Anonymous, by Christine Benedict (1:54)

IOD-AnonymousToday we are reminded that beta readers are no replacement for a good editor.

What I gleaned about the story: Debra is driving up the lane toward an old farmhouse. Presumably something spooky will happen once she gets there.

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WTF #1: Strange list treatment

Analysis: Consider this excerpt from the first paragraph:

Debra could see the farmhouse as they drove up the gravel road, the lightning rods rising above the battered roof. The catalpa tree towering over a gingerbread gable and a sunken porch.

That first sentence is complete. It describes a rural home and provides a salient detail to help cement the image. But then we hit the second sentence, which is incomplete. It starts off telling us about a catalpa tree, but then just stops. It was at about this point that I realized that the second sentence is not a sentence at all, but a continuation of the previous one, listing additional details about the house. If the entire excerpt had been run together, as a description of the house, along with supporting imagery, I’d have sailed right on by, visualizing everything as intended. But instead, I tripped over the inexplicable division into two sentences.

WTF #2: Missing past perfect

Analysis: The first paragraph is set in 1984, and we are told (in simple past tense) that Debra approached the old farmhouse. Here’s the second paragraph:

A runaway from foster care, she married Greg right out of high school. She thought she loved him, and maybe she did, the best she could ever love anyone.

Suddenly, the simple past tense is being used to describe a different, deeper past, but without any signal that we’ve changed time. So when we get to the second sentence in the excerpt, I’m completely at sea. What time period are we in now? She thought she loved him when they got married? Or she thought she loved him now?

And that’s why we have a past perfect tense—to allow us to signal when we are changing the time frame of our commentary. As the old saying goes: Time is the concept that keeps everything from happening all at once. And in literary situations, that job is performed by the past-perfect tense.

WTF #3: Confusing allusion

Analysis: Here’s the beginning of the third paragraph:

The car rolled into the driveway, the trailer hitch jangling, as though each were unstoppable carnival cars chinking to the crest of a free-fall.

Each what? Each “the car”? Each “the trailer hitch”? Each of the car and the trailer hitch? But the trailer hitch is part of the car, so it can’t mean that. They’re not two separate things—at least, not in the way the simile seems to be implying.

The only explanation that makes any sense to me is that it refers to each of the car and the trailer, but nowhere are those two items presented as a list to which “each” can be applied. For that matter, the trailer is never referenced at all, except by implication from the trailer hitch.

So I’m pretty sure that the “each” was meant to refer to the car and the trailer, but having to stop and excavate the text in order to tease that out means immersion has definitely broken.

Note: I see from the many acknowledgements that there were a number of other eyes on the project, which all seem to be of the “moral support” and “beta reader” variety. Judging from the lack of an explicit acknowledgement and the state of the prose, I’m guessing that no editor was involved. And that’s a shame, because the imagery and word choice in the small bit I did read were good. They just needed a bit more external guidance than beta readers should be expected to provide.


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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.