Friday, June 2, 2017

First Sentences In (Fan)Fiction the 20th

Have I really not done one of these posts since February?  Jeez, time sure gets away from ya sometimes.  Welp, let's dive in and correct the record, so to speak!

This time, I thought that instead of looking at stories I've reviewed, I'd tackle the stories which FiMFic has listed as "Top - All-time," as of a bit earlier this week (for those of you who don't keep up with FiMFic algorithms, the list is subject to significant turnover; one downvote can easily knock most stories' ranks down a few hundred places, and being on the list in the first place is a good way to attract downvotes).  So, let's see how the top stories on FiMFic hold up, when all you look at is their first line!

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 the fic in question.   
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 a page or two in and gotten a better sense for the line's context, graded as BETTER, WORSE, or THE SAME when taken as part of a larger whole.

1. Voyage's End, by The DM

I actually already reviewed this one... so here's a copy-paste of my original First Sentence review:

The first line: Twilight stood in silence next to Princess Celestia. They found themselves with their backs to the wall as ponies hurriedly rushed to various monitors and stations within the mission control center.

Initial thoughts: This is a very workmanlike opening. Characters, physical positioning, setting, action level... all are dutifully checked off here. To me, it feels rather mechanical (I think I'd have liked these two sentences written as one, personally), but it's still a solid three stars from me.

After reading: That slightly mechanical style proves to be a constant throughout the story... but I guess that means that the first line is preparing me for what I'm going to read, doesn't it? Anyway, this is THE SAME; it accomplishes its communicative goals with precision, if not necessarily aplomb.

(Don't worry, I checked: they aren't all First Sentence retreads)

2. Raven, by SaintChoc

The first line:  Morning light poured through the stained glass windows of the Canterlot castle, brilliant streaks of color flowing across Raven's white coat. She adjusted her dark-rimmed glasses and red tie with her magic as she walked down the hall, careful not to spill any drops from the two teacups she held in the air at her side; not that she needed to give it even a second's thought by this point.

Initial thoughts:  Opening with a physical description always feels like a pretty weak start to me; I generally don't care what a character looks like at this juncture in a fic, because I don't yet care about the character.  Moreover, it feels clunky, in that people don't generally catalogue appearance in this way when they meet someone in real life.  That said, at least the description is short and makes some attempt to integrate into the setting/action which we're given.  Call it a two.

After reading:  Still not a huge fan; I'll call it THE SAME, since despite my very much enjoying the story itself, I still find myself questioning the decision to lead with this.

3. The Keepers of Discord, by Hoopy McGee

The first line:  You would think I had enough troubles, wouldn't you?

Initial thoughts:  In the context of the description, it's clear that the speaker is Discord.  And with that framework, I think this is a pretty decent opening.  It fits his voice well, and it gets the reader's attention via direct address without feeling too gimmicky.  That said, I don't know that it draws me in as a reader, nor is it a particularly evocative or memorable line.  A high three, I suppose, for being on the upper edge of "does what I want a first sentence to do, without drawing attention to itself."

After reading:  Again, it's about THE SAME; Hoopy does struggle with Discord's voice early on, as I noted in my review of this fic, but the first line still feels appropriate in the larger context.

4. Princess Celestia Gets Mugged, by BronyWriter

The first line: "And so, your highness, that is why we must spend the tax surplus on the new Canterlot hoofball fields! It would draw in additional revenue and increase our city's splendor twenty-fold!"

Initial thoughts:  I have mixed feelings about this one.  On one hand, blowing taxpayer money on sports complexes is both funny and (depressingly) real--a good place to start any comedy.  On the other hand, re-listing your reasons after you say "that is why..." is just weirdly backwards, and makes the opening quote feel very awkward to me.  An upper-tier two.

After reading:  As I said in my review of this, there's a lot of repetition in the writing in this fic, and in retrospect, the first line presages that.  So in that sense, I'd say it's a little bit WORSE.

5. The Brightest and the Best, by Pineta

The first line:  “May I have your attention everypony,” said Professor Crystal Clear, Chairpony of the Board of Examiners at Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns. “The schedule for the final round of admissions tests has now been posted on the notice board. Please note the time and room number for your exam and make sure that you are at the classroom five minutes before the start time. We would like to remind parents that while you may be present during your child’s exam, you must keep quiet for the full duration.”

