do open, sometimes. Is that a reference to the fact that he sometimes drinks? Or that he occasionally opens his mouth when he breathes? But surely those kinds of thoughts would be completely irrelevant to this exposition. So should I assume that whatever his curse is, there are some situations in which he can talk. If so, what are they?

This isn’t just an idle curiosity, because the entire prologue hinges on the drama of this angel and the fact that he knows that destruction is coming, but cannot tell anybody. In order for me to suspend belief and go with that, I have to be clear on these ambiguities, otherwise I simply don’t know how to respond to his choices. Sadly though, these details are never made clear, and I can’t decide if Quartus is an idiot, or stubborn, or in some way truly struggling with a restriction he cannot master.

As it stands, I spent too long analyzing the text trying to figure this out and was popped entirely out of the story.

WTF #2: Pointless prologue

Analysis: The entire prologue is exposition about the five angels who created and now rule this city, and about how some unspecified death and horror are coming for all of them, during which our POV angel wrings his hands in sorrow, but does nothing. I can’t see a single event in there that might prove important for readers to have witnessed in order to understand the coming tale, which is my usual metric for deciding whether a prologue adds value to a story. Meanwhile, with that metric unfulfilled, I found myself skimming forward, looking for some concrete story to engage with, which again meant I was no longer immersed.

WTF #3: Endless exposition

Analysis: After four pages of lengthy angel exposition in the prologue, Chapter 1 then opens with yet another page of exposition, but this time about different people and places. It’s as if the entire prologue was a history lecture that won’t be on the final exam. I assume that sooner or later the story will actually start, but with eyes glazing over at this second round of backstory about societies and geographies I don’t yet have enough context to care about, my immersion has long since foundered.

The Darkening Dream, by Andy Gavin (31:32)
Rogue Cosmos by Theo Taylor (3:11)

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.