Cold Run, by Rachel A. Brune (3:54)

IOD-ColdRunToday we see that first-person tough guys are harder to write than you think.

What I gleaned about the story: A guy drinking alone in a remote cabin gets a phone call and then drinks some more.

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WTF #1: Galloping I disease

Analysis: The book opens on a tsunami of echoing “I” sentences, but it was the recurring “I”s rather than the sentence or paragraph echoes that really distracted me. As early as the half-way point of page one, I’d lost count of them, hence this flag.

Note: Needless to say, this one is told in first person, which is why there are so many I-references. It’s the number one problem I see with first-person narratives. When the protagonist can only talk about himself, we never get out of his head far enough to see the rest of the world. The solution, I think, is to provide him with plenty of external things to focus on, right off the bat—especially in those crucial first pages, when we’re just getting to know him. You know that guy you met at that party once who kept interrupting you to talk more about himself? That’s how these tough-guys come across when they don’t have some “dame” or “flunky” or “pencil-neck” to aim all their hard-boiled one-liners at. They sound self-absorbed and entirely unengaging.

WTF #2: Confusing sentence structure

Analysis: I popped the cap from another beer and took a sip before my system thought I should stop for the night and proceeded into the hangover stage full speed ahead.

When I hit the word “proceeded,” I was expecting a completion to the phrase “stop for the night and…” Stop for the night and what? Stop for the night and proceeded? Those verbs don’t match. Oh. It’s meant as a continuation of the previous dangling phrase—what “my system” was doing—not the more recent one about what “I” should do. Sadly, I’m beginning to suspect this has never crossed an editor’s desk.

WTF #3: Declarative sentence parade

Analysis: The trudging has been present since the first paragraph, but it wasn’t quite loud enough to intrude, and there were a couple of nice breaks—especially one about a cat. But it has finally emerged loudly enough for me to flag it. Statement, statement, statement. Trudge, trudge, trudge. This, coupled with the dense I-sentences makes it sound like the status logs of a remote scouting droid. I saw… I smelled… I moved… I heard… We’re back to the boring guy at the party, only this time his role is being phoned in by a robot.

I don’t mean that the character himself acts like a robot; it’s that his inner narration remains too focused on the physicality of his experience and doesn’t intersperse his thoughts with a diversity of sentence structures, conveying emotions, thoughts, and inferences, etc.

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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.