Wednesday, November 2, 2016

First Sentences In (Fan)Fiction the 15th

I didn't see any pony costumes for Halloween this year :(  I kind of assumed I would, not that I'm at an elementary school, but the closest I got was a generic unicorn.  Ah well, seeing a FiM costume may have always made me smile in previous Halloweens, but it hardly ruins my day not to see one.

But now, on to first sentences!  Some story starters and what I think of them, 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.

A Perfectly Ordinary Day In Ponyville, by The Equestrian Gentlecolt (story: 2 stars)

The first line:  A long, shrill note pierced the veil of dreams. It arced across sunny meadows, shattered the surface of placid lakes, and tore through deep forests, leaving a trail of the rapidly-fading memories of slumber in its wake. 

Initial thoughts:  I've decided that I have a least favorite type of opening to review: it's the "sweeping visual which doesn't culminate in a deflating gag until, like, 100 words in."  Not because I think they're bad openings, mind, but because they're hard to evaluate as openings.  Do I take the punchline into account?  That takes me significantly farther into the story than "first sentence" really suggests... but on the other hand, how can you evaluate a setup without its punchline?

Anyway, the punchline here is "Twilight gets smacked awake," even though that bit didn't make it into the quote, this is still properly evaluated as a grandiose setup.  I think it's clear enough (in conjunction with the Random/Comedy tags) from the get-go, and it's perfectly fine at that, so I'll give it a 3: it does its job, while neither encouraging me forward more than a typical opening, nor doing anything to dissuade me from continuing.

After reading:  It's about THE SAME, in that it still does exactly what you'd expect it to, with perfect competence.  Not much else to say down here!

The Party Hasn't Ended, by Butterscotchsundae (story: 1 star)

The first line:  Pinkie Pie stood in the middle of Sugar Cube Corner and surveyed her handiwork.  "Pinkie Pie," she said to herself. "I know I say this to you... Or do I mean 'me'?... every month, but you've gone and outdone yourself." She cocked her head in thought. "Or do I mean 'myself'? Oh, I can never work that out!"


Sorry, sorry.  On a more serious note: This is a pretty low-stakes introduction, but not only does it present us with a character and setting quickly and efficiently, it also displays some excellent Pinkie dialogue: whimsical, but not aggressively dumb.  A very solid 4 stars.

After reading:  It's close, but I'd say it's slightly WORSE in a fuller context, to whit: Pinkie is filled with unrequited pining, and shortly after this first line, breaks down into tears.  That doesn't really fit the tone I was set up for by this opening.

Living Forever, by whateverdudezb (story: 2 stars)

The first line:  In the glittering palace of Canterlot, where sat both the sun and moon princesses that ruled over the lands of Equestria, there resided a grand hall decorated with beautiful stained glass windows.

Initial thoughts:  There's a certain staid elegance to that last phrase, though it is undermined a bit by using "resided" to describe a nonliving object (hall, whatever).  That elegance does help move me forward toward the presumed comic payoff (this is another comedy, after all) in a way that A Perfectly Ordinary Day's opening doesn't, but balanced against that is that this phrasing lacks the grandiosity to really make said deflating joke pop.  Another 3.

After reading:  It's WORSE, because the payoff is a literal Lavender Alicorn bit of LUS-ing.  More broadly, this doesn't ever really turn its joke, instead making a gradual, vague transition towards goofiness.  The first line's not bad in and of itself, but it doesn't have any real payoff.

Insomnia, by Pale Horse (story 2 stars)

The first line:  My faithful student Dear Princess Twilight Sparkle,

Initial thoughts:  This is actually preceded by the date and some titles, but to me this feels like the "first line."  Unfortunately, it's got a giant red flag in the form of my least-favorite epistolary convention, the "crossed-out but still perfectly readable words which offer insight into the writer's thoughts."  Would you send a letter like that?  No, you would get a new piece of paper.  I almost always find this kind of shortcut immersion-breaking, and seeing at the very start of a story sets me on edge.  A 1: this makes me less likely to keep reading.

After reading:  It's BETTER, because it soon becomes clear that Celestia has no intention of sending this story, which ameliorates the realism complaint.  There's still a LOT of this kind of cheating-to-show-character-thoughts, though, and it still isn't my favorite way to communicate a character.

The Assassination of Twilight Sparkle, by Rated Ponystar (story: 2 stars)

The first line:  Celestia could remember the first book she had ever given Twilight Sparkle.

Initial thoughts:  I like it.  It immediately evokes a wistful mood by calling back to a (presumably) treasured memory, invites the reader to continue reading both with the obvious hook (what book?) and the more general expectation of finding out more about their early relationship, and gives us our principal character right off the bat.  The one flaw with it as a first sentence it that it's rather bland--this isn't one I'm likely to remember, let alone quote off the top of my head.  Still, a very solid 4.

After reading:  It's WORSE, because the subsequent scene (and story, for that matter) are so cliche.  To its credit, it's sincere, but still.  Also, I'm just now realizing that I was on a real run of 2-star stories in June and July.

Fallout Equestria: Project Horizons, by Somber (story: 4 stars)

The first line: War. War never changes.

Initial thoughts:  Well, it starts by quoting a video game, which is usually not a good thing.  But there are a few ameliorating factors here.  First, this is (more or less) a video game crossover.  And second, the tagline is a key part of that game, rather than a cheap callout.  Still, I'm giving this a 2, in that the primary feeling it evokes is "Ah yes, I know that line from the Fallout games," which doesn't exactly set one up for a immersive reading experience.

