Friday, October 21, 2016

OMPR Turns Five

That's right, it was five years ago today that Six-Star Reviews Part 1 hit the interwebs.  You know, back when Equestria Daily was the hub of all things ponyfic, had star ratings, all that jazz.  Since then, I've reviewed round about 850 stories, (and that's not including anything from the RCL, which I joined just over three years ago, and nearly all of who's 150-odd stories I've also contributed to blurb-ifying) including about 350 long-form reviews of popular and/or well-known fanfics and, occasionally, their sequels.

That's kind of a lot.  And I've been doing it for kind of a long time.  And personally, I think that's pretty neat.  Back when I started, I had no idea I'd keep going this long, or that I would achieve some small measure of popularity in the process.

I only started doing reviews in the first place because the fandom had finally reached the point where reading everything that looked vaguely promising was no longer practical, and I had searched without success for someone doing reader-oriented reviews for a few months.  Eventually, I decided to give reviewing a try myself, threw together a .blogspot page, and went at it.  I had planned to do a dozen or two reviews, see if I enjoyed it, and then maybe go tell some friends... but to my surprise, ponyfic author Ezn discovered my blog on his own after only a couple of weeks (I guess I wasn't the only one who wanted to see some reviews!), and others soon followed.  Since then, as the show has proceeded from the start of Season 2 to the end of Season 6, as FiMFiction rose and became the hub of all things ponyfic, and as tens of thousands of authors have come and, sometimes, gone, I've been plunking away over here, three times a week.

I didn't assume there was ever going to be anyone besides me who cared about fanfic reviewing in the first place, but over the years a vibrant reviewer culture has developed flourished throughout the fandom, and being a part of that has been fun.

What comes next?  Well, more of the same, of course!  Why stop when you've got a good thing going?  My plan has always been to quit doing this when I stop enjoying it, and although there have been peaks and troughs to my enthusiasm, certainly, I've yet to start seeing this blog as a chore, rather than a hobby.  That day will come, sooner or later... but until then, it's full steam ahead.

Now, in celebration, I thought about linking together a few classic OMPR posts--but I don't really know how to define "classic OMPR posts."  Instead, I'm going to put together a set of links below the break to some my best lines--or at least, the ones that were most memorable to me.  Go take a look at a few of the quips, comparisons, explications, and what have you that I've bandied at various stories over the past five years.

And one more thing: thanks to all of you who've come by, who keep coming by, or who just dropped in once or twice and left a comment on my reviews.  Reviewing stories may be fun, but it's seeing other people agree, disagree, and discuss that's a real treat for me.  Also, it's definitely helped me improve--my early reviews may have the same format as my more recent ones, but I like to think I've gotten rather dramatically better at marshaling my thoughts, and laying them out in a manner both interesting and illuminating.  Thank you all!

Now, on to the best of OMPR!  I've deliberately left the names of the fanfics out (plus, some of these aren't from reviews at all!), but the links all go to the respective posts.  Relive some old analysis, or just take it all in context-free.  And if you've got a favorite line you can remember, let me know and I'll throw a link to it in, too.

The Good (or "Chris gushes about great fanfics")

After I read this story, the first thing I did was go back and read it again[...] I think re-reading a story is one of the highest complements you can pay an author, and this is a story that positively demands that the reader come again.

This story may not be perfect.  But it's better than a lot of stories that are. 

It has an "arrow to the knee" joke that not only didn't make me want to quit reading on the spot, but which actually got me to smile.  That'hard to do.

This story is in the tradition of the best speculative fiction, so far as its plotting, tone, and willingness to dispassionately examine thorny issues are concerned.

I want to particularly praise the story's very end for poignantly driving home its central theme, and elegantly emphasizing how much Twilight has changed--and what parts still remain the same.

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

this is a story that offers achingly believable depictions of depression and despair, clever narrative tricks of perspective, and a mesmerizing mix of bleakness, humor, action, and--despite it all--a fundamentally hopeful outlook.

it's a story that can speak to readers of a variety of interests, and tastes, and which has something to say to every one of them.  And that something is at times profound in its meaning, and invariably captivating in its presentation.

