Magic Unbound, by Jill Nojack (3:43)

IOD-MagicUnboundJust as exposition dumping is a bad way to present backstory, today we see that it isn’t an engaging way to reveal character, either.

What I gleaned about the story: Lizbet hates her mother’s garden gnomes—especially the one with the golden eyes. Fortunately, the feeling is not mutual, because he’s actually here to save her. And maybe that cute boy she likes, too.

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WTF #1: Echoing headwords

Analysis: I’m not sure why it is that some echoes seem to yell at me and others are less belligerent, but hitting a three-streak of “She”-sentences right out of the gate certainly caught my attention today. And as long time readers will remember, I view the first paragraph as sacred ground, so I pretty much have to throw the flag.

Note: There was a POV violation at the end of the first scene, in which we are shown what happens after the POV character has left the room. The established POV was not extremely intimate though, so the effect wasn’t particularly jarring, and this sort of dramatic irony revelation can be a fun device if not over-used. I decided to let it pass here and see which way it goes.

WTF #2: Conspicuous exposition

Analysis: The second scene picks up in the POV of the garden gnome who it turns out is not of the Home Depot variety. He starts by giving us a bit of observation about the characters he has just observed, which is fun, but then he drops into a sort of false-drama tone as he muses over the dire situation that is about to unfold. Cue the organ music and gimme an eye roll. Oh, and today that eye roll comes with a WTF.

WTF #3: Tell-o-rama

Analysis: Our protagonist girl enters her younger brother’s room unnoticed and we get a series of character dumps along the lines of “She thought she should…” “She wished she had…” “She wondered if…” etc.

These are really another form of exposition dumping, but instead of revealing backstory, this type feeds us character sketches.

As a general rule, readers do not want to be told what a character’s personality is like. We want to judge that for ourselves. And we do that by observing their actions and drawing conclusions from them.

Not only is this “think-sketching” less interesting, it also rubs our noses in how convenient it is that she just happened to think about her motivating characteristics and dreams the moment we met her.

Note: Unfortunately, this one seemed to rub my spider senses the wrong way, but I got a vague sense that there might be some fun in here. If stories of the Fae are your thing, or if the premise of a guardian garden gnome tickles your happy place, you might want to check it out and let me know what you think.

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Download one of these free short stories, in the format of your choice, and decide for yourself.

Dancing and Other Stories, by Harriet Steel (2:14)
Call Me Yesterday, by Tim Beresford (3:40)

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.