Monday, August 27, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 96: Derpy's Bebop

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

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

26 comments:

  1. Not going to lie, I am incredibly curious as to what half of these faces look like.

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    1. Same here. Mind you, I do the same thing, but it's mostly with avatars. So when someone changes that microscopic, barely-visible picture, it throws me off.

      I am that dumb.

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    2. Eh. I've heard before from people who do the face thing, it happens when they interact with a group of people for a while. Basically when some people get familiar with a person over the internet, they tack some kind of identity on them. Some people need to put a face to their mental impression of the other person, others use the forum avatars or names. If I had to guess the making a mental image of people's faces isn't nearly as common as just recognizing a person by their avatar or their username.

      I don't think there's anything dumb about being thrown off when people change their avatar. It's not like there's a 'smart' way to recognize someone.

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    3. I can't say I've assigned faces to anyone based one their written posts. However, I find myself doing just that when I listen to voices on podcasts or the radio. Seeing actual photos of them can be jarring.

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    4. I'm wondering what my imaginary face looks like. I've also wondered how easily everyone's been able to link this profile to my old, anonymous comments. Is my writing style consistent and distinct enough that one can tell it's me without a name or picture to aid them?

      Chris, you said you liked the first chapter, despite the "tell-y narration." I find that your ratings are a pretty good indicator of how much I'd like a story, and anything you rate lower than a four is generally not worth my time unless it's part of a series containing higher-quality stories (like with Blueblood Returns). Would you recommend the first chapter, as a standalone story, to someone like myself?

      I finally got around to Timelords and Terror 2 weeks ago and absolutely loved it, so I'm really looking forward to your next review!

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    5. I'm sure the only reason I don't do it is because I'm so crap with faces.

      I keep dropping them...

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    6. Huh. I assign voices to people on the internet (ones that generally make no sense). Chris talks in an upperclass British accent for some reason. Mystic is a crackly old man's voice with an Australian accent. InquisitorM sounds like my grade 12 math teacher mixed with one of my uncles. Just to give a few examples.

      If I picture people at all, it's based on their handles, and generally they are an assortment of mythical beasts, aliens or animals.

      (This might be why I have a terrible memory for faces, and can't remember who people are unless they speak.)

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    7. Hahahahahahahaha

      Oh lord XD

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    8. Why am I reminded of this quote?
      "When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing, one has the impression of seeing a face somewhere behind the page. It is not necessarily the actual face of the writer. I feel this very strongly with Swift, with Defoe, with Fielding, Stendhal, Thackeray, Flaubert, though in several cases I do not know what these people looked like and do not want to know. What one sees is the face that the writer ought to have." ~ Eric Arthur Blair

      Personally, I don't think I assign faces, so much as personas and roles others play. Once that's done, the body follows.

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    9. >Chris talks in an upperclass British accent

      Awesome.

      Anyway, interesting comments here. I'm afraid that you'd all be pretty disappointed by how cartoonishly I characterize people: my head is literally just one big caricature factory. My mental imagery assigns glasses to anyone who throws around large words in their posts, weight is almost precisely proportional to the average jollity of one's comments (because fat people are happy, right?), repeated sarcasm equals a widow's peak and an aquiline nose, etc. It's almost embarrassing to actually think about it, but like I said: it gives me a face, no matter how stylized and unrepresentative, to associate with a persona.

      Also, barring names that obviously mark their ethnicity, everyone in my head is either black (either West African/Jamaican or Somali) or white (almost always northern/western European). Virtually no Indians, middle-easterners, Japanese, etc. I don't know what that says about me and my subconscious biases, though I imagine someone could spin something pretty negative out of it.

      @ProfessorOats: If your standard is "stories that Chris would 4- or 5-star," then the first chapter is likely to fall short for you. It has a simple but pretty well-executed hook and twist, but the writing issues that I mentioned are just as present there as in subsequent chapters (somewhat more so on the "dull narration" front, actually). I'd have probably given it a high two-star if I rated it by itself. Still, I did enjoy it, for what that's worth. I always feel a little bad about giving relatively low ratings to stories that I personally liked, like Twilight Sky Over Canterlot, but c'est la vie.

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    11. Hahahahaha. I am definitely one of the fat people in your head, aren't I? :D Awesome, hahaha.

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    12. It somehow never never crossed my mind that someone here might not be white. Wonder what that says about me...

