Saving Hitler, by Ian James (2:06)

IOD-SavingHitlerToday we are reminded that narration needs to subtly manage the reader’s attention, but without being seen to do so.

What I gleaned about the story: Private Ryo Nakano saw a blond soldier, then filled his nose with the taste of cold. Something, something… rumbling under his legs. I haven’t seen enough to have any idea where this is going.

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WTF #1: Distracting image

Analysis: The book opens with a soldier leaving through a checkpoint gate. The guard takes his ID, and then: The blue pupils fell to the pass and flicked between his blond eyelashes.

Upon reflection, I suppose he means that he could see through the guard’s eyelashes to his pupils, which were moving back and forth as he scanned the ID, but the image I got was pupils ping-ponging back and forth between adjacent eyelashes. Clearly that’s not what was intended, but the reading brain takes everything at face value and assumes this first interpretation to be correct. I quickly realized my mistake, but the damage to immersion had already been done.

The real question here though is, “Are the eyelashes really an important factor?” They convey that the guard is blond, but at the expense of throwing a reader out of the book in the first paragraph. Not a good tradeoff, in my view.

WTF #2: Echoing details

Analysis: While the guy is waiting for the guard to check his ID, we are told that: his old BMW motorcycle grumbled beneath his legs. Then, about 4 paragraphs down, as he’s pulling away from the checkpoint, we get: The motorcycle hummed under his legs. Either image is fine on its own, but in such close proximity, the second reference to the motorbike being under his legs seemed entirely redundant and yanked me completely out of the story.


WTF #3: Word-play overload

Analysis: I was puttering along on my faithful bike, ready to join this guy on his adventure, when I hit: the Krampnitzsee’s cold freshwater taste filled his nose.

That clause threw a tree branch into the front spokes and flunk my immersion headfirst into a nearby tree. I picked myself up and went back to examine the wreckage. Okay, the Krampnitz is the barracks he’s just left, but what is a Krampnitzee? Is that a reference to himself, maybe? Then we get that freshwater taste, but it somehow belongs to him? It is his own taste that fills his nose? No, I’m not really sure I’ve unpacked the K-word properly. Maybe it’s the name of a nearby river? Or a term used to describe the local fog? Let’s face it. I actually haven’t got a clue. I get how taste can fill your nose, but without knowing what that crucial word refers to, I can’t get a handle on what I’m being told.

Again, any one of these details on its own would have been easy to absorb and keep going. But jamming multiple unpacking problems into the space of seven words? In the end I had to walk back to the barracks by myself and call a tow truck.

Cats and Other Tales, by Julia Underwood (5:26)
Three Culture Shocks, by Tony Thorne (1:36)

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.