Lethal Seasons, by Alice Sabo (10:45)

IOD-LethalSeasonsToday we see that declarative sentence parades may be a sign that you’re looking at the wrong thing.

What I gleaned about the story: Following the collapse of society, when the weather has run to evil and folks hunker down in buried shelters, a guy who travels a lot (maybe scavenging precious resources?) has a crisis of some kind.

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Note: There was a missing comma in the second sentence, which always puts me on edge. It can be argued that it was not a crucial comma in this case, and since I did not notice a consistent pattern of them, I didn’t charge a WTF, but authors take note. With any new reader, your work is on trial. Assume you’ve drawn a hanging judge and make sure your first thousand words are flawless.

WTF #1: The tailored blue jacket and slacks hung on her bones, a size too big. Another symptom of the changed world. The downsizing of the population left a lot of resources behind, but not enough people to run the factories that would make new ones. So the people left had to make do with what was at hand.

Analysis: Um, make “new ones?” New what? New resources? New factories? New people? I suspect the author meant “new jackets and slacks,” but that was about five nouns ago, and stopping to figure that out popped the immersion.

Then I had to wonder about the logic of that statement in the first place. If most people are dead, wouldn’t there be all kinds of old uniforms just lying around for the taking? This woman’s ill-fitting uniform isn’t a sign of resource depletion – it’s a sign of her not giving enough of a damn about her appearance to go find something that fit better. But since immersion had already been broken here, I didn’t charge a second WTF.

WTF #2: As he passes the woman on the stairs, her coming up, him going down:

Her eyes lingered a moment on the bedroll, then took in his two-day old scruff and wet clothes. It took a minute for her to complete her scrutiny. She startled at his green eyes, her gaze going directly to his neck to check for a tattoo. 

Analysis: That’s way too much time. People don’t study you for a moment, and then for a minute, before reaching a judgement about you. Character judgements based on appearance are done in an eyeblink. Two flicks of her gaze and then proceed straight to the sneer.

And setting aside the fact that green eyes are a very tired cliché for marking someone as slightly unusual, do people really startle over green eyes? They might be uncommon, but they’re not at all rare. Certainly not enough to be startle-worthy. The average person in North America knows about 4 people personally who have green eyes, and for anybody raised in a media-rich culture, green eyes are even more familiar, because it’s more common among celebrities than among the general population. So unless his eyes were either lime green, or maybe glowing, showing a startle reflex seems unlikely. Granted, not everybody knows this, but it just goes to reinforce why this passage jumped out at me.

And in case you’re wondering, I know this because I’ve looked into it before. I have hazel-green eyes myself.

WTF #3: Declarative sentence parade. 

Analysis: I finally noticed it during a description of the protagonist’s new room and the trip he’d recently been on. In this case, it was a repetitive-feeling recitation of the actions he was performing. He picked things up. He put things down. He wandered here. He went there. etc. And upon noticing that, I looked back and saw previous occurrences as well. So this demonstrates that echoing sentence structures do not always break immersion for me, because I didn’t notice the first few examples as I was reading them.

But I eventually did trip over them, and then I referred back to previous IODs where I’ve cited this, and I think I’m starting to see a pattern to how they are being used. For the most part, it seems to happen most often when the author is describing a series of physical actions, rather than showing us the character. To me, the story is rarely about the physical movements. That’s all necessary camera work that keeps me oriented to the scene, but the story isn’t in the grabbing and stepping and twisting, etc. It’s in the motives. It’s in the ambitions. It’s in the relationships.

So if you find yourself writing about the ten things he did upon entering his hotel room, maybe your sentences are getting repetitive because you aren’t all that enthused about the sequence either. Unless he does something unusual, just tell me that he unpacked, and then get me into his emotional space. What is he thinking? What is he planning. What does he need? That’s where the meat of the story is. If you’re focusing on the series of movements he makes, you’re not pointing my camera at where his story is actually happening.

Willem's Tale, by J. S. Davis (4:23)
Inquisitor, by RJ Blain (29:08)

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.