(Background Pony can be read here)
[Now, a story review by Inquisitor M! You may recognize him from his regular comments on this blog. I'd say more, but 1. He doesn't have any published stories (yet) which I can link you to, and 2. He wrote his own bit to go above the page break. So without further adieu, I cede the stage to him. -Chris]
By Order of the Inquisition:
A Chapter 1 Review of Background Pony
Well the Chris is away, so I get to post stuff to his blog. I had a few ideas, but with the number of short stories that have come up lately, one thing stuck out that I wanted to talk about: the beginning. Rather than have me wax lyrical about what I think makes a good opening to a story, I would like to do a review of the first chapter of Background Pony, by short skirts and explosions, and see if my comments can spark some discussion.
The WHY: I generally dislike short stories. They just don’t sit well with me, and I’m even talking mainstream works that are generally held up as being excellent. There have been a few that have lit my fire in my life, but I’m talking count-on-my-fingers kind of few. Usually, a bad to mediocre short story feels to me like either an underdeveloped idea, or a good idea that needed another 10-20k words to flesh it out. Some of you may have seen me describe this feeling as, “having the concept balanced on my nose, and then beaten into my skull with a cricket bat.” Too short, but rarely sweet.
“Ahh,” you say, “but, Scott, this isn’t a short story.” True enough, but that brings me to what really made me appreciate this for the work of art that I think it is: it could just as easily be a short story as an opening chapter. It had me by the balls, and it knew it.
The WHAT: Lyra Heartstrings is, literally, our background pony. It’s a spin on the idea of background characters in the show, where Lyra is actually enchanted/cursed somehow to be forgotten by every pony she meets.
The HOW: Background Pony immediately jumps into a first-person journal entry. In essence, it sets up its main character, Lyra, with a concise and powerful portrayal of her inner drive. It asks fundamental questions about the nature of life and music, and proceeds to happily answer them with confidence. Since it is politely framed as the character’s personal view, this doesn’t feel overly restricting, or unnecessarily challenging in terms of beliefs or sense of reality. It also tells you, in clear terms, where the character is as the story starts, and pulls on your heartstrings (sorry) before the narrative even gets under way. Further, the word use and writing style are simple and snappy in such a way as it doesn’t relate to the story so much as the character. You don’t have to care about Lyra from the show to immediately have sympathy for the character presented.
The main narrative remains in first-person, but it’s very convincingly done. To me, at least, it really feels like someone recounting a tale (even if it is in absurd detail), and drives home the empathy for the character at every turn. Each encounter speaks volumes about the trials and tribulations of Lyra’s current life, but never slides into melodrama, and does a wonderful job of giving insight into how the character has gained a new perspective from her experience. It’s also up-front about everything, yet has a scope that allows the reader to wander off into the implications and ramifications of her position, which I think must be a hard balance to achieve and I tip my hat to it.
I do have to acknowledge one oddity here: Lyra’s name is always coloured green. It’s very distracting and I can’t imagine why this is the case. As the only genuine complaint I have, I can let it slide...just not quietly! Oh, and it says ‘I could care less,’ when it means ‘I couldn’t care less’. Grrrr... [I could care less. -Chris (sorry, I couldn't resist)]
The meat of the chapter is a conversation with Twilight Sparkle. Here we find all the best elements of Groundhog Day as Lyra knows Twilight in fine detail, yet our favourite adorkable [As long as I'm making a habit of butting in on people's posts, I nominate "adorkable" for the dubious title of so-called word most in need of expurgation from all forms of communication. -Chris] unicorn needs to be convinced that they’ve even met before. To do so, Lyra goes into excruciating personal detail about Twilight, and because the narrative is so flowing, it doesn’t ever feel like a writer simply wanting to make up backstory for a character. Again, the available empathy and believability for both characters is exceptional, and the story itself is heartwarming and chilling at the same time. Further, the author again lays all the details out in plain sight as the ponies discuss Lyra’s curse, so you get the feeling of knowing where you stand, without ever getting to feel like you know where you’re going. I am exactly where the author wants me, and I love that.
Then you’re hit with the inevitability of their conversation being forgotten, and that really drives home Lyra’s situation because you, as the reader, have just invested several minutes of your life reading it. The characters are so vividly portrayed in so few words that it snared me and made me feel every high and low, and they flowed in quick but comfortable succession. With a final, yet relatively subtle, meaning-of-life ending, and an evocative last two lines, I say again: it has me... by the balls.
Summing up: The story really could end there and it would be a life-lesson and bittersweet exploration of a character all rolled into one, executed with flowing and evocative style. It tells you everything, but it answers nothing. Yet, the whole story is over 190k words and still going. I refuse to read it all until it’s done, but rest assured, I will...
Rating: If isn’t 6-Star material... then I’m clearly an idiot and know nothing. You be the judge.
Give it a read, if you’re so inclined, and let me know what you think. Otherwise, feel free to share your favourite opening page/chapter for discussion.
Scott ‘Inquisitor’ Mence - out.
[In all seriousness, I'm glad Scott pointed me to this one. I read the first chapter, and enjoyed it enough that I downloaded the rest to date to bring with me on the trip. I doubt I'll have time to read it, but it's always nice to know my "to-read" list of ponyfics is in no danger of drying up. -Chris]