The Seal of Throkar, by Marniy Jones (6:43)

IOD-The_Seal_of_Throkar.jpgToday we see that subtle word misuse can create unintended comical effects that break immersion.

What I gleaned about the story: Quin and Sarael are hiding under the bodies of their murdered friends when the goddess takes hold of Sarael and commands them out to fight their attackers.

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WTF #1: Awkward prose

Analysis: In the second paragraph, we find this passage: She usually appeared to be a few years older than Quin, no more than thirty…

Surely being 30 years older is more than just “a few years.” But then I wondered if maybe the number thirty was supposed to be her actual age, not the difference between them. Not my first instinct in unpacking that sentence, but maybe others unpack it the way it was intended.

A couple of paragraphs later, we are told that a narrow path is “the only access in or out of the forest,” and again I found myself grumbling. First of all, “in” is the wrong preposition for “access.” “Access to” is the usual construction, and “the only access to the forest” would have been just fine.

But what does “access out” mean? That’s just jarring and awkward to my ear. The word “access” implies a thing or place to be accessed and I kept trying to complete the implied “to” connection. Access to what? To “outness”? It just didn’t fit, and by trying to make it do so, my immersion popped.

These are both tiny issues, but the problem is that ambiguous wordings like these make those tiny problems feel much worse than they are, because the reader can’t just make a definitive determination and move on. The problems linger in the awareness and continue to color whatever clean text might follow.

WTF #2: Awkward prose
A little further on, somebody is creeping toward them through the forest and we are told: A bird erupted from the underbrush, bellowing a challenge to the sky.

My first problem is that the passage feels over-dramatized. This is a passing detail, not the focal point of the scene, so this description feels disproportionate, almost melodramatic, siphoning drama away from where it should be—on the murderers coming toward them through the trees.

But the second problem is possibly even more damaging, because I laughed. A bellow is a full-throated roar, usually uttered by a large creature, and to me, has always been associated with a large, barrel chest. Bulls and bears bellow. Lumberjacks and blacksmiths bellow. A silverback gorilla bellows. But a little songbird flushed from cover in the forest? My first mental image was of a cartoonish little bird, with a tiny little acorn-sized head, flapping tiny little acorn-sized wings to propel a large, pumpkin-sized chest up into the sky. Taken together, the image was so comical that I burst out laughing, which completely drained the tension from the scene and broke the immersive spell.

WTF #3: Temporal miscue

Analysis: At the beginning of the next scene, the skulking murderers enter the clearing and we are told: The ambush forced Quin and Sarael into the forest.

What? But why? Just a moment ago, they were hiding under the bodies from the last attack. Why would they suddenly move? Oh. And then I realized that they weren’t moving. This was a reference to earlier, at the beginning of that previous attack. The ambush HAD forced…

There were several other similar problems where the lack of past perfect made me stumble, but this was the first one that actually confused me enough to snap my immersion.

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.

Amber Fang, by Arthur Slade (40:00)
Mage Slave, by R.K. Thorne (3:50)

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.