What I gleaned about the story: Liam can run fast. Especially when he’s carrying stolen bread that has magically avoided mold and dehydration during the several years since society collapsed.
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Analysis: I was only half way down the first page having already chosen to ignore two small editorial issues when a third happened along. To begin, the first two paragraphs echo on the headword, but it’s only a single occurrence, so I kept going.
Then in the middle of the second paragraph, I tripped over a mismatched verb tense.
He was amazed what a few years of neglect can do…
There’s a common tendency to express universals like this in the present tense, but it doesn’t really work when it comes within a broader sentence that is already in the past tense. Given the trickiness of the situation though, I gave this a pass as well.
But then, at the bottom of the second paragraph, I tripped over a typographical issue.
The package he was clutching almost got away– he shifted his grip and sprinted to the fence across the yard.
The intended em-dash was only given as a hyphen, and then, instead of following either the British or American conventions (spaces on either side vs. no spaces) the author opted to create his own standard with a space on the right but not on the left. Ick.
Each of these is an issue that I would normally have let slide on a first occurrence, but finding all three before reaching the end of the second paragraph was too much, too soon. With my irritation rising, I wrapped them together and threw the first flag.
Analysis: Here’s the passage that tripped me up as the protag reaches a doorway:
Not seeing anyone, he pushed it open and peered out.
“Wump!” A heavy ham of a hand connected with his shoulder and back, swatting Liam like a bug from the other side of the door…
How does that work? A guy opens a door and looks out. Then somebody on the other side of the door punches him in the back? Was he standing in the doorway with his back facing out and peering over his shoulder? Upon reading further, I think he was hit from behind, by somebody who had been chasing him and was therefore inside the building behind him. Not “on the other side of the door,” as reported.
Proprioception is that innate sense we have of how our body parts are positioned relative to each other. If you close your eyes, you can probably “feel” that your right arm is bent, your left is stuck out like a traffic cop, and your knees are folded beneath you. That is proprioception. In the context of writing, I use this term to encompass the reader’s sense of where they are in the story world, and where other characters and objects are in relation to them. Conveying this well is just one of many concerns an author must juggle if the reader is going to stay fully immersed in the unfolding tale—especially if it’s an action scene being described. But when it fails, it creates true WTF moments like this one, with people or things seeming to appear out of thin air.
Analysis: So it turns out that the running boy was running because he had stolen loaves of bread from the turf of a rival street gang. These all seem to be boys, early teens, living in the burned out wrecks of their once thriving town. But where did the bread come from? Did the other gang set up a bakery? That doesn’t sound at all consistent with the bleak dystopia being described, so I have to assume that “gang of bakers” is not where the bread came from. So did these kids have a stockpile of pre-collapse bread in some old abandoned warehouse? Maybe. But the collapse was three years ago. Even if we posit a pile of bread large enough to have lasted for three years, there’s no refrigeration and no electricity. Yet we see the protag and his cohort chomp into these loaves with wild gusto, tearing it easily into chunks. In my world, bread that dares survive for even a week past its date stamp is either rock-hard, bright green, or both. So even if this old bread somehow managed to avoid going moldy, I just can’t conceive of it still being soft enough and fresh enough after that length of time to provide this kind of princely feast.