Monday, November 16, 2015

First Sentences in (Fan)Fiction the 8th

So, Hoofields and McColts was a pretty good episode.  Silly, earnestly sincere, and with plenty of low-key visual humor (e.g. the animals' different-sized books in the intro, Fluttershy "gently encouraging" the tortoise to get to shelter during the hay bale bombardment, etc.), it had a nice blend of all the things I like in an episode.

And yet, I'm dissatisfied.  Why?  Because for the second time this year, carrots were a crucial component of one or more scenes, and Carrot Top wasn't there.  Come on, MLP animators: you've got a pony whose cutie mark is carrots, and yet, when the subject turns to everyone's favorite source of vitamin A, she's nowhere to be found?  She's even got the right coloration to be a Hoofield!  Hopefully on her mother's side, though; "Carrot Hoofield" would be a pretty terrible name, and "Golden Hoofield" is downright abominable.

But enough about my idiosyncratic desire for more appearances by thematically appropriate background ponies!  Click on down below the break for my idiosyncratic thoughts on the first sentences of stories 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.   
Note that, as part of my ongoing tweaking/developing of these posts, I'll be taking a fairly liberal definition of "first sentence," so some "sentences" may be two (or more!) sentences long; "first complete idea" might be more technically accurate, but it's not as catchy.  Additionally, the review of each sentence will be split into two parts.  The first part will be my thoughts after reading ONLY the first sentence, and the second, my thoughts on it after having read the story, graded as BETTER, WORSE, or THE SAME when taken in its larger context.   

The Brony International Guard, by psychicscubadiver (story: 1 star)

The first sentence:  “I don’t know, but I’ve been told.”

“I don’t know, but I’ve been told.”

“Eskimo ponies are mighty cold.”

“Eskimo ponies are mighty cold.”

Initial thoughts:  Starting with some in media res dialogue is a good way to get a reader's attention, even if it doesn't tell you much about the setting or situation.  The jokey ponifying does set an appropriately comic tone, letting the reader know exactly what kind of humor to expect from this story.  Although both "told"s ought to end with commas (or exclamation marks, I suppose), and although I'm pretty sure "Inuit ponies" is the more politically correct term, this is still a solid three stars.

After reading:  Between that first bit and the comedy tag--not to mention the titular premise--I went into this story expecting something pretty silly.  The actual story is much heavier on meta-shoutouts and general oddness than on actual comedy, however.  Although the opening isn't worse per se, it's WORSE in the sense that it contributed to the sense that this fic was a bait-and-switch.

Felt Heart, by Tchernobog (story: 3 stars)

The first sentence:  Canterlot continued to fulfill Rarity’s expectations at every turn.

Initial thoughts:  This is a thoroughly unmemorable sentence, but it's deceptively effective for all that.  In just nine words, it gives us a character, a location, and a mood, and communicates all three without feeling clunky or over-expository.  That said, it is thoroughly unmemorable, which puts it firmly in the "effective, but not brilliant on its own merits" category.  Three stars.

After reading:  It's about THE SAME.  This is one of those cases where what you see is what you get, folks!

Hiatus, by Vargras (story: 2 stars)

The first sentence: "Ah, good! You're awake! Good morning, little sister."

Luna stared at Celestia through half-open eyes and threw a pillow over her head.

Initial thoughts:  This does give me a good sense of what I'm getting into--cute SoL--but I can't get over the image of staring through half-open eyes; presumably that's meant to suggest drowsiness, but "staring" implies a lot more alertness than meshes with that.  It's not like it's a nonsense description, but it doesn't paint an especially clear picture of Luna's state of awareness.  Two stars.

After reading:  The tone and style of this first line is pretty representative of the fic as a whole, both in terms of tone and word choice.  In that sense, it might be slightly BETTER than my first impression, insofar as it does such a nice job of setting expectations; readers who enjoy (in the fic's words) "D'aww"s can see from the start that this is what they're after, and those who don't needn't feel lead on.

A Filly's Guide to Not Making Headlines, by Bradel (story: 3 stars)

The first sentence:  “You’re the ambassador from Saddle Arabia? But you’re not wearing a saddle cloth! My books all said that’s one of Saddle Arabia’s most important cultural traditions. Doesn’t that make you feel… I don’t know… kind of naked? Not wearing one?”

Initial thoughts:  Having someone (presumably Twilight) start off by tone-deaf-ly insulting an ambassador seems like a solid basis for a comedy to me.  The line's not exactly quotable, but it's catchy and memorable, and builds an understanding of the character even before that character's been named.  Four stars.

