Wednesday, October 5, 2016

First Sentences In (Fan)Fiction the 14th

One thing I've noticed, working at the elementary level: I see a lot more MLP-themed clothing and accouterments here than I ever did when I was at a middle school.  And I must say, it brightens my day a little bit to see Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Twilicorn, and... okay, it's actually just those three (do they even make Applejack backpacks?  If they do, you wouldn't know it from what these kids are wearing).  Still, brightening!

And while we're vaguely on the subject of "first impressions" (what you're wearing is certainly a first impression, after all), let's segue into some first sentence-examining.  Check it out, below!

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.

Martial Bliss, by Skywriter (story: 4 stars)

The first line:  "All right, maggot!" bellowed Staff Sergeant Thunderous, once of the Equestrian Royal Guard. "Today's the day we teach you to use the most deadly weapon in the Palace Arsenal!"

Initial thoughts:  As the title and cover art make clear, the joke here is going to be that "the most deadly weapon" is Cadence.  Still, we don't get to that joke immediately; this isn't a situation where I could have included one more sentence and gotten the first punchline in.  Given the context, it's a fine opening, introducing a major character, but it'd be nice if it landed some bit of humor right away.  Still, a solid, normal, 3.

After reading:  It's a bit BETTER.  The story actually holds its "main" joke in abeyance for a bit, instead building some rapport between Thunderous and Shining Armour while working some of that humor I was looking for (Shining deadpans, in response to that opening line, "I outrank you, like, eight times").  That proves a solid choice, while still giving a comedic kick to the fic from the early moments.

Upheaval: Breaking Point, by Visiden Visidane (story: 2 stars)

The first line:"Come along, Spike! I'm sensing more gems over there!"

For Spike, who had been spending all afternoon digging holes and dragging a cartload of gems through the woods, that melodious voice was both a drink of water and a quick break rolled into one.

Initial thoughts:  The writing's a little suspect ("had spent" would be better; "both" is superfluous), but this does set something of a "calm before the storm" tone, which I assume is what's intended.  If so, I'll give this a 2; issues notwithstanding, it immediately invokes a sense of normalcy by calling back to show staples, without frightening me away.

After reading:  That "calm before the storm" prediction was spot-on; as such, this is THE SAME as it looked at first blush.

The Moon, the Flower, and the Door, by Bucking Nonsense (story: 3 stars)

The first line: "...The test ends when you open that door."

Initial thoughts:  Opening with unattributed dialogue seems to irk some people, but I have no problem with it, inherently.  And here, it immediately (at least, in conjunction with the description) all but begs the reader to parse it, to look for the intended meaning.  That meaning isn't exactly hard to find, but still: that's immediate engagement.  4!

After reading:  It's about THE SAME; I was a little disappointed by how much dancing around that "intended meaning" there was, but that doesn't retroactively weaken the first line.  It's what comes after that's less stellar.

Twilight Sparkle Gets a Free Salad, by AestheticB (story: 3 stars)

The first line:  Deep beneath Equestria’s capital city of Canterlot, under the harsh white glow of fluorescent magelights and the oppressive starkness of hundreds of stainless steel corridors, Zig-Zag straightened his tie.

Initial thoughts:  I like it.  It immediately creates a sense of humorous deflation by contrasting the grandiosity of the setting with the image of a sillilly (totally a word, don't look it up, just trust me on this one)-named pony adjusting his tie.  Setting a solid tone right off the bat can be tough, and although this doesn't give me any sense of Zig-Zag as a character (he could be an officious ninny, a surprisingly competent office drone, a huckster, etc.), it's still an effective enough beginning to give an easy 4 to.

After reading:  It's THE SAME, which is a good thing.  The tone is indeed as advertised, and builds on itself quickly.

Dying to Get There, by Titanium Dragon (story: 3 stars)

The first line:

Princess Twilight Sparkle: Dead At 18


Initial thoughts:  I debated whether the newspaper article counted as the "first line," and if so, whether the title thereof counted.  I ultimately figured "yes" on both counts; they're presented as such, and introduce the premise.  And what a great first line!  It's memorable, succinct, funny (as it should be, for a comedy), and immediately prompts the reader to ask several questions of the sort most likely to encourage them to continue reading.  5 from me--and the first five for a comedic intro, if I'm not mistaken.

After reading:  It's not quite as clickbait-y an article as I might have hoped, but it's still very appropriately ridiculous, and the title feels appropriate in context.  As such, I'd call it THE SAME.  Which is to say, excellent.

Arrow 18 Mission Logs: Lone Ranger, by Admiral Tigerclaw (story: 2 stars)

The first line:

Mission Log:
July 15th, 2257

After 22 weeks of travel, I have finally arrived in orbit around planet Omega Centauri II. It’s strange, being the only person on a vessel originally designed for a crew of thirty. But the mission required an arrow class transport.

Initial thoughts:  Right away, this has me a little leery; one person alone on a lengthy interstellar mission always feels like something that demands justification to me.  The story starts off blatantly expository, but the log format does give it cover for that, so I'm not docking points for that, one "line" in.  Still only a 2.

After reading:  As it turns out, the "one person on what was potentially a multi-year mission" is just the tip of the iceberg: stuff like the main character being immune to magic, or the reason why their solar system is geocentric, are simply never explained.  That makes the whole "lone ranger" bit stick out more in retrospect, which in turn makes the opening feel a bit WORSE.

Princess Twilight Sparkle's 500th Birthday, by Autumnschild (story: 3 stars)

The first line:  “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!”

Princess Twilight Sparkle woke with a start, slamming her horn into the solid gold headboard of her royal bed, punching a perfectly spiraled hole through it and into the wall beyond.

Initial thoughts:  I'm a little torn.  On one hand, this does set up a nicely comic tone right off the bat, in addition to giving us setting and character.  On the other, this isn't a comedy, and I'm worried that this isn't setting me up terribly well for the story I'm about to read.  On the whole, I'll give it 3.

After reading:  There are some funny bits to this story... and some serious bits, and some low-key bits, and they aren't all terribly well integrated.  As such, this intro was about THE SAME: it set a tone that the rest of the fic couldn't deliver on, nor support in its whole.


  1. Goshdarnit, Chris, it's "Martial", that's the whole joke! D:

    1. In fairness, I don't think I realized it was "martial" until years after first reading it. It's really easy to parse into the stock phrase it's derived from and constructed from the same letters (in almost the same order) as.

      That said, what's more important is raising awareness of a related practice--the World Wife-Carrying Championship in Finland (of which I have it on good authority "Shiny and Cady would own that competition so hard they'd need to claim it on their taxes"):