A Patriot’s Betrayal, by Andrew Clawson (11:39)

IOD-PatriotsBetrayalToday we see that even a good sentence structure can be problematic if it’s used too frequently.

What I gleaned about the story: A history professor is assassinated at his home, along with the assassins who whacked him. And all because of something to do with Paul Revere.

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WTF #1: The pointless prologue

Analysis: I’m not opposed to prologues, in principle, but I do need to get a sense that its inclusion was vital to the story. Prologues that are there simply to set a mood, or that only seem to convey information that could have been delivered in a single sentence of exposition feel like a waste of time to me. Just like any other scene, if it can be removed without eroding the reader’s understanding of the story, it should be.

Unfortunately, by my lights, the prologue that opens this story does not meet that bar. An unnamed old man in the 1700s dies in his bed, with his wife at his side. Another man (who, by his description, just might be Paul Revere) leaves with word of his passing. That’s it. And when you couple this with the almost purple prose (every noun comes ashore with at least one supporting adjective in tow), the prologue put my guard up rather than sucking me into the tale.

Note: Everything feels slightly over-written, as though the author isn’t sure that the drama of what’s happening is enough by itself, so he’s trying to up the stakes by offering more forceful (and plentiful) adjectives while overselling the verbs. It hasn’t fully broken immersion though, so I’m not throwing a flag on the play just yet.

WTF #2: Parallel-aside-itis

Analysis: A pool of blood and brain matter covered the desk and spilled onto the floor, its coppery scent mixing with the unmistakable smell of cordite. The victim had clearly been caught off-guard, his still-warm corpse slumped over the top of an enormous, elegant desk.

A parallel aside is my term for the sentence structure of the form: This thing happened, something else happening alongside. It can be a very effective sentence structure, but only when used sparingly. I find it particularly draining to run into dense fields of them, and so far, they’ve been coming at me quite thickly, so I’ve already been sensitized to them. Then when I finally hit the quoted passage, with two long ones in immediate succession, I found myself mumbling: “Was there a sale on parallel actions somewhere?” And when I start muttering to myself about the writing, my immersion has definitely broken.

WTF #3: Misleading word choice

Analysis: The officer who had grabbed Nunez outside walked up, notebook in hand. What? I don’t remember somebody grabbing him. So I went back and looked. Nope. No grabby hands in sight. So what could he mean? Is this an editorial revision that didn’t get excised? And then I realized that he meant grabbed as in “summoned.” To me, that’s a pretty big stretch—especially when the word “grab” or “grabbed” was not used to describe the earlier interaction.

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.

After The Ending, by Fairleigh and Pogue (10:19)
Quantum Tangle, by Chris Reher (31:23)

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.