      For the record, I do wear glasses, though I don't recall ever using big words here

      Thanks, Chris. I believe I've mentioned before that your ratings here are very close to what I'd rate a story on EqD (back when they had star ratings), never deviating more than one star and usually towards the extremes, so it's very likely I wouldn't enjoy that chapter. Just as well. My queue's piling up as it is

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  2. I come up with faces when people lack avatars, so usually more in chatrooms than anything. Then, inevitably, comes the day when everyone shares photos, and that all goes to hell.

    To comment on the review itself, I'd like to say that if there's any reason why people in general hate shipping, it's the prevalence of conflictless romance-for-romance's sake stories. That's a good reason to have a poor opinion of a genre tag.

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    1. Agree. Too much shipping is done just for the sake of shipping, and it gives a bad name to legitimate stories that actually develop the relationship. I hate it that good stories suffer for the lowest common denominator.

      I may be mistaken, but I had understood that a second author helped quite a bit with this story, perhaps even to the point that it's somewhat curious he's not named as a co-author.

      Just imagine what a rat bastard sounds like. Then you've got me.

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  3. To that, Pas, I have to disagree. I got the help of nick with pre-reading and stuff, but it's not like you write that down as a co-author.
    Anyway I understand the critique and accept it, Chris, thanks for taking your time in reading it and I'm at least happy you liked chapter one.

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment (and I did enjoy reading chapter one, for what that's worth). It always reaffirms my faith in humanity a little bit when I write a comparatively negative review, here or elsewhere, and the author doesn't fly off the handle. And as I said above, you've got a knack for creating believable characters; that's nothing to pooh-pooh.

      As for the question of how to credit pre-readers/editors/beta readers/whatever the fandom's calling them these days, there doesn't seem to be any real standard for how to recognize their help. Obviously it would depend on how much help they were offering, but even so there seems to be no agreed-upon way to recognize such assistance. I've helped a number of people with their stories in the past; some authors didn't give me any public acknowledgement (though I always got a "thank you" e-mail/message, at least), while at the other end of the spectrum I had one author who wrote a sentence or two of glowing praise for me at the bottom of every single one of their seventeen chapters that I offered notes on. I don't have any strong opinions about what the proper response "should" be--personally I've never felt undercredited in this fandom, but that's solely my own experience--but it's interesting to note that there doesn't seem to be any standard "proper response" when it comes to recognizing another person's assistance with one's fanfic.

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    2. I always make sure to include any beta readers or reviewers in my authors' notes at the end. It's really the least I can do.

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    3. As you've seen, Chris, I go with the novel-style acknowledgements. I think per-chapter stuff is a bit distracting, so I tend to think that is a little disingenuous to the reader.

      I think one of the the things that hurt is the level of suppression I've seen on having authors notes at all. When I started, I remember all the help-guides said not to use author's notes at all, and while I see lots of comments on FIMFic works, they are rarely on the ones that make it to EqD. I therefore wonder how much it is a reflection of the reads, as much as it is the authors.

      Again, I for one and old enough and bitter enough not to give a rats ass whether someone thinks it's right. If I get help, I acknowledge help, and a clean conscience comes before the technical details, ALWAYS. I think the greater majority of FiM authors probably don't have that life experience and go more with the flow.

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    4. To the anti-authors' notes crowd, I say fie!

      Actually, I made a decision to no longer include author's notes in my fics. From now, they will be forewords and afterwords! Sounds far more professional. :3

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    5. I have to admit, I am constantly suppressing the desire to add an afterword, and it kinda helps me see thy it gets ragged on.

      BUT – I would liken it to semicolons. They get a bad wrap in the world of new authors because they're so frequently misused (myself included, sadly) that it's safer and easier to just ward off them completely. Used correctly, however, they are an important tool not to be dismissed lightly, just as an author's notes are. The trick is in deciding what should be in them, and what shouldn't.

      I figure that once I'm more certain of what shouldn't, then I'll likely be more open to writing one.

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    6. I think we just need to draw a line between author notes in the waffly "this is my first fic please r&r the idea came to me when actually here's my whole life story..." fanfiction.net style and author notes in the more professional "Thanks to X, Y and Z" acknowledgements style. The former is awful, distracting and off-putting, but the latter actually appears in published books. It's just a case of what you put in it and where in the story it goes.

      Personally, I only put author notes at the end of a story, and if they're more than about two sentences long they go in a separate document that gets linked to.

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    7. Yep, A/Ns always go at the end, and sparingly in the front. It can be argued that having the author butt in mid-story breaks immersion; that's what the majority of fanfic writers attribute A/Ns to: a chance to nudge the reader to leave a comment or review.

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  5. Huh. I've never even heard of this story. Such is the fate of joining the fandom relatively late.

    ~Super Trampoline

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