The Butterfly and the Sea Dragon, by Tyree Campbell (2:20)

IOD-The_Butterfly_and_the_Sea_Dragon.jpgToday we see that a story has to move quickly and unerringly to establish the setting and the rules of the story world.

What I gleaned about the story: Yoelin Thibbony is a burglar wearing black skin-tight clothing that is black and very tight on her skin.

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WTF #1: Confusing prose

Analysis: The very first sentence of the book reads as follows: Entry into the estate house had offered but moderate security impediments for the tall woman named Yoelin Thibbony.

Before I’ve even settled into my chair, I was confronted by what felt like a quadruple negative. The house’s “security” is negated by “impediments”, softened by “moderate”, and then diminished further with “but.” Or wait, in this case, “impediment” wasn’t an impediment to security; it was an impediment for security. So scratch that first negation. Where does that leave us? The house was secure, not secure, somewhat not secure, somewhat not not secure. Oh, and then undo the negation, so it ended up being not somewhat not not secure. At this point I more or less threw up my hands in surrender. I was so wrapped up in trying to unpack the inversions and modifiers that I got entirely lost, and never even noticed the actual meaning of the sentence: that a woman has just broken into a house.

The whole point of the opening sentence is like the foyer of a nice house. It’s there to welcome you into this place, inviting you to join the life being lived within, already in progress. Unfortunately, it seems the entrance to this book has better security than the estate house it describes, since I never got through the door. A much simpler sentence construction would have worked much better to enroll me into the world.

 

WTF #2: Culture poisoning

Analysis: At the beginning of a science fiction story, it is vital to situate the reader quickly. With SF, we could be anywhere in space and time, at any tech level and in any biological reality. So at the beginning, it is crucial to provide clues to the where, when, who, and what, so that the reader can get oriented and begin submerging into the tale.

This one begins reasonably, with our POV burglar clad in sexy, skin-tight “black vivar skin.” But almost immediately she is brought up short by some kind of an unexpected trap on the floor, which she soon discovers: was a piece from a child’s toy, a plastic building block, a Lego, of the type found on the floors of homes with children on every world of Corporatia.

I don’t have a problem with there being Lego in this world of a distant time and place. Postulating the continued existence of that one item into the far future is a rather charming detail. But the opening page is not the place to show it to me. Not before you have effectively established the world setting and its rules.

Unfortunately, it didn’t stop with the Lego. There are also references to night vision goggles with green displays, an EKG, a touchpad-based home security system, and computers with flat screen monitors. And that was just page one. True, there are mentions of other, more appropriately futuristic details, but by having these mundane technologies alongside them, the effect is chaos, forcing me to debate whether I’m confronting some world of bizarre technological paralysis, or an author who has not properly considered the details of the world she is building. And sadly, there was nothing about the writing to give me the sense that it was paralysis.

WTF #3: Redundant exposition

Analysis: Three times on the first page, we are told that our burglar is wearing “vivar.” Twice we are told that it is black, and then once that it is opaque. We are also told twice that it is skin-tight and once that it is micro-thin. These details are all essential to understanding her very professional burglarity, but we need those details once and once only. By repeating them, the author conveys that she lacks confidence, either in her writing or in our intelligence. But honestly, telling me three times removes all doubt as to which opinion she holds.

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.

The Storm Fishers and Other Stories, by Everitt Foster (1:44)
Dymond's World, by C.W. Crowe (12:06)

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.