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It occurred to me the other day, as I was going through the comments on the "A Pair of Questions" post, that I've developed some remarkably specific mental images of many of the regular posters here. I have a tendency to do that: assigning made-up faces to people whom I've never met. Is that just a personal idiosyncrasy, or does everyone do that? Either way, it helps me to have a face, even if it's just an imaginary one, to associate with those whom I interact with.
Below the break, my review of TrelaTyraelis' Derpy's Bebop.
Impressions before reading: I read the first chapter a long time ago (back in May 2011, I think--it was part of the April friend-off), and enjoyed it quite a bit within that context. But does it hold up when evaluated as a six-star story, vs. as a story written on a deadline, for a challenge? We'll see. The subsequent chapters are new to me in any case, so we'll see what they have to offer.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Ditzy has long since become inured to her derisive nickname, but when the pony she has a crush on keeps calling her "Derpy," she can't help but be hurt.
Thoughts after reading: One of the greatest traps sequels and continuations can fall into is settling for existing for their own sake, rather than bringing a unique, independent narrative to the table (or alternately, building upon the original in ways which create continued drama and forward impetus). Whether it's books, movies, or fanfiction, one of the most common and depressing ways a continuation can fail is to assume that simply having the same characters and/or setting as the original is sufficient to create a viable product.
While I wouldn't go so far as to say that the second, third, and fourth chapters of Derpy's Bebop shouldn't have been written (as if I had the authority to say what should or shouldn't be written in any case), none did much with their characters. While the first chapter (i.e. the original story) had a simple but engaging plot with a somewhat predictable but nevertheless sweet twist at the end, the next two additions seem to exist solely for the sake of chronicalling some romance and day-in-the-life pablum. Neither have any conflict, nor really any plot to speak of; both are simply a couple of ponies doing some stuff, with nothing to elevate it to the level of an actual story. The final chapter manages to raise the stakes dramatically by bringing a near-death experience into play, but even here any legitimate conflict is hurried through; the doctor barely has time to make a diagnosis before everything is resolved, so that the narrative can hurry back to more kissing and cuddling.
Now it's true, I don't have a lot of interest in reading about ponies kissing and cuddling in and of itself. Some readers do, and perhaps they'll enjoy this story more than I as a result. But romance for the sake of romance does not a story make; the shipping elements in the first chapter are a natural outgrowth of the story, and feel earned. The subsequent chapters fail to introduce any conflict (there's that word again) into the relationship, and a chapter (chapter 2, specifically) about two characters, ponies or not, who do nothing but fawn over each other for 3000 words, just isn't interesting to read.
Another damper on reader interest is the writing style. While serviceable, it tends towards dullness. The main problem is the overly tell-y narration, which too often devolves into lists of character actions ("[The pony] woke up some time after, feeling the mare hugging him. He blinked a couple times and looked at her. He moved a drowsy hoof to her hair and stroked it gently, yawning. He smiled."). Also, editing was a bit scattershot through all four chapters. While large segments of the story are grammatically and technically sound, every now and then I'd run across lines like this: "Hadn't she trusted him completely she would have never even thought of entering that far into the woods. Even by knowing he wouldn't take her to somewhere dangerous, it had took weeks to convince her in following him."
One thing I do want to mention is that this story contains some swearing. Although the harshest language is reserved for the first chapter, it was actually the example which stuck out the least to me, because it came at the dramatic peak of the story. If there's ever a time when cursing ponies make sense, it's when things seem to be at their worst. Later examples, while tamer, also occurred in lower-stakes scenarios, which made them seem more out of place to me. Anyway, the point is that those put off by swearing ponies have been warned. Also, there's plenty of pony make-out scenes if that's a deal-breaker for you, but that shouldn't surprise anyone considering the story's tagged shipping.
On a positive note, the author made some stylistic choices which I quite enjoyed. Throughout the story, character thoughts intrude, stream-of-consciousness-style, into the text, often breaking up sentences in the narration. While some may find this affectatious, I liked the sense of naturalness (there's got to be a better phrase than "sense of naturalness" for it, but I can't seem to think of one) which it brought to the proceedings. And on a related note, the dialogue between the main characters may have been absurdly sappy at times, but it always felt authentic to me. One thing the author clearly has a knack for is finding ways to write believable, genuine characters.
Sadly, believable characters don't by themselves make for a great story. One of the most basic elements of any story, a conflict, is completely absent from two of the four chapters of Derpy's Bebop. Conflict is what drives a story forward, and coupled with the problems with the prose, it's easy to bog down after the original story.
Star rating: ★☆☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
There's an old joke bit of writing advice: "Whenever you get bogged down, have the characters get attacked by ninjas." Although it's obviously not intended to be taken entirely seriously, the adage hints at an important truth: every story, and indeed every part of a story, needs some sort of conflict, be it physical, emotional, or otherwise. Unfortunately, this story could have done with some more metaphorical ninja attacks.
Recommendations: Despite the one-star rating, I actually still enjoyed the first chapter when I read it. Although it had some significant problems with dull narration, readers looking for a short, sweet story about Ditzy Doo might want to consider giving it a look. However, I only recommend going on to the subsequent chapters to those whose sympathies for her are so aroused that they want to read an extended tale of how wonderfully everything turned out.
Next time: Mines of Dragon Mountain, by Hephestus