Apex Rising, by Tom Wright (6:16)

IOD-ApexRisingToday we focus on the importance of having characters who experience their world in believable ways.

What I gleaned about the story: A young woman spymaster, who has the ability to speak with or control rats, is trapped in a burning warehouse by a low level thug, who can control snakes. And somehow, assassins are involved.

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WTF #1: When she faced danger before, her rats always knew what to do.

Analysis: As I’ve been saying recently, the use of past perfect – or rather, its lack of use – seems to be a spreading plague. But this time it happened on the very first page, when my feelers were at their most sensitive. (Although there were a few more later as well.) This is a simple mechanical issue – the kind solved easily by any experienced editor. So when I find this on page 1, my shields go up and I get ready for a long and bumpy ride, because the first page is always the most thoroughly edited page of the entire work.

WTF #2: Images of the game swam through her thoughts as she resolved on a strategy.

Analysis: The king’s spymaster is caught in a warehouse by a murderous thug. He tells her he’s about to kill her. And her response is to start solving chess problems in her head to come up with a strategy to use against him? Chess might be a poetic metaphor for situational strategy, but it’s completely useless as a real-time strategy generator when you’re trying to prevent your own imminent murder. When characters think in a manner totally divorced from my understanding of how real people think, the disconnect flings me completely out of their heads. It not only breaks my immersion, but creates a barrier between us that will make re-immersion more difficult.

WTF #3: […] she saw what she needed: a coiled rope, longer than a man’s height, sitting in front of her. Taking her only chance, she picked it up with both hands to swing it over a railing above. Her shouts of exhilaration turned to yelps of pain when the rope struck her suddenly. Her hazy vision did not register that the rope was instead a snake until it was already coiled around her leg, sinking its fangs into her side.

Analysis: I’m not sure what to pin this immersion break on, precisely. I find enough implausibilities in this paragraph that it’s difficult to assign just one. First is the fact that it’s really hard to judge the length of a coiled rope – especially when you’re standing in a smoke-filled room facing certain death. Then there’s the problem that a rope only six-ish feet long, and with no grapples or hooks attached, is of absolutely no use in helping you climb up to a railing above your head. On the heels of that, it seems extremely unlikely that someone could pick such a rope up, swing it, and throw it, without ever noticing that this object was not in fact a light-weight, fibrous, and inanimate rope, but was really a heavy, writhing, angry snake. And lastly, I could not credit a snake as long as that being able to get itself completely entwined about her leg – and then begin biting her – before she finally realized it was a snake. Getting encoiled by a snake takes time.

Strictly Analog, by Richard Levesque (40:00)
Iron Pen Anthology, by Multiple Authors

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.