Friday, June 8, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 75: Past Sins

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

Yup, it's time for another one of the fandom's heaviest hitters.  Not that anyone reading this probably doesn't have their own opinion about this story already, but why not throw my two cents in anyway?  Below the break, my review of Pen Stroke's Past Sins.

Impressions before reading:  Past Sins is arguably the best-known fanfic which this fandom has produced, and is also perhaps the most divisive.  A glance at the most recent comments on its EQD page reveals praise such as "If there's ever a MLP movie, I want it based off of this story," and "This is the greatest thing I have ever read," and a scan through the other comments reveals that these are in no way uncommon sentiments.  On the other hand, it's not exactly hard to find descriptions of the story more along these lines: "Past Sins has a laundry list of OOC moments, plotholes and weak writing, both technical and stylistic."  Clearly, saying that opinions on this piece are mixed would be an understatement.

Given how famous and talked-about this story is, it may surprise you to know that I've never read it in whole or in part, and honestly don't know more about it than "it has Nightmare Moon as a filly named Nyx being raised by Twilight."  The initial EqD post didn't draw me in (I, like many readers, often wait until a story is completed before checking it out unless something really stands out to me), and around the time it underwent its first revision, the hype around it had become so massive that I started tuning everything about it out.  So that was pretty much the last time I paid any mind to anything Past Sins related, until this review.

Speaking of revisions, this story's undergone at least two major ones, and the scuttlebutt is that it'll be getting another soon to bring it into line with season two.  I'm no fan of making substantial changes to a story post-publication; I think it shows disrespect to those readers who read the story pre-revision, and tells me that the author didn't care enough about their experience to wait until s/he was happy with the story before putting it out for public consumption (and although I know that some readers don't have a high tolerance for stories which have been jossed by subsequent episodes, I can't shake the feeling that continually trying to bring one's story into line with canon is at best a waste of time, and at worst an exercise in futility).  Nevertheless, I'll be reviewing the current iteration, and all of my commentary will be based on such.  If this season two version comes out, I'll check it and see if the only changes are a few names and places (which presumably wouldn't impact anything I say here) or if more substantial alterations have been made.  In the latter case, I'll probably make a note of those changes here, but I won't go back and alter my review.

UPDATE (August 2012):  The new revision has indeed come out!  I've only skimmed through it, but I found nothing at a glance-through that invalidates this review.  Most of the changes were names, character backgrounds, and some light editing (though the problems on that front which I mentioned still remain; they just appear a bit less pervasive, from what I saw).  If you've read the revised version and noticed some major change which I ought to mention, please e-mail me and let me know; otherwise, I think we're good.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Princess Celestia and her guards intervene in a mysterious cult's attempts to restore Nightmare Moon, this time as a being independent of Luna.  The ceremony is disturbed but, unbeknownst to all those involved, the cult's efforts are a partial success.  And when Twilight finds a lost, scared filly hiding in the Everfree Forest, she decides to take it in and care for it herself.

Thoughts after reading:  Let's start with the obvious: Past Sins in its present form is neither as sublimely perfect nor as offensively awful as the most strident voices among its readership might have you believe.  As for whether it was offensively awful in its first iteration, I leave that up to those who read it then.  Moving on.

The next most obvious thing: like any good story by Pen Stroke, this one has some links: musical links for ambiance (which I dislike, personally), links to pictures of background ponies whom he references by name (which I find baffling; did the author think we wouldn't believe they were ponies from the show without photographic proof?), and in one case, a music link in case anyone was unfamiliar with the concept of musical glasses.  It's my opinion that these kind of links are a distraction from the story, and often break whatever mood or immersion the author is trying to create.  But some folks disagree, and I'm sure they'll like these inclusions very much.  Moving on again.

