Death of a Hero, by C.B. Wright (16:22)

IOD-CurveballToday we see that POV miscues can really rattle the immersion cage.

What I gleaned about the story: Alex chooses to face his attacker and die rather than run, in order to ensure that the email finishes sending. Must be a pretty important email. Then a bank blows up.

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WTF #1: Echoing headwords

Analysis: The first page is pretty dense with “He”-headed sentences and paragraphs. By the bottom of the page, I’d reached a span of three consecutive paragraphs that echoed, comprised of ten sentences, seven of which had the same head. When done for effect, echoing headwords are often used to present a kind of rhythmical structure in which the echo is reaffirming some common rhetorical or rhythmic point. It can also serve to produce a “ploddingness” to the action. But I see no such poetic intent here. I have to admit though, that with the narration given in the present tense, I was already at a bit of a distance from the scene. As I’ve stated elsewhere, I find the present tense quite artificial and insubstantial. So that probably contributed to my sensitivity about the echoing. All the mea culpas aside though, they popped me out of the story so I have to flag it.

WTF #2: POV violation

Analysis: For the entire first half of the scene, the POV has been carried by Alex. Then, after a long fight in which we follow Alex through his apartment, smoothly dispatching a series of armed intruders, he is finally killed by the lead intruder. But instead of closing the scene there, the camera jumps in the very next sentence to the POV of that lead intruder. What? It happened so abruptly that I had to go back and re-read the section to see if I’d missed something. But nope, the POV just switched with no warning or explanation. Very jarring. And of course, immersion broke with the leap.

If the POV was intended to be an omniscient one, the narration could have jumped to the intruder’s perspective when Alex first heard him at the balcony door. Doing so would have firmly established this as a wandering POV, and the mid-scene switcharoo that comes later would not have felt so out of place. But instead, it stayed with Alex at that time. I suspect that this was done to heighten the sense of drama when the intruder creeps in, but we don’t know what’s going on. And that’s the fundamental problem here. If you’re going to rely on the locked POV for the dramatic advantages of it’s limited information, you’re essentially making a compact with the reader. If you then break that promise, you end up painting yourself as an unreliable author, and that’s a place you don’t want to go. Readers will happily accommodate an unreliable narrator, but if you can’t trust the author, why would you give him the keys to something as intimate as the theater of your minds eye?

WTF #3: Unbelievable story point

Analysis: Chapter Two begins with a character named CB entering a bank and chatting happily with the guard. CB is a regular, and this exchange nicely paints him as a good guy. After the chat, he takes his place in line to wait for the teller, plugs in his tunes, and then:

He closes his eyes, lets the screeching vocals of the Hives surround him, and is completely oblivious when the front of the bank explodes.

Even though he’s completely oblivious, the narration then goes on to describe the bomb’s destruction. So again the POV seems to have torn free of its moorings and is now floating in some kind of omniscient mode as we watch the guard run to help people. But then we zoom back into CB’s head, where he’s still trying to figure out how the vocalist singing in his ears manages to get that tonal quality.

We’ve already established that the POV mode here is a somewhat jerky form of omniscient, so I can run with that, but here’s where I begin to have a problem with believability. I can just about stretch my suspension of disbelief to grant that maybe CB is a superhero of some kind and is so solid on his feet that he didn’t even notice the percussion wave of the bomb ripping through the bank. But a bomb is loud. Really loud. And nobody has headphones loud enough to drown out the sound of a bomb ripping the wall out 20 feet away in an enclosed space.

Note: The prose here is actually quite good and the story design looks like it’s shaping up to be a compelling yarn. If you can look past the occasional POV wrinkle, this is probably worth giving a closer look. And out of curiosity, I will probably be doing just that.

Let the Water Rise and Other Stories, by Matthew Burgos (1:25)
The Stolen Guardian, by R.A. Meenan (4:49)

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.