Muddy Mouth, by C.A. Newsome (9:08)

iod-muddy_mouthToday we see that POV has a kind of momentum.

What I gleaned about the story: Lia doesn’t like Bogie, then a scream interrupts steamy time with her boyfriend and he runs to investigate.

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Note: It’s probably just me, but after years of being bitten by this, I have come to the conclusion that finding a Cast of Characters at the start of a book most often means that the characters I’m about to meet are indistinctly drawn so I’ll need a catalog to keep them straight. I’m not saying that’s the case here, because I haven’t read it yet, and it is not always true, but I thought it worth mentioning that even some fairly familiar conventions can have negative connotations for some readers.

WTF #1: Temporal confusion

Analysis: Here’s the opening of the prologue, excerpted from a newspaper article:

In a scenario right out of one of his books, best selling author Lucas Cross vanished in the early hours of June 11th from AustinCon, a convention of self-published authors taking place this weekend at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

This had me scratching my head for a moment. We are told that the author went missing on June 11. Specifying it that way, by date, suggests that it has been some time since the author vanished.

But we are also told that the convention was “taking place this weekend.” Note the word “this.” To me that implies that the article was published on the same weekend as the convention, and that therefore, it is still happening. (The term “this weekend” can also mean “this coming weekend” but clearly the missing author cannot have vanished from a convention that has not yet happened. So the only conclusion is that “this weekend” means “this current weekend.”)

By that logic, the disappearance happened at most one or two days ago. But we don’t report such recent events by date. We say “he disappeared early Friday morning” or “the man vanished yesterday.”

As a result of this disconnect, I was confused briefly about when “now” is, with respect to the disappearance and the conference. After a brief flounder, I did work it out, but I had to pop out of the story to do so.

WTF #2: Confusing comparison

Analysis: Lia is describing her boyfriend and tells us: More observant than gregarious, she’d thought his personality as bland as his khakis and regulation polos. 

What does “observant” have to do with “gregarious?” The construction More X than Y is usually interpreted as: It’s not that he was Y, exactly. More that he was X. And in that juxtaposition, the qualities X and Y have to be fairly obviously linked, so that mistaking one for the other would be a natural mistake that a casual observer might make. So we often see things like “He was more stocky than fat,” or “More cautious than cowardly.”

But “observant” and “gregarious”? I don’t see any spectrum upon which I might look at one of those qualities and mistake it for the other. And even after analysing it, I’m still not sure what the author meant to convey by that contrast.

Note: Here’s a really odd sounding turn of phrase. She’s describing a thriving downtown district in the evening and we get: Patrons poured onto the street, tongues flashing to catch the ice cream dripping down their sugar cones.

To me, the term “flashing” implies bright and highly reflective, which is why it is so often used to describe a knife or jewels. But flashing tongues? I paused here to wonder what might make them shiny, but I don’t think I actually popped out of the story world while doing it, so I’m not charging a WTF here.

WTF #3: POV violation

Analysis: The description of the street as they emerge from the theater has been firmly situated in Lia’s POV, since she describes Peter physically and relates her inner thoughts about him. But then we get this:

“Ice cream?” Peter asked.

“You get some if you want. I’m trying to be good. Milk products are off my diet.”

Peter’s sweet tooth mourned in silence. “Along with popcorn, pizza, and nachos. If the line wasn’t so long, I’d grab three dips of raspberry chocolate chip so you’d have to watch me eat it.”

What is that final paragraph break all about? It feels like it’s going to be a shift back to Peter, which it starts out as, but how can she know that he is “mourning in silence?” It’s stated as a certainly, but she doesn’t have access to his inner feelings.

Then, to confuse things even further, we find that the speaker here is still Lia. There never was a speaker shift. It was just Lia glancing at him in the middle of her utterance.

I suspect the author broke the paragraph because the narrative attention flicked momentarily toward Peter, but this would have been much easier for me to follow if the second and third paragraphs had remained together. The viewpoint never actually changed. POV has a sort of momentum and can withstand quick flicks of the camera to look at other things. There would still have been the slight head-hop to reveal Peter’s internal emotional state, but that could have been eliminated by making it clear that this was Lia’s assumption about what he was doing, rather than a narrative certainty from Peter’s POV.

And with those changes I might never have stumbled at all.
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Thirteen, by Jonny Newell (2:33)
To Live is to Fight, by Amber Frost (0:52)

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.