I've reviewed multiple stories by Pen Stroke previously, and the writing style here is similar to what I've previously observed from him: serviceable, but dull and repetitive, both in word choice ("[Another part of her outfit] usually needed to be put on before the helmet.  Nyx, however, had already put on the helmet and didn't want to waste time taking off her helmet.") and in concept and detail ("He alone wore the flowing, star field cape and the helmet, vestments that only he had the honor of wearing.").  I also noticed a distractingly large number of said-isms throughout; from the number of times ponies "chirped" to one another, you'd think they were birds.  The first two-thirds or so of the story were quite well-edited, but the quality dropped off somewhat after that. From about chapter 13 on, a steadily increasing number of missing words, homonym errors, and similar mistakes are present.

One last note on the writing front: Zecora's speech is painful to read.  Although her lines do consistently conclude with couplets, there's no rhythm whatsoever to her sentences, and no pattern of stressed syllables, no matter how tortured.  Yet my time reviewing has revealed to me that a shockingly large number of writers (and presumably readers) don't seem to notice this, in their own writing or in others'.  Perhaps these people won't notice or won't care how lazy Zecora's writing appears to be, but I think anyone with a sense of rhythm will agree with me that her dialogue is poor at best.

One thing which I had heard about this story was that Nyx was supposed to be cute, either as a result of stellar writing and character creation (from those who loved the stories), or because the fic takes a blatantly manipulative approach to reader emotions (from those who didn't).  So I was a little surprised to discover that the alicorn filly formed from Nightmare Moon evoked no such reaction from me.  Mostly, I just found her tiring and frustrating to read about.

The reason is simple: she reacts with ragged histrionics to every setback, every perceived setback, and every stray thought that's less than 100% positive.  I didn't actually count, but just looking at my notes I can see that I marked more than a dozen passages where Nyx breaks down in tears (or tries desperately to hold back tears, or wails uncontrollably, etc.) in the first half of the story.  From a character standpoint, this isn't exactly unacceptable: Nyx is a child who's been put in a very difficult situation, after all.  To expect her to be perfectly well-adjusted would be silly.  Yet I think the choice to have her go-to reaction to basically all stimuli be crying was a poor one; repetition dulls impact, and within a couple of chapters, reading about her bawling was no longer evoking any sympathy from me as a reader.  I know a few people in real life who treat even the tiniest setback as if it where the end of the world, and who become emotional, even hysterical, over the most trivial things.  I know I'm not alone in finding that such people are exhausting to be around, and I felt the same way reading about Nyx.

Leaving her aside (and leaving aside her changing portrayal in the last half of the story), the other characters were mostly very one-dimensional.  That might not have been a problem in a shorter work; heck, most of the minor characters in the show proper are mono-dimensional.  But when a story stretches nearly 200,000 words, it begins to stick out.  Diamond Tiara plays a prominent role in the story, yet except for one brief scene near the end, she literally does nothing except antagonize Nyx for the sole, apparently sufficient, reason that "she's a bully."  Now, a 5,000 word one-shot in which Diamond Tiara is being a bully doesn't necessarily need to develop her motivations any further.  Even a longer story in which she plays a small role as a bully probably doesn't need to concern itself with fleshing her out.  But when the Nyx/Diamond Tiara dynamic is one of the central foci of the piece, the lack of development becomes an increasingly large weakness.  This same problem existed for many of the characters, though oddly enough not for the main antagonist (who was also one-dimensional, but who had an in-story excuse for his behavior).

But allowing for their shallowness, the ponies are all essentially in-character.  The biggest exception to this was Celestia, but I can't say much more about that without resorting to spoilers.  I'll expand on that in a minute.  Otherwise, all of the ponies were somewhat caracturized, with a single trait or belief of theirs becoming the focal point of their portrayal.  Although this made them feel flat, that's not the same as saying they were OOC.  For the most part, I think Pen Stroke did well in identifying the major drives behind all of his show characters and in expressing those accurately.

