Friday, November 11, 2011

6-Star Reviews Part 8: Memories of Those Friends Who've Gone Before Us

To read the story, click the image or follow this link

Today's installment of freshly-written reviewership (spellcheck doesn't think that's a word.  Shocking, I know) brings us Memories of Those Friends Who've Gone Before Us, by the interestingly-named WTFHIW.

...What are you still dinking around up here for?  All the good stuff's after the break!

Impressions before reading:  I'm not going to lie: this is one of my favorite fanfictions of all-time.  Honestly, I'm really looking forward to an excuse to read it again.  Of course, other stories that I've re-read with a critical eye have proved to be less perfect than I remembered, so we'll see what happens.  Still, I'm cautiously optimistic.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  When the yearly merchant festival comes to Ponyville, Twilight Sparkle discovers more than she bargained for about her new home, and about the past and present residents of Ponyville.

Thoughts after reading:  I love words.  I would guess the same is true of most fanfic writers, though I know there are some who see language solely as a vehicle to express their plot, and not as something to be celebrated in its own right.  Nevertheless, it's clear from even a cursory reading that WTFHIW shares my love of the English language.

This is made plain by his thoughtful choice of words throughout. Take this passage, describing a merchant preparing to take his wagon into town: "The flat canvas stretched over the top of the wagon's low, long bed was dry and intact, the crates stashed carefully underneath hadn't shifted too far out of place . . . all seemed well. He moved to the wagon's head and folded down the tangs, then wriggled into the fixed harness between them and kicked the clamp-brake free with a skilled rear leg. One hard pull forward, and he was off to make his day's fortune." The language is precise and evocative, but not archaic or confusing; the only word a typical reader might not be familiar with is "tang," and its definition is clear in context.

As the above-quoted section should also demonstrate, a love of language is not expressed merely, nor even primarily, through use of big words. Several of the worse fanfics I've read were filled with lines that sent me scrambling for a dictionary... and which, upon inspection, turned out to have been used incorrectly. It seems that some folks think their story will be improved if they do things like substitute "anhydrous" for dry and "antediluvian" for old at every turn. The problem with this approach is, there really aren't that many words in the English language that are exactly synonymous with one another. Antediluvian is a wonderful word, and in certain contexts it can help paint a more vivid picture than any other single word or phrase, but it simply doesn't belong in every sentence. WTFHIW shows throughout this story that he has a real knack for finding the word best suited to every description, and this can be seen both in some of his more loquacious lines, and in his (more common) use of simple words, precisely wielded.

The canon characters are well-written, especially Twilight. Her dialogue really sounds like it was taken from an episode, and the other characters are similarly well-done. The way that Spike toes the line between helpful and snarky and Pinkie Pie's goofball exuberance are both equally deft. But where the writing really shines is when Mr. Kerning takes the (literal and metaphorical) stage.

When it comes to fanfics, original characters are hard to write well. Canon characters have pre-defined personalities, and writers can use this as a tool (or a crutch, if you aren't feeling charitable) to streamline and simplify characterization. Twilight's attitude, personality, etc. don't need to be explained in a fanfic, because the reader already knows what they are.

OC's, on the other hand, must be realized from the ground up, without the assistance of any preconceptions on the reader's part. Moreover, they must be believable in ways that canon characters simply don't have to be. Readers are unlikely to reject in principal a fic in which Pinkie Pie breaks the 4th wall, defies physics with her every action, and gets the entire town to join a conga line at the end of the story, because... well, because she's Pinkie. But replace Pinkie Pie with an OC, and the reaction the story receives will be much different.

Mr Kerning is goofy and irreverent in a way that doesn't grate, nor prevent him from responding appropriately to more serious situations. He is given defining characteristics which do not limit or constrain him unduly, and despite the shortness of the story he feels like a fully-realized character. For anyone interested in writing OCs well, this is a shining example.

Although the story is full of the humor which drew many of us to the show in the first place, there is some real emotion here, too. When Twilight and Mr. Kerning went to go meet the old librarian, I thought it was one of the most touching scenes I've read in a fanfic.

Star rating:   (what does this mean?)

This is a stunningly wonderful piece of work. Although I read with a critical eye, I honestly cannot think of a single negative thing to say about it.

Hold on, there must be here... the line on page 9, "Where are the ponies who can't afford to by copies..." should say, "Where are the ponies who can't afford to buy copies..."

There. That's the one and only bad thing I can say about the entire story.

Recommendation: Everyone should read this. I can't imagine that there's a single person out there who likes My Little Pony, is willing to read fanfics, and who wouldn't enjoy this story.

Next time:  Today, Tomorrow, and Forever, by Chopper's Top Hat


  1. Oh dear.

    I stumbled across a link to your blog while lurking Ponychan's /fic/ board this evening, and came snooping around for the full source behind a couple of quotes from your "My Days at" post. I certainly wasn't expecting a review of one of my stories to be at the top of the page, and now feel somewhat obligated to respond. At the very least, I'd like to offer a genuine thank you for your review and for pointing out the following:

    >the line on page 9, "Where are the ponies who can't afford to by copies..." should say, "Where are the ponies who can't afford to buy copies..."

    This is now fixed, and all credit for the same goes to Chris' keen eye.

    As for any other comments I might make, I always have a fear that I'll come off as conceited or otherwise overly-self-serving when responding to a favorable review, so I'll just restate something I've said about this story before: It boggles my mind that this story's had such a response, especially since I originally considered it to be little more than a distraction from the larger fic I'm still chewing through. Still, I do like this story and do consider it to be one of my better deviations (there's that conceit I've been sweating, laid bare for all to see), and while I sometimes think the praise it's received is inflated, it inspires me to keep moving forward. That is what I thank you for most of all.


    Oh yeah. In case you're curious, the acronym's short for "What The F*ck Have I Written?!", which happens to be a question I've been asking myself almost daily since the Carter administration. ;-)

  2. Don't worry; I too have never quite mastered the art of taking a complement gracefully. In my case, at least, it's no doubt the inevitable result of too few chances to practice.

    /wry self-deprecation

    In my (admittedly limited) experience with actual authors, it seems to be a common theme that the work for which they are most praised/have received the greatest critical acclaim/have made the most money off of is not, in fact, the work of theirs which they personally feel is best. I suppose this either means that authors as a group are terrible judges of their own writing, or that readers are terrible judges of anyone's writing. Or both.

    Either way, I'm glad that you find the attention gratifying, rather than annoying or misguided. And incidentally, I'd also like to thank you for the last sentence you wrote. Sometimes seeing all the teens in this fandom makes me feel old, but I'm not quite so old that I can remember when Carter was president :)

  3. Thank you very much for bringing my attention to this story. Best thing I have read in quite a long while.

  4. You sir have put WAY to many things on my To-red list. I don't have time for all this, dammit! Really, I'm highly curious as to how you do.