Friday, April 24, 2015

First Sentences in (Fan)Fiction the 5th

On Wednesday, the NHL playoffs suffered their first casualty, and the playoff/fanfic bracket lost its first story: Horse Voice's Biblical Monsters was swept in four games by My Little Dashie (or, if you prefer, Winnipeg was knocked out by Anaheim).  Once the first round is done I'll update you on second-round matchups (my plan was to only do end-of-round updates, and going forward it still is), but I thought I'd take a moment to acknowledge the only team/story this year that failed/will fail to win a single game.  Well, that's what you get for *mumble mumble*-ing *mumble mumble*, I guess!

With disastrous endings out of our way, though, let's talk about beginnings!  Hopefully not the disastrous kind, though I suppose there's only one way to find out.  My thoughts on the first sentences of some of the recent Fandom Classics, below the break.

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!  

Iron Hearts: Book 1-Planetfall, 3 stars

The first sentence:  In a large treehouse in the middle of Ponyville, a small purple alicorn yawned lightly over the weathered pages of her book.

Thoughts:  This is actually preceded by a prologue/military briefing, but I decided that the first sentence of chapter one best met the definition of "first sentence" in this case.  As a first sentence, however, it doesn't do much to impress.  It gives us a character and setting, but not much more; there's no real hook, be that interesting writing, unexpected action or impression, or anything else.  Given that it's still inoffensive and does do some scene-setting, I won't go below two stars, but this is a story that requires readers to make it past the first 22 words before it starts doling out rewards (the nerve!).

A Simpler Time, 1 star

The first sentence:  Twilight Sparkle levitated the last bolt of fabric over to the shelf it belonged on and took a step back to admire her work.

Thoughts:  Much like the sentence above, this gives us Twilight (or, the "small purple alicorn;" same difference) and a bit of setting without much else.  There's one key difference, however: Planetfall's first sentence doesn't tell us anything "unusual," given what the reader presumably already knows about Twilight; she's a bibliophile who lives in a tree-library,and that's exactly what we get from its first line.  A Simpler Time, on the other hand, gives us Twilight handling fabric, most likely at Rarity's home/business, which (while hardly unimaginable) is at least far enough from Twilight's "normal" to make it a bit interesting.  Three stars.

Just to be clear on what these ratings mean (again), I'm not suggesting that SFAccountant should have started his story at Rarity's boutique instead of Twilight's treehouse.  I'm just saying that, judged solely as a first sentence, it holds less interest because she's exactly where we'd expect her to be.

The 63rd Rune, 1 star

The first sentence:  Books and scrolls littered the floor of Ponyville’s library, leaving only a small path for Twilight to walk through.

Thoughts:  We've got a theme going here, I see.  My thoughts on this are basically the same as on Planetfall's; the primary difference being that Rune's first sentence gives us a more vivid setting description at the expense of any information about what Twilight's actually doing.  Still unmemorable but not concern-inducing; still two stars.

Scootaling2 stars

The first sentence:  “This is it!” yelled Apple Bloom, hopping up and down on her hooves. “We’re all gonna get our cutie marks today!”

Thoughts:  Another example of something that introduces a character, but doesn't do anything with that character that doesn't fall firmly in the realm of "easily predictable."  Come on people, you expect me to wait until the second sentence for some sort of hook?  My time is far more precious than that!  Another two stars.

Stardust, 4 stars

The first sentence: Being made of stone left little to do but go insane…or plan.

Thoughts:  This does feel a bit cliche, but it sets the tone nicely; Discord's long game/scheming is what kicks the whole story off, after all, and from the very first line we are basically told as much without getting too telly.  On the other hand... the particular phrasing here still comes out almost corny.  I'm going to go with a three, on balance.

Heart to Heart,  1 star

The first sentence:  Spike was beginning to think that this was a very bad idea.

Thoughts:  This has a character and a hook, albeit a very transparent hook.  What makes me a bit more positively predisposed towards it is that it does a fairly good job of setting up the fic, in terms of style; the humor here mostly comes from this kind of character-thought observation, so although the first sentence may be a bit heavy-handed, it's heavy-handed in a way that preps the reader for the story they're about to read.  Three stars for doing the job it sets out to do.

A Draconequus' Guide to Immortality, 4 stars

The first sentence:  “Congrats again, Twi!” Spike said, throwing his arms around the slumped alicorn and ruffling her dress.

Thoughts:  Here, we have Spike's enthusiasm contrasted with Twilight's seeming lack thereof, which provides a bit of drive right from the get-go.  That's about all there is here, but it still accomplishes what it's trying to accomplish: to establish Twi's mood as discordant, and as a point of (story) conflict.  Doing what it wants to, without being otherwise exciting?  That's three stars in my book.


  1. I feel somewhat vain for my favorite opening sentences to all be from stories I've written, but I don't know. Maybe that's a good thing, and I'm just suppressing my own self esteem in fear of appearing as a pompous jerk. No one likes pomp in their eyes, after all.

    I guess it's not that big of a deal either way. I mean, the first sentence of my favorite book ("The inscription could be seen on the glass door of a small shop, but naturally this was only the way it looked if you were inside the dimly lit shop, looking out at the street through the plate glass door.") isn't very good, but it's still my favorite book! The book is The Neverending Story, in case anyone was curious.

    I think my personal favorite opening line is from the Series of Unfortunate Events... series: "If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book." That, combined with the title, and the opening dedication, and everything else it gives you right off the bat just sets the mood so well. I appreciate books that stick to their principles.

    1. Well, the Neverending Story one only works in conjunction with its chapter header - the picture above it that actually shows the inscription (mirrored, of course, since "we" are supposedly inside the store).

    2. I know, but "skooB dlO rednaeroC darnoC lraC" doesn't really make the opening line all that much better. Plus it's technically not a sentence. If you were to count that as the first sentence, though, I suppose that would make it more intriguing, purely on a visual level, but still not one of the hookiest hooks out there. At least not in my book. 5 out of 3 stars from me.