Friday, January 9, 2015

More First Sentences In (Fan)Fiction

This was fun experiment last time, so I'm going to try it again!  Once more, I'll be looking at the first sentences from various fanfics--this time, I've selected eight of the most well-known ones that I've reviewed from the old 6-star group--and seeing how they stack up as first sentences using my patented HEITSIBPMFTSIATRAEMTCR ("how effective is this sentence in both preparing me for the story I'm about to read, and encouraging me to continue reading;" pronounced like its spelled) scale.  As a reminder, a one on that scale corresponds to "makes me less interested in continuing than I was before I read it," three is "does its job, but not memorable or gripping in and of itself," and five is "not only evocative and memorable, but a perfect fit for the story as well."

Each story will be posted with title, link to my review and how many stars I gave it (the story), first sentence, and some commentary on that sentence.  Tally ho!

Bubbles, 4 stars

The first sentence:  One of Derpy's favorite things to do is helping mommy.

Thoughts:  The thing that Bubbles did particularly well was use simplistic narration to convey what Derpy perceived, while still showing the reader enough for them to infer what was actually happening.  The opening line (and paragraph, for that matter) sets that simple, uncomprehending tone right away, which is exactly what it needs to do.  That said, there's nothing here that really draws the reader in.  On balance, I'd give this a three for preparing the way for the rest of the fic admirably, but not standing apart as exemplary or memorable (for a first sentence) in any way.

Past Sins, 2 stars

The first sentence:  Amidst dim candlelight, a single unicorn sat with his head bent down, eyes shut.

Thoughts:  Here's another "does the job, but doesn't go above and beyond" sentence, though this one doesn't exactly do much.  It gives us a character, but it doesn't do much to set the mood ("dim candlelight" plus "head bent down, eyes shut" can mean anything from satanic ritual to cozy late-night reading session-turned nap), and it doesn't give me much to work with.  There's nothing here that makes me want to stop reading, but I'd still only give this a two.

The first sentence:  I live my life, one day at a time.

Thoughts:  This is a tough one for me.  I mean, my reaction is something along the line of "ugh, cliche much?"  ...But that notwithstanding, it's a very good first sentence in the sense that it sets you up for what's to come.  My Little Dashie is transparently a "feels fic," designed to elicit specific emotions from a reader willing to invest empathy into the protagonist without being given a good reason to.  The first sentence is empty of meaning, but does set a mood... if you let it.  In that sense, it's a wonderful first sentence for this story.  That said, it's not a good first sentence in any other sense, but I'm still going to let that move me to a 2.

The first sentence:  (note: this story has an introduction and a prologue. I've elected to use the first sentence of the prologue, as it's, to my mind, the first sentence of the story proper)

If I’m going to tell you about the adventure of my life -- explain how I got to this place with these people, and why I did what I’m going to do next -- I should probably start by explaining a little bit about PipBucks.

Thoughts:  The first few chapters of Fo:E are not its best by any stretch, but the first sentence is pretty solid.  It starts us off with something low-key--a prelude to a bit of in-character description--while promising adventure and answers to come.  It doesn't give us much hint of tone; if anything, the informal addressing of the reader sets the stage for much lighter action than what comes.  Still, it's a good hook, sets a clear path, and gets a four from me.

The first sentence: The sun was setting in Canterlot with the moon just creeping over the horizon.

Thoughts:  This, on the other hand, does almost none of that.  It gives us a scene--a place and a time--but delivers almost nothing else.  And frankly, that bit of setting is vague enough that it probably doesn't deserve its own sentence; "twilight in Canterlot" is something that can be fully conveyed without a stand-alone.  Also, the missing comma bodes ill.  Going just by the first sentence, this gets a one from me.

The first sentence: "Spike, can you be a dear and get me 'Rules of Thermodynamics 101?"

Thoughts:  Starting with dialogue doesn't bother me, as long as character is identified pretty quickly (and if you can't figure out that it's Twilight talking, the next sentence makes that clear, so we're good on that front).  The sentence fits character well enough, and ends up communicating a surprising amount (giving strong hints of setting (library) and tone (relaxed, pre-conflict).  It doesn't do much of anything to draw the reader in, though, and doesn't stand well on its own.  Still a three for doing its job without being otherwise noteworthy, though.

Allegrezza, 1 star

The first sentence: Octavia fidgeted backstage, ensuring her mane was in perfect form, her cello tuned, and that her bow wasn’t frayed or missing any strings.

Thoughts:  On the surface, this seems like a decent first sentence: it gives us a setting, prepares us for the presumed first event of the fic (a concert/performance), and conveys Octavia's mood.  That last phrase sets off warning bells, though; she's checking that she's not missing any strings?  How does that possibly fit into the same list as tuning-verifying and mane-checking?  That concern knocks this down to a two from me.

The first sentence: The day which would go so wrong started as so many days did in Ponyville: simple and pleasant.

Thoughts:  "It was a beautiful day in Ponyville" is rightly mocked as a terrible opening sentence, because it can almost always be deleted without harming the story--and when you can delete a sentence without harming your story, you should.  This story takes a variation on that sentence, but uses it to effect: here, it directly contrasts the beautiful day with the promise of disaster to come.  That said, there's still just not much here; this sentence may do something, but does it do something necessary?  I'm going to give it a three on the grounds that it does what it sets out to and does nothing to frighten me off, but for all that, it's a low three.

So what did we learn today?  That I've still only given out one five through 18 first sentence reviews.  That seems reasonable; memorable first sentences are rare.  I spent a bit trying to figure out how many I knew off the top of my head from traditional literature, and could only come up with a couple dozen.  Also, this was still fun.  First sentences may not make or break a story, but their still important, and it's interesting to see how those first sentences match up to the story that comes after.


  1. "Deep in the purple force-fielded darkness of the Ponyville Library's common room, now crowded almost to bursting with purloined furniture, an unlikely puppet-master was speaking to a rather large armoire."

    "I’m Pinkie Pie. I can make anypony smile."

    "I'm surprised that I still dream."

  2. pronounced like its spelled
    Which would be "hey, it's ib-pumft's i-atra em-tsurr!" Just a simple mnemonic to help remember. :D

    I have to agree with you about FoE's first line, actually. When you boil it down, it's "Call me Ishmael" writ large. It focuses on the world more than the character (ironically setting up what I consider the importance of either in the story) but still establishes a character. And of course, if you know anything about Fallout, you'll get an immediate sense of how the setting's been changed to incorporate ponies.

  3. There is one opening sentence that has always stuck in my mind (aside from the classic quoteables): "The road to Cinnabar was lined exclusively with the burned out husks of school buses."

  4. One of my favorites opening lines from Lady Prismia and the Princess-Goddess: There is a serpent on my breast, and he is trying to eat my heart.

  5. I was going to try to write something vaguely sensible here. Then I realised that my best-received pony story ever has a 78-word opening sentence and decided it would be better to slink quietly away! One quick comment:

    "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen" is probably my favourite opening line, though most of my favourite books (and indeed ponyfics) don't have such memorable ones.

  6. Re: all these quotes in the comments: I think my favorite first line of all time is Lewis's "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it." It tells you [i]so much[/i] about the character, and about the kind of a story your in for, and it does it in such an unexpected, clever way that you can't help but smile when you read it (assuming that "you" are, in fact, me).

  7. Oh wow, that Allegrezza sentence. In addition to what you already pointed out, this thing also strikes me as a wee bit misconstructed - the way it's written, Octavia is checking whether her bow is missing any strings. The strings don't go on the bow, I think...

  8. I think the Alegrezza line is meant to refer to the horsehairs comprising the bow. Not that that information saves it.