Friday, August 25, 2017

A Critique of My Little Dashie – Part 2

And here's part two!  Head down below the break for more on structure, storytelling, and summing-up.


Table of Contents:

7. Grammar and Formatting – Part 2: Splitting Hairs and Splitting Words………
8. Structural Integrity – Part 2: The Other Half of the Story……………………..
9. Structural Integrity – Part 3: The Core of Why It Fails………………………..
10. Storytelling Dynamics – Part 3: Hammer Town……………………………...
11. Suspension of My Disbelief – Part 2: The Swirling Winds of Insanity……....
12. Final Conclusive Summary…………………………………………………...

7. Grammar and Formatting – Part 2: Splitting Hairs and Splitting Words
This time around, I’ll leave questions of formatting out of the picture and focus strictly on word choice. I’ll go over the grammatical issues with regard to word choice with as fine-toothed a comb as I can manage. Remember, I’m now making comments against the backdrop of a whole heap of failed metaphors, and that’s relevant here, because here, the issue isn’t merely failed metaphors, it’s what could be described as incorrect uses of metaphors. That description doesn’t cover all the faulty word choices neatly, but it does some of them. Let me present to you the first issue I found:
It was the same shit, just a different day, watching the same people enter the store, grab their merchandise and pay, then walk out with bags in tow.
“In tow” has two meanings, either the literal meaning, which is “pulling something behind you,” or the metaphorical meaning, which is “keeping someone or something under your close guidance.” None of these definitions fit the usage of the phrase “in tow” in this sentence. This could be described as a dysfunctional metaphor. It stems from a phrase that already has a clearly defined metaphorical meaning. I don’t mean clearly defined as in that someone has put words to it, but that there’s a strong consensus as to how to and how not to use this phrase: “in tow.” I guess the lesson here is just to know your metaphors before you use them. The next grammatical issue is unrelated. This’ll be short:
Now-a-days, I'd given up any hope of cleaning this city, much less my neighborhood.
That’s not how you write nowadays. “Nowadays” is one word, not several. You don’t need hyphens to link the word together. Next issue:
She begins to squirm around, unsure what I'm doing to her. She can't fly yet, but she still flutters her wings as in praying for a miracle to happen that she does magically take flight.
I provide both sentences here for full context, but it’s the second sentence that I’m going to focus on. Notice the term “as in.” It’s a term you use when comparing different locations or events in those locations. For example: “I had a great time at the party. It was as in that dance club on Fourth Avenue.” You can say something like that. You can’t say “as in praying for a miracle.” Hence, I think what ROBCakeran was trying to say was “as if praying for a miracle.” The reason why he can get away with this without raising too many eyebrows is because “as in” kind of sounds like “as if,” so it’s easy correct in your head and keep reading without noticing anything wrong.
The rest of the sentence, the dependent clause that follows “that,” has issues: “that she does magically take flight.” Now I’m gonna go into construction a little bit. The clause uses “does” instead of the progressive form of “take,” and “does” isn’t the main verb, so you can just take it out without losing anything. The sentence would be more concise, which is good. If I make these humble changes, then this is the result.
My version: She can't fly yet, but she still flutters her wings as if praying for a miracle to happen that she magically takes flight.
There’s still something awkward about this sentence. I think I can pinpoint it to the phrase “a miracle,” which refers to any miracle in general. Using the article “a” in front of a word means you’re referring to any specific, possible exemplar of the thing that word describes. However, then ROBCakeran goes and refers to a specific miracle­­––“that she does magically take flight,” and sets up the sentence to do so. Here’s the fix:
My version: She can't fly yet, but she still flutters her wings as if praying for the miracle to happen that she magically takes flight.
Done and done. In the words of Mario the famous plumber: “I am the wiener.” Next sentence:
Most of the furnishings are my parent's.
“Parent’s” has an incorrect apostrophe indicating the possessive form. There are two parents. Therefore, the apostrophe should be after the word like this: parents’. This happens easily. I have nothing more to say about it. Upcoming:
As I enter the living room, I can feel stirring in my arm.
This use of the word “stirring” doesn’t make sense. The word either refers to “moving an implement around in a liquid,” “a slight movement,” or something “arousing emotions.” It seems like ROBCakeran was aiming for the third definition, but the thing to remember about that definition is that the “stirring” needs to come from somewhere. You can’t just say that you “feel stirring.” You can “feel something stirring,” or you can feel “a stirring sensation,” but you can’t merely feel stirring. Something needs to stir. In this case, the sentence could be written as:
As I enter the living room, I can feel my arm stirring.
With the sentence in this form, we can see that the issue isn’t only phrasing, it’s the word choice itself. I think this has to do with the emotional charge “stirring” has that makes the word feel subject-centric. It’s a vague, broad word, but when you use it, you feel like you should be talking about an individual and not your foot or your arm. Also, there’s the instance of double meaning with “I can feel my arm stirring” as in, “I can feel my arm stirring this food that I’m making. I don’t understand. Why am I doing this?” Double meaning makes the reader stop in his or her tracks for a second because they need interpret which meaning is the correct one. It’s only for a second, but it’s enough to make reader lose their immersion somewhat, which is just unnecessary. I don’t know what ROBCakeran intended with the word “stirring” though, so I don’t have a fix for it. Forthwith shall the next sentence arrive:
Laying there, sleeping and curled up beside me had me smiling ear to ear.
