Shiftless, by Aimee Easterling (8:31)

IOD-ShiftlessToday we see that if the narrative language does not feel natural to the context, it’s hard for the reader to engage with the world.

What I gleaned about the story: An unnamed female werewolf is trapped in a coffee shop when another werewolf shows up with his pet werewolf.

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WTF #1: Dialogue attribution misfire

Analysis: “No, that’s just rude and inappropriate,” the soft male voice insinuated its way into my reading. Since the quote ended with a comma, I was expecting the following clause to be an attribution. And indeed, it started out that way. But then it twisted. Turned out to be a completely independent sentence. That should have been two distinct sentences: “No, that’s just rude and inappropriate.” The soft male voice insinuated its way into my reading. But it wasn’t, so I had to backtrack to sort it out. And coming as the first sentence in the book, that’s not good news.

Kudos #1: Cool concept

Details: I quite like the notion of a werewolf in the city who is so lonely that she reads werewolf stories to get a sense of pack belonging.

WTF #2: The shibboleth problem

Analysis: On the surface, I could have just charged this one up as echoing. The werewolf this. The werewolf that. But there’s more going on here than simple over-use of that noun. The most crucial aspect to get right in worldbuilding is the language. If you haven’t got a sense for the language of your invented culture, then you really can’t tell a convincing story set there, because language is the only tool in the box.

Consider this: I don’t know anything about fluid dynamics engineers, but I’m guessing that they have a term for themselves that is more colorful than simply, “Fluid Dynamics Engineers.” Maybe they think of themselves as “drip-techs,” or “wrench monkeys,” but whatever the term is, most communities of people tend to develop these convenient self-identifiers. Not just because frequently used labels need to be easy to say, but also because those phrases then serve as a sort of shibboleth by which the group can recognize true members from outsiders. Every human community does it, and any that don’t will feel alien.

So when an author constructs a world and then chooses a narrator from that culture, the language the narrator uses has to feel authentic to his world. It has to feel like he really lives there, deeply immersed in its culture. Because if the narrator isn’t immersed, how can the reader ever hope to be?

This is why I find it jarring that our protagonist werewolf woman keeps referring to herself and her community as “werewolves.” I just can’t accept the notion that they haven’t come up with a more evocative name for themselves. The Kindred? Furkind? Changers?

WTF #3: Backstory poisoning

Analysis: I was trying to get past the unnatural feeling language but every for every step forward in the story, we get two paragraphs on werewolf culture, why this woman has run away from her pack, how vulnerable she is around alpha werewolves, etc. ,etc. It felt like every time i got the barest progress on the foreground story, my head would then get shoved underwater with more of the “how we got here, and what my life is like” stuff. When it began to feel like water-boarding, I threw the flag and stopped the clock.


Stirring The Grass and other stories, by David Winship (5:10)
After: The Shock, by Scott Nicholson (38:03)

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.