The Shadow of the Gauntlet, by Casey Caracciolo (4:54)

ShadowGauntletToday we see that unintended patterns in your prose are like squashed bugs on a window.

What I gleaned about the story: In the distant future, after a catastrophe has buried the pyramids of Egypt beneath a mountain of dirt, archaeologists are finally rediscovering them. And searching for the truth about what happened.

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WTF #1: Echoing headwords

Analysis: Three successive sentences of the first paragraph all begin with “The.” Unfortunately, they also begin with the structural pattern: “The noun phrase verbed.” When such patterns are employed for rhetorical effect, they can be quite engaging. But when they occur by accident, they have the opposite effect. As a rhetorical device, echoing works because, by drawing attention to the similarities of sentence structure, the author is emphasizing the metaphorical or symbolic connections between the objects or actions being discussed. The echoes are powerful. The echoes are purposeful. The echoes have meaning.

But for me, when they occur by accident, I don’t yet know they’re an accident, so I end up looking around for the intended rhetorical meaning. But can’t find one, and so I experience that brief moment of confusion, wondering why I’ve been stopped here. It’s like when I get called into the kitchen by my wife only to arrive and have her say, “What? I didn’t call you.” There’s a brief pause of confusion, and then I just go back to what I was doing. But whatever that was, I have to pick it back up from where I left off. Any immersion I might have had in it is long gone.

And when that happens with any regularity, or in conspicuous places, (like the first paragraph) I find it particularly distracting. So when it happened again in the 3rd paragraph of this book, I grumbled a bit more, but I decided to consider it further evidence for this first flag and I moved on.

WTF #2: Unrealistic story point

Analysis: When a klaxon sounds at an archaeological dig, the project team members rush to analyze their sensors and recording equipment, trying to find out what caused the problem. After they’ve done that, the lead researcher casually asks the chief technician if he saw anything that might explain the alarm. Only then does he happen to mention that there was a weird light in the dig and that one of the digger bots was about to investigate. What? Surely to hell that would have been the first thing he reported. For him to withhold that until he’s asked for it completely undermines everything else the author has done to paint these guys as competent professionals with a long history of collaboration and mutual respect.

WTF #3: Echoing headwords

Analysis: Now at the bottom of page one. This is the third flurry of echoing “The”-headed sentences. And once again, they echo structurally as well as in their choice of headword. When seemingly half of the sentences in a story use the same structure and begin with the same word, the writing is simply not varied enough to hold my attention. These patterns function like bug-smears on a picture window. You want to marvel at the view, but your eye keeps getting drawn to the blobs of gush smeared in the foreground.

Twisted Endings, by Timothy D McLendon (1:23)
Dr Ty's Strange Fiction Volume 1, by Ty Walsh Trez (2:47)

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.