This sentence has no subject. Add a subject and:
My version: Rainbow laying there, sleeping and curled up beside me had me smiling ear to ear.
There’s definitely still something fishy about this sentence. You can’t and shouldn’t want to count up two verbs in the progressive tense and one in the past tense like a list. Jumping between tenses, you don’t have to use “and” to complete a compound verb, as happens here. Let’s amend the sentence accordingly:
My version: Rainbow laying there, sleeping, curled up beside me had me smiling ear to ear.
The end of the sentence, “had me smiling from ear to ear,” is impertinent. Rainbow “had him smiling from ear to ear”? The expression of “had me” usually refers to something more ethereal, like the general atmosphere of a movie or a situation. If Rainbow had him smiling in general, that would be one thing, but this is a specific situation. It’s not technically wrong to use it this way but there are better options, in my opinion. I think the phrase “had me” sounds awkward in this context. Maybe this would be better:
My version: Rainbow laying there, sleeping, curled up beside got me smiling ear to ear.
There, that’s a lot better. I think it flows much more naturally now. Moving on:
In hind sight it's bad enough she is experiencing television, but she has come to enjoy Spongebob and Nascar too much for me to take that away from her.
In this sentence, “hindsight” is written in two words instead of one. It’s one word, not two. It’s an easy mix-up though. Forthcoming:
She might enjoy them, though she is getting older I'm not sure how entertaining they will be for her.
This sentence is a run-on. It cuts off onto a new subject without a conjunction at “getting older I’m.” That’s all. Next:
Right now, I'm so over come with joy that my Dashie now knows her place.
Here, the one word “overcome” is written in two words. It’s the same issue as earlier with “hind sight.” I think the best remedy for writing words in two is to just have a reliable spell-checker and check if you can write certain words together. Be wary of prefixes like “over” and “hind.” If you put any of them in front of a word and it’s not obvious that you’re dealing with either an adjective or a preposition, be skeptical of whether it should be one word. With that said, moving on:
Granted this isn't her world, she is still the same Rainbow Dash from the show.. Regardless of how I raised her, she has that same spunk and attitude from the show.
The first sentence here ends with two dots. I assume it’s just supposed to be a period. Next:
I quickly rounded her up and we rushed home before anyone could arrive at the park.
“Round up” is another phrase for “collecting things.” You can’t collect a person and bring her with you. The word choice fails. Here’s a suggestion for an alternate version:
My version: I quickly picked her up and we rushed home before anyone could arrive at the park.
I switched “round up” for “pick up.” It works grammatically without me having to change the sentence around and is thrifty, meaning more immersion.

When I talk about a verb being “thrifty,” I’m talking about the reader’s ability to project him- or herself onto a situation without anything in the way between them. As the sentence says “I quickly rounded her up,” that’s a word choice that limits the text’s ability to evoke what the author wants it to evoke. The verb “rounded up” instinctively makes us imagine certain things about the situation that don’t make sense, such as that Rainbow is quote unquote “scattered” in some way and that the main character needs to gather her up, or something like that. I’m saying that’s the conceptual content that’s actually hidden inside the verb. I say the verb “pick up” is “thrifty” enough to not evoke action that doesn’t have anything to do with the situation, which makes it more likely that the reader will interpret the verb to mean what the author wants it to mean. Come to find a new sentence I did that’s here:
She has now come accustom to sleeping in her own room versus with me out on the couch.
The sentence uses the infinitive of “accustom,” while the rest of the sentence is relayed in past tense. “Accustom” should also be in past tense, as in:
My version: She has now come accustomed to sleeping in her own room versus with me out on the couch.
Good. Incoming:
I walked out, turned off her light, making sure her Spongebob nightlight was on, of course, closed her door,  then sat down on the couch.
There are two spaces before the final clause in this sentence. Yeah. A sentence that’s next is this one:
I haven't moved for an hour now, I'm so lost in thought.
Comma splice. You can see it where the comma is. As arrive in the future the sentence we know shall:
My energy these past few days has been non existent, as I have barely eaten anything more than some toast.
Here comes the author, writing “nonexistent” in two words. I will reiterate: note that you’re using a prefix: “non.” It can’t stand alone, as with “hind” in hindsight or “over” in overcome in their grammatical contexts. It’s useful to have this in the back of your head, if you can. Ehum, [running out of variations on “next sentence”]:
Once I heard her door shut, calmly and collectively I asked who it was knocking, expecting some stranger possibly lost on his or her travels.
The sentence uses the word collectively as in “he collectively” asked who it was, knocking.” “Collectively” refers to doing something “as a group.” The word doesn’t make sense in this context. The obvious and straight answer to what word ROBCakeran meant to use is “collectedly:”
My version: Once I heard her door shut, calmly and collectedly I asked who it was knocking, expecting some stranger possibly lost on his or her travels.
