Download Initializing, by Adam Myhr (9:19)

IOD score cardToday we see that a little professional editing goes a long way.

What I gleaned about the story: Petra—backed up by her remote partner in crime, Fritz—is on site at an institution of higher learning, getting ready to hack the hell out of their computer networks.

Find this book on Amazon.

WTF #1: Special Capitalization (with a bonus ‘apostrophe)

Analysis: The opening sentence tripped me up a little:

Petra plugged into her ‘Shades, closed her eyes…

Instinctively, I started looking for the closing single-quote, because I thought it was signaling that a line of dialogue was beginning.

‘Shades (apostrophe and all), actually refers to the VR headset that Petra uses to perform her epic hacking feats. I understand the temptation to use capitalization to signify that a word isn’t being used in the usual way. In this case, I suspect ‘Shades is a brand name, and the apostrophe is part of that brand. But there’s no need to make the word stand out this way: had they just been ‘shades,’ readers would easily pick up that they weren’t standard-issue sunglasses. Context would have done the heavy lifting.

WTF #2: Dropped word

Analysis: Petra is having trouble contacting her partner, Fritz. She’s got some debugging to do, so:

She checked communications protocols and noticed the back-channel wasn’t configured…

Did you spot the omission? Even minor editing gaffes like this can be distracting. But when they come on the first page, before the story has a chance to prove it’s worth sticking around for, they can send potential readers scrambling for the escape pods. Worse, they can lead to a flurry of one-star reviews. Money spent hiring a good freelance editor is money spent well.

WTF #3: A lampshade hung askew

Analysis: After getting into the system, Petra exchanges a few words with Fritz, her partner. Then she spends a little too long thinking about her working relationship with Fritz. The paragraph feels info-dumpy enough that I’m ready to charge a WTF.

But as the next paragraph begins, there’s an interesting twist. It brings up some issues that are worth exploring, and mercifully frees me from writing yet another Infodumps Are Bad lecture:

She didn’t have long to contemplate Fritz’s role. A ball of light shot out at her…

I was eager to get back to the action, so on the one hand I should be grateful that I’m getting my wish. But the sentence that resumes the action simultaneously tips its hat toward the pause-for-backstory we’ve just come out of. I’m not sure whether it was intentional, but it feels like the story is reading my mind. Why is Petra musing on her history with Fritz? Is this paragraph a bit info-dumpy? It seems to be saying, “Yeah, that was a bit of a rough patch. But it wasn’t very long.”

One one hand, this kind of works. It helps me feel more like the story and I are on the same team. On the other hand, I’d still rather the infodump had been avoided altogether. Show more, tell less. Show us Petra acting like she trusts Fritz. Show him being competent and Petra not fretting over whether he’s going to screw up. Rather than establishing their longstanding relationship by saying, He’d been there for her through some bad times, their conversations could allude to previous jobs, maybe they could even razz each other over their past misadventures.

The sentence also has a secondary effect: in the same way that tacking the word ‘suddenly’ onto an action makes the prose feel less startling (‘shots rang out,’ vs. ‘suddenly, shots rang out’), the sentence makes the ball of light feel less like it came from out of the blue.

Download Initializing does a lot of things right. The technology is portrayed in a detailed, realistic way. Petra and Fritz don’t show a whole lot of personality beyond “we’re talented, professional, and here to do a job,” but the story hints at a complex relationship that I’d like to know more about. And you know I’m keen on books that rely on virtual worlds. But to fulfill its cyberhacktastic destiny, the prose here needs some TLC from a good editor.

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.

Short Stories Found Online, by Jonathan Day (1:31)
A Conspiracy of Shadows, by Randy Nargi (8:43)