Loss of Reason, by Miles A. Maxwell (8:15)

IOD-LossOfReasonToday we see that if you aren’t sure who’s telling the story and why, readers won’t buy the illusion.

What I gleaned about the story: After hours of bad radio reception, a nuclear fish bomb blows up in New York City.

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Note: The character is in a taxi at night and we get: A streetlight’s sudden illumination reflected her worried bright-blue eyes in the window.

I can’t imagine the interior reflection in a car window being bright enough to be able to see the eye color. Especially not as bright blue. In my experience, interior reflections are always very dim unless the interior of the car is brightly lit. This is only a minor niggle, though, so I’m not throwing a flag for it.

 

WTF #1: Confusing POV shift

Analysis: The second scene begins focused on the sonarman of a Coast Guard cutter who watches his scope as a fish swims by. The boat continues on, but now suddenly we’re following the fish. And then, just as quickly, we’re on the pier looking at a girl watching the fish. Then we’re back to the fish again.

The problem for me is that these camera shifts are jolting. The first scene held a single POV for the entire duration, in a fairly intimate mode, so that’s how I’m expecting the story to be told. When we opened on the sonarman, I thought we were in his POV and that we’d stay there for a while. But then along comes a series of camera jumps that leave me completely at sea. I have no idea where the camera is, who’s telling the story, or who/what I’m supposed to be following.

There’s nothing at all wrong with having a distant semi-omniscient narrator, but if you change narrative styles from scene to scene, the reader is going to be distracting by trying to figure out what that means, rather than experiencing the story.

WTF #2: Melodrama overload

Analysis: The first scene ended on an ominous note: In less than an hour none of it would matter.  In addition to being a bit melodramatic, this also violated the established POV, but it was over before I really noticed it, so I just wrinkled my nose a bit and kept going.

But now in the second scene, while talking about the girl on the pier, we get: It was the last thing she ever said; the last thought she ever had; the next-to-last sound she ever heard.

Again? Just a half page later? Aside from being way too much ominous foreshadowing, this again raises the question of who is narrating. The fish? Someone else on the pier who survives the impending vaporization long enough to tell us the story?

Rather than wrestle with these issues further, I decided to just throw the flag and move on.

WTF #3: More POV issues

Analysis: With scene three, we return to the woman from the first scene, with her intimate POV as she puts her child in the crib and then settles down for the night with hubby. As she slides into the bed, we get: Cyn affectionately rubbed the instep of her right foot against the smooth skin of her Stevie’s left ankle. Their favorite comedy was just starting.

See that bit about “her Stevie”? We’ve been getting flashes of her inner thoughts all along, but suddenly we get this bit, which is a much more distant reference. If it was still the intimate 3rd we’ve had with her, it would just be “Stevie,” because she hasn’t shown any signs of thinking of herself in the 3rd person.

And then there’s the bit about “Their favorite comedy.” People don’t actually think that way. When you settle down to watch a rerun of “Friends,” you don’t think, “Oh good, my favorite comedy is on,” do you? Of course not. You think, “Oh good, ‘Friends’ is on. That show is so funny.” So when you want to let us in on the narrator’s thoughts, you have to do it in language that feels like people thinking. Not like somebody trying to sell advertising time in some guy’s thought-stream.

Unfortunately, this constant conflict of narrative styles and POVs made it impossible for me to get into the story world and stay 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.

The Odyssey of Hans Kessler, by Brad L. Smith (1:19)
The Enigma Strain, by Nick Thacker (14:30)

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.