There are also some minor pitfalls in the punctuation and use of passive voice in this sentence. It takes too long to get to the subject in the main clause, and two long adverbs clog the space beforehand: “… calmly and collectedly I asked….” This short wait until you get to the subject brings you out of it a bit, since it’s such an unusual way of formulating a sentence. You don’t really expect it. Speaking more generally, it’s idiomatically unintuitive to formulate a sentence this way. It’s not the way people speak to each other, so it’s not what immediately clicks in people’s minds when they read a sentence. That’s what semantics has taught me.
I spot double meaning in “it was knocking.” It’s what I talked about when I mentioned bad punctuation. I stopped for a moment at that part, because it wasn’t obvious that I didn’t plow onto a new subject without noticing it. A second later, it became obvious, but this way of formulating a sentence is stylistically unuseful. I can do you one better than adding a comma behind knocking, which would solve this problem. Remove “it” from behind “was knocking” and the double meaning disappears:
My version: Once I heard her door shut, calmly and collectedly I asked who was knocking, expecting some stranger possibly lost on his or her travels.
“Who” and “it” refers to the same subject anyway. They’re the same pronoun, except “who” asks the question of “who’s knocking,” being that it is a relative pronoun, and “it” does nothing except restate what “who” says. Therefore, the logical answer is to remove “it.” Finally, I’ll write out the main clause in the active voice, just to show the difference:
My version: Once I heard her door shut, I calmly and collectedly asked who was knocking, expecting some stranger possibly lost on his or her travels.
I think you can decide for yourself whether that sounds good or not. My work here is done. Next:
During all these years, I had anticipated this moment, but as time drug on that thought slowly dispelled until it was just nothing more than a minor nip in my mind.
The past tense of drag is “dragged,” not “drug.”
The word “dispel” is what’s called a transitive verb. It’s an action verb that needs to have an object in front of it. “That thought slowly dispelled” is grammatically incorrect, because “dispel” needs to act on something other than the subject “that thought” from which the action is derived. Moving on once again:
"We... she is..." I started, but I couldn't hold back my tears any longer, "I know it's not true...god, I wish it was, but-"
"I understand, the ‘dad’ now makes sense," Celestia cut me off, holding a stern look about her face.
The ellipsis in the first paragraph in the second line isn’t stylistically consistent with the rest of the story’s ellipses. There are no spaces before and after it. With the story’s other ellipses there’s one space after them, like this: I hate… cookies.
An interruption is supposed to be written with an em dash: ––. Stammering in the middle of dialogue should be written with hyphens though. That’s correct. Nextoooo:
Now I could know she was actually going home, and would be around her friends and could fly where ever and when ever she wanted to, without any limitations.
“Wherever” and “whenever” are both written in two words instead of one. Coming up:
I couldn't help but laugh a little from her extrinsic attitude.
“Extrinsic” is the opposite of “intrinsic.” It’s when something’s not part of or contingent on something else. The author meant to write “eccentric,” not “extrinsic.” Moving on down:
Many of the random personal items of hers were scattered around the living room were gone as well.
There are two predicates in this sentence: “were scattered” and “were gone as well.” All right, but there are no conjunctions. Let’s see here:
My version: Many of the random personal items of hers that were scattered around the living room were gone as well.
“That” is actually not a conjunction in this context. It’s a pronoun. I just used it to add a subject and create a relative clause, that being: “… that were scattered….” The predicate “were scattered” is subject to the pronoun “that” indicating a subordinate clause, and the sentence ends with “were gone as well” which is subject to the initial subject phrase of: “Many of the random personal items of hers….”
And that’s it. Sorry if I bored you. If ROBCakeran ever read this, I hope he would have use of my corrections. The recurring issues as regards grammar were some slight misuses of verbs, such as “stirring” and “round up,” and writing words in two, such as “over come” and “hind sight.” It goes to show that you should know your verbs before you use them. That goes for all words but especially verbs. They’re arguably the hardest words to use since there’s so much meaning and conceptual content in them. There’s more that could go wrong when it comes to misappropriating that meaning. As for writing one word in two, there are techniques you can use to avoid this that are useful in certain circumstances, but in general, you need to learn the words to be able to use them. There is no shortcut.
This might be controversial, but I think the proof’s in the pudding. ROBCakeran didn’t understand at least some of the words he used at the time he wrote this. Now, I know this is a venomous accusation, but hear me out. Look at words like “rounded up,” “dispelled,”  “extrinsic,” or “collectively.” Look at how they’re misused or misappropriated. We need to be honest and say that this doesn’t happen with such consistency by accident. It’s clear as day that the author didn’t have a grip on these words and nevertheless used them. That’s deadly. It’s what turns good writing from a good author sour. I have a storied history of doing that myself, and I’m not exactly proud of it. In conclusion, I think that’s the lesson we should draw from the grammatically incorrect or stylistically inadvisable word choices made here.
8. Structural Integrity – Part 2: The Other Half of the Story
We’ve talked about how the writing style affects the plot and characters in unfavorable ways. It’s against this backdrop I want to talk about conflict development again­––the layout of conflict. I will continue where I ended and go through the rest of the story. Where did I end? I ended where Rainbow called the main character “daddy” and he started talking about his “hard shell.” I demonstrated how this doesn’t clarify how the main character actually changed from the beginning of the story up to this point. Let’s continue.