The narrative's pacing was without a doubt its strongest point.  The story moves from nation-shattering intrigue to slice-of-life idyll and back over and over, yet these transitions invariably serve the larger narrative.  On those occasions when a new development does stick out in a bad way (as with the monster attacks late in the story), the problem is generally either lack of foreshadowing or incomplete worldbuilding, not tone or pacing.  There are few stories that can convincingly make a transition from Celestia being seconds away from decapitation in one chapter and Trixie providing some hilariously in-character comic relief in the next, but that's exactly what the author accomplished here.  To put it another way: any story in which an insane cult and a pair of schoolyard bullies take turns playing the antagonists, and where neither feel over-the-top or underwhelming compared to the other, has accomplished something worth recognizing.

Returning now to Nyx: once the "little filly" portion of the story was complete, I found her a much more interesting and relatable character.  Unfortunately, I can't think of any way to talk about that later growth without resorting to spoilers.  Also, there are some pretty significant questions that I have about the end of the story, and I promised I'd talk about Celestia a bit more.  If you'd like to read the story without knowing the major twists (if you, like I, have somehow made it this far without finding them out on your own), then take my word for it that there are a few plotholes and unfortunate implications involving the last two, and that the first was a marked improvement.  Otherwise, click the spoiler tag if you want to read more:

One last thing: I believe the version I read was at least partially re-written to accommodate season two; at least, I'd be shocked to discover that Pen Stroke had predicted the inclusion of Tartarus in the MLP universe, among other things.  Still, a number of other details which remain at odds with S2 suggest to me that this is still ongoing work (in any case, I assume the author would announce it when the revisions are complete).

Star rating:   (what does this mean?)

It's true that there are a lot of things this story does poorly.  The characters are flat, the writing quality is unexceptional at best and below-average towards the end, and I have some serious issues with the ending, and the presentation of the princesses generally (though I did like the assertiveness shown by Pen Stroke's Luna).  But with that said, I can easily see why this story became popular.  Despite being hampered by a protagonist who's really difficult to like in the first half, Past Sins is engaging throughout, and its tone and pacing are superb.  As it goes along, the story asks some important questions about how our history defines us, and what makes us who we are.  And although it seems to me that the conclusions on that front are frighteningly Orwellian, that can't completely invalidate the rest of the story.

Recommendation:  I think a lot of people end up reading this story just to see what all the fuss is about.  Honestly, that's not a terrible reason to read something.  But despite its many weaknesses, this story is more than a mere curiosity.  Anyone who's more interested in pacing and story arc than in deep characterization and quality writing (readers who enjoy what's generally called "shlock sci-fi," for example) will probably find this to their liking.

Next time:  Secret Tub Fun, by Lawnpygmy


  1. Oh dear, it seems this one got away from me. Hope you all like your reviews on the long side.

    1. I don't think there was any other way to handle it. "Past Sins" is a LONG story, has a lot of history behind it, and regardless of quality, it represents a significant moment in the fandom's history. Honestly, I would have been disappointed if the review wasn't as long as it is.

    2. It was long? I didn't notice...

  2. Wow. I think this may be the only fair and even-handed evaluation of this story in existence.

    I didn't mind the length of the review; it was thorough rather than long-winded.


    Nah, just kidding. Your review pretty much matches my opinion on the fic.

    Past Sins became popular because of three factors. First, it was the middle of the First Pony Drought, and everyone was desperate for something to fill the gap. Second, it had an awesome cover image, and that's what personally drew me in. And third, Pen Stroke's star on Equestria Daily was on the rise, and people flocked to the story simply because he wrote it.

    Just to comment on the revisions. I don't know much about the second revision, but the first one both helped and hindered the story. Besides cleaning up some of the more serious errors, it changed Nyx and Celestia's characters a bit. The latter actually became closer to canon, at least compared to the original one that wanted to murder a filly because she might be Nightmare Moon reincarnated. Nyx, on the other hand, got MUCH worse. People complained that she was too much of a Mary Sue, so Pen Stroke made her break into tears every other paragraph. Ugh.

