Nano Contestant, by Leif Sterling (2:47)

IOD-NanoContestantToday we see that unusual chapter breaks can throw readers off their stride.

What I gleaned about the story: It is the future and Matthew has been convicted of terrorism, but he swears he is an innocent man. Presumably this will play a role in the unfolding story.

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WTF #1: A rare visual echo

Analysis: In the middle of the first page are three consecutive sentences that begin with “The.” Coming on the first page, this would normally be enough to trigger a WTF if I notice them, but this one had an extra dimension that I found interesting.

The first sentence is at the end of one paragraph, the second sentence comprises the entirety of a second paragraph, and the third sentence comes at the start of the third paragraph. Since the middle paragraph was only a half line of text, its headword lined up perfectly above the headword of the third paragraph, creating a strange visual doubling effect. “The” over “The,” and my eye actually snagged on this one before my ear did. That doesn’t make it any better or worse, I don’t think, but it did strike me as interesting, so I thought I’d mention it.

WTF #2: Anaculturism

Analysis: “Sorry man, tough break.” Sounds like a retired hippie commiserating with a recently divorced friend. But no, this is actually what the protagonist’s lawyer says to him after losing the trial and being sentenced to death. And did I mention that this story is set 100 years into the future? True, it is conceivable that such language will still exist in some circles, but I would expect a high-powered criminal trial attorney of the 22nd century to sound like a 22nd century lawyer, and not a 20th century beatnik. So hearing that expression in this context was enough to make me roll my eyes.

WTF #3: Chapter abuse

Analysis: Curiously, the first chapter is only one page long. That was odd, but I pressed on, only to discover that chapter two was even shorter. And wouldn’t you know it? Chapter three was even shorter still, scarcely half a page in length. Skipping ahead, I saw that of the first ten chapters, only one was longer than three pages, with chapter five clocking in at a whopping six pages. Each and every one of them just a single scene.

This isn’t actually an error, per se, but it felt entirely disorienting to me and popped me out of the book immediately. There were two reasons for this, I think. First, when 80% of the scenes are less than two pages long, there is simply not enough narrative time to get deeply into any of the situations, which makes immersion very hard to establish. And second, when you slam into a new chapter heading on every other page, it’s like hitting a rumble strip on the highway. Unexpected, jarring, and uncomfortable. It would have been much smoother, for me, if the author had simply dispensed with chapters altogether, the way Terry Pratchett does, and simply gone from scene to scene to scene.



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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.