Monday, April 18, 2016

First Sentences In (Fan)Fiction the 10th

In a lot of ways, I don't think Gauntlet of Fire was a very good episode.  Twilight and Rarity were entirely superfluous as characters in the second half, Ember's big realization happened off-screen and without obvious impetus (rather than, say, realizing that she's getting farther by working with Spike and seeing that friendship isn't a weakness), the beats of this episode are basically the same as every other "minor antagonist thinks friendship is stupid, eventually changes mind" episode to date, and Carrot Top doesn't even get a cameo actually, I think she was probably just as happy to sit this episode out; the dragon-lands are no place for a produce farmer, what with the rocky, dirt-poor soil, the absence of nearby agricultural infrastructure, and the presence of a whole bunch of pony-hating dragons.  But for all that, I still really enjoyed the episode; I thought Ember's VA was excellent, the (previous) Dragon Lord was hilarious (between him, the Yaks, and Maud, I think it's becoming clear that I'm just fine with one-dimensional characters... as long as they're funny), and I love how he clearly set the challenge up for his daughter to win (despite his "strongest blah blah" lines, it's all agility and problem-solving... Ember's alleged forte), then forbids her to compete despite knowing full well she's going to go behind his back, so that her victory isn't tainted by hints of nepotism.  Clever devil!

But now, let's move on to some first-sentence reviews.  Check them out, 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.   
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.   

Awakening, by Solocitizen (story: 3 stars)

The first line:  Lumina bobbed her head to her own rhythm, as she drifted through the heavens over a plane of reflected starlight.

Initial thoughts:  I like it a lot.  It immediately contrasts the smallness--the human-ness--of the main character with the grandeur of space, in a visually striking way.  It's evocative, immediate, and sets the tone right off the bat.  Five stars, and we're off to a roaring start!

After reading:  It stays THE SAME, which is to say it's still excellent.  The immediate setting/mood--a somewhat childish pony on a solo space mission, who's attacked and marooned--dovetails nicely with that established by the first sentence.

Ascend, by xTSGx (story: 2 stars)

The first line:  'It's okay Twilight. Just stay calm.'

Initial thoughts:  That missing comma after "okay" doesn't exactly bode well, especially coming on the heels of a misspelling in the disclaimer which precedes the "first" sentence.  I don't have anything against in media res openings in general, but by virtue of their lack of context, they make unforced errors like those pop even more than they otherwise would.  One star, not for being egregiously awful, but for definitely leaving me "less likely to continue reading."

After reading:  On one hand, Twilight's internal narration is practically its own character in this story, so this does set that up.  On the other hand, her internal narration is, despite sometimes being rather humorous, one of the weaker points of the story on account of being extremely overdone.  So on balance, I'd say this is still about THE SAME.

Fluttershy and Celestia Play Chess, by BronyWriter (story: 1 star)

The first line:  Twilight Sparkle and her five friends were all moving around a large suite in the Canterlot Castle, unpacking from a long journey that they had started earlier this morning.

Initial thoughts:  This checks off all the "setup" boxes--characters, setting including (some idea of) time, immediate action--but does so in an ungainly, telly way; I'm especially eyeing that "that they had started earlier this morning" as a communicative but aesthetically unpleasing construct, at least when tacked on to the end of the sentence.  It also doesn't tell me anything about the mood or tone of the story, or even the initial setup.  Still, it does accomplish what it sets out to, so I'll give it two stars.

After reading:  The very next sentence walks us through the timing of their morning, which makes this WORSE in retrospect--that bit I was concerned about adds absolutely nothing to the story that sentence #2 doesn't do better, and superfluousness (superfluosity?) generally isn't ideal when you're trying to hook your reader.

Boast Busted, by RainbowDoubleDash  (story: 3 stars)

The first line:  Trixie used her forelegs to point to her horn. “Now, you will note that my horn does not glow,” she said, as she took off her cape, and held it up like she was facing a charging bull.

Initial thoughts:  Like Ascend, this is a cold open.  It's obviously better in that it doesn't have any obvious technical errors, and quickly sets an easy-to-visualize scene.  That said, it basically tells us "Trixie's doing a show," without any further setup that we wouldn't assume based on those four words.  Nevertheless, this is a pretty clear example of a 3-star opening in my book: my feelings about the story aren't likely to have either improved or soured within the first 38 words.

