White Rabbit Society, by Brendan Detzner (3:59)

IOD score cardToday we watch an intriguing story set in a magical house get derailed by distracting and unintended patterns in the prose.

What I gleaned about the story: Paul finally has access to the old man’s secret room, and after working a few unlocking spells, manages to get inside.

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Note: The TOC at the head of the book is strange. It appears to link to every single page of the book. Three successive links to Chapter 1, seven links to Chapter 2, and so on. I suspect some automated conversion system created the EPUB from a print-oriented version of the book, but I can’t be sure.

WTF #1: Echoing headwords

Analysis: Following the first paragraph, the rest of page one seems dominated by “He”-headed sentences and paragraphs. The next four paragraphs all start with “He”, and fully half of their sentences do as well. The scene shows us a boy who is very excited about what the day will bring, and in his excitement, he does this, he does that, he thinks this, he thinks that, etc. I enjoyed his manic activities, but kept getting distracted by the mental echoes from the sentence patterns.

WTF #2: Distracting typo

Analysis: Our young hero, Paul, is racing around the house getting ready for whatever’s coming. In this paragraph, he has run up stairs and down, from his bedroom, to the library, to the basement, and then:

Paul took out a key from the pocket opposite the one where he’d kept the plastic bag, walked up to the third floor on the right and unlocked it.

Now this is an unfortunate glitch. He’s in a basement hall lined with doors, so I’m pretty sure that “third floor” should have been “third door.” But on the other hand, he walked up to it, just as he has been running up and down stairs to the various floors. So could the phrase actually be correct as “third floor” after all, and I just missed something? I’m pretty sure it’s a typo, and reading ahead seems to confirm it, but the unfortunate coincidence of the mistake resonating so cleanly with previous action threw what should have been a simple determination into doubt.

WTF #3: Declarative sentence parade

Analysis: By the middle of the second page, the “He” structures were echoing loudly again, and now the continued staccato rhythm of short declarations was echoing along with it. To give you a sense of what I mean, let’s look at the opening phrases from of each sentence in one of the paragraphs: He grabbed a couple more books… He left the library… He took the steps… The basement was long… There were fourteen of them… There were people walking… Paul took out a key…

For a moment, ignore the fact that three successive sentence begin with “He” and two more begin with “There were”. This time, those echoes are compounded by the structure of the sentences themselves. Simple, declarations of bare fact. These repeating similarities create another kind of echo that distracts readers away from what Paul is doing and focus their attention on the language with which his actions are conveyed. And when that happens, immersion is the first casualty.

Note: I actually found the events of the story quite intriguing. Paul has finally managed to get access to some kind of secret area in the house—something that seems charged with magic. He does interesting things to get there, like removing the carved pattern from a doorknob using some kind of magic pencil rubbing, but even so, the distractions from the prose on the page kept pulling me out of the experience.

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.

The Drifter: and other short stories, by Robert Scott-Norton (17:34)
The Weatherman, by Laurie Axinn Gienapp (10:14)

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.