Living the Afterlife, by River Fairchild (9:36)

IOD-AfterlifeToday we discover that readers expect inconsistencies to be purposeful.

What I gleaned about the stories: Death, Chronos, and other gods and principalities divide their time between world-shattering duties and hanging around like idle rich kids.

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WTF #1: Unnecessary omission of information.

Analysis: Chronos and Death are bored. Death suggests going to Lucien’s to sink a few balls. Chronos replies “Why do you want to play pool with Evil?”

My immediate thought was, I thought Chronos was time, not moral opposition. So I glanced back a few lines to make sure I hadn’t missed a third person in the room. I hadn’t.

After a moment, I realised the author meant they would go to the bar and play with a third person, but I was already out of the story.

Most readers will assume the most likely meaning is true; in this case, that two bored guys deciding to play pool will play each other. If that isn’t the case, and you aren’t deliberately subverting the reader’s perception for later impact, then the reader will stop trusting your meaning.

WTF #2: Inconsistent signifiers.

Analysis: A doorbell rings. A character stops speaking with a full stop. We are told the doorbell interrupted him. Later a character is interrupted and the sentence ends with an em-dash and no description. A third interruption is marked by an ellipsis and no description.

At this point, I became aware that I was aware of the punctuation; and had an odd feeling that I should be able to determine a reason why the punctuation was different, but could not.

While there is sometimes more than one way to punctuate a sentence, readers learn from early punctuation usage, so changing the way you punctuate a type of sentence will make them suspect that the sentences are somehow different.

WTF #3: Inappropriate description

Analysis: Chronos opens his eyes “to find Death tossing peanuts in the air and having them hit a pair of sunglasses that he wore over his eye sockets”. When Chronos comments on it, Death says that he had forgotten he was wearing them.

Death bouncing peanuts off his eye-sockets was a common event in the book, so I might – barely – have stayed immersed at the idea he didn’t notice he had them on. However, “having them hit” expresses an act of choice. Faced with Death choosing to bounce peanuts off glasses he had forgotten he was wearing, my trust in the characterisation and description died a final death.

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About the author

Dave Higgins has worked in law and IT for both public and private sector organisations. When not pursuing these hobbies, he writes poetry and speculative fiction. He was born in Wiltshire, England. Raised by a librarian, he started reading shortly after birth and has not stopped since. He currently lives in Bristol with his wife, Nicola, his cats, Jasper and Una, and many shelves of books.