Witch’s Sacrifice, by Crissy Moss (3:20)

IOD-WitchSacrificeToday we are reminded that authors must work carefully through their action sequences, or risk alienating readers with physical impossibilities.

What I gleaned about the story: Bound to a pole, Korik is forced to watch as the High Priest makes ready to sacrifice his wife and daughter to the Kraken. If only his bonds would break! And then his bonds break.

Find this book on Amazon.

Note: Awesome cover. It leaves absolutely no question about what’s in the tin. And it’s beautifully done as well.

Technical Note: At 9 MB, the book file is bloated and taking up way too much space on my ereader. Worse, the author is paying about 9 times as much in download fees as she needs to. No novel should be more than 1 MB unless it’s packed to the rafters with embedded fonts and high resolution images.

WTF #1: Confusing prose

Analysis: In the second paragraph, we get: The High Priest Paren, heedless of the screams, bound their arms and legs together and lay them neatly on the slab of stone jutting up from the ocean. The story is being told in past tense, so this action is happening as we watch. But after describing the consequences of what a sacrifice entails, we immediately get: The high priest laid a bejeweled hand on Korik’s arm…

So now I’m confused. Korik is tied to a pole where he is being forced to watch the sacrifice. Is the priest over at the altar binding the victims, or his he standing with Korik? Could he possibly be patting Korik on the arm while binding the victims? My spider senses tell me that the binding actually happened earlier and should have been reported in past perfect. But there’s insufficient information in the text to distinguish between the two, so I’m just going to call it what it is: a confusing detail.

WTF #2: Inappropriate word choice

Analysis: Our hero strains at his bonds until they snap. That sentence then continues with: and his fist slammed through the air, barely missing the high priest.

Slammed? Slamming is a motion that ends with a violent impact. You slam a door, or slam your hand onto the table. But Korik missed the priest, so there was no impact at all. And hence, there could be no slamming. The impossible imagery here ripped me entirely out of the scene.

WTF #3: Confusing action

Analysis: Korik swung the pike about, forcing the guards back a step and before swinging the pike back around to cut loose his other arm.

Okay, so let’s walk through the imagery as it unfolded in my head. A pike is a long weapon, with perhaps a sharpened point or spear-head at the tip. Korik’s one arm is free and the other is still tied to the pole. So if he’s swinging the pike to keep the guards at bay, he must be holding the shaft near the end, in order to keep them at a decent distance. But then he swings it around to cut himself free? Hold on, a pike is on the order of ten feet long. That’s what makes it not a spear. So how does this maneuver work? If he’s holding a ten-foot pole that has a blade at the far end, he can only cut things that are ten feet away from him. Once again we have a physical impossibility in the scene mechanics.

Authors need to remember that it isn’t sufficient for action scenes just to sound cool. They also have to make sense, physically. If you’re not sure, you might try acting them out with friends, or dolls or something, to be sure everything works, and then paying careful attention to make sure that those moves you worked out are what you actually describe in your prose.

The Killing Fields: Short Stories, by Nikesh Murali (4:32)
Klondaeg Omnibus by Steve Thomas (4:25)

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.