Dark Horse, by Jay Swanson (8:45)

IOD-DarkHorseToday we see that inauspicious word choices can shatter the spell of immersion.

What I gleaned about the story: Chakra is fighting monsters for the fair Melina. And it looks like he’s going to lose.

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WTF #1: Echoing headwords

Analysis: The first page is liberally strewn with “The”- and “He”-headed sentences. There were a couple of echoes that were done well, for rhetorical effect. (e.g. Her name gave him hope. Her plight gave him focus.) But these poetic echoes were lost amid a steady stream of the accidental kind that seemed to have no stylistic purpose. And unfortunately, the presence of the poetic ones simply shone a harsher light on the others.

WTF #2: Inappropriate word choice

Analysis: The most frequent type of “The”-headed sentence I saw were descriptions of what “the monster” was doing. The monster did this. The monster did that. But by page two I was irked by an annoying conflict of imagery. At one point quite early, Chakra’s opponent is described as being: the size of a bear, though in the darkness it looked and sounded much more like a wolf. I like descriptions like this, because they give me plenty to fuel my visual imagination without wearing me down under a blanket of adjectives. Unfortunately, every time it is mentioned, it is called “the monster.”

To me, the use of that label completely undermines the believability of the protagonist. This is apparently Chakra’s fourth or fifth “monster” of the day, so we’re being asked to see him as at least a somewhat competent fighter. But in my head, a word like “monster” would be used only by somebody too panicked and terrified to even fight back.

And since it is the fourth or fifth opponent, which seems to be nothing like the previous ones, it doesn’t feel right to me that he is is still using such a generic term. Even if he did call the first one a monster, back when he was fresh to fight and fully terrified, by now he would surely be using a more distinguishing label. Even if it was just “this bear-headed monster,” to differentiate it in his mind from the others.

Anyway, that’s my attempt to explain why the term bothered me, but whatever the reason, by the time I hit the eighth reference to it on the first page, I was seeing the words instead of the story, so I threw the flag.

WTF #3: Anaculturism

Analysis: Every now and then, a word stands out as being from our world, and it breaks the spell. The one that tripped me hardest was the utterance: “Sorry buddy.” To my ear, that sounds way too much like two strangers bumping into each other in a movie lineup, and not two teens on the archery range in a quasi-medieval fantasy world.


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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.