After reading:  This is the first part of a back-and-forth between unattributed Twi-lines and the increasingly hostile newspaper headlines they generate.  It's an effective piece of escalation comedy, and makes this line look BETTER in context.

Flitter, by Nyergud (story: 1 star)

The first sentence:  The atmosphere in Canterlot was a strange mix of nervousness and excitement.

Initial thoughts:  This gives me a sense of the location and mood, though it's pretty ambiguous; "nervousness and excitement" could describe almost anything.  However, it does do a fine job of moving the reader onto the subsequent sentence.  A weak three stars.

After reading:  Although it's not a big change, I found this a little WORSE in full context, simply because so little is done with the information that first sentence imparts.  We're told the specific sources of the nervousness and excitement, but what follows after that is essentially a meandering, exposition-heavy scene with little of either emotion.

Just Words, by Device Heretic (story: 3 stars)

The first sentence:  Princess Celestia paused, momentarily, as the guards outside her study began shouting.

They were guards; shouting is more or less what they were for, when all was said and done.

Initial thoughts:  I like the construction here as far as tone goes; it immediately gives me a sense of the nature of the disturbance.  Clearly it's something minor enough that Celestia isn't concerned, but significant or personal enough that she's reasonably attentive.  I'm not a fan of the double modifying phrases, though ("more or less," and "when all was said and done" are redundant), which is going to pull this down to three stars.

After reading:  The first line leads into a rambling but quietly interesting few paragraphs which do a nice job of letting the reader get into Celestia's head (as envisioned by the author, anyway) right from the get-go.  Collectively, this is a bit BETTER than it initially looked.

Things Better Left Unseen, by Take (story: 1 star)

The first sentence:  In a burst of powerful, blinding light, a lavender alicorn stepped onto the floor of her laboratory with her baby dragon assistant clinging onto her tail.

Initial thoughts:  It's always a bit worrying when a fic literally has a Lavender Unicorn Alicorn syndrome opening (and not just the term-defining one; check out Spike's description).  Unless there's some very good reason for being coy with names up-front, like if this is part of a fake-out, it feels like a needlessly obtuse opening.  Throw in the ungainly nature of the second half of the sentence, and I'm shading this down to one star.

After reading:  It's about THE SAME; there's no real payoff to any of the structural decisions in that first sentence, but neither were there any pitfalls to it which were inobvious from the get-go.

Canterlot Cantata, by Ringcaat (story: 2 stars)

The first sentence:  Twilight stood in the entrance of the guest tower, astonished by what her friends were wearing. A single idea was pulsing ever stronger in her head: Something here is very wrong.

Initial thoughts:  This story actually starts with a stage direction-style setting description ("Interior: Guest tower. Eve of the wedding of Princess Mi Amore Cadenza and Shining Armor"), but I don't think that really counts.  What I am treating as the first sentence has a simple but catchy hook, but doesn't do much beyond that considering that we've already been told the where and whens; this could be anything from comedy to high drama based off of that introduction.  Two stars.

After reading:  The first-sentence hook gets addressed and discarded almost immediately, but the story introduces its larger hook (Canterlot Wedding, but with one key difference) quickly enough.  This one looks about THE SAME after reading.


  1. Thematically Appropriate Background Ponies sounds like a good name for a garage band. That fact aside, I agree about the show producers missing many distinct opportunities to put those BGPs to work. Dropping the ball, whoever's job it is to do that (I think the storyboard artists?). Dropping the ball.

    Anyway, nice FSi(F)F. Despite the heated political / religious / philosophical conflict they've stirred up among the OMPR community, I always like them. Helps remind me that using the right words matters. I'm still bad about doing it most of the time, but at least it reminds me!

    1. Is that your way of saying we should form a band comprised entirely of people who comment on ponyfics? 'Cause if so, I'm in! I can play a pretty mean nose. Also willing to do baritone if needed, though I'm not very good

    2. Almost forgot, I also do belly drum. I've even added brush strokes to my repertoire

    3. I can scream incoherently and head-bang.

  2. The two sentences you give for Just Words give me an expectation of palace comedy. The modifiers in the second sentence are very "The first sentence suggests dire situation, but oh wait, no, it's just the guards being useless again, haha."

  3. This episode went up a star in my estimation when I realized that the big McColt stallion had a cutie mark that was a bag of hammers. As in, "dumb as a bag of hammers." XD

    Also, the saw sisters were pretty cool.