The focal point of the next sequence, the sixth one, is Rainbow’s desire to have a job. The main character also talks about Rainbow’s birthday and them moving:
I believe Dashie is now at her full size. Rounding in at about three feet tall, she is fully grown. Though she is still only ten years old according to my math, I believe she is actually more along the lines of fourteen or fifteen possibly in actual years. So, we celebrated five missed birthdays and officially moving day. That's right, moving day. We moved from my parents house, thanks to me finally saving up enough money, plus getting lucky at a casino. We bought a nice house a hundred miles away from the city. It's got a lot of open land, there isn't another house within five miles, and it's just me and her.
The missed birthdays doesn’t track onto the central conflict of “how to take care of Rainbow Dash” in any way. He also says they moved because he saved up enough money and got lucky at a casino. That’s random. Whatever. The conflict:
I've gotten a new job, one that pays much more than my old one. Dashie even talked about getting a job, but then she remembered what I told her. The look on her face was heartbreaking. We were enjoying a cake we made, which I must add we have improved upon that skill, when she brought it up. I jokingly said she can't due to her being a pony and I laughed. She remained silent. My god I'm horrible. I...I just laughed because my daughter is different.
I apologized for hours, and even though she says she understands, I know she is still hurt. Lucky, I have a way to fix this. Due to the sheer size of the property, it involves a lot of cutting of grass. Tomorrow I will modify a lawn mower for her to use, so that she can have a job. I'll even pay her, so that she can buy her own stuff if she wants. Though I'd have to get it for her, still she can actually say she worked for something. According to the show, she was a weather pony. And I don't have her mess with mother nature unless it's a dire emergency, so there isn't really any job to be had there.
I could just complain that this minor conflict, minor as it is, is set up in one paragraph and resolved in the next, but I actually think it’s pretty cute. I like the idea of Dash wanting a job, the main character accidentally joking about it, them making up, him actually giving her a job, and then buying stuff for her for the money she earns from him. This is creative in a way that transcends the blandness of the central conflict a little bit. Credit goes where credit’s due for that.
In the forthcoming section, Rainbow finds out she’s a cartoon character. The setup for the conflict is an explanation from the main character that she knows she’s a cartoon character, and some scarce lines of dialogue:
"How long..." Dashie asked me, no emotion in her voice.
"How long have you known about this?"
Dashie turned to look at me. She had been crying, and her mane was in even worse shape than normal.
After this scene, Rainbow flies out into a tree to sulk in her sorrow––the main character’s words, not mine. After these lines of dialogue, the main character says:
I couldn't help it... a tear ran down my cheek as she yelled at me. This was the first time in all these years she had raised her voice to me.
And I deserved every bit of it.
So, I sat down, turned off the television, and told her everything. I told her about the show, about finding her, and answered any other questions she had for me.
There were a lot.
Most of them stemmed from the show, to which I simply told her what I truly believed. That though she is the Rainbow Dash from the show, that she herself is a different pony from the cartoon. I tried to explain it to her, but her bullheadedness took over as she continued to lash at me.
“And I deserved every bit of it.” He’s convinced he deserves it. As for his explanation of her origins––that doesn’t make sense. She is the same but she’s not the same? What does he mean? Is she from a different dimension? The main character’s theory on who Rainbow Dash is and where she came from, the story barely glosses over. I don’t find the one sentence focused on it to be satisfying. With that said, let me quote three more sentences or so from their argument. Stay with me here. There is an art to this. Go:
I took it all. I deserved it all. I've been keeping that horrible secret from her for far too long. She is now […]
“I took it all. I deserved it all.” I don’t think I need to talk about this conflict anymore. The main character has already come to the conclusion that there is none. There is no tension between him and Rainbow Dash. What’s left of the conflict can be isolated to Rainbow being angry with him, and we as readers have no access to that anger and the thoughts associated with it because we’re stuck inside the head of this main character. The conflict runs as thinly as a piece of paper. It runs inside the head of a different character. It’s obvious how deficient this is when it comes to generating tension, never mind how boring it is to know that while one character has had her entire world turned on its head, another is worrying about things like this:
I don't blame her... it must be such a horrible thing finding out your past like that. I can't even imagine what it would be like. I know Dashie is a strong mare, and she can pull through. But I also know how she holds a grudge at times. I'm not sure that, even if she did come back, she would ever forgive me. Or more importantly, if I could even forgive myself.
Really? The main character is worrying about whether he can forgive himself? I’m really trying to maintain the veneer of objectivity right now, but are you serious? This is the conflict we’re gonna home in on? This is what we’re gonna focus on while Rainbow suffers an existential crisis? It’s so obvious what’s wrong with this. It’s like telling a fairytale against the backdrop of the Holocaust. This is what we want to focus on? Sure, witches and trolls and allegories are cool and all, but what about the Holocaust? What about Rainbow’s inner journey? This is all so deeply ill-conceived that I don’t even know how to comment on it without using profanity.
