Friday, May 13, 2016

First Sentences in (Fan)Fiction the 11th

A while back, I asked if anyone wanted to recommend a few fanfics which they'd like to see me look at the first sentences of.  I got a few suggestions... but mostly what I got was "you should write up some of your own first sentences."

I was inclined to dismiss these at first, as it all felt a bit too self-indulgent for me.  But I think there is some value in looking at one's own writing, and apparently, a goodly number of you agree!  I didn't do every fic of mine--it turns out a good chunk of my fanfics start with some variation on "once upon a time," which probably doesn't need a lot of examination--but click below the break to see my thoughts on some of my stories.

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 the story itself, and the star rating I initially gave that story the date of publication (not necessarily the FiMFic date, for some of the older ones), so you can see which are my older, and which are my newer, stories.   
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 Truth About "Pokey" Pierce, published February 2011

 The first line:  “Pierce? Pierce? PIERCE!”

Pierce’s head snapped up at once, as several classmates giggled. “, Miss Cheerilee!”

First impressions:  It's a pretty typical "throw you right into the scene" type of intro.  It introduces the first character immediately, and gives us a pretty clear first impression of him.  A bog-standard 3 stars, this achieves what it tries to accomplish without being exceptional in any way.

After reading:  The writing on this piece is a real letdown, and the fact that the school day appears to be perhaps fifteen minutes long at the outside kind of robs a start-of-the-day opening of its logic.  On the whole, it's clearly WORSE than expected.

A Simple Little Party, published August 2011

The first line:  It was the night of the Grand Galloping Gala, the first since Princess Luna’s return.

First impressions:  Although not exactly incorrect, the two phrases that make up this sentence don't exactly combine elegantly--surely, there's a better way to establish which year's gala it is later in the story?  And beyond telling us when the fic is set, this sentence doesn't do much.  2 arbitrary-scale-units from me.

After reading:  I suppose it's slightly BETTER, in that the same paragraph uses that second phrase I complained about as a direct point of contrast.  It's still not exactly my best work, though.

The Showmare's Tale, published October 2011

The first line:  The Great and Powerful Trixie sat alone at a table in the otherwise crowded Canterlot bar, hunched over a shot glass filled to the brim with salt.

First impressions:  This sets the scene quickly and efficiently, which is good.  It also frames Trixie in a way which lets the reader infer her general mood without stating it, which is always a plus.  On the downside, that last phrase feels really clunky to me, over-explaining details that don't tell us much or anything relevant (who cares how full her shot glass was?).  Still, this is another 3, and a much stronger one than the last story, at that.

After reading:  It stays about THE SAME, in that none of those initial impressions were either misleading, nor had any unexpected payoff.

Letters from a Senior to a Junior Changeling, published November 2012

The first line:  My dear Earwig,

I will begin by saying how pleased I am with how quickly you have gained entry into the life of that pony to whom I’ve assigned you. To adopt a beguiling and alluring form is by far the simplest way to a stallion’s affections, and that your body has so easily attracted his notice bodes well. Indeed, those who are drawn to a pretty face are the simplest for us to bend to our needs, for they can most easily be blinded to those changes in behavior and sociability which you will seek to create.

First impressions:  It was a real pain to figure out where to cut this off; each of the narrator's sentences flows into the other, and there's no clear point where you can cut off without feeling like you're breaking into the middle of a thought (this wasn't something I consciously tried to do as I wrote the story, but looking over it now, I think it's very appropriate to the character--hurrah for accidental competence!).  There's nothing terribly quotable here, but the writing style is distinct--always a good thing in epistolary writing--and the word choice feels malicious and conniving, which is a good fit for the content.  A strong 4.

After reading:  I guess I would say it's a bit BETTER, simply because Maxilla's tone and style are remarkably consistent throughout the story (even when her attitude or the thrust of her advice seems to change, the writing style and structure remain clearly identifiable as a single character's), and although the intro may be "fuzzy," it sets that tone very cleanly and clearly.

Wyrmlysan, published March 2014

The first line:  Three ponies stood before the cavern, the setting sun silhouetting them against the mountain ridge upon which they stood. One pony faced the cave, staring into the gaping hole which towered above her. Two ponies faced her, occasionally glancing at one another as if for support.

First thoughts:  I'm not convinced that leading off with an alliterative phrase is a good choice for a story carrying a solo Tragedy tag.  It's kind of neat (at least, I think it's kind of neat...) how the bit I quoted tells us almost nothing about the setting despite being entirely concerned with character positioning, while giving some solid hints to the characters' attitudes and relationships despite explicitly saying nothing about either.  Still, this is a lot of words to say "three ponies were outside a cave," and not necessarily in such an interesting way as to justify all the verbiage.  3 from me.

After reading:  I'd say it's BETTER, if only because the story returns to this structure again to open another scene--that kind of structural (not, to be clear, literal/content) repetition can do wonders for story cohesion, when used to good effect.

Even in Dreams, published July 2015

The first line:  Carrot Top watched as the Tantabus turned yet another building into a hideous caricature of a living creature. “I think that’s Berry Punch’s house,” she observed.

First thoughts:  That's a classic bit of deadpan from Carrot Top, and it sets the time and context for the reader right away--assuming, that is, that they can immediately make the connection to the show episode Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep?  Of course, if they don't immediately make that connection, this could leave them floundering... there's also the matter of this being a pretty comedic start to a fic that isn't tagged a comedy.  A 4 for the humor, but a 2 for intro/fit, which by my math works out to a 3 on balance.

After reading:  It's about THE SAME; it sets up for more of a humor story, which is admittedly where this story starts, before becoming more... well, not serious, but SoL, at least, as it goes on.  For all that, though, I still think it's a catchy start to a fic.


  1. It occurs to me that if that shot glass were, say, lined with salt, it might tell us even more about Trixie's mood than a full, untouched one.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Oh, you want *mood* in your opening lines with Trixie? Let me take a quick shot at it. (edited)

      Five shot glasses full of tequila were lined up on Trixie’s little table, each with their little slice of lime and pile of salt, but the sixth glass in the line was not filled with anything alcoholic. Instead, a dark and nearly alive substance churned slowly in the depths of the glass, with the faint hiss of dissolving glass that indicated its intent on escaping before Trixie could finish writing her letter.

      “Dear Princess Twi—” Trixie put down her quill and picked up the first glass. One lick, one swig, and a sharp bite on the slice of lime later, she picked up her quill again and gritted her teeth. “Princess Twilight,” she continued, drawing the letters with intense concentration.