Rider’s Revenge, by Alessandra Clarke (6:18)

IOD-RidersRevengeToday we see that paragraph breaks are like commas, and that having too many of them creates an awkward rhythm. Like Shatner.

What I gleaned about the story: K’lrsa yearns to prove herself as a capable hunter and quell this silly talk of marriage and babies. So despite her mother’s wishes, she goes out to hunt. And she really, really loves her horse.

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WTF #1: Intrusive layout

Analysis: When it comes to paragraph breaks, there is no hard and fast rule about when one paragraph should stop and the next one should begin. But there are some common conventions, and one of those is that if there is a deliberate, causal connection between Sentence 1 and Sentence 2, they generally dwell within the same block. But in this particular story, I keep tripping over breaks that seem to come in the middle of such progressions, and this deviation from the norm is distracting.

When I am reading and encounter a paragraph break, to me it signals that the subject is advancing, we’re moving to a new thought or topic. But half a dozen times on the first page here, I found myself preparing mentally for a new thought, only to have the previous one continue. I’m not saying that the breaks are wrong, so much as that they create a halting, jerky flow of the narrative in my head. Like listening to Shatner or Christopher Walken. Either way, it becomes a bumpy ride that distracts me from the story being told.

WTF #2: Conflicted imagery

Analysis: Our hero K’lrsa is riding her golden horse Fallion into the glory of a solo hunt. She leans over Fallion’s side as she approaches the fleeing baru, one hand knotted in Fallion’s mane to steady herself. Then she lets go of the mane, draws her bow, and nocks an arrow…

But in my head, she’s still leaning over Fallion’s side. She never righted herself, and so I’m stuck with this really awkward image in my head of this girl leaning low over her horse and somehow drawing a bow in front of herself and nocking the arrow, even though there’s all that horse-flesh in the way.

This may just be a failure of my imagination, my inability to see a position in which this all makes sense. But either way, it jolted me out of the action to go back and re-read all the descriptions to see if I’d missed anything.

Note: When writing up the report later, I see that this is precisely the image that is shown on the cover, but clearly, the girl is no longer bent over the horse’s side. So either the cover represents some other similar moment from later in the story, or the narration omitted the posture change before drawing the bow.

WTF #3: Conflicted physics

Analysis: With the arrow drawn, K’lrsa and Fallion charge forward, their prey fleeing before them. She draws the bow and feels its taut vibrations in her fingers. Finally, she releases and we get:

The arrow spun through the air, each rotation visible to her mind’s eye, each breath taking an eternity as they thundered forward, the herd racing ahead of them, her target glancing back at her in wide-eyed fear.

What’s that bit about “each breath?” From the context we’ve been given, I’ve been picturing this fleeing baru as being maybe 20 meters away. But during the flight of the arrow, she had time for multiple breaths? (The very next sentence describes impact, so we know this image is limited to just the flight time.)

According to my instincts about arrow velocity, even at twice that distance, the arrow would be in flight for no more than a second. So my mental image has to try to reconcile this single-heartbeat of time during which K’lrsa takes multiple breaths, and I can’t make it fit. Maybe she has some kind of slow-motion bow that hasn’t been explained yet, or maybe the herd was much farther away than I was picturing, or maybe she’s hyper-ventilating in a panic, but no matter what the explanation, if a reader has to stop and try to decompose the physics of a scene to justify the imagery, clearly immersion has been broken.

FWIF, I suspect the author was trying to convey the subjective slowing of time, which was otherwise well done, but she forgot that it would apply to lungs as well as eyes.

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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.