The Mundane Collective, by TB Löklund (9:32)

IOD score cardToday we see that promising characters and conflicts sometimes struggle to be seen behind cluttered prose.

What I gleaned about the story: In a city wracked by political turmoil, young people are rising up against their magical oppressors. But one of the rebels, Michi, is terrified his secret will come out: he may be a magic-user himself.

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WTF #1 & #2: Tag-team run-on sentences

Analysis: A sentence, much like a donkey, can stagger to a halt and collapse if you overburden it, which is the lesson I learned from Mr. Longears in my youth on the family farm, a lesson paid for in the coin of mule suffering, a lesson which I hold close to my heart because if I ever forget it, the ghost of Mr. Longears returns and troubles my slumbers until I feed him an incorporeal carrot.

Was that sentence hard to follow? Does it jumble together too many topics? When you reached the end, had you forgotten where you started? This is why we avoid run-on sentences, dear authors.

In Collective’s case, these two sentences, one on the heels of the other, really tripped me up:

But once inside the building, bright paintings and slogans burst into view in a multi-colored explosion, most of them evocatively calling for the demise of the reigning Imperial Magocracy using imagery and lettering which displayed the wide range of skill and taste among the contributing artists.

Anyone entering the building instantly knew that mages, wizards, magicians, warlocks, witches, evokers, enchanters, necromancers and illusionists were persona non grata in this house and that the world would be better off the sooner that this class of tyrants and oppressors found their heads decorating pikes on the side of the ancient and beautiful roads that the Tantisuyu people had put in place to crisscross their vast, mountainous homeland centuries before.

This may be an intrusive way to illustrate the point, but I think it’s really useful to see revision in action. So I’m going to run this passage through the Bryceotron 5000-Series Prose Compactor:

But inside, the walls were covered in an explosion of brightly painted slogans, mostly calling for the overthrow of the Imperial Magocracy. Magic wielders were persona non grata in this house. Its inhabitants thought the world would be much better off with the heads of their magical oppressors decorating pikes along the side of the road.

These may not be the ideal revisions, but here’s the thinking behind them:

  • A lot of clutter arises from making the (already implicit) POV explicit: here’s what a person entering this house and looking at it would see and learn. Removing changes the tone of the passage, but not the substance.
  • The passage about the artists-in-residence having varying skill levels doesn’t make the image in my head much more concrete, and packing it in leaves the sentence bloated.
  • The enumeration magician-types was dropped partly because it was cutting deep into the word budget, but also because it forced me to stop and puzzle out, “Okay, what’s the in-world difference between ‘mage,’ ‘magician,’ ‘enchanter,’ etc.?”
  • The worldbuilding bit at the end of the second sentence was (in my editorial fanfic, at least) moved back to the beginning of the story, where the head mage is looking out over the city from atop his tower. It seems like a better overlook of the country’s mountainous terrain and ancient roads.

Decluttering can be agonizing: sometimes you have to toss stuff that holds sentimental value. But, as with a real-world spring cleaning, most of what you throw out is stuff you don’t miss when it’s gone.

WTF #3: Redundant summary

Analysis: Michi, a young political activist, harbors a secret. He and his friends are protesting the Mageocracy (which is exactly what it sounds like), but he’s got some magical powers of his own that he finds hard to control. If he’s seen doing magic, his mage-hating friends might not want to be friends anymore. I like the stakes the author is setting up there, with all the potential for misunderstandings and realignments. And Michi’s deep fear of not belonging (which takes a higher priority than his physical safety) feels like an authentically teenager perspective.

He had trouble controlling his powers during the demonstration, because a lot of exciting, scary things happened. After mentioning two specific examples, the subject is summarized thusly: There were several other near misses as well, when he set off or nearly set off magical effects of one sort or another.

Now, the narration has just described one magical effect Michi had accidentally set off (briefly becoming invisible), followed by another example of a magical effect he’d nearly set off (torching an attacking constable). Summing it up with “there had been other close calls” would have worked fine, trusting the reader to extract the general pattern from the examples given.

My overall impressions of The Mundane Collective: the prose is frequently stiff and overburdened. But it also has nice worldbuilding, with well-rendered characters and an intriguing political conflict. If the prose were streamlined and the longer sentences broken up, I’d want to give it another try.  Because, deep in my heart, I want to see youthful idealism win.

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.

Crimson Night and Other Short Stories, by Jaron Camp (1:12)
Dark Corners, by Kelsi Summers (1:30)