The Winter Beast and other tales, by James R Sanford (9:46)

IOD-WinterBeastToday we discover that readers expect the point of view to be a consistent retelling of a scene, not a shifting mix of angles and depths.

What I gleaned about the stories: If you think something is a trap and will end badly, then don’t go rushing into it to prove it was as bad as you thought.

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WTF #1: An excess of uncertainty

Analysis: The protagonist believes there is something (I didn’t get far enough to know if it is a monster or a mundane beast) lurking nearby, and – over the space of a paragraph – describes things he feels might or might not be evidence he is right. He then moves on to describing how he has felt this feeling of a threatening presence whenever he goes out, with a similar lack of partisan revelation.

With each new piece of evidence either way, before I could start to build my own theory the protagonist suggested a way it wasn’t conclusive either way. So, the protagonist clearly wasn’t going to face conflict due to his determination to stick to his guns because he kept giving all sides.

Similarly, the shifting back and forth between interpretations in a single paragraph made it read like a balanced thesis on the possibilities rather than the experience of something dangerous just out of sight, so there wasn’t a feeling of immediate tension either.

With the protagonist killing the tension faster than it built, I realised I wasn’t that interested in the next paragraph on how the protagonist couldn’t be certain.

WTF #2: Lack of paragraph breaks between significant events

Analysis: The story opens with two siblings arguing playfully about the society of a particular group of Aztecs. I had just immersed myself in the combination of a long-running dispute and genuine love for each other when I hit a paragraph that (on the below mid-size text setting I was using) stretched for nearly a page and a half. Starting with them being sent to their Aunt Wanda’s, it covered all the changes their aunt made to their routine and rules, what the house was like, and what the protagonist missed about his mother.

The change from casual, smooth-flowing narration to dense information delivery made this focused delivery of all the back story even more distracting by contrast as I no longer knew which style the rest of the story would be in: was this a rapid moving piece with set-up wedged in, or was it dense prose with a slack opening?

Already struggling with the juddering change of style, I discovered some of the back story was delivered as dialogue embedded within the paragraph. Robbed of the traditional new line for a new speaker, I began to check each sentence to confirm time-period within the recollection, speaker, whether the surrounding non-dialogue was the same event as the speech or a new event in the same paragraph.

With no forward momentum and firmly in the realms of forensic reconstruction, I was out.

WTF #3: Point of view unexpectedly changed

Analysis: The story opened in close third-person point of view of the protagonist and remained on them for several scenes. Then, part way through a scene, shifts to the thoughts of another character.

As the constant point of view had set the expectation the entire story would be from the same viewpoint (supported by the presumption short stories will have a narrower focus), my immediate assumption was this was the protagonist’s prediction of what the other character was thinking.

The protagonist had never met this character before so I assumed I had missed some evidence and glanced back. Not finding any, I began to surface. Already thinking about structure rather than story, I realised the paragraph was more probably the thoughts of the second character than a guess by the protagonist.

Whether it was an assumption unsupported by description or a sudden change of viewpoint, it stuck out enough to distract me.

Adversaries Together, by Daniel Casey (2:24)
Forged By Battle, by Patrick J. Loller (4:33)

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.