To Carry the Horn, by Karen Myers (8:37)

IOD-CarryHornToday we see that readers don’t like to feel tricked.

What I gleaned about the story: A guy fell off his horse while riding in the woods. I’m a fan of the “Connecticut Yankee” story trope, so I can guess plenty about where this might be going, but I’ll resist the temptation to do so here.

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WTF #1: Pronoun confusion.

Analysis: The opening scene is short and stylized, but there is so little information given that I got lost. Something about a mighty prince now dead, but counting the narrator as well, that’s two people. Yet there are references to “he” and “you”, and “I.” So I’m confused about the voicing and referents for these pronouns. Is “you” an affected 3rd person reference back to the narrator? When I have to start drawing lines in the air, connecting the pronouns and nouns, I’m definitely not immersed.

WTF #2: He turned […] to watch a big whitetail bound across the path before him. He sailed over a fallen branch, then spun around to stare at him boldly.

 Analysis: More flailing pronouns, and we’re still on the first page. These are the kind of mistakes that any qualified editor should have caught.

WTF #3: He pulled his cellphone out of his hunt coat’s inner pocket.

Analysis: His what? His cellphone? Holy crap, I’ve got temporal whiplash! The first scene was about a fallen prince. The second scene was about some guy riding to hounds, who fell off his horse. In the third scene, clumsy horseman dusts himself off and checks his cellphone? The problem is not that he can’t be allowed to have a phone in his pocket, because apparently he’s a modern guy. The problem is the misdirection of the first two scenes, which did not properly establish the setting. I call this “breaking faith” with the reader.

From my perspective, the narrator/author’s job is to convey all meaningful and contextual information to the reader that he or she would have been able to pick up easily had they been present. Any reader who had been present to watch clumsy horse guy riding after the dogs would have immediately seen that he was a modern man. He’d have been wearing modern clothes, riding with modern tack, carrying modern weapons, etc. So given the few period details we got from the first scene, and the lack of modern references in the second, readers will naturally assume that we’re still dealing with that historical milieu. So pulling a phone out of his pocket in scene three completely breaks my trust.

Or putting it another way… We all know that if there’s a big-assed cannon in the middle of the room, and it’s going to be fired in scene three, you really have to mention its presence in one of the earlier scenes. Well, by that same principle, if it’s a futuristic cannon, you have to mention the future setting first.

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Download one of these free short stories, in the format of your choice, and decide for yourself.

The Birth of Chaos, by Ethan James Clarke (6:18)
Ox Herding: A Secular Pilgrimage, by Jackie Griffiths (6:31)

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.