After reading:  The cold-open leads us into a couple of important pieces of setup, showing us a few early hints of how this AU's characters differ from the show's, both in personality and in life circumstances.  Although the first line doesn't actually gain depth in and of itself, it might be considered slightly BETTER as a necessary part of that scene.

The Cough, by Ebon Mane  (story: 1 star)

The first line: In the darkness, somepony coughed.

Initial thoughts:  I may not have particularly liked the story itself, but this is an excellent first sentence.  It's memorable enough that, more than three months after I read the story to review it, I still knew exactly what the first line was off the top of my head, and it immediately sets a tense, horror-downtime tone.  Our second five-star first line of the day!

After reading:  Impressively, it's even a little BETTER in the context of the whole story, if only for how it ties into the very end.  It's too bad the 1,034 other words aren't so impressive (or rather, are so out of character).

Why Am I Crying?, by Rated Ponystar (story: 1 star)

The first line:  For most ponies in the farming business, winter was the toughest time of year.

Initial thoughts:  I'm assuming that this eventually has something to do with Apple Bloom (or at least, some farmpony or other), or else it's kind of a silly opening.  But assuming that, I think it's a solid beginning: it begins to set a mental image, and encourages the reader on to the next sentence nicely.  It doesn't really do anything beyond that, but I'd still call it a weak three.

After reading:  Things go downhill quickly on the writing front--that first paragraph ends with the very suspect, "Snow made a poor substitute for dirt afterall"--but the direction is as expected, and competently handled on an idea-level.  In terms of its role in establishing the setting in which Bloom finds herself, the first sentence is about THE SAME as it looked at first blush.

Voyage's End, by The DM (story: 2 stars)

The first line:  Twilight stood in silence next to Princess Celestia. They found themselves with their backs to the wall as ponies hurriedly rushed to various monitors and stations within the mission control center.

Initial thoughts:  This is a very workmanlike opening.  Characters, physical positioning, setting, action level... all are dutifully checked off here.  To me, it feels rather mechanical (I think I'd have liked these two sentences written as one, personally), but it's still a solid three stars from me.

After reading:  That slightly mechanical style proves to be a constant throughout the story... but I guess that means that the first line is preparing me for what I'm going to read, doesn't it?  Anyway, this is THE SAME; it accomplishes its communicative goals with precision, if not necessarily aplomb.

In Memory Of, by Obselescence (story: 4 stars)

The first line:  Dear Princess Celestia, I am writing now to thank you for the extremely generous gift you sent for my sixty-fifth birthday. I can certainly imagine how difficult it must have been to get ahold of a set of (original!) works by Clover the Clever, and I want you to know that I’m very grateful for them.

Initial thoughts:  This is hard to evaluate, because it's so generic.  It does unobtrusively communicate what's presumably a soon-to-be-relevant detail (Twilight's age), and an epistolary story certainly can't be panned for starting with "Dear ___," but that doesn't change the fact that all that's hear in the first line--the first two sentences--is utterly lacking in any sort of hook.  For lack of a better idea how to rank it, I'll give it two stars; it doesn't frighten me off by any stretch, but over 50 words in, and I don't yet have anything specific to catch my attention.

After reading:   It definitely gets BETTER, insofar as the first, "normal" letter provides a point of reference with which to compare the subsequent ones.  It's still not exactly "hook-y," and it takes a few letters to pay off properly, but in the end, it does.


  1. How many fics in this fandom have memorable sentences? "In the darkness, somepony coughed" is up there with... well, probably just a bunch of catchphrases, unfortunately. But yeah, it's so powerful. :D

    1. The most recent one that really struck me was the opening to "Cursed Be He That Moves My Bones," which I just got around to reading a couple days ago.

    2. Off the top of my head, I could tell you the first sentence of The Last Human on account of its excellence, and of several other stories (The Dresden Fillies, My Little Dashie, etc.) for more esoteric reasons.

    3. "If ever there was any hope of redemption for your race, it is gone now. You will die by the thousands. This is unforgivable."

      Without spoiling the context, that's from The Immortal Game, and it's one of my all-time favourite lines from a fanfic. I always remember that one.

    4. The greatest first sentence in ponyfiction: The sun was gone down and I was in bed because Daddy and Mommy told me I had to go to sleep but I didn't want to go to sleep because sleeping is boring but I am a good girl and always goes to sleep when told except when I don't.

      I'm also fond of the opening sentence in The Rummy Business of Old Blooey: "I say, Cheese," I said, to Cheese.