After reading:  While I still may not personally be a fan of the opening, I will admit that it's BETTER used than I might have expected, turning around and tying quickly in to the central theme of the first chapter--that is to say, moving beyond the derivative and into original storytelling.


  1. Man, I also hate it when people use strikethroughs in letters where the character receiving the letter is clearly not supposed to be able to read that part. It's a huge cheat and absolutely immersion-breaking, as it's incompatible with the format. I'm at least heartened to see this author employed a scenario in which it's plausible to do so.

    1. For that matter, I guess I'm a little surprised you never do this exercise for the stories you have in your mini reviews. They're ones you chose to read, after all, so something about them hooked you, though the fact that you have to actually open the story to see the first line makes it unlikely that's what grabbed your attention. I know it means you can't report a star rating, but I still think it would be interesting to see some of those.

    2. That is a good point! To be fair, my choice to read stuff for the mini-reviews is almost always made pre-first-line-reading, but it'd still be something for me to try.

    3. "my choice to read stuff for the mini-reviews is almost always made pre-first-line-reading"

      True, but you don't even have a choice of what to read for the Fandom Classics or 6-Star Reviews, so they're not any different in that regard.

  2. Unfortunately, I think MLP's time has nearly passed when it comes to its mainstream popularity with kids. I pretty much never see any merch from the series anymore. It used to be all over the place. I'm not sure what the ratings are these days, but in the malls, the super markets, the street, it's completely dropped off the radar in my corner of the world.

    My wife dressed up as Rainbow Dash last year. I wondered this year how many kids wouldn't recognize her if she'd dressed as a pony this time around.

    1. I'm never anywhere that I can gauge how much kids still pay attention to it by seeing if they have the toys, clothes, etc., but I do know that the toy line is still well-stocked and gets its own specially demarcated area on the shelves at Target, Wal-Mart, and Toys R Us.

      There's one thing I do wonder. The show is still cute and i think would be enjoyable to kids, but they would kind of be coming into the middle of things now. The fans who were with the show from the start saw the getting-to-know-you episodes, and those are the ones now growing out of it. The newer youngsters aren't getting that same level of introduction. They can watch the old eps, of course, but they're going to tend to see the hyped-up new ones first before committing to catching up or buying past seasons on DVD.

    2. And now you got me thinking. I went and looked up Bronycon attendance numbers. Definitely down this year, which wasn't exactly a surprise. A lot of people figured 2015 would be down from 2014. It wasn't but it barely increased, so it seemed like it had probably peaked. I was surprised at how much it dropped this year, but when I consider that it's usually in early August and this year was an anomaly, just after July 4th, I wonder if that's a fair comparison. People who assumed it would be in early August again might have missed it, and people might not have found it as desirable to go around the holiday when they might have had other plans. It's in August again next year, so I'm really curious to see the numbers then. They're committed to having it in Baltimore through 2019, and the staff have said they plan to go through at least 2025, though they haven't secured a venue past 2019 yet.

    3. I'm just going off of anecdotal evidence. I have no idea with the ratings or sales figures are, but I used to go to public spaces and run into kids and teen with pony stuff all the time. I can't remember the last time that happened. My super market used to have several pony-themed items, but they're all gone now. Last time I walked by Hot Topic, there was no pony to be seen. I live near two elementary schools, but when the kids walk by, there aren't any pony backpacks anymore.

      None of that is particularly surprising to me. Something new comes along and kids gravitate towards that instead. You may be right in that new viewers feel a little lost unless they can go back to see the beginning of things. However, when I was a kid and cartoons were on, I'd pretty much watch anything. I'm not sure how prevalent that is among others, but it wouldn't have held me back.

      I could see through 2019, but I'm thinking 2025 is a real long shot. I'd love for the fandom to be that viable for that long, but I'm guessing the show it could to end with that movie. I'd like to be wrong about that, especially if the writing is solid at the time. I feel like the episodes have been on a slow decline, but it's still pretty good. Good enough for a few more seasons, at least.

    4. Considering that the original Bronycons scraped to get a hundred attendees, I think they absolutely can keep going through 2025, though not on the scale they have been. I would bet they can't justify getting the convention center past 2019.

    5. Well, that's what I mean. They couldn't keep the same scale going. I'm sure there will be a hardcore group for fans for a very long time, but nothing as massive as what it was two or three years ago.



    Still, I swear they've used words like "handful" and "handy" in the show enough times for this to be canonically consistent with canon, if not exactly justified. Besides, "hoofiwork" is a groan-worthy word to my ears.

    1. "canonically consistent with canon"

      Oh dear. I see the Department of Redundancy Department has struck again. :(

    2. Also, canon is rarely consistent with canon. You ask too much :P

    3. Ponies definitely say things like "handy." I'm sure someone's written thousands of words explaining the etymological history of the word, and how it totally makes sense once you realize "hendiġ" can only really adapt to modern English (Equestrian) pronunciation and spelling in so many ways, and in a world where chickens have feelings, "handy" is one of the few plausible options.

      And if nobody has, THEY SHOULD.

  4. It took me far longer than it should have to realize "Comey" was supposed to be "Comedy". Also, I immediately thought "hoofiwork" when I read that line from Party, so I was pretty pleased to see you write a much angrier version of my thoughts