Sebasten of Atlantis and the Forgotten Goddess, by Olivier Delaye (7:58)

IOD-Sebasten_of_Atlantis_and_the_Forgotten_Goddess.jpgToday we define dumping as exposition given before it is needed.

What I gleaned about the story: Sebasten lives in Atlantis, and today he is going on an adventure, just as soon as this scary dream is over.

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Note: The creation myth quoted at the beginning of the book talks about a vast, black ocean, unblemished by ripples of wind, that freezes at night and is thawed by the sun in the morning. Unfortunately, the science geek in me struggles to accept a sea freezing and thawing in a single day, or an absence of wind with such extreme thermal gradients. I’m not charging a WTF for it, because it’s a creation myth, but this is a good place to remind authors that some readers really do notice stuff like this. When you’re inventing worlds, it never hurts to have a good science geek or two on your beta reading squad.

WTF #1: Confusing description

Analysis: Our hero, Sebasten, has forced himself to enter the mystical cave, despite the words of warning that whisper in his head. When the attack comes we are told: At the same time something stabbed him in the ribs, knocking the wind out of him, and two long fangs sank into his flesh, spreading poison through his body.

I found this a bit confusing. The stabbing knocked the wind out of him, but then separately, two long fangs sank into his flesh? That sounds like a stabbing to me, so were there two stabbings? Or just the one? If there was just one, why explain it as though there were two? And if there were two, what caused the non-fang stabbing? We weren’t told.

I also had a small problem with the bit about the fangs “spreading poison through his body.” The fangs introduced or injected the poison, certainly, but they did not spread it throughout the body. That would have been done by Sebasten’s circulatory system. It sounds like a minor quibble, but the mental imagery is quite different, and I had a momentary flash of the fangs pushing the poison around with little trowels, like a brick layer trowling his mortar.

WTF #2: POV violation

Analysis: In the opening scene, we were tightly inside Sebasten’s POV. Then as scene two opens, we get: Sebasten’s eyes flew open—one midnight blue, the other obsidian black. Since I’ve been given no contradictory indication, I have to assume that the narrative mode carries over from the last scene, meaning that we’re still in Sebasten’s POV. So it comes as a jarring disconnect for him to describe the color of the eyes he is now opening, as though he can see them. The narrative camera is either inside his head, or outside, but it can’t be both.

WTF #3: Conspicuous exposition

Analysis: Sebasten is talking to his mother about his impending trip to the city of Kirth, and she says: “Why, yes,” Javane said. “Kirth is a port town, the only one in the Empire. Surely you remember that.” This is a common form of an exposition dump, which I’ve previously called the “As you know, Jim” problem. It tripped me up here because she actually says, “Surely you remember that.” She might just as well have begun the comment with, “As you know, Sebasten…”

But then, to make it even more intrusive, Sebasten then follows her comment by launching into a recollection of a history lesson in school, all about the southern kingdom and its capital city.

The true art of writing exposition is to only give me what I need to know, and only do so when I actually need it. Ideally, just as I’m beginning to wonder about it for myself. When I read that stuff before I’m interested, it feels like I’m being pestered by a long-winded telemarketer.

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.