Allies & Enemies, by Cheryl S. Mackey (2:51)

IOD-AlliesEnemiesToday we are reminded how important it is for authors to actually visualize the scenes they’re describing.

What I gleaned about the story: Ivo and his elf-friends are on the hunt for a map. And a kingdom. But first they’d like to get out of the sun.

Find this book on Amazon.

Note: Gorgeous cover.

WTF #1: Contradictory descriptions

Analysis: Here’s the first paragrapah:

The women laughed. The sound snagged Ivo’s attention, and he wondered what had been said to make Emaranthe’s eyes sparkle. Blonde braids glinted in the meager shade where she sat at the base of a cliff beside Jadeth. The redheaded Elf lounged against the wall, her arms crossed beneath her head. Eyes closed, she grinned at something her best friend said.

A headword echo in the first two sentence? Oh well, I did my best not to grumble and kept going.

That’s when I got to the bit about “glinting braids.” In the shade? Glinting is a specular reflection, which requires straight-line view of the light source. So the fact that she is in shade means there can be no such specular highlight.

Then we get the bit about “arms crossed beneath her head.” I can’t picture that. If she were lying on her stomach, then sure, her forearms could be crossed under her head. But no, she’s definitely lounging against the wall. So I could easily accept that her arms are crossed over her chest. But “under her head” implies that they’re tucked up under her chin. That doesn’t seem right either. I can’t picture any other possibilities, so I assume that “across her chest” is the correct pose, and that it was just worded in a confusing way.

But then there’s that pesky wall she’s leaning against. Wasn’t it supposed to be a cliff?

Finally we reach the part where her eyes are closed as she grins, when just a moment ago, we were told that her eyes sparkled. How could the narrator have seen them sparkle if they were closed?

By my count, that’s five WTFs in the first paragraph. But if I’m honest, immersion hadn’t really been established yet, so I’m going to wrap all that up in a bow and call it WTF #1.

WTF #2: Confusing visuals

Analysis: We are told that the women are at the base of a cliff and that Ivo is close enough to make out glittering hair, sparkling eyes and such, but he is also looking out over the surrounding desert landscape. A desert that “stretched in all directions for at least three days.” How does that work? The “all directions” thing was not simple narrative exposition of the terrain—it was a statement of what Ivo could see, since it follows directly after “he surveyed the landscape beyond the small village. Taken together then, he can see the woman standing at the base of a cliff, but he can also see the desert stretching in every direction? How is that possible? Wouldn’t the cliff they are leaning against be blocking at least some of his view of the surrounding terrain? If not, then it can scarcely be called a cliff.

This feels very much like a scene in which the author had worked out the basic geographic facts on a map, but had never actually tried to visualize the whole picture from the POV of the narrator, as it was being written. And this is where the devil creeps in.

WTF #3: Missing word

Analysis: Spot the missing word: “And I don’t know if I like irony of getting a map…to find a map.”

The word “the” is missing before “irony.” A relatively minor hiccup, but as I’ve said before, the first page is holy, so I’ve got to flag it.

Unfortunately, we’re still on the first page, and with all the conflicting descriptions to keep me puzzling, I never really did establish any immersion.

Glass Within Glass: Three End of the World Stories, by Nathan Kuzack (1:24)
Imminent Danger And How to Fly Straight into It, by Michelle Proulx (7:07)

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.