Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Even More First Sentences in (Fan)Fiction

I really enjoy doing these, so I'm going to keep doing them.  Click below the break for my thoughts on the first sentences of eight of the Fandom Classics I've recently read!

As a reminder, the first sentences here are being judged 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") scale.  On that scale, a five equates roughly to "immediately evokes a specific tone, prepares the reader for the rest of the story, and encourages me to continue reading," a one is "makes me less likely to continue reading," and a three is "a perfectly adequate first sentence, which neither inspires great excitement or great dread."  For each story, I'll give the title with a link to my review of it, and the star rating I initially gave that story.  Tally ho!

Forever Young, 1 star

The first sentence:  “I’ve never seen Rarity act so odd,” said Fluttershy.

Thoughts:  Opening with a question like this is a fine way to begin a story.  It immediately gives the reader a hook, and sets some expectations (presumably, our story will eventually tell us why Rarity is acting odd).  This is pretty much the definition of a three-star first sentence: it does its job perfectly well, but I'll already have forgotten it by the time I'm a hundred words into the story.  Nothing wrong with that (as with Fandom Classics ratings, three stars here is still good), but nothing exceptional, either.

Do Changelings Dream of Herding Sheep?, 3 stars

The first sentence:  The stillness of the stark desert scenery of southern Equestria was interrupted by the thunderous chugging of a train that sped through.

Thoughts:  This sentence gives us a setting right away, and the non-comic alliteration at the start does create a tone.  That said, I find myself wondering if that alliteration isn't a poor choice to lead with--as literally the first thing a reader sees, it does inspire a bit of worry about pretension, and I say that as someone who loves alliteration.  I'll still give this three for prepping the rest of the story nicely, but it's a somewhat shakier three than Forever Young's.

The Dresden Fillies: Strange Friends, 4 stars

The first sentence:  My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, and I'm a wizard.

Thoughts:  This is actually a tough one to judge, since it comes straight from the source material.  I don't have a problem with that, inherently--it's a Dresden Files crossover, and using a well-known line from the series to open seems perfectly appropriate in that context--but it makes it difficult to evaluate nevertheless.  Sticking with impressions as a reader, I suppose it's "expected, but not particularly encouraging," in that it doesn't tell me anything except that this is a Dresden Files crossover.  A tentative two from me.

Still a Better Love Story than Twilight, 1 star

The first sentence:  Prince Blueblood straightened his bowtie.

Thoughts:  I might end up being a little harsh on this first line, but in my opinion it doesn't do a great job setting up its story.  That story is a thousand words long, and is supposedly an absurd random/comedy.  In that context, does "Prince Blueblood straightened his bowtie" do the fic any favors?  It feels extraneous, and "extraneous" is something a comic flashfic can ill-afford.  I'll give it two for not actually scaring me away or bringing up any deeper concerns, but as a first sentence for the story it's a first sentence for, I find it underwhelming.

Letters from a Friend at the End of the World, 2 stars

The first sentence:  Knock. Knock. Knock.

Thoughts:  Geeze, I picked a tough set to comment on this round... anyway, the cold open seems appropriate for a sprawling epic/adventure, and if it tells me exactly nothing at the start, it also pretty much demands that the reader at least go on to the second paragraph to see who/what's knocking (and where the author gets to keep trying to hook the reader).  Another three, on the grounds that it is completely unmemorable, and equally completely functional.

Petriculture, 3 stars

The first sentence:  “I just know I’m forgetting something, but I can’t quite put my horn on it."

Thoughts:  Although there's not an attribution for a couple sentences more, the second line makes clear that this is Twilight talking, so I don't have a problem on that front.  I really like the Equestrian turn of phrase used here, but that's about the only thing that this sentence really gives us; no hint of tone or setting, and a relatively weak hook (arguably "what, if anything, did she forget?," but like I said: it's not much of a hook).  Another three.

One Last Quest, 3 stars

The first sentence:  Without ceremony or fanfare, the night sky filled with light.

Thoughts:  This doesn't give us much to go with, tone-wise (it could be anything from an epic battle to the everyday occurrence of Celestia/Luna raising the moon), but I like the way the phrasing imbues the event with significance specifically by downplaying the same--it makes for an interesting juxtaposition.  Another three, but my favorite first line so far.

To Be a Better Stallion, 1 star

The first sentence:  How... quaint. I would have expected a lady of her charm to reside in a village with far more... grandeur.

Thoughts:  If you looked at the cover or read the description of the story, it's pretty clear that the line is being thought by Blueblood, and in any case that's made clear immediately after the line quoted, so we're good on that front.  This does a fine job of setting up the character; it immediately tells us that the author's Blueblood is more "regally snobbish" than "aggressively boorish," and preps the setting.  That said, it's not a very aesthetically pleasing opening; using ellipses twice in a row, for exactly the same effect (to convey a pause while mulling the last word) neither trips nicely off the tongue, nor inspires great confidence in the writing.  I'm going to let that knock me down to a three on this one.

...So, what did we learn today?  That I gave nothing but twos and threes to today's eight stories.  I was a bit worried about that at first, but looking back at the other first sentences I've reviewed, I'm reassured that this was just a set without any particularly standout first lines (at either end of the spectrum).  That said, hopefully if/when I do this again I find something that isn't some variation on middle-of-the-road.


  1. I'm curious how you feel, assuming this has ever happened, about re-evaluating first sentences when something later in the story changes your perception of them. Setting aside for a moment the characteristics you're looking for here, since such a thing isn't going to entice someone on the fence about reading the story in the first place, does the practice make that first sentence stand out to you later? And if you knew that one of these stories did that (and for this batch, at least, it appears that none do), would that color your judgment of it, even to the point that you'd bump it up/down a bit with some explanation given as to why?

    I'm sure there are other ways to handle it, but there are two that immediately leap to mind. First would be a sentence that has an obvious apparent meaning, but as you get into the story, you find that it actually has a different meaning or takes on additional meanings. Provided you even remember the first sentence by that point, of course. The other type would be one that ends up serving a structural or thematic purpose as well. I'll use my story "In Bloom" as an example, since I know you've read it. The last sentence of the story repeats the first sentence and makes a thematic point by doing so. I love doing that or something close to it, though it doesn't work for that many story concepts; I've only used it two or three times, despite my affinity for the conceit.

    Now, I'd agree that if an author wants to pull this off, it has to be an "and" thing, not an "instead of" thing; that first sentence must still hook the reader, or he may not stick around to find out why it was important. Thoughts on this? Would these instances change your opinion of a first sentence or possibly cause you to put an addendum saying that there ended up being an additional payoff?

    1. As you say, that'd definitely have to be an "and" thing; a first sentence that makes a reader stop reading but would have been revealed to be brilliant had they continued is no better than one that makes a reader stop reading, period. For the situation you describe, though, it would depend. If the later-revealed context casts the first sentence in a new light, that's something I might consider in its favor. In the case of something like In Bloom, though, I think the story uses the first sentence to strengthen the last one, not the other way around. That is to say, I would say that what it's primarily doing is strengthening the end of the story, not the beginning.

      (That said, I think In Bloom has a great first sentence on its own merits. "Over in a corner of the yard, I tend the grass" really sets the all's-right-on-the-surface tone for the rest of the fic)