The Viper and the Urchin, by Celine Jeanjean (3:35)

IOD-ViperUrchinToday we see that if a character claims elegance, the prose with which he does so had better not be clumsy.

What I gleaned about the story: Longinus is Damsport’s deadliest assassin. He is also Dampsport’s most elegant assassin. And he has a thing for the artistry of his kills.

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WTF #1: Tonal misdirection

Analysis: The very first line is: It was always a pleasure to kill, and never more so than when death was to be dealt as elegantly as what Longinus had in mind for that night.

I stumbled over this right out of the gate. It started out strong, and set me up to expect one of those pithy conclusions. Like: It was always a pleasure to kill, but tonight it verged on the divine. So, expecting a tight, poetic reversal, I forged full steam into that bog of a second phrase, which seemed to meander two or three times before tripping over the period. After getting there, and especially in light of the word “elegant,” I went back to see if I’d missed something that pulled the whole thing together. But apparently I hadn’t.

WTF #2: Mixed verb tense

Analysis: The third paragraph reads: Blissful are the dim-witted. If only they knew how close they are to Damsport’s deadliest assassin. Never mind that it feels like thinly disguised exposition, but the verb flops from past to present tense in that second sentence. It should read: If only they knew how close they were to Damsport’s deadliest assassin.

Admittedly, this is a situation that can cause a great deal of confusion for writers. Dialogue, even inner dialogue, is usually rendered in present tense, but the story is being narrated in past tense, so it can be hard to know which way to go here. But whichever way you go, you pretty much have to stick to your choice for the entire duration of the sentence.

WTF #3: Show versus tell mismatch

Analysis: This is a strange one. In the previous WTF, you’ll note that our narrator has referred to himself as “Damsport’s deadliest assassin.” Halfway further down that page, he then laments the fact that nobody will see the artfulness of the kill he’s about to make, referring to himself as “Damsport’s most elegant assassin.” But to my ear, that echo of the previous statement, especially coming so soon after, was exactly the opposite of “artful.” It felt clumsy and awkward, but I have no evidence to suggest that his self-assessment is at all ironic. So for me, it ended up being a line in which the narrator brags about his elegance while uttering entirely inelegant thoughts. The contradiction jarred me out of the story.


My Tomorrow Your Yesterday, by Jason Ayres (10:35)
Facets of Fantasy, by Arthur Hall (2:52)

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.