I think we’re done talking about this conflict for the rest of the critique. I’ve made my points and dotted my lines. I’m well done with it. We’ll move on to the seventh and final sequence now.
In the final sequence, Celestia and the remane five come to take Dash away. Someone’s at the main character’s threshold and knocks at his door. With trepidation, he opens the door and this happens:
When I first saw the figure standing on my porch, I wasn't sure if I was dreaming or hallucinating. Standing there, was the radiant and majestic Princess Celestia. I was at a loss of words; fighting both emotions of brony excitement which I had only felt when I first found Dashie, and emotions of sorrow for I knew what this meant. She stood there another second looking at me; we matched each other in eye level, her body being the size of a nearly full grown horse. I stepped back, and allowed her to enter. What caught me off guard next, was the five other ponies that followed suit. First Twilight Sparkle, then the rest of the gang: Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy, and lastly Pinkie Pie bounced in.
I don’t find the main character’s reaction believable when we know he hasn’t watched My Little Pony in 15 years. This is how he narrates Pinkie picking out food in his kitchen:
Pinkie took that as an "ok" and ran into the kitchen with much vigor. It seemed I did not even need to tell her where anything was; she instantly knew where everything was placed. Factor it to either dumb luck or it simply being Pinkie Pie... I chose the latter.
The simple point I want to make is that the main character fanboys in a way that doesn’t allow us to see how the passage how time has affected his relationship with the show. If I wanted to be cynical, I could say that the author didn’t take this into account when he wrote this scene, but I won’t do that. Later in the scene, the main character asks Celestia how Rainbow Dash got there. She responds:
Twilight bit her lip, as her teacher continued, "Yes, of course. Ahem, she was working on a spell to help the weather team with some storm development. Well, they made slightly too large of a storm, and when Twilight used her magic to try and dispel it, it shot a lightning bolt meeting her magic. Rainbow Dash was unfortunate enough to be within reach of the blast, and it engulfed her and sent her to, well, here. So, we are here to retrieve her, simple enough I'd imagine."
It’s interesting that Celestia needed to end the sentence like that. I could easily make the observation that this explanation isn’t simple but in fact weirdly convoluted and unintuitive. It doesn’t exactly connect to anything else in the story. The explanation doesn’t harken back to any previous piece of exposition or motif we’ve been presented with. We don’t remember anybody talking about lightning, and magic, and storms before this, nor do we remember seeing any of these things.
To me, this means the explanation doesn’t have any real thematic or logical oomph to it. It doesn’t feel like a resolution to the question of how Rainbow got there as much as it feels like an adequate answer––an answer that hangs loosely and doesn’t connect to anything else in the story. It’s adequate, sure, in that it explains how she got there, but it doesn’t do much more than that. In fact, it’s not even adequate in that sense because it doesn’t explain why Rainbow was in a box or why the box said: “Give to good home.” That was overlooked.
The explanation of how Rainbow got there doesn’t feel satisfying, but it seems like it should feel satisfying since this is how the conflict began: by Rainbow Dash being sent to the human world. The inciting incident of the story rests on this explanation, and the explanation doesn’t rest on anything except for the reader’s ability to suspend his or her disbelief. That shouldn’t happen, in my view. Everything should be thematically connected. Thematic connectedness creates coherence and meaning. The same goes for this story’s dramatic arcs. They’re hard to follow, and there are only fragments of beginnings and ends to them. I know I keep bringing this up, but that’s because I feel it’s important. It’s not a strength of this story’s, it’s a failing.
Next, the main character learns Rainbow was sent there 15 days ago. That works thematically. A day in Equestria equals a year in the human world, which makes sense. I’d only rather have a stronger thematic counterpoint to this scene than the number of years they’ve lived together, though that does carry some meaning, obviously. There’s also a cliché-factor to this time-explanation. One day meaning a month or a year in another world is not an unusual plot device. I feel it doesn’t add much here.
The scene continues. The main character brings Dash down to the living room, and the remane five and Celestia learn that he raised her since she was filly. As an additional smack in the face in explaining how Rainbow got there:
"I understand, the ‘dad’ now makes sense," Celestia cut me off, holding a stern look about her face. She was thinking, trying to piece together in her mind what had possibly happened. I chalked it up to the magic, being unstable possibly reverted her in age.
“The magic, being unstable…” doesn’t mean anything. It’s just words. Once again, the issue here is that there’s no thematic or logical counterpoint to give credence to the idea of “unstable magic.” It’s not a theme. It hasn’t been talked about before. We don’t have a concept of what “unstable magic” is. We could have, which is why I’m mentioning this, but we don’t.
Celestia decides to use the memory spell from the “Discord incident” on Rainbow Dash. How’s that for a counterpoint? That’s an example of what I was talking about. They use the memory spell on her and as they do, all of them disappear in a flash and return back from whence they came. The main character is alone in his room. He thinks:
I am a new man from what I was fifteen years ago. Changed, given another chance by a sheer miracle of fortunate events that transpired from somewhere I can't even speculate. If I had never gone back and checked that box... if I had done something different than I had... could have changed everything between us. I guess I'm lucky that it all worked out. I can gladly say I have achieved my parent's only wish; for me to be happy. Though I am saddened, I am still happy for the time I had with her.
