Monday, February 20, 2017

First Sentences In (Fan)Fiction the 19th

I've been out of town the last weekend, so I'm typing up the above-the-break blurb in advance, rather than the day before like I usually do.  So, if any major news broke in the last couple of days, just imagine my reaction to it up here, all right?  I'll confirm your suspicions when I get back.

But for now, let's talk about fic openings!  Get 'em 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.

The Ballad of Echo the Diamond Dogby Rust (story: 1 star)

The first line:  Dear Reader,

On my first day in Equestria, I had my throat torn out.

Initial thoughts:  That's a right solid hook, right there.  Directly addressing the reader gives us a sense of this as a piece of in-universe documentation, and this opening pretty much begs the reader to find out how the narrator came back from the dead (or whatever the specifics involving a narrator who died at the start of the story turn out to be).  This one gets a four.

After reading:  If you read my review, you already know that the "answer" to the questions posed by the first line is, to put it delicately, idiotic.  So... yeah.  This is WORSE.  A lot worse.

A FLEet|ng LIght |n thE DArknEsS, by Flashgen (story: 2 stars)
The first line: Notes on journal’s discovery and state of town on April 16th

This journal was found in the Ponyville Library, where Twilight Sparkle was keeping residence since her relocation to Ponyville.

Initial thoughts:  It's a very dry opening, obviously, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Some scene-setting like this can help establish an air of mystery and, by presenting key questions in an academic(ish) format, encourage the reader to think about what might have happened.  Horror is all about getting the reader's imagination working, so that's obviously a good thing.  Still, it is rather dry, and the (lack of) formatting does bother me slightly.  Call it a high three.

After reading:  It's about THE SAME, accomplishing exactly what it appears to set out to do.

Couchtavia, by shortskirtsandexplosions (story: 1 star)

The first line:  Ponyville was a small town, but that didn't keep Octavia from getting lost.

Initial thoughts:  I like it.  Setting, character, and situation, all communicated in a deceptively simple little package.  This isn't an opening that calls attention to itself--I can't imagine people quoting it from memory--but I appreciate its efficiency, and how it doesn't sacrifice a pleasantly laid-back, comfortable tone in pursuit of the same.  Four!

After reading:  It might be slightly WORSE, on account of the story losing the whimsicality of its opening pretty quickly in favor of a more directed plot (though its full of diversions, the fact that there are a bunch of diversions is the plot), but only slightly.  This sentence still does what it does, and does it well.

The Parliament of Dreams, by Wheller (story: 1 star)

The first line: The sound of the alarm clock going off was not a welcome one. Not today, and not ever. She tried to ignore it, but to no avail. She reached out with her hoof, hit the button to turn the alarm off and rolled over and tried to go back to sleep.

Initial thoughts:  This is a lot of words without a lot of payoff.  At this point, we know it's morning, and that the main character is female... and that's about it.  "Doesn't like to wake up to an alarm clock" isn't exactly characterization, you know?  And the description borders on mechanical.  That said, it's not a bad opening, in the sense that there's something concerning me going forward.  Two.

After reading:  It's WORSE, because that "borders on mechanical" proves a harbinger of what's to come.

Dear Idiot, by The Descendent (story: 3 stars)

The first line:  Dear Idiot,

It's probably the doughnuts I'm currently ingesting at what can best be described as a "monumental rate", but I had the sudden irresistible urge to pop you off a letter stating how terribly you buggered up the gala this year.

Initial thoughts:  This is one of those fics where "what is the first line?" is a bit blurry, but I decided that the start of the letter proper was the way to approach this.  Anyway, it's a funny opening, setting up right away the disconnect between Celestia's portrayal on the show and her acerbic insouciance here.  It goes rather too far away from Celestia's voice for my liking, especially right off the bat, however, which I'm going to average out with the good to an even three.

After reading:  It's BETTER, since her vocabulary and tone (though not mood) is so consistent throughout, and this opening establishes those elements right off the bat.

What If: Rarity from The Three Sisters met with Chrysalis, by WandererD (story: 1 star)

The first line:  Chrysalis shook her head and dropped the carcass of the small animal she had drained of emotions to the point of death.

Initial thoughts:  I'm not a big fan, for two reasons.  First, this is the direct sequel to another story in which "a small woodland critter was just tortured and killed" would be a very ill fit.  Leaving aside whether it's a good fit for ponyfic, period, it seems out of place coming right off The Three Sisters.  Second, that's a very meandering line of thought drifting through that single sentence, moving from physically indicating Chrysalis's mood to the animal to its fate.  Call it a two.

After reading:  It's THE SAME.  I always have trouble thinking of what else to say when it's the same, because... well, there's nothing else to say, is there?


  1. Replies
    1. Yeah, that's a pretty low scoring run, even for the Fandom Classics series.

    2. In fact, these six are part of the lowest-scoring run of ten stories in the series (from Applejack's Bar through Evil Belle). And it just might be... out of almost 200 6-consecutive-story sets, four had a lower average score. And three of those four at least half overlapped with this one.

    3. (Oops, actually there was a fifth. Point still stands, though.)

  2. "I always have trouble thinking of what else to say when it's the same, because... well, there's nothing else to say, is there?"

    I'm confused. There's only one fic where the opening sentence score matches the overall score. Isn't there something to talk about in that discrepancy, at least?

    In fact, you mysteriously describe the second and last ones as "the SAME" when they're both a star worse, the next one as "slightly WORSE" when it's a three-star drop, and the penultimate one as "BETTER" when it's the same.

    What variables am I missing in this particular equation?

    1. Always thought that was how he feels about the sentence after reading the rest of the story, which isn't necessarily the same as how he feels about the story as a whole. So he initially thought the first sentence in Dear Idiot was a three, but after reading the rest of the story he might call it a four, though the story as a whole is only a three

    2. I don't really see an issue. You can have a 5-star fic that happens to have a 1-star opening line and vice versa. The first line may be one of the most important in a story, but it's still only one line in the grand scheme of things.

    3. I'm not sure you both get my basic point. For instance:

      "You can have a 5-star fic that happens to have a 1-star opening line and vice versa."

      This is a non-sequitur to what I actually said. I wasn't confused by the stars being different, e.g. first line is 3-star, fic overall is 2-star. That's banally comprehensible.

      What confused me was that Chris describes e.g. a one-star drop in quality not as "WORSE" or even "slightly WORSE", but as "the SAME". Why? 3=/=2. Unless I'm missing some unspoken assumption behind the calculation, that's a violation of basic mathematics.

    4. No, I got your point and addressed it. Chris initially gave the first line three stars. After reading the rest of the story (which he rated two-stars), he decided the first line was still worth three stars

    5. Oh, I see. I beg your pardon; I misunderstood you. Now that makes more sense, of course!

      Thanks for emphasizing the point, and apologies for not getting it right away. I can be a bit dim at times!