Strategy of Numbers, by Clint Irwin (6:04)

IOD-StrategyNumbersToday we see the perils of having a strong opening line that is not borne out by the prose that follows.

What I gleaned about the story: Witness the streets of Paris during the Second Dark Age. See all the rubble. Gawk at the simple new structures wrought from the bones of long dead glory. Then an old man digs up a puzzling piece of stonework. I’m guessing this is the catalyzing event from which an entire adventure will unfold.

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Kudos #1: Great opening line

Details: As I’ve said before, the opening line doesn’t have to be exciting to work it’s magic. It just has to be interesting. Ideally, it will be suggestive of the story to come. Case in point, today’s opening line: Nothing lasts forever, not even Paris.

That’s a line that suggests much about where this story is going, and the style with which it will be told. I have high expectations for what is about to come.

WTF #1: Ambiguous description

Analysis: The second paragraph lays the scene for us, Paris in the Second Dark Age:

Along brick cobbles – plied by bicycles, carriages and horse carts, past the factories, the farmer’s markets, myriad workers and prostitutes – was the center of the city, the Notre Dame district. All along the way toward it, there were increasing efforts at remembering and resurrecting a lost architectural refinement.

It was that second sentence that threw me off stride. The phrase “All along the way toward it” felt like it was talking about a specific route, among the many routes that no doubt lead to Notre Dame.  So which route was it? Perhaps this is the route being trod by the protagonist as he makes his way to that central district?

But then I hit “there were increasing efforts…” There were? Efforts by whom? The protagonist? Some gaggle of by-standers? And then I realized that this passage was still talking about the architecture. So now I wondered, “THE way toward it?” There’s only one way to Notre Dame? At this point, I realized that I was spending too much time trying make sense of the paragraph, so I threw the flag and moved on.

Then I immediately ran into a line that began: “Various movements…” So again I thought that maybe we were getting a peek at some actual people. But again no. Just another ambiguous phrase, still talking about the architecture. This time, it’s architectural schools of thought. Those kind of “movements.”

I mention this, not to belabor the point about ambiguity, but to highlight how intense the urge is to find a person to connect to in the story. Perhaps I’m unusual in this regard, but I have taken at least two wrong turns now, misinterpreting ambiguous language, and in both cases, it was because I was looking for a reference to people around whom I could begin to construct my mental model of the story.

WTF #2: Confusing punctuation

Analysis: One night, in Deadstown Cemetery, far from Notre Dame on the outskirts of Paris, on a low, broad, plateau known rather inaccurately as Sevenskull Hill…

Um, I though Notre Dame was in downtown Paris, not on the outskirts. Oh. I see what happened. There’s a comma missing after Notre Dame. Unfortunately, without it, the sentence means something completely different. Something that is factually incorrect. And that disconnect popped me out of the story.

WTF #3: Echoing headwords

Analysis: At the bottom of the first page I ran afoul of a series of echoing “He”-headed sentences and paragraphs. He did this. He did that. He went here. He went there. The man’s name has already been given to us, as well as a description, so these echos could easily have been broken up with “The old man did this…” and “Bonchretien did that…” But instead we get the plodding and repetitive He…, He…, He…, He…

Oh well. The first line put me in mind of an intriguing story, but with all these first-page stumbles, I didn’t actually get to see how it plays out.

Bodies Everywhere, by Barbara A Martin (1:49)
The Glass Beacon, by John Day (5:52)

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.