    In fact, the reason why Celestia taking Nyx away is treated so evilly is because Pen Stroke dropped the ball when it came to the revision. Originally, she was a LOT closer to a Knight Templar, and was ready to straight-up kill Nyx. Twilight said that was freaking crazy, so Celestia dragged Nyx off against her will. TONS of readers said this was horribly OOC, so Stroke half-rewrote the scene, but never bothered to touch the parts that had an impact on the rest of the story.

    In a way, though, this makes sense to me. Just speaking from my experience with "My Little Alicorn," this story feels like what was supposed to be a simple little story got spun out of control and ended up a bloated mess. You could have cut three or four chapters our entirely, condensed the rest of the story, and eliminated the ancillary plot elements, and nothing of significant value would have been lost. Indeed, about halfway through the story's second half, I was really losing interest in what had basically degenerated into a bunch of, "Nyx feels sorry for herself, boo, hoo, hoo," moments.

    One thing that bothered me back then, and still somewhat does, is the way Luna is handled. Granted, he didn't have Season 2 to work off of, but at the same time, this is a story about Nightmare Moon. You know, the thing Luna technically was for a thousand years? And yet, even after the revisions, all she does is say a few lines, get easily defeated, and then serves as a Deus Ex Machina for the ending. (And yes, removing her memories was crossing a line. At least it wasn't like "Nightmares Don't Last Forever," which had a far more extreme example played for laughs.) About the one thing of substance she does besides the ending is tell off Celestia for screwing everything up.

    By all accounts, Pen Stroke never expected the story to take off like it did, and to a degree it's overshadowed a lot of the other things he's written. Which is sad, because this (along with "Better Living" and that one Grimdark one I can't remember the title of) is one of his poorer stories. The one that immediately followed was "A Drop of Moonshine," which reminded me that Pen Stroke can actually write something REALLY good. Shame it only got five stars.

    All in all, this story isn't terrible, and if I have a lot of free time on my hands, I might see what the next revision looks like. But for the time being, it's just passed the sell-by date. Better things have come along, leaving "Past Sins" as just a relic of the fandom's highest point.

  4. Will next time actually be "Secret Tub Fun", since it's incomplete but still active (even if rather slow at updating)?

    1. It's still active? that's...rather astounding, actually. I haven't heard a peep from the thing in so long, I just assumed the author had given up.

  5. Huh, it seems the only noteworthy disagreement I have with the review is that I found Nyx reasonably tolerable as a fill, and disinteresting as cardboard after her change.

    The characterisation was dull and frankly, ludicrously obvious. I found it almost absurdly obvious how the character was going to play out, and that meant that the further it dragged out, the more infuriating it became. As such, I thought it utterly failed to ask any interesting questions about how history defines us, even though that was appeared to be one of the design principles for the story. What it did was show that people can be dicks when the author writes them as dicks, rather than having any real-life reference.

    Almost no-one's motivations for the things they did held up under any kind of scrutiny, so it felt more like that characters were acting in the way that suited a story 'on-rails' as opposed to any degree of character development or examination. The only character that actually felt interesting was Twilight wrestling with her own insecurities at playing Mom.

    On the upside, I'd also have to say I thought Spell nexus turned out to provide the most interesting plot twist in the entire story. Considering I constantly felt that I already knew where the story was going, just now how it was getting there, I actually had a 'woah' moment when the reveal was done. I can't tell if it seemed better amid such otherwise mono-railed story, but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt.

    The one part I don't give that to is the monster fight. Too obvious and predictable, and felt like it was sticking to the MLP of 'you must include a scene with each of the main six'. It was a fair while ago, and I'l happy enough to be corrected on the specifics, but that's how it left me feeling, regardless.

    As I said before, my enjoyment of what there was may have been marred by coming away from Fallout:Equestria with a bad taste after the ending. Either way, I usually say how I enjoyed the fic anyway, so there must be something to it, but this time, I'm not. I figure that for me, they're pretty damning words.

