I hope you're all excited for our first Author Analysis. Today, RTStephens brings us a look at my fellow reviewer and RCL-er, John Perry. Click below to see how he moved from writing stuff which was, in his own words in a guest post he once wrote for me, "Very bland and poorly constructed," to stuff that, well, isn't!
Good day, readers. RTStephens here to spotlight an author I'm sure many of you are familiar with. He is John Perry, and I'll be going over his library of fanfiction and see just how his writing has changed over the years. I've decided to break up his works into different "eras", as I noticed while reading them that they fall into nicely categorized fields of quality. So, without further ado, let's dive into this!
The Meta Era
The best way I can describe John's earlier works is "experimental." Having just started out in the world of pony fanfiction, it appears he was trying out different genres and seeing which ones worked best for him. John goes from episode style slice-of-life in one story to full-blown crazy parody in the next. However, one thing that's common throughout is John's sense of humor. It can range from subtle puns and jokes to complete fourth wall breaking madness. His comedic skills will continue to appear in his later works, but we'll get to those soon enough.
Something else that John has a good grasp on are the characters themselves. Twilight Sparkle is snarky and grumpy in Writer's Block while thoughtful and understanding in Rest Stop. Both of these stories show the different facets to her character while still being recognisable as Twilight. I can forgive an author a lot of faults if they are able to keep the characters true to their show counterparts. An understanding of character allows John to grow these ponies beyond their canon personalities in believable ways in future stories.
Probably the biggest capstone in this arbitrarily labeled era is the Legion of Gloom series. It is a complete parody of all the classic fanon tropes that were popular during the Season 1 hiatus (many of these tropes still linger today). Here, John is just having fun playing around will all the ridiculousness that these tropes had to offer (shipping, fanon characters, author inserts, and fourth wall breaking just to name a few). This type of storytelling is an acquired taste, as some of the jokes tend to get stale pretty quick and the pacing begins to drag towards the end. Heck, the final battle of the third story is basically a repeat of the final battle in the first story. It makes sense in context, but it can leave readers frustrated with a "been there, done that" type of attitude.
As for the technical side, it's like stepping into a throw-back machine of what was acceptable only a few years ago. While none of his early writing is bad, it does show how the standards have changed since then. Lots of "said verbiage", an access of adverbs, passive writing, and some show-don't-tell issues are littered throughout. Nothing a good re-write couldn't fix, but, given the age of these stories, probably isn't worth the effort.
The Adventure Era
Our next stop down author's lane are two adventure stories where I feel John finally found his calling. It's here that John makes a noticeable effort to describe the world in which these ponies live, going into detail of all the locals that the characters visit. While his earlier stories were serviceable in describing the scenery, most of the took place in Ponyville, a place where a lot of readers are already familiar with. With Trains, Carriages and Airships and The Final Quest of Star Swirl the Bearded, John gets to flex his muscles in building a world that the show hasn't delved into all that much.
Trains, Carriages and Airships also pushes against the boundaries of what's acceptable for character development, particularly Twilight Sparkle. In one of the most disturbing freak-out moments that I've encountered, Twilight goes above and beyond accidentally brainwashing an entire town to complete criminal activity. However, the lead up and execution allows me to buy it, as the reasoning is rooted in her insecurity of not disappointing her friends. It doesn't excuse her behavior, but it does give proper justification.
Whereas in The Final Quest of Star Swirl the Bearded, all the characters are basically original, giving John room to grow them how he sees fit. There's no canon personalities to weigh him down, other than some vague traits displayed in the Hearth's Warming Eve episode. This may turn some readers off, as OC's have a bad reputation no matter how many examples are given of good OC's, but John's experience with the fanon characters from the Legion of Gloom series gives him the tools to makes Star Swirl, Humble Pie, Swift Cloud, and Hurricane work. Each have their own goals and personality quirks that make them believable and the journey they take only helps flesh them out more.
