The Only City Left, by Andy Goldman (16:15)

IOD-OnlyCityLeftToday we see that when you only have yourself to talk to, the “I” can be implicit.

What I gleaned about the story: The last city on Earth is a sprawling megopolis under a vast dome of some kind. Layer upon layer of infrastructure bottling the remaining inhabitants in with the mechs and werewolves and feral pets and who knows what else, trapped in an artificial world, away from the sun and the light.

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WTF #1: Dad had walked up and waved his hand through the ghost, who didn’t seem to notice.

Analysis: This takes place during a recollection of an earlier event. It’s correctly placed into past perfect to signal the earlier time frame, but a number of sentences still mixed past perfect with simple past. To my eye, that should read: Dad had walked up and waved his hand through the ghost, who hadn’t seemed to notice.

(As an aside, I found that this recollection was long enough that all the “hads” were getting a bit tedious. This is a case where the mini-scene could have dropped back into simple past after establishing the time shift, and that would have made it easier to read.)

WTF #2: I was maybe eighteen… I shivered… I looked down… I flailed…
and then later:
 I sent a brusque wave of my hand… I ripped tiny shreds of torn fabric… I jerked my head up…

Analysis: Echoing paragraph headwords. These excerpts are the heads of successive paragraphs. I was able to ignore several two-paragraph repeaters, but when I hit runs of three, and even four successive paragraphs with the same lead word, the echoes became entirely too distracting to ignore.

This is an especially common problem for 1st person POV stories, because the narrator has so many fewer acceptable ways to refer to themselves. But the echoes it creates are just as distracting.

WTF #3: Galloping I disease.

Analysis: Once the headword problem cropped up, it was only a matter of time before I got sensitized to all the I did this-ing and I did that-ing. But consider this one example: “Time to go, buddy,” I said.

Our protagonist is alone, save for the feral cat he’s talking to. So without any other characters present, why is the dialogue tagged? It isn’t necessary. We already know who the speaker must be. And if it had been dropped, that would have been one fewer “I” in the stampede.

This of course, leads me to a more general observation: when a 1st POV character does something, the “I” is usually implicit. And that means that using the pronoun is often unnecessary to convey the meaning, and in many instances it can be removed with a simple rephrasing. The result is not only more I-depleted prose, but also more immersive. In a sense, saying that “I caught the ball,” is a type of telling, whereas “The ball smacked into my palm,” is showing. It’s more immersive. The reader experiences the action and then fills in the blanks about “catching” for themselves. And that’s the important thing about immersion: it’s about letting the reader connect some of the dots for themselves.

Consider this example: I ripped tiny shreds of torn fabric off of the front of my jacket, but stopped when I realized that even with the kitty gone, the skittering noise was growing louder.

That can be rewritten to remove most of the pronouns like this: The front of my jacket was tufted with shreds of torn fabric. They pulled off easily enough. But what was that noise? A skittering sound. The cat was long gone, but the scritch-scratch of claws on metal was getting louder. Closer.

This is just a quick example, but to me, that rewrite draws the reader more fully into the scene. And it no longer contributes to the gallop.

Before the Chase by Dara Fogel (14:51)
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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.