One Kill Away, by Alex MacLean (15:32)

IOD-OneKillAwayToday we see that the rhythm of narration needs punctuation, just as sentences do.

What I gleaned about the story: Seth has killed someone. Quite possibly a policeman. Allan is a policeman. I suspect these two may be on a collision course.

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Kudos #1: Intriguing opening

Details: In the first paragraph we get: “If a murder can be experienced aesthetically, the murderer can, in turn, be regarded as a kind of artist—a performance artist or anti-artist whose specialty is not creation but destruction.”

This is the kind of line that gives us instant insight to the thinker, and at the same time, assures us that this will be more than just a romp through darkened city streets. There’s a driver at the helm and he is a thinker. Which is exactly what I’m looking for in the fiction I read.

WTF #1: Declarative sentence parade

Analysis: The first couple of pages are rather rhythmless, falling into the trap of constantly reporting physical movements and perceptions without pausing for any analysis, interpretation, or context. There are a host of other mental senses waiting to be fed in a reader’s head, and the others get irritable if one sense is gorging itself at their expense. Most of us need more than just the physical facts.

WTF #2: Echoing headwords

Analysis: It’s pretty hard to avoid these when just about every sentence is about what the protagonist is physically doing. The author can choose between “He did something,” and “Seth did something.” Eventually, these sentences start coming so thickly that even when they don’t repeat themselves consecutively, they’re still echoing in your head from the last time. So when they do in fact form a chain, they echo all the louder.

WTF #3: Unpunctuated continuity

Analysis: This is the first time I’ve used this particular WTF, but it’s one I’ve been tempted to use in the past. Stories are as much about what you don’t say as what you do say. I’ve been through 3 scenes in this story now, and in each case, from the moment we begin, the narration tells us about every single moment, every step, every visual, every sound, until the end of the scene. It feels mechanical, artificial, as though the POV character is following a scripted track and cannot pause, stop, go back or jump ahead. But real experience is more punctuated than that, so when a story comes without such variations, they feel unnatural. And that breaks immersion.

By all means, keep me in the scene for as long as is necessary to convey the experiences and information that bear on the story, but then get out. I don’t need to know about the walk from the murder scene to the car, or about the inside of the garage when he gets home, unless those details are going to be significant later. And even if they are, you need to give the experience some kind of rhythm, or you’ll lose the reader’s attention. As someone once said, begin your scenes as late as you possibly can, and then end them as soon as possible. Then jump to the next one. Tell your stories in vignettes, not uninterrupted one-shots.


Poisoned Apples, by James Loscombe (1:36)
Age of Torridan, by Kai Herbertz (7:52)

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.