Grey Magic, by JT Lawrence (4:13)

IOD-Grey_Magic.jpgToday we see that if a reader cannot trust the typography, they will never relax fully enough to immerse.

What I gleaned about the story: Raven Kane is burning up in cold a hotel bathtub and the bellboy gets an eyeful when he delivers the ice, but Raven doesn’t care. She’s too involved in the argument she’s having. With the voices in her head.

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WTF #1: Ambiguous meaning

Analysis: Our narrator is recounting an experience from childhood. In the middle of the third paragraph we get:

Sometimes she had wished to burn up altogether, to blaze away the worried looks of her parents, to incinerate the innate knowledge that she was so very different to the other kids.

Different to the other kids? Surely that should read “different from the other kids.” I would never charge a WTF for such a mild issue. After all, the choice of which preposition is correct can often come down to a matter of regional preference. But in this case, the two prepositions yield different meanings.

Are we to take it that she knew she was different from the other kids? Or that they knew she was different? The flow of the sentence feels to me to invite one interpretation, while the word choice supports the other. So is it the flow that’s errant or the word? Dammit! I hate it when a tiny editorial oversight blows up into a cognitive dissonance. But immersion is definitely broken.

WTF #2: Inconsistent typography

Analysis: To this point, the typographic style has employed standard CMoS double quotes for the dialogue. But then we reach this sequence:

You shouldn’t do that to them, you know, says a voice that sounds like a masculine version of her own.

Do what? asks Raven.

You know full well what, says the voice.

You’re no fun.

The distant voice uses italics, but Raven herself does not. What’s the significance of that? It seems from context that this voice sounds only in her head, but Raven’s replies are not rendered the same way, so what does that mean? If she is speaking her lines aloud, why no quotes? And if she’s speaking them internally, why is the treatment different from the lines she’s hearing? Is there some difference between how he is communicating to her vs how she is replying to him? Is he using telepathy and she’s now communicating via pheromone patterns or something?

I suspect not. After due examination and consideration, I think the author has simply tried to distinguish between Raven’s utterances and the man’s, without realizing that this is already conveyed by the attribution tags. So by encoding the situation using both attribution and font, it left me thoroughly confused, searching for additional meaning that wasn’t there. And for the record, using the same typography for both sides of the conversation is by far the more common way of handling this.

WTF #3: Non-standard typography

Analysis: A few paragraphs further down, the telepathic conversation is interrupted by a blank line and we get a single paragraph of narration. Then we get another blank line before returning to the telepathic conversation. But a blank line like denotes a scene break, which usually indicates a change of either setting, POV, or time, so I’m confused, because the conversation on either side of that narrative block appears to be a continuous conversation. There was no change of setting, POV, or time. So what do those scene breaks mean?

After puzzling over it for a while, I think the only conclusion is that it is intended to differentiate between narration and internal utterances. But that was already signalled by using italic text. Unfortunately, I am now hopelessly lost with respect to what the typography means, and the typography is like a a carrier signal for fiction. If you can’t trust the fabric upon which the prose is built, you can never relax enough to let go and immerse—you have to keep one suspicious eye on the scaffolding.

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.