I’m skeptical as to whether anything in this paragraph is actually true. You’re a new man from what you were fifteen years ago? How? Looking back at the main character’s dramatic arc, it’s not clear that he’s changed. Think about what we knew about him at the beginning of the story and what we know now. He’s happy now. At the beginning he wasn’t, but how has he changed?
But wait! At the beginning, all he did was talk about his parents and grapple at the past. Now he has put his past behind him. It seems that way. Or if that doesn’t suit you, me! How about all his memories and experiences, taking care of Rainbow Dash? I can say that he hasn’t changed, but it’s clear that he’s been through all these experiences just from reading the story, which by definition is a change. Another thing: He was a ruined wreck in the beginning of the story. Now he’s truly happy. How can I merely brush that off as “he wasn’t happy, now he is”?  How can I fairly say it’s not clear that he’s changed, not how he’s changed, but that he’s changed?
I have an explanation that’ll hit at all of these points. I think if you analyze most of them closely, they won’t hold up to scrutiny. I realize I’m on a tightrope questioning a story’s character development, but I think the solution is simply to be clear-headed and direct. I will analyze the main character’s entire dramatic arc and look at the development he’s gone through from beginning to end in the next section. If it isn’t already clear to you that he hasn’t changed, I think I can convince you.
9. Structural Integrity – Part 3: The Core of Why It Fails
The main character has few distinguishing characteristics. He seems kind and warmhearted in his dealings with filly Rainbow Dash. He has an open-mindedness that allows him to accept the idea of filly Rainbow Dash in the real world, which I don’t think most people would be able to. Those are the clear character traits I can identify. About the character––we get to know that he’s depressed, that his parents are dead, that he walks a lot, and that’s pretty much it. We also get to know that he lives in a dilapidated town. The first circa 1000 words seem to be spent establishing that the main character’s life’s horrible while establishing as little about his personal life or him as a character as possible. Case in point, we get to learn that:
·      He works at a grocery story.
·      He’s a brony.
·      He has friends, but he doesn’t get to meet those friends very often for whatever reason.
·      He goes for walks often.
·      He suffers from depression.
·      He’s lonely.
·      He wishes he had a plushie of Rainbow Dash to curl up in bed with.
And I think that’s it, if I didn’t forget anything. What do these things tell us about him as a character? He’s depressed, and? He’s lonely, and? These are things that everyone goes through at some point in their life, and the real kicker is that these are his initial central conflicts. We get to see these conflicts be resolved almost immediately through… well, through company. It makes sense, sure, but it doesn’t do much more than that. This is the obvious way in which he changed from the beginning of My Little Dashie up until the end. That being said, he found Rainbow in a box in the second sequence out of seven. That obviates the rest of the My Little Dashie in terms of character development. The rest of the story after all is the main character being happy, until Rainbow is taken away at the end. Then he’s sad. When she’s gone, he reflects on how much he’s changed. Rainbow has shown him love and compassion, after all. Yes, he certainly has changed, but he can’t tell us how without using metaphors. On second thought, has he? This is the fun conundrum I found myself in as I read this story.
Let’s address this point: the main character has a father-daughter relationship for 15 years, and that by definition makes him a different character. This might be hard to swallow, but I actually take issue with the very premise that they have a father-daughter relationship. Technically they do, of course, but in every way that matters, they don’t. I will go back over the final scene and look at the dialogue between Rainbow and the main character. I think that’ll be illustrative:
"No, wait please," I started. Twilight stopped, and looked to the sun goddess, "Just, give me a moment with her please. All I ask, since...since this is the last time we'll see each other."
I had given up holding back my tears, and at this point was openly crying. The ponies could tell I was hurting, and Dashie didn't look to be faring too well either. So, figuring it wasn't good to prolong the inevitable, I walked over to the chair Dashie sat in, knelt down to meet her eye level as I spoke.
"Dashie, my little Dashie. I love you with all my heart. You have done wonders to open me up from the man I once was. You..." I had to pause a moment, to settle down, "... you have brought me so much joy in my life that I can't possibly ever thank you for."
Let’s talk a little about the main character’s dramatic arc. In an earlier scene, he “broke” his “hard shell.” There are a few other points in the story where he talks about how much he’s changed, this being one of them. He breaks out in tears, knowing that he’s about to say his final words to his daughter. And what he does is: he calls her “my little Dashie,” says he loves her, and that in his words, she’s: “done wonders to open me up from the man I once was.” He adds that she has brought him much joy in his life. Do any of these lines sound like what you’d find on a greeting card or is that just me?
Saying things like “you have done wonders to open me up from the man I once was” and “you have brought me so much joy in my life” is loose and rhetorical in my opinion. What does it mean that she’s done wonders to open him up from the man he once was? I honestly have no idea. What kind of man were you once, main character, pray tell? You were lonely and depressed, and that’s the full depth of what we know about who you were. In addition, what has Rainbow done to bring him so much joy in his life? The story doesn’t even touch on that. They have a father-daughter relationship. Let’s just never zoom in on what they’ve been through together in their final meeting. There’s something starkly unrealistic about this, in my opinion. The next paragraph follows, as next paragraphs do:
"These fifteen years we have had together, talking, playing, flying; all those have been so special to me. I just want you to know, that I will forever love you. It doesn't matter if we aren't biologically related, or of different worlds. I don't care what you may ever think of me, or if you ever even remember me, but right now, you being my Dashie, I want you," I poked her on the chest, to physically show I was talking to her, "to know that fact. If there is ever a problem that happens, and you need me, don't hesitate to find a way to get me, okay?"
