More Than Monsters, by J.M. Riou (16:33)

iod-morethanmonstersToday we see that if an author can’t handle common verb tenses, even a strong story will eventually fling readers into the shrubbery.

What I gleaned about the story: Cora has lived and worked in the mountains all her life. So when the local lord hires mercenaries to recover his treasure from the orcs who fled into the hills with it, Cora is assigned to be their guide. But as Orthane, the head mercenary, likes to say, he has another kind of sword he’d like to show her. Will she earn his respect, or will she fall victim to his lascivious advances?

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WTF #1: Temporal miscue
The first paragraph shows us our protagonist, Cora, looking on at a bunch of adventurers she has been assigned to guide into monster territory. The second paragraph opens with this: The town of Retham’s spacious, indoor market-hall was converted into a barracks for these adventurers.

As I’ve said many times, when a story is being told in the past tense, using verbs in the simple past implies that the action is happening now. This was a very minor stumble, and I had already moved past it when I ran into this line in the next paragraph: Frontier families and all the peasants within two miles of the forested foothills were evacuated to the walled town.

So for those who are keeping tally, that’s three paragraphs referencing three different time periods, and all without a single verb transition to help keep them in their tidy little mental boxes.

WTF #2: Temporal miscue
I managed to get through an entire page and had started to settle into the world, when I slammed into: “No,” Cora blurted. Everyone was shocked. The people that knew her for years reeled as if some devil possessed her.

Sigh. Had known. Unfortunately, this came in the midst of a scene that I was beginning to enjoy, but these simple little verb problems are like fingernails on the chalkboard to me. Especially when they happen as frequently as this.

Note: These past perfect tense problems seem to run all through the work, but I’m doing my best to ignore them and press on. The story is actually interesting, with a young mountain woman being offered as guide to a bunch of savage mercenaries, who receive her with about as much grace and respect as you would expect from the orcs they are hunting. I am sufficiently well engaged to be curious about how this is going to play out. Will she find some way to prove her worth and gain their grudging respect? Will they abuse her more vigorously once they are out of the city? Or will the verb tense issues finally jerk me entirely out of the world? Wish me luck, I’m going back in.

WTF #3: A different verb problem
I’ve been ignoring past perfect problems on almost every page, so my patience was already a bit thin when I came to this: They ran into the retreating ones and were fell upon from behind.

This one is just plain wrong. The correct verb construction would be “were fallen upon.” But in fantasy literature, the word “fell” can also mean “fierce” or “terrible,” as in Tolkien’s use of “fell beasts” or the original meaning of “one fell swoop.” So subconsciously, I then tried to apply this adjectival sense of “fell,” hoping that might make sense of the sentence. But as you can see for yourself, that doesn’t work either.

To me, this is even more damning than the past perfect issues. It seems to cry out for an editor. One who has mastered common verb tenses. Because readers don’t read authors who don’t talk gooder than they does.

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Try the free sample on one of my books or short stories and decide for yourself.

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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.