Some of the writing issues from his earlier works bleed into these stories, but it seems Johnny boy finally graduated to the next level of writing during this time: getting proofreaders/editors! Many of the more egregious errors are caught and ironed out, creating a more fluid narrative. Not much more to say on that, so let's move on to—
The Agent Era
Possibly John's most well known and popular series, Mission: Implausible continues the adventure theme but with more obvious parody mixed in. Unlike the Mel Brooks level of parody seen in Legion of Gloom, John takes the popular pairing of Vinyl Scratch and Octavia and throws them into a James Bond style setting and lets them play around with all the tropes that come with it.
John's sense of humor and world building are still strong through all four outings of the agents, but now more action has been added in. Action scenes are a tricky thing to balance with the narrative. You want there to be excitement, but not too much as to make it drag on. I'd say John sets a good balance, escalating events in the first three series without becoming repetitive. The final story in this era, When the Curtain Falls, leans more towards a mystery thriller angle, which some might find a little jarring after the action-packed episodes from before. I see it more as John wanting to experiment with a different genre before putting this series to bed.
If there's one thing that can be pointed out as a negative, it's that John gets a little too descriptive of the different locations in some parts of the story. I wouldn't say it devolves into scenery porn, but some descriptions of San Franciscolt in Mission: Implausible seem unnecessary to the plot and come across more like a tour guide giving a practiced speech. Nothing game-breaking, but noticeable.
Of course, John had to write one story in the middle of this series that completely messes up my era motif, that being Do Changelings Dream of Herding Sheep?. I'll get to this in the next section.
The Deconstruction Era
Moving on, we come to what I'd like to call, "Breaking Down Characters to See What Really Makes Them Tick," or the slightly less syllable laden BDCSWRMTT. Here, John takes a character and puts them through a journey of the soul rather than a journey across the land. Mostly. When writing Daring Do, there's bound to be a little bit of adventuring involved.
What struck me is that two out of three Daring Do fics in this era, Go West, Young Mare and The Wreck have more to do with Daring Do's alter ego, A. K. Yearling than Daring Do herself. The lament of the author, I'm guessing, as it seems that John's putting more of himself into this than the character he's writing about. I'm going to admit, many of the themes that John explored in Go West, Young Mare went right over my head. The departure from standard adventure into psychological deconstruction left me scratching my head. I don't know if it was John's attempt at a new genre of writing or my inexperience with philosophy, but I'm left wondering what the message was. Other's milage may vary.
On the other hand, the rest of the stories in this era are more straight forward. Do Changelings Dream of Herding Sheep? goes into darker territory, something I hadn't seen up to this point. John shows a keen hand at building up a creepy atmosphere, leading to a finale that's shocking and tragic. His latest story, The Wreck, continues this trend, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality which makes for an effective sense of impending dread.
Towards a more lighter front, Maybe works to shed some light on Prince Blueblood and how, through the years, his constant stubbornness has caused him to miss what was right in front of him. Again, John takes his good handle on characters to give some insight on what Blueblood may have gone through in his life and possibly make us a little sympathetic towards the big lug.
Writing wise, not much has changed. Prose and dialogue flow well together with no obvious flaws to point out. John may have reached his peak in this regard, though he's still writing so only time will tell.
The Suffering Era
We finally reach the end of John Perry's current library, but he's still active, especially in the blogosphere. At some point, John decided that reviewing the stories found in the Feature Box of Fimfiction.net would be a good way to spend his time.
What the **** was he thinking?
Okay, I'm being flippant. Truthfully, his reviews I think have given John a great way of seeing a large range of stories and all the ways that make or break them. Being critical of other's work helps pinpoint the weak spots in one's own writing. The Wreck, A Day in the Life of Truth Seeker: Ponyville's Resident Conspiracy Theorist, and Go West, Young Mare have probably benefited from this in ways that are not immediately apparent.
With that, we come to a close on John Perry's current fanfiction writing career. His earlier works let him become accustomed to characters within the show, allowing him to expand upon them with each successive story. World building became more of a focus, along with continuously adapting to the standards of the writing scene. I'd almost say he's come full circle with his latest stories, experimenting with different genres and learning new ways to tell a tale.
Thank you for taking this ride with me, and thanks to John Perry for plenty of material to read through!