“Talking”? “Playing”? “Flying”? It’s all vagueness. It doesn’t relate to anything specific that only a father could be expected to have done with his daughter. I’ve talked and played and flied with people too. What distinguishes Rainbow’s and the main character’s relationship from my personal relationships? What distinguishes it from any relationship? As far as us readers know, there’s nothing unique about their relationship, and the entire story echoes this. Rainbow Dash and the main character bake and talk and play. What’s unique about that?
To turn it around, this might the genius of My Little Dashie, that it can be so vague and nebulous while still conveying this narrative to people in a way that they find believable. If you can suspend your disbelief, which I unfortunately couldn’t, then this is the ultimate engine of self-projection. There’s almost nothing stopping the reader from projecting him- or herself onto the main character. Him and his relationship with Dash are so nebulous that you can interpret yourself to be that main character or interpret yourself to be in that relationship with almost no issue. There’s almost no concrete difference between the reader and the main character that makes the reader think of him- or herself as a different person.
The one piece to add to the picture of why people find the story so involving is the one that everybody harps on. It’s the idea that the story is manipulative. I’m not really comfortable using that word to describe the story as a whole. I feel like the word “manipulative” implies some sort of dishonesty in how the story’s told, but dishonesty is not the keyword here. The keyword is “vagueness.” You can point to how the story sets up and tears down its conflicts within paragraphs to justify the accusation of dishonesty but the vagueness with which the entire dramatic arc of the main character is carried forward subsumes that, in my opinion. The common denominator here isn’t that the story’s manipulative, the common denominator is that it portrays its characters and the development of its dramatic arcs vaguely.
There is one way in which the story could be said to be manipulative, and this is the piece we need to add: the irrelevancy of Rainbow Dash as a character. She’s portrayed as cute and adorable and the object of the main characters love, but that’s about it. We don’t get a realistic look at how Rainbow actually feels, what she thinks, and how she’s differs from and resembles the Rainbow Dash of the show. We just know that the main character loves her and that she’s cute. I personally find that to be kind of insulting. There’s so much more to Rainbow as a character, or at least there’s supposed to be, than the main character lets on. He may love her. His heart may explode twice or thrice as she gives him the joy he needs to finally quit watching the show and provides him with a plushie­­­, in his own words:
There have been times I wished I had my own Rainbow Dash, or more realistically a plushie of her, to curl up in bed with. I've made an old Simba into a "temporary" replacement, until I am able to save enough money for one. It helps, in a way. Like holding it close will heal my wounds, my pain, and my sorrow. My feet, after countless hours of walking in my old shoes, pulsate under the sheet, and all the while, I'll hold that stuffed animal harder than a mother protecting her child. It's the only thing I can look at and feel true joy, even if it isn't physically the Rainbow Dash I want.
This paragraph is from the first sequence where the main character mulls over how horrible his life is. I believe it tells you everything you need to know about the depth of his relationship with Rainbow Dash. Look back out at the story. Look at the things I’ve said and all that has happened to Dash and the main character: the baking, her flying, “I love you, daddy,” birthday parties, Nascar, mowing the lawn. This is not a realistic representation of a father-daughter relationship in any sense, but furthermore, none of these things reflect whom Rainbow Dash is as a character in any sense, save for the Nascar-thing, which I have to admit does reflect who she is cleverly, but that’s one thing and one thing doesn’t cut it. Here’s a thought experiment: what if you switched Rainbow Dash for Fluttershy? What if the main character found Fluttershy in a box? What would’ve gone lost in this story? How would Fluttershy have acted differently? I can’t think of a single instance in which she would’ve acted differently, and that speaks to how little emphasis Rainbow’s character actually has in the story.
This is the way in which the story is manipulative: Rainbow Dash as a character isn’t important, Rainbow Dash as the object of the main character’s fatherly affection is, yet everything about the story gives the veneer that her character actually is important, since the central conflict revolves around how to take care of Rainbow Dash and how to make her happy. Think about that. That’s the wish-fulfillment aspect people keep talking about, and like it or not, this is what the story does extraordinarily well. It puts you in the shoes of a generic main character in the most broad, open-to-interpretation situation imaginable, so much so that nothing feels uncomfortable or out-of-place for the reader. The reader is exploring situations that they can easily relate back to their own life. It’s easy for the reader to project his or her own view of how it is to be a father or mother onto this character, however biased.
One could argue ROBCakeran did this intentionally. I personally have no idea. It’s possible, but I think it’s more likely that this was a fluke, considering the systemic issues as regards grammar and style. I don’t see the hand of an experienced author when I look at this story.
