The Cartel, by E G Manetti (3:49)

IOD-TheCartelToday we see that the right to tell backstory has to be earned, by first giving the reader something to think about before you turn on the lecture hose.

What I gleaned about the story: Lilian’s family was once mighty but has recently been disgraced. Yesterday she pulled some weeds and today she is getting off a bus. Meanwhile danger looms.

Find this book on Amazon.

Marketing Note: How many titles does one book need? The Amazon page for this one declares itself to be: The Cartel: The Apprentice, Volume 1 (The Twelve Systems Chronicles), but what do all those elements mean? I would guess that the title of this story is “The Cartel,” and that the series is “The Twelve Systems Chronicles,” but what does that leave for “The Apprentice, Volume 1”? I’m seeing this kind of triple-tiered titling more frequently in self-published works, and I cannot fathom what it’s supposed to indicate.

To be honest, this puts me on guard. I can’t pigeon-hole how this book fits into the author’s story universe, and so I find myself wondering whether there’s a structural plan I can’t see, or if it’s all just layers of marketing spin. Whatever the intent might have been, the effect on me was to confuse me before I’d even opened the cover.


WTF #1: Pointless prologue

Analysis: The book starts with a prologue, which in this case is a single page wherein a woman weeds a patch of garden and expresses her concerns about some coming unspecified event at which she fears “the monsignor” will hurt her. End of prologue.

Nothing of evident importance happens, no event takes place that we really need to see in order to understand whatever might happen later. Just weeds and whining. It feels to me like this prologue is intended to create a sense of dread, but to serve no other story purpose. Perhaps this is commonplace in romance novels (the book is cross-listed as both science fiction and romance), but I can only read it from the perspective of my own experience, and to me, it’s a scene devoid of substance, forcing me to wonder why it was included. But more importantly, it means I’m thinking about the writing rather than the story, so immersion has been broken.

WTF #2: Exposition dump

Analysis: The first half page of the actual story is pure exposition. A history lesson about the economics and politics of The Twelve Systems that culminates in a heavy-handed character description about an offscreen character: “the devious, ruthless, and unconventional Lucius Mercio, Preeminence of the Blooded Dagger Cartouche.”

Between the exposition dump and the melodramatic character description, I find myself totally unengaged.

WTF #3: Exposition dump

Analysis: The protagonist, named Lilian, takes about three steps off the public transport, and then we are given another paragraph of dense exposition dumping about her family background. The problem with all this exposition is that while the reading portion of my brain is distracted with history lectures, the visualizing and analyzing portions are given nothing to do. Lilian has literally taken a single step off the bus, but I don’t know anything about her personality, I’ve been given no concrete information about her meeting, or the vague peril that has been hinted at three or four times. So there is no grist for my thinking brain to grind away at while the history lecture unfolds.

And I think that is the primary problem of exposition dumping. Feed those other parts of my brain first, load them up with work to do, and I’ll happily read the maintenance schedule for a gerbil-powered roto-rooter while the other systems in my wet-ware chew on their puzzles. 

Think of the reader’s brain as a junk yard dog, while you, the author, are like the burglar trying to break in to steal his attention. Any made for TV movie of the week can you that you’re going to have to distract that guard dog before you make your play, or it’s just going to come snarling out and tear a chunk out of your ass when it hears your exposition dump rattling the fence. 

So the lesson? Give the reader’s brain a chew toy before you try to sneak stuff past their defenses.


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.

Hungry Gods, by J.D. Brink (8:56)
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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.