    Inquisitor M - out

    P.S. After reading PG13's comment, I think he hit the nail on the head with, "was supposed to be a simple little story got spun out of control and ended up a bloated mess." Yeah, that sounds about right to me, which is a shame, because there were some good ideas.

  6. I've read this story more times than I think I should have – or at least, the original thirteen chapters. Once before the revision, once after the revision, and then I went through the unrevised version again during its /fic/ MST.

    Based on that version, "chirped" ain't got nothing on "offered". I also remember uncanny amounts of LUS, a few odd uses of "utterly", general needless wordiness and a lot of typos. It's not unreadably bad, but it's definitely nowhere near well-written.

    I've always felt that this fic suffered most from Pen's desire to give his fans what they say they want. Nyx frustrated me as a character because even as Nightmare Nyx, she never did anything except mope, because having Nyx doing something even slightly interesting/evil would have made her less cute. So we got a bunch of chapters of her whining so that her cuteness could be retained. I found that really insufferable.

    As I recall, most of the changes to Nyx's characterisation in the first revision were scattered references to her being a "crybaby". The blatantness of that may have been reduced since I last read it, but I really found it a lazy change.

    The ending was a copout. I feel like the main reason for Nyx's memory wipe and reversion to her original state were put in solely so that fans could sleep easy knowing that her and Twilight went on to have more cute SoL adventures after the conclusion of the story, as if the second half of it never happened.

    This fic should have been one of two things: a cute slice-of-life comedy about Twilight and her adopted daughter, or a proper, risk-taking examination of how our pasts don't have to define us. Instead, it's an indecisive compromising thing that leaves me feeling unfulfilled.

    1. Damn. You said that so much better than I did.

    2. I only read the first re-write, which I suppose means I got the 'best' version. The cry-baby stuff I actually didn't mind as Nyx's character... as I know SO MANY CHILDREN LIKE THAT!!! Yes, it was annoying, but it matched my real-life experience so perfectly I couldn't fault it.

      Though frankly, I'd probably have enjoyed her more as a flawless Mary Sue... since I AM a flawless person myself (oh the dreariness of having to tolerate all the 'lesser' humans around me!) >:3

  7. Interestingly, your opening notes reflect precisely my knowledge/opinion of this story. I still plan on reading it -- I almost have to now, just to see how much I agree with you -- but I think I'll probably crack FoE first. Maybe. Someday.

  8. "(I understand that her actions were slightly different, and less justified, in an earliest version, but I'm going by what I read)."

    Yeah, FYI, in the original version they were going to kill Nyx if the spell revealed she really was Nightmare Moon.

    Original version was much better, IMO.

    1. Actually, I read the original version and didn't like it at all. Every character was thoroughly 'off' and unreasonable.

  9. I remember reading:

    The "Chapter 0" when the story was first posted, and after it started becoming such a huge thing, I managed to get about halfway through chapter 4 before I had to stop.

    Because every scene plays out with almost exactly the opposite structure that I would've used if I'd been writing it. That first scene, for instance, where we start firmly in the villain's point of view. There's no mystery, no suspense, no wondering who these mysterious ponies are, none of that. For me, the scene needs to be in Twilight's POV: we need to come slowly to consciousness with her in the first paragraph, feel her confusion as to where she is and what's going on, her mounting panic as she realizes she's tied up--then the bag gets pulled off her head, and we get out first sight of the cultists through her eyes.

    Scene after scene, I just couldn't stop gritting my teeth at the structural and narrative choices the author was making, so I just stopped reading and haven't been back since....


  10. Good review. You're very fair and balanced, far more so than I could be--I really couldn't stand what I did read of Past Sins, for several reasons you listed as the story's problems. Maybe I would have ended up liking it more if I'd stuck with it until the end like you have, but I just can't justify reading tens of thousands of words for pleasure if, after at least a fair try is given, there's no real promise of pleasure ever entering the picture. Good on you for sticking it out and giving us this review.

