The Glass Beacon, by John Day (5:52)

IOD-TheGlassBeaconToday we are reminded that authors should never tell the reader how brilliant the hero is. It’s like telling coworkers how beautiful your baby is. Show proof or it ain’t so.

What I gleaned about the story: Germany is losing the war. Karl is a brilliant engineer. And today he’s going to eat lunch.

Find this book on Amazon.

 

Note: Right from the legal page onward we get a variety of fonts and weights that make the production look sloppy.

Note: Before the story begins, we get a page with images of the relevant equipment that we will (presumably) see within the story. The layout of this page is rather amateur, but having those reference visuals was a nice touch. Sadly, I see no credits given for the artists and/or photographers who created the images. And to make it worse, this came immediately after the legal page in which the author implored readers not to steal his book, and then demanded that they buy additional copies rather than lending to friends. Sigh.

Note: The first bit of story is titled: Chapter – Prologue. England 1943. That struck me as odd. Normal convention is to have either a chapter or a prologue. I now suspect that I’m going to see a steady stream of distracting layout decisions like this.

WTF #1: Echoing headwords

Analysis: The entire prologue is very “The”-heavy. Of its 30 sentences, fully 10 of them begin with “The,” including four or five direct echoes in runs of twos and threes.

This is perhaps in part because the author has chosen to give no names to any of the mysterious characters present in the scene. We know them only as “the man” and “the two men,” which leaves him very little flexibility for how to signify them in the narrative.

But worse, these terms of address create a very distant feel to the scene, robbing it of any potential it had for emotional impact. And that’s a shame, because “the two men” are here to execute “the man.” Ultimately, it felt more like watching cardboard cutouts reenact the execution than actually witnessing the horrific event for ourselves.

 

WTF #2: Pointless prologue

Analysis: The prologue is half a page in which an unnamed man is executed as a spy. We witness absolutely nothing that couldn’t be summed up in a single sentence of exposition, and learn nothing other than the name of the executioner. I suspect that the man will re-appear later, and that we will then be expected to feel shock at the revelation. But since I was given no reason to connect with him emotionally, nor to form any judgement of his character, such a revelation can only manifest as a mild, “Oh. Him again.”

Note: Then we reach Chapter One, which appears to be titled: Chapter – Peenemunde Rabbit. Mid-day, June 2nd 1943. I have no problem with a dateline being included at the beginning of chapters to help orient the reader to the place and time. But including it as part of the chapter title like this—especially with the awkward punctuation breaking it into sentence fragments—was entirely disconcerting.

WTF #3: Intrusive exposition

Analysis: As Karl walks toward the sunny spot where he likes to eat his lunch, he spends several paragraphs reminiscing about how he came to be here. After having an information-vacant prologue, I’m now pretty bored. I don’t yet have any reason to care about Karl’s history as a driven engineer. So far, all I’ve got is some dude walking across a parking lot with his lunch in his hand.

This is made all the worse by telling me in the backstory how brilliant Karl is, with lines like: To everyone’s amazement, Karl conceived the perfect solution. So I’m left wondering… If that was such an amazing feat of ingenuity, why didn’t the story start there?

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Download one of these free short stories, in the format of your choice, and decide for yourself.

 

 

 

 

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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 underqualified in just about everything. That’s why he writes.