The Bad (or "Chris lays down sick burns, yo")

I dragged myself through all 22 chapters of Luna being deliberately obtuse, Twilight being unconscionably creepy, and some of the most annoying secret-keeping in all of fanfiction

this story ended up being a lot like sitting through a stranger's slideshow of their vacation: you're watching someone do stuff, but you lack the context to care.

To play such drivel completely straight, to unwinkingly aver that this kind of lazy, trite, cliche-ridden slop is worthy of emotional investment, is the height of arrogance.

This is a type of story of which many, many examples exist in any fandom: it does little with its characters, and tries to demand an emotional reaction without earning any particular investment from its readers.

Even considering the wordcount of the fics, this review has taken me a while to get finished.  The reason is that, frankly, I didn't want to keep reading after the first chapter.  But I did, and here's my conclusion: I have literally nothing nice to say about these two stories.

The result is not altogether unlike watching a mother loudly swear at her children in a restaurant: you can't quite bring yourself to say it's wrong, but you'd certainly rather be anywhere else.

After having read it again, I have to say: this fic is just as unmemorable as I didn't remember it being.

I can do this review in two phrases: 1) this is a scene, not a story, and 2) the joke's in the picture.

simply reading the words without any audio or visual backdrop invites the reader to ponder the absurdity of the dialogue to which Twilight and company have been reduced.

If you ever wonder why "normal people" don't take fanfiction seriously, it's because when you say "I write fanfiction," they either think you mean that you write porn, or stuff like this.

This is an argument in place of a story, which manipulates its characters to fit the needs of said argument rather than mold the argument to its characters, and which despite (or perhaps, because of) that, is still unable to make that point convincingly.

The Ugly (or "Chris don't always write real good")

each offers a thoughtful interpretation of one of the Elements of Harmony, and what it really means to be honest, loyal, generous, kind, or... um, laugh-y and magical.

Wow, I was just re-reading that last sentence as I proofread this post, and it took me a while to make heads or tails of it.

That last paragraph has nothing to do with the story or any criticisms thereof, by the way.  I just thought it was interesting.

(for some reason, I keep thinking the word is spelled "fridgid," and spellcheck keeps having to correct me)


However, there was a fair bit of light, unobtrusive comedy, which had the much-needed effect of keeping the narrative from bogging down in a bog of bogginess apathy.

Also, I've never liked that second i in "biscuit," and I feel like "melon" should have a second l

But if Nothing Else, Remember... (or "Chris doles out some advice")

Too many fanfic authors seem to think that writing an epic-length story gives them carte blanche to fill their work with deathly dull monologues, pages and pages of backstory with no obvious relevance, and other assorted filler.  I cannot count the number of times I've seen the author of a many-chaptered monstrosity claim that "It starts slow, but it gets really good around chapter X."  Based on previous experience, this appears to be code for "Everything before chapter X is crap."  Whether a story is two thousand words long or two million, it should still strive to be interesting at all times. 

A story should say something.  Not necessarily something earth-shaking or life-altering, but something.  Moreover, it should say that something in a way which is in some way original.  A great author will find a unique angle to approach any story from, even the most banal.  There are literally hundreds, probably thousands, of pre s2 fanfics floating around about Luna being weepy and depressed because even after a thousand years, everyone still sleeps through her night.  But there were a few "sad Luna" stories that still succeeded, because the author was able to put an original spin on an idea which had seemingly been done to death by the time the show was just a few months old.
Stories are like snowflakes: no two should be alike.  If a story is just like any other of a group--if there's nothing to distinguish it from every other "sad Luna" story out there--then it's not a snowflake, it's just an undifferentiated glob of slush.  And nobody likes getting pelted in the face with sleet.

Excessive meme use is typically viewed as a bad thing in fanfiction, but the truth is that use of memes is just a internet-bred form of referential humor, and can be done well.  The problem many authors have is that, rather than utilize a meme in such a way that a) it works in the story whether or not the reader is familiar with the meme, and b) the meta-level of the reference reinforces the tone of the moment, they just toss a fan gag in without much regard to how it fits into their story, or whether the "joke" even makes sense in context.  Because poor use of memes is so pervasive, though, it's easy to view it as an inherently bad thing.