  11. So, something that confuses me: are you not reviewing Luna Vs? I thought that was pretty much the quintessential overrated Luna fic; are you telling me that it wasn't 6 star at any point?

    1. If you mean Progress (which is what Luna Vs. The Microwave was renamed to after it became a series), then that's probably much farther down the line. Since the reviews are done based on whatever chronological order they appear in on EqD, then Progress wouldn't be reviewed until he gets to the late '11s/early '12s. That's assuming the story's still being updated; as far as I can tell, the author's pretty much put the thing on the backburner and is working on other stuff.

      A shame, because I really liked it back in the day, even if it pulled a Simpsons and long outstayed its welcome. I even still enjoy the first three stories and first half of "Luna vs. Ponyville," as well as the fan stories "Luna vs. Threesomes" and "Celestia vs. Time."

  12. Looks like I’m late to the party again. Oh well. . . . Here I go anyway.

    Against my better judgment, I allowed myself to read this story, and for the very reason Chris stated in his recommendation section: There was simply too much contention over this fic for me to continue to ignore it, and my desire to determine for myself if it was anywhere near as good or bad as people claimed became too strong.

    Note that when I say, “Against my better judgment,” I mean that this type of story—an interpretation/imagining of Nightmare Moon, and therefore Luna by association—is the kind I specifically avoid to sidestep any accidental influence on my own work in progress. The good news (for me, that is) was that the characterizations of “Nightmare Moon” and Luna in Past Sins were vastly different than what I’ve imagined for LGT, so any worries I may have had about this story having an influence on mine were allayed. Now, because I do have my own perspective on those characterizations as a writer, and because Chris did a damn fine job summing up the other characters used in the story, there’s nothing I have to add on this front that would be of any value to anyone. So, considering the usual quality of Chris’ review and the other comments already made here, the only thing I have to add which could be valuable is my experience with this fic as a reader, rather than a writer.

    I should state that I read the “Version 2” PDF released last August rather than any of the GDocs, so I haven’t had any direct exposure to the revisions that seemed to cause one of the many uproars. Also, due to the amount of static floating around the fandom which inspired me to read this in the first place, I started in on it with a kinder eye than I would have if I chose to read a story purely for entertainment, since I prefer to give an author the benefit of a greater doubt when so much vitriol’s in the air.

    However, due to the rough grammar and high amounts of redundancy throughout the prose, my softened view had evaporated by the time I’d finished chapter 1, and from that point forward, I found myself having to work at reading the story rather than simply being able to enjoy it. Good editing can mean the difference between a reader’s eyes cruising through a story at a comfortable pace or tripping over old cobblestones, and mine stumbled a great deal as I read on, damaging the impact that the narrative could have had if the writing quality was higher.

    1. As I continued, I felt there was a lot of give-and-take between genuine creativity and a lot of throwaway scenes that came across as straight pandering to the fandom. On the positive side, the concepts that I thought were quite clever were introducing the nigh-verboten OC “alicorn” (note that I really despise that word as a name for a winged unicorn) into the story in the manner which produced Nyx; and Spell Nexus’ possession by the core malice of Nightmare Moon, and how it was used to infect other ponies to create the Children of Nightmare. The portions I found grating upon my nerves were what I usually refer to as “fanfiction traps:” the (over)use of direct quotes/jokes from the source property (RD saying “20 percent cooler,” Fluttershy being turned into a tree), fandom memes (Pinkie Pie breaking the 4th wall by “reading the transcript”), or liberties taken which could be viewed as gross misinterpretations of the source material (Twilight’s “rage shifts”—if you’ve ever heard of a “take” as an animation term, you might see why this bothered me). The balance of these pros and cons came through as additional stumbling blocks that kept me from truly enjoying the story.

      In the end, I really had to force myself to finish reading this, and did so just to say I gave it a fair shake. But, as I think back on it, I didn’t really hate this story, simply because there were some bits of good meat to be found on its bones, most of which were already described by Chris. As such, I feel comfortable in agreeing with Chris that Past Sins is neither excellent nor horrible; rather, I’d classify it as “average fanfiction” that rests right at the top of the bell curve of all fics I’ve read throughout my years. It was neither impressive or garbage, just average.

