Demoniac Dance, by Jaq D. Hawkins (3:26)

IOD-Demoniac_Dance.jpgToday we see that when you’re trying to set the hook, it’s better to tell one story, and only one.

What I gleaned about the story: Namah is running away on the eve of her arranged marriage. But a long time ago some other guy tried that, and he and his friends all died horribly. Now that same fate may be happening to her.

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WTF #1: Temporal confusion

Analysis: The story opens with the protagonist getting into a boat, but this triggers a memory of something that happened in her childhood. After recounting the memory, in which some men in similar boats had been overturned by some kind of creature, she recounts the fundamental lesson of that memory: There’s something in the water.

To this point, everything is cool. I’m not usually a fan of books that begin with a leap back to memories of an earlier event, because that usually suggests that the story should have started back at the earlier point. But it was reasonably well done here. The recollection was tied to a specific mnemonic trigger, it was short, and it revealed a very important fact that bears significantly on the here and now: there be danger here.

In fact, as we continue, we see even more evidence of how important that remembered warning is, because now we get: The water bubbled and blood floated to the surface.

Wow! A blood fountain on page one. Looks like our protagonist girl is having a bad day. And then I hit the next sentence: No screams were heard from the victims, but the people at the side of the river were taken aback…

Oh, crap. Really? That means that we are not back in the present as I had believed. We’re still back in the memory. Damn!

The culprit here, as we so often see when time gets muddled, is past perfect. But this time, it isn’t missing; it’s just not used consistently. The first bit of the recollection was in past perfect, and then we got the line about, There’s something in the water. But Is that a contraction of “There is” or “There was”?

I initially took it to be “There is,” and since the line is in italics in the book, I interpreted it as an internal utterance, expressed (correctly) in the present tense. But I’m guessing now that it was not intended as an internal thought, and was instead meant to be a chilling emphasis, still expressed in respect to the earlier timeline.

So when the screams arrived and clued me in to the proper time setting, I had to rewind my mental tape, erase the blood fountain from the current timeline in my head and move it back into the recollected past. And that was too many backflips to maintain immersion.

WTF #2: Exposition poisoning

Analysis: We pop back to the present and get two or three sentences about how she’s stealing this boat so she can run away from her arranged marriage, and then we’re thrown back into another recollection. Again it’s about the day of the blood fountain, and I’m beginning to wonder whether this story is about Namah at all, or whether it’s actually about that black and cursed day she keeps remembering. And if it is about that earlier day, why didn’t the story start in that time instead? Because it certainly doesn’t seem to want to spend much time in the present.

WTF #3: Echoing headwords

Analysis: About halfway down the second page, the prose devolves into a snapping cauldron of “She”-headed sentences. She did this. She did that. She wished only… At this point in the journey, I’m so distracted from the jumping times and co-mingled story lines that I don’t have any sense of empathy for the girl in front of me, who is apparently terrified and about to become another blood fountain. And I find myself thinking, “If I can’t empathize with a protagonist about to be eaten, maybe I’m not very engaged.”

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.

Three Mermaid Tales: Short Stories, by Anne Seaworthy (2:00)
The Storm Fishers and Other Stories, by Everitt Foster (1:44)

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.