Clovenhoof, by Goody and Grant (21:50)

IOD-ClovenhoofToday we see that even with lots going for it, little frictions can pull a reader out of the story. And what’s more, the better the story, the more it feels like a betrayal when it happens.

What I gleaned about the story: Jeremy Clovenhoof has a problem. You see, yesterday, he was the great Satan. But after a falling out with his supervisory committee, he’s been sacked. And his punishment? Life on Earth. Get ready for what promises to be a chuckle-filled romp through disaffection, superiority and rage. Tempered, hopefully, with maybe a touch of salvation. For the most unsavable figure in history.

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Kudos #1: A fun prologue

Details: Satan getting sacked because he’s no longer measuring up to the expectations of his heavenly supervisors? There’s a whole lot of tongue pressed into the cheek, and we’re only on the first page. This promises to be a fun ride.

Note: At the end of that prologue, it came as a bit of a surprise that there was anybody else in the room, other than St. Peter and Satan. The sudden mention of the entire supervisory board being there as well felt like sea change, compared to the more intimate conversation I had been seeing up to that point. It would have been nice had their presence been mentioned or implied earlier.

Note: He began to realise that he had seriously … This is a common writing quirk among indies. Begin to, start to, etc. Constructions like that are a bit like “very,” in that there are usually stronger, more descriptive ways to say it. But what does “began to realise” even mean? To me, realizing is a binary state: you either realize something or you do not. There’s an instantaneous flick of the switch when you go from not realizing to realizing. The more protracted process of reaching that point is one I might call considering, wondering, or musing. But “begin to realize?” To me, that’s like saying, “He began to be conclude…”

WTF #1: Detail mismatch

Analysis: Ben heard a muffled roll of thunder, looked up and saw that a naked man had appeared on the pavement outside the shop. This strikes me as wrong. If he wasn’t looking up earlier, he would not have known that the guy had just “appeared.” So he should either look up and notice that there’s a naked guy standing there, looking confused. Or he should look up at the first sound of thunder, and then witness the guy when he “appears.”

WTF #2: Digressicus Interruptus

Analysis:  Now that we’re into the main story, the writing style has become very digressive. Lots of little asides and by-comments that continually interrupt the narration. They were the kind of old ladies – puffy blue-rinses and thick knitted coats, one with a tartan shopping bag on wheels, one with a wooden-handled knitting bag in one hand and a brolly in the other – who were probably called something like Betty and Doris. They were also probably the kind who, having lived through a world war, weren’t going to be put off their shopping trip by a naked man.

The aside to describe the old ladies was long enough, and complex enough, that I lost the handle on the original sentence and had to go back to pick it up again. And then when the very next sentence had another digressive clause, it began to chime with a structural echo thing as well.

And while I’m looking at that passage, there are a couple of smaller quibbles I’ll mention here, because they’re the kind of thing a professional editor would have caught. The first aside seems confused about its subject. Is a blue-rinse a euphemism for “old woman,” or is it a reference to their hair style instead of to them? But either way, we came into this aside having just mentioned two women, then we mention two shared features, then we use the pronoun “one.” One what? One of the women, or one of the features? The final meaning of the aside is not hard to puzzle out, but the fact that I had to stop and do so in the first place is problematic. The writing here was not smooth, and that’s doubly intrusive to the flow when you’re already distracted by the fact that we’ve stepped away from the main discussion into a sidebar.

Note: I should also note that hyphens are incorrect punctuation for joining clauses like this. Those should be em-dashes. Whether they should be surrounded by spaces or not is a regional religious debate you can have with your local word-priest, but the hyphen-vs-em-dash debate is not. [Hmm. Upon deeper investigation, it seems those hyphens are actually en-dashes, and in some regions, the en-dash is used instead of the em-dash for parenthetical asides. I’m just glad I don’t have to retract a WTF. :-)]

Kudos #2: Some honest chuckles.

Details: I don’t want to spoil it by including it here, but there are one or two turns of phrase or character beats that had me honestly chuckling, and that is not common. Many authors have reached for the humor stick, but few have landed any blows.

Note: A stag-do party? Surely that should be stag-doe.

Kudos #3: Proper use of echoing.

Details: I spend a lot of time griping about unintended echoes, so I wanted to highlight what I think is a good example of it being used for intended effect: He had many things going for him. He was young, single and disease-free. He had all his own teeth, his own flat and his own second hand bookshop.

This passage has rhythm to it, and the “He-“heads clearly demonstrate that they’re intended as a tiny character sketch, with all the sentences sharing that common start and thereby getting grouped together for combined rhetorical effect.

WTF #3: Unintended echoes

Analysis: After having just commented on the pleasure of seeing it done right, this was a disappointment. It was only half a page later that I hit a double-double of unintended echoes. Two “The-” headed sentences followed immediately by two “He-“headed ones, none of which carried any apparent rhetorical weight. In normal reading, I might have let these pass without comment, but I was now psyched for good echoes and so when I hit these, I assumed they would be more proper examples. Perhaps a bit soon, following so closely after the previous ones, but still, used with intent. Sadly, that was not the case. And worse, I’ve now spent enough time examining them that I’m completely yanked from the story.

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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.