There’s one point I haven’t addressed here, and that’s what’s arguably the story’s saving grace in terms of character development. Remember the point I made to myself about the main character’s parents? The story’s interspersed with lines like:

I got thinking, and realized the house does have a spare bedroom, though my parents had filled it with my old school stuff from my younger years, as well as several of my old toys.
It's not as cold as it is outside, but my furnace has had problems since before my parents passing. There was a trick to fixing it, but that died along with my father.
As well as:
Still with the filly Rainbow Dash in my arm, I walk into the living room. As I pass my family portrait, I greet it with a "Hello mom, hello dad." I know they aren't there, but knowing that they loved me, and that I love them, helps me stay sane, and to keep going in my miserable life.
This is not a coincidence. Here’s a point of reference for how the main character actually changed. He’s obsessed with his deceased parents in the beginning of the story, but at the end he’s not. It’s difficult to extrapolate on that, but you could interpret it to mean that he’s stuck in the past at the beginning, while at the end he’s finally put his past behind him. In the final section after Rainbow’s gone he looks through his photo album and thinks:
I continued to flip through them, looking at my own past. There was a gap after my parents died, but to keep my mother's dream going I had picked it back up. Making false pictures of happy times and enjoying my life to stick into her book of memories.
This snippet paints a much clearer picture of his internal conflict as regards his parents than any other in the story. He really is stuck in the past. Now, I’m not schizophrenic. I realize I just said it’s not clear that he’s stuck in the past. However, no. What I said was that it’s not clear that he’s stuck in the past at the beginning of the story. He keeps harping on his parents’ death at the beginning, but as far as we know when we first read My Little Dashie, it seems like he’s just trying too hard to bring home a dramatic point: that he’s depressed over his parents’ death. It’s not obvious that he’s stuck in the past. It seemed more when I first read the story that he was depressed his parents died. Conversely, it is obvious that he was stuck in the past at the end of the story, meaning in the above paragraph. It doesn’t matter much to us readers though since the conflict is long resolved by the time we reach this paragraph.
It is a clear way in which the main character has actually changed, so credit where credit is due, but the dramatic arc and internal conflict surrounding this change are unclear. The change he’s gone through with regard to him letting go of his parents becomes clear at the end of the story. That’s good, but for the reader to be able to follow a character’s emotional ups and downs, the change needs to be consistently clear––clear from beginning to end. It isn’t in this story. I feel like I’m beating a dead horse at this point, or more specifically a dead filly Rainbow Dash, but this is the issue. If the author solved this, then 90% of the criticisms I’ve made against this story thus far that don’t have to do with grammar or style would vanish into thin air. This could be described as the core of why the story doesn’t work. Take that as you will and if it doesn’t bother you, then you will have a much easier time enjoying the story than I had.
10. Storytelling Dynamics – Part 3: Hammer Town
But the question remains: why do people like this story? I think one factor is the language the author uses. And as far as the language goes, the main character’s thinking patterns are linguistically simple. I say he won’t use words or expressions that you won’t be able to find in an article on the Huffington post. A kind of solemn apathy runs through his word choices, which serves the story in some situations. For example, in the opening monologue, the main character’s dry, dour, and cynical way of describing things actually serve him. We get a real sense of how he feels. That’s good. The moment this style of writing becomes problematic is when it becomes a character’s default voice. And this is what happens in My Little Dashie. I will attempt to demonstrate this as I go on. Meanwhile, I’ll also try to swat the other stylistic irregularities I find. I will use the opening paragraphs of the story itself to do that. Let’s start with this one:
I live my life, one day at a time. A good portion of those days are uneventful, always falling in the same routine: I wake up, walk to work, work, walk home, then bum around until I go to bed. Some times I'll hang with my few friends, while other times I'll just play video games or watch My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Every so often, something new and interesting happens: I meet an old friend, I find a dollar on the ground, or I get chased by a stray dog.
Yes, this is the first paragraph of the entire story. Note the first sentence: “I live my life, one day at a time.” It has a comma-pause in the middle. The main character says: I live my life [pause] one day at a time. Both halves of the sentence are accentuated: “I live my life” and “one day at a time” are both given special emphasis because of that comma, so the main character lives his life… and he does it one day at a time. I think it’s a way for the author to say that the main character lives his life, but that’s all that he does. Furthermore, the sentence is a statement about how the main character feels. The story focuses in on that instantly as it begins.
The main character then makes a relative statement followed by an absolute: “A good portion of those days are uneventful, always falling in the same routine: I wake up, walk to work, work, walk home, then bum around until I go to bed.” I’m talking about “a good portion of” versus “always falling.” He says that many of those days are uneventful, and the days that are uneventful always fall in the same routine. That seems self-obvious, but I suppose the main character says this because it saddens him. It also seems like he puts a lot of emphasis on the working and walking parts of his day. What does he do when he isn’t working or walking? No one knows.
In the next sentence, “sometimes” is written in two words. That’s stylistically incorrect. In this sentence, he states his hobbies: watching My Little pony and playing video games. I like doing those things too. He also says he sometimes hangs with friends, of which he apparently has few. We’re getting a rather broad picture of who this main character is thus far, which only affirms my previous analysis. We know he likes video games, MLP, and hanging with friends. