Friday, February 12, 2016

First Sentences In (Fan)Fiction the 9th

In the past couple of weeks, I've gotten a pair of recommendations on what fanfics' first sentences I should comment on, next time I do one of these posts.  This reminded me that I haven't done a First Sentences post since 2015 (time flies!), but it also made me think that a post of recommended first sentences would be nice to do.  So with that in mind: today's going to be a set culled from the recent-ish Fandom Classics, but in the near future I'll be doing a set composed entirely of recommended fics.  If you want to recommend one, either leave a comment here, PM me on FiMFiction, or shoot me an e-mail.

Goodness, I feel so... accessable.  Anyway, head below the break for today's installment of first-sentence-ing!

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.   

A Night (to Try) to Remember, by zaptiftun (story: 2 stars)

The first sentence:  Rarity inhaled deeply, letting the pleasant aroma of her drink fill her nostrils.

Initial thoughts:  This is a very workmanlike first sentence, but there's nothing wrong with that.  It introduces a character and gives some setting/context, feels in-character, and generally is fine for what it is without being otherwise notable.  That's pretty much the definition of a 3-star first sentence, at least as I'm rating them.

After reading:  I suppose it's a little BETTER in its full context, since Rarity's cultural drinking is immediately humorously contrasted to her friends' imbibing to good effect--even without it being used well as a joke, that helps set the story tone.

Night Guards, by Raugos (story: 3 stars)

The first sentence:  It was just past evening in the land of Equestria, and Hammer and Anvil, personal guards of Princess Luna, were more than a little troubled.

Initial thoughts:  I don't find this a very promising start; unless Hammer and Anvil are troubled because it's just past evening, this feels like a non-sequitur.  The blatantly expository way the characters are introduced doesn't really sit well with me, either.  One star: though admittedly it's not unbearably awful, it's fair to say that, were I on the fence about reading this story to begin with, this line would not have given me any reason to keep going.

After reading:  It's THE SAME.  Don't get me wrong, the rest of the story--even just the next few paragraphs--are much stronger than this line, but they don't do anything to retroactively justify or shore up what I would consider its weaknesses within the context of that first sentence.

Would It Matter If I Was?,  by GaPJaxie (story: 1 star)

The first sentence:  “What?” Twilight asked, staring across the room.

Initial thoughts:  I like it; it's an in media res opening that might catch a reader off-guard, but is easy to make sense of (at least, assuming that you read the title and/or description before diving in).  To me, this seems like a good way to get your audience's attention without being annoying or obtuse, though I suppose some might find it a bit affectatious; regardless, an easy four stars.

After reading:  The very next sentence contains the frankly ridiculous phrase "her ears were folded back a few degrees," which admittedly takes a bit of the shine off; grabbing your readers attention only to immediately say something (unintentionally) silly isn't ideal.  Between that and the way that Twilight's OOC-ly neolithic-aggressive behavior in the rest of the story rather unfortunately informs the tone of that first word in retrospect, this clearly gets WORSE.

Scootaloo's Parents, by Carmine (story: 2 stars)

The first sentence:  Scootaloo hated these moments. Whereas the filly would rather be spending her days with her friends, going on valiant adventures to earn the ever elusive cutie mark, learning in school, or riding around on her high-powered scooter, she was stuck in front of her parent’s house.

Initial thoughts:  On one hand, it feels a little off-kilter to be going from "these moments" to how Scootaloo would prefer to spend "her days," and leading a sentence off with "whereas" feels incongruously formal to my ears.  On the other, who can't relate to being stuck at (well, in front of, I guess) home when there's so much to do?  You aren't allowed to answer that question if you grew up in the age of the internet, by the way; way back when, we had to go outside to play with our friends!  Anyway, I'll call it three stars on balance.

After reading:  The story doesn't really do anything exciting or disappointing with this introduction; it uses it as part of a setup to the early reveal/punchline of Scootaloo's parentage in a perfectly acceptable, but not otherwise exemplary, manner.  So... about THE SAME.

The Star in Yellow, by Blueshift (story: 4 stars)

The first sentence:  Spike grunted heavily as he pushed his cart piled high with books along the aisles of the Royal Library. The monthly pilgrimage to Canterlot to carry out Twilight Sparkle's every bibliographic whim was not something he particularly enjoyed; not only was there the hassle of paying all the inevitable fines or getting crushed by the tottering pile of books that these visits seemed to result in, but Twilight's requests were getting more and more bizarre.

Initial thoughts:  One one hand, the writing doesn't look especially promising at the start; "grunted heavily" doesn't feel like a natural verb-adverb pairing to me, and obvious editing errors like the double space between "to  carry" almost never bode well.  On the other hand... the last half of the bit I quoted promises some good humor, and that's at least enough to keep me around to see what payoff it might bring.  Call it another three-star.

After reading:  It certainly gets BETTER, as the titles Spike lists are indeed grin-inducing, and his exasperation sells the whole thing.  But then, it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who's been around the writing side of the fandom a while to know that Blueshift can write funny stuff, should it?

A little loopy., by warewolves (story: 1 star)

The first sentence:  “Sweetie Belle, wake up, it’s time for school!” That was strange, it should be the weekend.

Initial thoughts:  Another in media res opening, though this one's somewhat less effective than Would It Matter's.  First off, there's the lack of clarity as to how one is supposed to read its second half; it feels like it ought to be Sweetie's inner thoughts, but it's not italicized (or single-quoted, or any such), and unless it's dialogue (internal or otherwise), those two clauses need more than a comma between them.  Still, assuming one read the description, it gives you an immediate idea of what's happening and where Sweetie's understanding of events is at.  A strong two.

After reading:  It's still THE SAME, insofar as the chapter proceeds as expected, without any unexpected payoff to that first line (positive or negative).

I Look Into The Flames And See, by Tramper (story: 2 stars)

The first sentence:  Twilight Sparkle licked her lips as she finished the final circle on the floor of the library’s basement. This would truly become the pinnacle of her research, the thing that would ensure her metaphorical immortality along the lines of such ponies as Starswirl the Bearded or Drunk Bucky. Yes, this was going to be the singular best thing she’d ever achieve.

Initial thoughts:  This doesn't give me a good sense of the coming tone; "Drunk Bucky" suggests comedy, which isn't what I was expecting from the title/description.  Also, using "singular" instead of "single" is, while not exactly incorrect, the sort of irregular word use that tends to get me worried.  On the plus side, I do get an immediate, longer-term hook with Twilight's self-assurity, so I won't knock this below two stars.

After reading:  It might be a tiny bit BETTER, in that the ultimate tone (serious, but very show-tone in its ideas, and mores, if not presentation) does accommodate that first bit perfectly well, but there's not much to say beyond that.

A Finer Vintage, by Sunchaser (story: 2 stars)

The first sentence:  One bottle was not going to be enough.

Initial thoughts:  I'm pretty sure I've seen this exact line used--on multiple occasions!--as a story's first sentence.  And small wonder; it's mildly but not distractingly humorous, and immediately sets up the idea of something big and bad (but funny-bad!), all while being nice and pithy.  Of course, the fact that I've seen it multiple times in completely unrelated stories--not just ponyfics, but stories in general--ought to tell you that "generic" is a key watchword here.  With that in mind, I can't go above three stars; there's precious little here that's either memorable or unique.

After reading:  It's THE SAME; it's well-used for comedic effect, but--although there is a nice line shortly thereafter about how Celestia's control of the sun lets her influence which years are good years for wine--it does exactly what was expected of it; no more, no less.


  1. **Checks the title and that of the previous**

    Unless they're teaching things differently at school (and you're the teacher, so maybe you have insight I'm not cognizant of), but I pretty sure that the number after eight is nine, not eight again.

    I have nothing else to add at the moment. Got to head to work.

    1. Haven't you heard of the Common Core? It's completely changed the way ordinal numbers work


      It's been decades, and that damn song still feels awfully relevant sometimes... Anyway, fixed! Now that the post is almost a week old, that is; perfect time to make everything right and pretty, eh?

    3. Nice! I actually thought of that song when I commented (and then ended on Wikipedia reading about New Math when I realized I didn't actually know what it was). Guess it's not just great minds who think alike, huh? :p

  2. Now I want a story that starts "One bottle was not going to be enough" that's a light story about a kid doing an arts and crafts project requiring a lot of glue.