      And now, some comments from me as a writer. If you’re not interested, stop reading here:
      I believe that Pen Stroke and Batty Gloom are a couple of genuinely creative people, and they should take pride in that fact. Past Sins, however, is not a good example of that creativity, and while I can certainly understand the desire to return to a released fic and try to improve it, I believe doing so is nothing more than a waste of the authors’ time at this point.

      That time would be better spent taking any and all lessons learned from this story and applying them to future releases. All reviews, rants, raves, etc., on this story have provided them with a HUGE amount of valuable feedback—the kind that I would have killed to get my hands on in my pre-Internet days—which can be used to improve their craft, but there’s really no reason to try and apply those here. I suggest they consider Past Sins done and dusted, and move forward. If either of them are completely bothered by the fact that this story isn’t perfect, they should bear in mind that there’s no such thing as a “perfect” story, just as there’s absolutely no way to please every reader. Besides, since this story was already released as complete, any future changes to it aren’t going to carry the same impression on readers as new stories would, and if attempting to improve PS’ reputation is a goal, it simply won’t work, at least not in the capacity that I think the authors might believe.

    2. Oooh...rage shift. I'd forgotten all about that. So many WTF moments that I seem to have blanked from memory...let's never speak of that again!

    3. Heh . . . I've seen worse before. Ask me about Argonians "switching genders" sometime and prepare for an earful.

    4. Personally, I never had a problem with revising a story if something's wrong. And let's face it, the first draft of Past Sins was not good. It was actually many times worse than how it ended up, and I am still amazed it was posted in such a condition.

      However, there is a point where you just have to stop and walk away. Pen Stroke and Batty Gloom need to realize that very few will be willing to re-read Past Sins, and they are not likely to find many new converts even amongst new pony fans. In fact, I think one of the things bronies get in every welcome basket is a copy of this fic to peruse.

      And changing a story to fit changes in the canon, after it's sat for months complete, is a losing battle. Whenever you write fan fiction, and you try to indulge in any sort of world building, you gamble that DHX or Hasbro won't kick over what you're trying to create. You can't keep changing your story to fit every single thing that Hasbro throws your way. At some point, you'll just have to throw up your hands and move on with your life.

  13. I had quite enough gender-switching shenanigans in Out in the Cold thank you very much. Don't tempt me to accept your challenge, WTFHIW.

  14. It has been so long since I've read this story so you will have to forgive me. I can sum up my feelings for this story simply as the following:

    I liked it.

    When I read PS it was on its first iteration. The first great drought had begun and I was hungry for pony fanfiction. Like so many others I was drawn in by the cover art. It was early in the life of this fic and I became hook on the story that was being told. Nyx didn't have cry-baby flaw built in so I really like her but more so I truly enjoyed the "dawww" moments as the relationship was built in between Twilight and Nyx.

    I followed the story closely. And I will be honest, I remember being very excited as new chapters came out. Not because it was this "Perfect fanfiction" that many had made it out to be. Rather, I really wanted to know what was going to happen.

    I was frustrated by many of the revisions that were made. Many were made to pasify those that cried "Mary-sue!" and "OOC!". As Chris said above, it felt disrespectful to those of us who read it in its original version. Some changes I did like were those that added content, like the fight between Luna and NMM.

    As the story progressed after the first revision, I continued to read but not as closely as before. Finally the ending came.

    It left me feeling unsatisfied. Not only the memory thing but also the part where it took her from being an adult to being a child. I had really enjoyed Nyx's character development in the later chapters and when she was turned into a child again, I felt like all that was really lost.

    So yes, this story has had its share of flaws. And I really wished he wouldn't have made any changes, but I still enjoyed the plot of the story.

