The Watch (The Red Series Book 1), by Amanda Witt (19:58)

IOD score cardToday we see that it’s important to establish your narrator’s perspective early on, or risk leaving the reader feeling like the rules suddenly changed.

What I gleaned about the story: After sneaking out after dystopia-mandated curfew, our heroine’s friends get caught by the wardens. She flees back into the city, where she gets caught as well.

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WTF #1: Overloaded parenthetical

Analysis: In a desperate bid to save her friend, (who has been caught and is in much worse trouble) the heroine (I’m not sure what to call her, since she hasn’t given us a name yet) distracts the wardens by turning herself in.

One of the wardens reached for his stunner and the other took a step back. I paused just long enough to register their faces—both men, that was good, it was harder to know how to maneuver if you were dealing with mixed pairs—and then I started talking.

Reading at normal speed left me confused. What sort of maneuvering is she talking about, and how would the genders of the wardens change her calculations?

It forced me to take a second pass at the sentence, where the grammar going on between the em-dashes caught my attention. It looks like there are three sentence-like bits crammed between them, linked by commas. “Both men” (semicolon or period) “That was good” (colon or period) “it was harder to know [etc.]”

It’s a sign that the mid-sentence aside may be trying to take on too big a task. Pulling the material out of the parenthetical might also create room to make the point about the warden’s genders more clearly.

WTF #2: Missing comma

Analysis: Her friend Merrit has escaped, but our still-unnamed heroine is in the clutches of the wardens. They’re frog-marching her through the city, and being huge dicks about it, steering her through puddles and over rough terrain. I may have missed the explanation of why she’s barefoot. When that doesn’t bother her enough, the younger (and meaner) warden starts squeezing her arm way too tight. The heroine thinks:

It was a stupid[,] petty punishment…

Without the comma, the two adjectives run together in my head and become ‘stupidpetty,’ which probably ought to be a word. But it’s a distraction.

WTF #3: A jump to the left and a step to the right…

Analysis: The sentence that started with “stupid petty” suddenly veers hard left, straight into a temporal wormhole:

It was a stupid petty punishment, but I had bruises to show for it later, angry elongated ovals that changed from blue to purple to yellow over the course of the next few weeks, marking the ordinary passing of time as the world fell to pieces all around me.

The thing is, I like what she’s trying to do here. This bit of foreshadowing is nicely written and piques my interest. If the world is going to fall to pieces, then tell me so I can pop some popcorn and duct tape my butt into a front-row seat.

But it also feels like I’ve smacked straight into an invisible wall. Because I haven’t seen anything in the narration up to this point that suggests the narrator is writing months or years after the fact. Quite the opposite: thus far we’ve gotten the moment-by-moment description of the events of the night, with all the smells, sounds, and chills that came with it. Events seemed to be narrated as they happened.

Either the narrator has an uncanny recall of the evening, or she’s having flashes of precognition.

Once you’ve established that the narrator is speaking from the far future, you can still write most of the book in that “as it happens” style. Take the opening of another dystopian-teen-girl novel, Richard Levesque’s The Girl at the End of the World:

The world ended the day I turned 15. I don’t know who you are or when you’re reading this, but if you’re anything like me and remember how things used to be…

With that opening, his protagonist gives herself permission to foreshadow from sunup to sundown. We know where the foreknowledge is coming from. The Watch seems to be taking a more traditional approach, with the reader finding out things as the main character does. When the time warp hits, the lack of groundwork makes it much more disorienting.

19:58 is a respectable score, given that I’m generally not a fan of the YA dystopian genre or the first-person POV. For it to hold me as long as it did is pretty impressive. If you need your dystopian-heroine fix, try The Watch on for size.

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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