Fools’ Apocalypse, by Anderson Atlas (4:56)

IOD-Fools_Apocalypse.jpgToday we examine an effect I’m going to call “evasive narrating” in which the narrator appears to be trying to shake the reader off his trail by changing topic rapidly and unpredictably.

What I gleaned about the story: Ian Gladstone goes into a bathroom to receive a package and then stops at a bar before reminiscing about his dead mother.

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WTF #1: Galloping “I” disease

Analysis: The first two pages are very “I”-heavy and include several dense sections of echoing headwords. The narrative tone also feels very scattered to me, making it hard to stay in this character’s POV. And compounding all of this, it’s written in first person, present tense, which I find an awkward narrative mode at the best of times.

WTF #2: Evasive narration

Analysis: I’m really trying to slip into this character, but the narrative focus seems to shift with every second or third sentence. It bounces from physical description to dialogue, witty asides, sage observations of the human condition, and half a dozen other things, all in the space of just two or three paragraphs.

Normally, good narration has an arc to it. Left to his own devices, the narrator’s attention will flow, each line connecting to the next with a slowly shifting focus, because that’s the way people tend to think. Disruptive leaps can happen, but the norm is for a series of unfolding connect-the-dots, and I don’t get any sense of that here.

Instead, this narrator’s attention weaves and lurches, making it hard for me to get in and buckled up. Starting a book is a bit like trying to climb in through the window of a moving car. If the driver keeps an easy pace and holds a straight, steady course, it can be done without too much struggle. But if he guns the engine in strange bursts while jerking the steering wheel left and right, you’re more likely to be thrown under a wheel than to ever make it into your seat.

WTF #3: Stilted dialogue

Analysis: Half the characters seem to speak in a strange, stilted, melodramatic style that is entirely unnatural to me. Passages like:

“Pardon my paranoia, friend. But I must maintain my position of power in order to affect change.”

“Girls are a distraction. Family is a distraction. You’re a political architect. Your noble action is selflessness. Your sacrifice will be remembered for all of history.”

I’m not sure whether the effect is as clear when it’s taken out of context like this, but to my ear, these passages sounded so unrealistic that they instantly reminded me that I was reading fiction. Immersion busted.

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.

Viridian System Sampler: Eight Short Stories, by Jemima Pett (5:55)
Sebasten of Atlantis and the Forgotten Goddess, by Olivier Delaye (7:58)

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.