Monday, July 3, 2017

First Sentences In (Fan)Fiction the 21st

Hope you're all enjoying some cycling goodness!  It's Tour de France season, and I'll probably (definitely) update you if Voeckler does anything exciting in this, his final Grand Tour.  Sadly, I'm pretty sure Mystic was the only other person in my circle of ever-so-marginal influence who cared one bit about pro cycling, but you all are just going to have to suffer my sports interests anyway.  Mwa-ha-ha!

Or, you know, you could skip this blurby bit on my posts.  But why would you want to do that?  In any case, I'm done blurbing at you now.  Head down below the break for my thoughts on some first sentences from past Fandom Classics!

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.

Fun With Changelings, by Shukumei (overall story rating: one star)

The first line:  The changeling rounded on her prey. A small mare with a vivid orange mane trembled as the changeling stalked closer, driven by a single directive being channeled from the hive-mind, and the changeling queen at its center.

Initial thoughts:  It's an in media res opening, though it's rather telly for what it's trying to do; rather than drop us straight into some action, it starts setting up a dramatic situation without preamble.  That's not a bad thing in and of itself, but the specific presentation here is rather more focused on setting details than benefits it, and some of the wording choices (using "changeling" three times in two sentences?) could be smoother.  Still, it doesn't do a bad job of drawing the reader in, so I'll "only" go down to a two-out-of-five-arbitrary-scale-points.

After reading:  As you might expect (given the story's description) our changeling is stopped from doing anything awful by Cadence and Shining's opportunely-timed love blast.  Unfortunately, this leads to one or two chapters' worth of premise-setting and lore being dumped on the reader in barely a single page.  Things pick up again after that when Vinyl shows up, but going from in media res to dense setting-up makes the opening seem like a WORSE choice than it did on its own.

Fire Spores, by applecinnamonspice (overall story rating: two stars)

The first line:  “Did you—?”

“Cleaned the shelves, reorganized the desk, sorted out the card catalog, dusted the books—”

“Even the—”

Especially the super special rare books—reference only, of course—shelved towards the top so the younger fillies can’t get to them.”

“Great! So now there’s—”

“Breakfast? Toast with daffodil butter and a refreshing grass smoothie to get your brain muscles pumping.”

Initial thoughts:  Is that a "first line?"  I don't know where to cut it off so that it's meaningful to evaluate, given that it's basically all a single exchange before the narration kicks in.  Anyway, taking it all as "the first line," I rather like it; the characters are immediately obvious from context, are presented well, and give us a sense of setting and tone without actually telling us either of those things.  On the downside... it's not a very memorable opening.  At best, I might recall it as "it opens with Spike being super-competent," but I'm certainly not going to be able to quote any of those lines.  That's not a bad thing in a story sense, but evaluating it as a first sentence, it's going to leave me at a high three: an opening that doesn't do anything other than what I expect an opening to, but does accomplish its narrative purpose.

After reading:  The story is about Spike and Twilight's relationship, basically, so opening with a bit of dialogue which shows that is a sound choice.  In that sense, it might be a little BETTER than advertised.

Evil Belle, by Akumokagetsu (overall story rating: one star)

The first line:  “Perfect!” Sweetie Belle snapped the shining obsidian and ruby amulet around her neck, finishing off with a flourish of her newly made cape. She glanced at herself in the mirror, turning on the spot a couple of times and watching her reflection.

Initial thoughts:  This opening does a nice job of setting up a couple of things: that Sweetie Belle is trying to be evil, and that she doesn't really have any concept of what "evil" means, beyond "questionable fashion sense."  The portentous choice of color words contrasts nicely with the fact that she's playing dress-up.  In all, this does a good job of setting me up for the story, without being memorable in and of itself.  Another strong three.

After reading:  It's WORSE, because it turns out that Sweetie Belle is actually evil, and is sincerely trying to hurt and (maybe?) kill other ponies; that's all well and good, I suppose, but it's not what the first sentence is suggesting.

Post Negative Comments Only, by Estee (overall story rating: four stars)

The first line:  With five minutes left to go in the budget meeting, the entire affair had essentially turned into a game, and Cadance was scoring the match participants as having tallied fifteen zeroes, all counted by one increasingly-desperate referee.

Initial thoughts:  I love it.  With a deliberately overtaxed metaphor, the opening gives us a clear view of just how this meeting is going, sets up our main character and mood, and introduces a strongly sardonic/humorous tone.  The one thing I don't like about it is the disconnect between "Cadence" and the "increasingly-desperate referee;" the way the sentence is structured doesn't lend itself to reading them as being one and the same, even though by the context it's obvious they are.  Still, I'm giving this a solid four, for being memorable and effective.

After reading:  It's even BETTER, because the next few sentences continue driving that metaphor into the ground, and that sets the tone nicely for the kind of humor on which the rest of the story flourishes, even as it does find its more serious moments later on.

It's Not Like I'm Deaf, by Arreis of Avalon (overall story rating: one star)

The first line:  Vinyl smiled softly as she tidied up her turntables, being sure to store the discs in their proper places. It wasn’t that she was a clean freak or anything - far from it - but it did help when sorting out the party mixes.

Initial thoughts:  I'm a bit torn.  It's a couple of well-constructed sentences with good flow, and it introduces character and (some setting)--that's all to the good.  But it looks suspiciously like the kind of opening that could be excised in its entirety without losing anything of value.  "Fluffy" is fine in its place, but opening sentences generally benefit from giving the reader something to latch onto.  For that reason, I'm going to go with a two here--it's not the kind of opening that's going to make me quit a story, but it doesn't do anything to draw me in.

After reading:  It's THE SAME.  It's just the setup for a little light shipping (which itself had no real role in the rest of the story), which has no real story function.  But those two sentences are nice enough in the abstract, even if they don't accomplish anything worth mentioning.  That's something.

Whip and Wing, by Fernin (overall story rating: three stars)

The first line:  Loose rocks and fine gravel crunched underhoof as Daring Do alighted as softly as she could on the mountain path. The adventuring pegasus wheezed for a moment, glad of the chance to catch her breath after her harrowing flight through the mountains. She stood stock still, waiting cautiously for any sounds of alarm from the gray, squat shape of the nearby temple.

Initial thoughts:  I was originally planning to just use the first two sentences, but the first few words of the third caught my eye--in a bad way.  Going from Do wheezing to standing "stock still" paints a jarring mental image; more broadly, the juxtaposition of "relieved that's over with" and "canny adventurer not letting her guard down" don't play nicely together.  I'll still give this a two insofar as the "adventurer on a quest" element comes through clearly and the opening does feel Indiana Jones-appropriate (which, given that this is a crossover, is a very good thing), but it's not doing a good job of painting a clear image for me going forward.

After reading:  It's about THE SAME, insofar as Do goes on to do some adventury stuff as promised.  Thankfully, the physical disconnects aren't a recurring problem, either.

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