Awakening, by Katherine Wynter (9:45)

IOD-Awakening.jpgToday we see there’s a hierarchy of intrusiveness when it comes to typos.

What I gleaned about the story: By day, Rebekah and her father run a Bed ‘n Breakfast out at the old lighthouse. By night they sit around chatting with guests. But in a storm? That’s when they fight demons.

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Kudos #1: A new place

Details: One thing I’ve noticed with IOD is that a great many of the stories that don’t work for me seem to start in familiar places: a bedroom, a kitchen, an office. But when a story starts somewhere unusual, there’s a much higher likelihood that it will pan out for me. This one starts at a lighthouse, and immediately I find the visuals in my head are not the stale and familiar retreads I usually feel. I’m seeing new stuff, and that’s always a welcome change.

WTF #1: Weak word choice

Analysis: This passage painted a bit of conflicted imagery for me:

He wasn’t as young as he’d once been, back when three consecutive nights of storms had put a dreadful sparkle in his eyes. Instead, he appeared deflated, like someone had popped the balloon holding him up and it slowly drained the air out of him.

To me, when you pop a balloon, it explodes violently. It could have a slow leak, in which case it would collapse slowly, but when it’s popped, there is no slow anything. The disconnect tugged at my attention, but I was able to resist and keep reading.

But then I hit a second one, further down on the same page:

Grabbing a beer from the fridge, she popped the cap on the periwinkle countertop and sank down to the floor.

To me, “popped the cap” means to remove the cap from the bottle with an abrupt motion, which is how I parsed it. But then I get: on the periwinkle countertop. The countertop had a cap? Or there was one on the countertop? Why would the narrator be telling me this? Then I realized that the popped cap was not on the countertop at popping time, and in fact, “popped the cap” did not mean “removed the cap.” In this situation, the narrator meant “placed the cap.” But unfortunately, the damage was already done. Misreads like this are very frustrating to me, especially when they keep pulling me out of a story that I think I’m going to enjoy.

WTF #2: Confusing typo

Analysis: When the word “boy” accidentally appears as “byo” I can skim right past it with ease, because “byo” is not actually a word, and consequently, I don’t get confused by the introduction of an unexpected concept in the middle of the sentence.

But when a typo produces an actual word, it introduces an unexpected concept into the sentence, which I then parse and try to make fit. It only takes a millisecond or two to realize that the meaning I’ve extracted doesn’t fit the context I’m working in, and that the word must be an error, but such analysis takes mental cycles to accomplish—cycles that are spent focused on linguistic detective work rather than sailing smoothly across the story landscape.

So that brings me to this sentence: She titled the bottle back and finished the beer. If you’re lucky, you misread that and saw no problems. But I happened to read it as written, and was thrown into one of those unscheduled detective moments. So it’s important to note that a mistake that causes a disruption in our scaffold-building is more intrusive than one that simply doesn’t scan.

 

WTF #3: Temporal miscue

Analysis: This excerpt comes at the end of a paragraph in which our protagonist has injured herself: Rebekah never feared pain. Her childhood rolled by on mountain bikes and skateboards and 4-wheeling at the dunes;…

At first, I thought she was hallucinating, actually seeing her childhood roll by. Then I realized that she is not remembering it now, but characterizing how it had seemed to her at the time: Her childhood had rolled by on bikes, etc. Had rolled. Having the past perfect tense here would have perfectly highlighted the temporal reference, and I would have rolled right on by. But it wasn’t and I didn’t. Strike three.

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Try the free sample on one of my books or short stories and decide for yourself.

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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.