Broken World, by Kate L. Mary (14:30)

IOD-BrokenWorldToday we see that poor character decisions are a quick way to alienate readers.

What I gleaned about the story: Vivian just wants to see her daughter again, before the end of days. And she’s so desperate to get there that she hitches a ride with a pair of lowlifes who she’s pretty sure are going to kill her.

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WTF #1: Declarative sentence parades

Analysis: I did this. He did that. This was here. That was there. Etc. These parades are broken up by a few more expansive passages, but it keeps coming back to the plodding rhythm of statement, statement, statement. The problem is not so much that each sentence is relating a fact—it’s that each one is doing so in the from of the same relatively simple sentence structure.

WTF #2: Inconsistent voice

Analysis: The heroine is describing a redneck who’s staring at her in a diner: From his flannel shirt, unbuttoned to reveal his wifebeater and beer belly, to the bulge in his lower lip. His upper lip curls and his eyes go over my pin-up body.

In the first sentence, the description is clearly negative, with terms like “wifebeater” and “beer belly,” so we know we are rooted in the protagonist’s perspective. She is not characterizing the scene the way the redneck sees it. Then in the next sentence, she refers to herself as having a “pinup body.” This assessment is the height of egotism, which conflicts directly with the portrait that has been painted of this woman so far—that of a woman travelling alone during a crisis, who feels extremely vulnerable and insecure.  So in this inner dialogue, the narrative voice is conflicting sharply with what we’ve already been told, and it jerked me out of the story to question whose POV we were in and how it could all fit together.

WTF #3: Unbelievable character choice

Analysis: The redneck appears again later, when her car breaks down. She already had bad vibes about him, and then when she is even more vulnerable, he and his brother show up again, with guns drawn. Despite the fact that she has already pegged them as lowlifes, she decides to get in the car with these losers. I get that she’s desperate, but the author went out of her way earlier to show us a scene in which other, seemingly decent people were on the highway, caught up in the same crisis, so the protagonist knows these jerks are not her only option.

If they had forced her to get in, I would have had all kinds of sympathy for her, but having her climb in of her own volition, against every instinct she has, filled me with contempt. So either she is stupid, in which case I lose interest in her drama, or else the author has not taken sufficient care to motivate her choices, in which case I can expect to be frustrated by future story points as well. But no matter which way it plays out, stopping to debate these issues with myself is a clear sign that immersion has broken.

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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 uniquely unqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.