Initial thoughts:  Despite lacking an obvious place to cut off for purposes of "the first line," this is pretty much what I expect from an opening--no more, no less.  It gives us a character, a setting (at least, an implied one), and opens up a few questions which further reading will answer.  Another three, for accomplishing its goals without being particularly noteworthy as a first sentence.

After reading:  I'm going to say it's a bit WORSE--not because there's anything wrong with it on further reading, but because it suggests a fairly serious SoL fic, where the actual story is more comedy-heavy than the opening preps the reader for.  A small thing, but noticeable.

(Also, here's my previous review, since I didn't find a way to work it into those thoughts)

6. The Best Night Ever, by Capn_Cryssalid

The first line:  Unmitigated.





The Gala was a disaster.
Initial thoughts:  Assuming we agree to call this "the first line"--that is, assuming that we ignore the multiple author's notes which precede it, and deem this, which comes before the title drop, to be the start of the fic proper--I like it.  The repetition makes its point nicely, the cadence feels on, and it's easy to envision someone speaking these lines, in just that tone.  A solid four!

After reading:  I might even like it slightly BETTER, since it transitions so cleanly to a title-reverse, then a title drop proper.  A solid, movie-style opening--appropriate for a fic based on a movie.  (Also, you guessed it: review)

7. Twilight's Cat-Astrophe, by SPark

The first line:  Twilight bounced just a little as she walked through the halls of Canterlot Palace. It was a truly glorious day. The morning sun was bright and warm, the sky outside the broad windows was clear and blue, and she had finally solved the problem of long term transformation spells.

Initial thoughts:  Hey, a story I haven't already reviewed!  Woo!  Sadly, I'm not a fan of the opening.  It seems like it's going for a contrast effect between Twilight's source of excitement and the mundanity of a weather report opening, but there just isn't enough contrast for it to register as anything other than a couple of filler sentences following the character/setting introduction.  Still a two--it doesn't scare me off the fic or anything--but not a great first impression.

After reading:  It's about THE SAME.  It's better in the sense that it does ultimately create some contrast for that weather report opening, but worse in that it's extremely repetitive in the first thousand or so words--something the opening already shows.  Together, they average out to "the same," I figure.

8. The Changeling of the Guard, by vdrake77

The first line:  Life in a hive is less onerous than most ponies would think.

Initial thoughts:  Another fic I've not read--this one ongoing, to boot.  The first line is pretty solid, in my opinion--it's extremely leading, which encourages the reader to continue on, and gives the author a good chance to set the tone immediately.  That said, it's a kind of opening I've seen very frequently, so no points for memorability.  On balance, call it an upper-end three.

After reading:  Although the story shows some cracks early on, the opening itself might be a little BETTER in a fuller context; it sets the reader up for some exposition, and the author is clearly fond of lore dumping.  That may not be a good thing, but prepping the reader for it is.

9. Insomnia, by Pale Horse

Already reviewed the first sentence: have a copy-paste:

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.

10. Derplicity, by Skywriter

The first line:  Deep within the bowels of the ancient pony fortress that now housed her Great Hive, Queen Chrysalis of the changelings gazed with stern and gloating maternal pride upon her new secret weapon. It was the best secret weapon, she mused, that she had ever given birth to.

Initial thoughts:  I'm a big fan.  Right away, it evokes a properly mock-imposing mood, and those last few words are just the right kind of unexpected to keep a reader engaged--surprising, yet not difficult to follow, and easy to make sense of.  I'm breaking out the big guns, and putting a five on this sucker.

After reading:  It's THE SAME, which is to say, still excellent.  As I said when I reviewed it, "This story blends dark comedy and simple absurdity in equal measure," and while the intro doesn't necessarily tell the reader exactly what kind of story they're in for, it nevertheless sets the stage well for the kind of story which it is.

1 comment:

  1. Ack. This could've been MY round. I have two fics both constantly jostling for that #1 spot, but right now they're way further down the list.

    Changeling of the Guard is a really fantastic story, though. I fell way behind on the vast majority of fanfics I once read, since I have less free time now, more other interests, and writing of my own to do, but it's still one of the few that I make sure to ALWAYS keep up with. I look forward to seeing you review it properly one day.