  15. I was one of the editors in one of the revisions, and all of us were screaming at Pen Stroke that Celestia was OOC. His response to that and every other change he didn't feel like making, such as the removal of Fluttershy literally BECOMING a tree?

    "Well, the fans like it."

  16. Celestia was OOC, but not nearly as much as in so many other fics, especially THE DOZENS UPON DOZENS THAT HAVE HER AS SOME CHRONICALLY-DEPRESSED GOTH-TYRANT!!! I'm SO sick of the "Boo-hoo! I'm immortal and I hate myself!" nihilistic BS!!

    So yeah, I gave her characterization a HUGE pass because it was one of the few longer fics at the time which didn't go down that illogical angst-ridden road.

    I too read the major revision version (during Hurricane Irene... I read the entire story in 13 hours. About the time it takes me to read "Fellowship of the Ring". I'm a hyper-speed reader.), and from what I've heard, I would have hated the original version.

    The ending was very poorly conceived. The monster battle was aggravating, and the loss of Nyx's memories utterly pointless as it totally negated everything she went through. All her growth as a character was erased, without any passably plausible reason.

    However, up to the end I enjoyed it quite a bit, and the reason I call for it to be a movie is that its story is one that would translate very well to the screen. It has a very cinematic structure to it, including many elements which would be well-suited to visual representation. Also, its story can be easily compressed into a roughly 2-hour format, I believe, eliminating all the unnecessary bits.

    And Fluttershy is clearly a tree. She's such a 'wooden' character in Season 1! XD (I gots ta troll!)

  17. Oh yes, I would have rated it a 4 of 5 at the time, as most of the stories I was reading that were highly rated by fans were... well... actually quite dreadful.

    And since I read the completed, revised version uninterrupted, "Past Sins" made a much more positive impression on me than the vast majority of what was being published at the time, including stories which received 5-6 star and were filled with blatant grammatical errors which would have been easily found by even a simple old Microsoft Word program. I don't add points to story for having proper spelling and grammar, as that's to be expected in every written work, but I WILL deal harshly with those authors who are too lazy to even perform basic editing tasks.

    I have submitted only one small snippet of a tale to FIMFiction, "Discord and the Doctor", which is essentially an epilogue to a much longer story idea I have, but which I may never have time to put effort into writing. And you can be sure that if nothing else, it is technically flawless. That's simply how school taught me to write. But I have noticed the extraordinary slippage in grading standards in classrooms these days... churning out high school graduates that in my day would qualify as functionally illiterate. Disgraceful!

  18. So, now that PS has been updated, any plans to re-review or at least reread it? Should we judge a story on what it is or what it was? (A truly ridiculous question taken at face value, to which I must add the caveat: "When its accolades come from previous iterations.")

  19. I was, and I guess still am one of the guys that is fanatically positive about this story.

    And by that I mean the original before it's first major revision. Supposedly there was a bunch of flaws in it's technical writing, but you know what? I didn't even notice. So immersed I was in the story.
    I also somehow completely skipped chapter 11 and apparently didn't miss anything important. I wonder what that implies... Anyway!

    But then the revision came. I re-read the story and found myself grumbling at every revision I noticed. It just seemed worse for a number of reasons you mentioned. You know what else is interesting?

    "From about chapter 13 on, a steadily increasing number of missing words, homonym errors, and similar mistakes are present."

    That's coincidentally as far as the original version got before it was revised. And I really didn't like how it ended at all.

    I guess I also didn't notice that the characters were one-dimensional. That's something that certainly didn't change, But when I think back on it, I suppose there's only two characters that really stand out in my memory and that is Celestia, probably because I'm hideously biased toward Tyrant Celestia, and The Guard Captain! Even though he was in one small scene, Holy crap, I was rooting for that guy! Sadly, he was taken out completely.

    Love your review regardless.

    On an unrelated note, I just found your blog today and holy crud I enjoy reading it! This is probably because I've always wanted someone to discuss fanfiction with and so very few are willing to go in depth about it. And it seems we agree on a lot of things.