If you type some variation on "what makes a bad OC" into your search engine, you'll get plenty of advice--oddly enough, mostly pony-specific.  At a glance, "shipping him/her with a main character," "ridiculous superpowers," "special and unique physical characteristics that don't actually make him/her ugly," "canon-breaking abilities," and "mysterious backstory for the sake of drama" are a few of the more common ones which could be applied to this story's protagonist.  However, these aren't really how you make a bad OC; lots of stories have been based on characters with one or more of these traits, who were nevertheless strong, interesting, and well-designed for the story they were in.  That list is a list of symptoms, not of causes.

Just as a general aside, since I've seen this a couple of times (relatively) recently: an author making an I/me mixup is a bit annoying but understandable; Twilight making that mistake is both annoying and out of character.  If you're going to have Twi correcting grammar, for goodness sake, make sure she's correct!

As a rule of thumb, if you don't feel like you understand why a person of normal intelligence and mild disposition would or could hold a given view or do a particular thing, you probably aren't going to be able to represent them faithfully in a story.  If you're dead set on doing so, rather than just throw together some talking points cobbled from the internet, your best bet it probably to talk to such a person.  And make sure you get their views on your counterarguments, too

In a story told from a first-person perspective, it's of vital importance that the narrator have a clear, distinct, and consistent voice.  After all, the whole purpose of first-person narration is to give the reader a closer, more intimate look at that characters PoV; the voice, word choice, moments the narrator lingers over and ones she breezes past, and so on, all should combine to help inform who that character is.  And beyond that, it should remain consistent in its approach--which is easy enough with stuff like "don't include information that the narrator doesn't or couldn't know" (though even this gets abused in many stories), but also extends to less obvious details like making sure that worldview is reflected in descriptions, or that the actions of other characters are interpreted through the veil of the narrator's impression and preconceptions.  Using the first-person approach, in other words, gives an author a lot of chances to screw up that don't present themselves (at least, to as great a degree) in third-person.  But when first-person is used effectively, it can help create greater empathy with the narrator, and can be used in ways that make a story engaging and immersive.

Thanks for a great five years, everyone.


  1. You think you can quit someday? That's so cute! /)(^ε^)(\

    Congrats on keeping it up for five years! It's been one helluva ride. Pretty sure I've said it before, but thanks for getting me into fanfiction

    I love that your classic "complement" typo is in that first line. It seems very appropriate, somehow

    1. Yes... "classic."

      But, I mean, it wouldn't be OMPR without do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do editing goofs now, would it?


    (If that comes across as a threat, it is intentional.)

  3. Replies
    1. Y'all in the comments are just as quotable as me!

  4. The ride never ends, Chris. The ride never ends...

  5. Congratulations, and here's hoping you continue to find it fun!

    And what a compendium of proof this post is that there's not just good fiction writing to be had in our little slice of the internet, but non- as well.

    Funny that most of the gushing section is on stories that weren't 5-starred (though you could add the 5-starred first sentence)--but then I guess those are already neatly curated and easy to find should one want more.

  6. I know I've been quiet, but I've still been following this blog. Even when I disagree with one of your posts, I at least come away entertained and/or having learned something. Congratulations on five fine years. Here's to many more to come.

  7. A little less than five years ago, I happened upon your "The Purloined Pony" story while searching through six-star fics and, having a fondness for those old CYOA books, gleefully devoured it. After reading that, I sought out the rest of your work and in a happy accident discovered this blog by clicking on your name in an EQD comments thread for one of them. That was a good day.

    Even though I've drifted away from the wider pony community, I still like to keep up with this blog and read the occasional four/five star story. Keep up the great work, Chris.

  8. Congratulations for surviving five years and reaching this milestone. I mostly just lurk to read a review every now and again, but I should at least take this opportunity to say: rest assured I find your blog informative and entertaining, and I hope you keep it going for a long time yet.