Friday, July 22, 2016

First Sentences in (Fan)Fiction the 12th

Thursday saw something new to me: school being canceled on account of heat.  Is this something that happens regularly in warmer climes?  Or is this as weird as I think it is?  Granted, it's hot and humid enough that my glasses fogged up when I took the trash out, and I don't exactly blast the AC, so maybe the school district knows what it's doing.  Anyway, here are my thoughts on some first sentences!  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.

Flash Fog, by Kwackerjack (story: 4 stars)

The first line:  Flywheel stifled a yawn as she stared at the myriad gauges in front of her. Hers was not the most glamorous job around, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t important (according to her supervisor, anyway).

Initial thoughts:  I don't particularly like the use of parentheses here; to me, this would feel more prose-like if that aside were set off with a dash, while the current setup looks more academic than prose-ish to me.  But the content is funny in a pleasantly low-key way, and two sentences in, it's already becoming clear what kind of character Flywheel is.  I'd give this three stars, and at the upper end of that, for doing a good job setting the tone that way.

After reading:  It's about THE SAME: we learn everything we need to know about Flywheel from those first two sentences, it turns out (she's not a major character), and although the tone sometimes becomes a bit more serious than this opening might indicate, it's hardly a misleading beginning.

Loyalty, by Arbarano (story: 2 stars)

The first line:  The Cloudiseum echoed to thunderous applause and cheers as a grey, beaming pegasus made their way to join four others on a raised platform, bumping and shaking hooves as they settled in. Buried deep in the crowd of hopefuls below, Rainbow Dash could barely disguise the nerves as they rattled her breath.

Initial thoughts:  I prefer "Cloudosseum," personally (though I'd be fine with -esseum, -usseum, or -isseum, too); "Cloudiseum" reads like "cloud museum" to me.  On what I hope is a less idiosyncratic note, I dislike the use of the singular "they," seeing as there's absolutely no reason to try to obscure that pegasus's gender, and even if there was, rewording the sentence to avoid the issue is trivial.  The setting and character are introduced quickly and clearly, but I still can't give this more than two stars, seeing as there's nothing else here beyond that, and nothing particularly memorable about the structure or phrasing.

After reading:  Is "Cloudeseum" canon?  I googled up a few spellings, and that's the one that appears to be the default.  I don't like it.

As for the first line, it's still THE SAME.  This is one of those WYSIWYG openings, content-wise.

The Sun & The Rose, by soulpillar (story: 2 stars)

The first line:  "Cecilia, please... just a while longer," the knight said.

A leather boot, hastily strapped with a metal shin-guard, hit solid stone as the armoured man stepped through the mirror.

Initial thoughts:  Looks like an in media res opening, and (as might be expected) it's not at all clear what's happening yet.  The description in the second sentence doesn't immediately paint a clear picture (is this knight coming from battle, his armour falling apart?  Has he rushed to the mirror, without having time to fully arm himself?), but "knight" paints a pretty clear mental image to begin with, so as long as the author's not specifically playing against that image, it's not hard to form a mental image so far.  A weak three out of five.

After reading:  I think it's a little WORSE in the end, in that the first sentence gives a pretty clear impression that Cecilia's actually there, when the knight is in fact talking to himself.  Since that bit of misleading isn't done for any obvious effect, it seems to me it just muddles the opening, which is the last thing a story needs when it opens by thrusting the reading right into the action.

The Three Sisters, by WandererD (story: 1 star)

The first line:  She watched as the bubble of red energy expanded from the forms of Princess Cadence and Shining Armor, burning bright and strong: a fitting retort to her sister’s bragging about power and uselessness.

Initial thoughts:  The "she" here is pretty ambiguous, but that's not necessarily a flaw.  There's still a pretty strong initial hook here, despite this basically just being "remember the end of A Canterlot Wedding?"  There's nothing wrong with setting a reader up by recalling or reinterpreting the relevant bits of an episode.  With that in mind, this is a clear three-star: it does what it sets out to do, and doesn't shoot itself in the foot doing it.

After reading:  The story plays coy with the fact that "she" is Rarity throughout the first scene, which isn't a big deal (and, since she's the only one of the main-six who's character tagged, could probably be inferred from the get-go by those who pay greater attention to character tags than I apparently do), to no particular effect.  In that sense, one could say that this opening is a bit WORSE than it looks at first blush, though it's fair to say that it's perfectly indicative of what's to come.

Arachnophobia, by Dennis the Menace (story: 1 star)

The first line:  In the long run, I should have seen it coming a mile away. Perhaps this was punishment. That fateful day when Luna would want a furry companion. And how ironic that the most endearing aspect of her new pet terrified me out of my wits.

Initial thoughts:  If it isn't clear enough from this, the story description makes plain that this is Celestia talking.  I'm not enamored of the writing ("in the long run" and "a mile away" are awfully redundant when combined like that).  Still, the short, punchy sentences provide a nice setup for some character-based tonal humor, and there's an obvious hook in "why is this ironic, why should she have seen this coming, etc." A strong two.

After reading:  As near as I can tell, none of the questions posed by the opening are actually answered in this story, in favor of a bunch of "Celestia doesn't like spiders" without expansion.  That makes this opening look quite a bit WORSE in retrospect.

Twice as Bright, by Cloudy Skies (story: 4 stars)

The first line:  “For the reasons stated above, the city of Los Pegasus feels that a general tax lift in accordance with the attached forms and figures would be justified. As Mayor, I feel it is my duty to forward these concerns, while also thanking the Royal Administration Office for fair dealings in the past. Sincerely yours, Golden Chip.”

Initial thoughts:  I debated a bit where to cut this off; a couple more sentences would have given this some more context, but at that point, we're moving well past the "first sentence" concept.  I'm not trying to judge the story's opening generally, I'm trying to judge the very first thing one takes in when one starts reading the story.  With that in mind, this isn't an awful opening, in that it doesn't really do anything to scare me off, and does induce me to read a bit farther in order to find out what context this letter's being read in.  But it doesn't tell me anything more than that, and it certainly doesn't pass the "quotable" test, in whole or part.  Two stars.

After reading:  As should be easy to guess, it's BETTER when given full context.  This opening doesn't stand well on its own, but as part of a larger whole, it's perfectly suitable.  It may not a wonderful "first sentence," but it's a fine piece of a "first scene."


  1. I always look forward to these. :D

  2. I don't think I've ever had a heat day, but I do think there were some other types or near misses. Once was a furnace-failure day in winter, I think we may have come close to a rain/flood day on one occasion, and another time we were a half hour or so away from them just telling everyone to go home after power was out for a long time.

  3. "Cloudeseum" is used by Hasbro (used a couple of times near the bottom of the page), so it does look like it's official. It does seem an odd choice, though, given the spelling of "Colosseum".

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  5. In the my county in central Maryland, we've had days canceled (or ended early) because of heat. Then again, I think it's partially because not all of the schools have air conditioning yet (which the state is giving the county grief over).

    Also, do you teach at summer school or something? That's gotta suck.

    1. I'm not teaching this summer, but I'm on the district's alert list, so I still got the notification.

      The elementary school I went to didn't have AC, but I think they all do now, and the buses have it to... so I dunno.

    2. Well, in very severe cases, it could be like what I've seen/seen discussed for cold days, where the point isn't about time spent in school or on the bus, but at the bus stop.

  6. When I attended grade school in North Carolina, few of the buildings had air conditioning, so it wasn't too unusual for us to be sent home early. There are always urban myths about such things, like if the bus was an hour late, you could stay home. The one regarding heat was that if it got above 90 by 10 AM, school would let out at 1.