Bells On Her Toes, by Diana J. Febry (7:23)

IOD-BellsToesToday we see that having the protagonist keep secrets even in their thoughts is not drama; it’s breaking faith with the reader.

What I gleaned about the story: Detective Fiona Williams has an annoying boss, an emotionally bottled-up boyfriend, and a partner who is always late. But it’s not clear if that’s three people or just two.

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WTF #1: Missing past-perfect

Analysis: On the first page, we get this bit of establishing narrative:

Since her return from the Domestic Violence course in London, it seemed the entire department was dealing with the stabbing of a local mother. Before going away, she was at the hub of things…

That should read: Before going away, she had been at the hub of things. In getting to this point, I had already turned a blind eye to a few minor hiccups of flow and awkward phrasings, so when I hit this past perfect gap, I finally threw the flag. It’s forgivable for the first page of a novel to not have explosions or some existential character crisis, but the less captivating it is, the more important it becomes for the prose to be smooth while the reader is waiting for the first tasty bit to come along.

WTF #2: Show vs tell mismatch

Analysis: For several paragraphs, Detective Fiona’s boss has been hovering, obviously agitated. Then we get:

“You’re a bright officer with a good career in front of you if you want it. This new case needs swift handling and the minimum of fuss… I don’t want the small print missed on this one, if you know what I mean.”

The problem is that, given all the agitation and the hemming and hawing from the boss, that bit about the small print seemed to be saying “This is important. Don’t fuck this up.” But instead the narration that followed informs us that it meant: “Be careful where your loyalties lie.” This interpretation completely undermined everything I had been reading into the scene previously. So much so that I jumped back to reread it. Nope. It still feels like “don’t be a fuckup.” And on the heels of that disconnect, I threw the flag.

WTF #3: Unbelievable character behavior

Analysis: Throughout the entire opening scene, our red-headed detective lady is distracted, apparently by some communication problem with her boyfriend/husband back at home. She keeps making veiled internal statements of frustration over his need to keep things bottled up. But at the same time, she is waiting for her detective partner to show up so they can begin the new case they’ve been given. Unfortunately, her internal invective about the boyfriend seems to be aimed at the partner too. Is the partner also the boyfriend? Are they trying to keep an office romance quiet? It’s maddeningly unclear, but not in the “Oh boy, I wonder how this will work out” way. Instead, it’s more of a “Why is she being so vague even in her own thoughts?” kind of thing. Even if they are having an office romance, she does not need to hide that fact from herself. She already knows what’s going on. The only reason for her to be so vague is to keep the reader in the dark. And that’s a false source of intrigue. I call it breaking faith with the reader.

Hidden Pictures by Angela Castillo (4:14)
Cold Sweats and Vignettes, by John Bowen (5:38)

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.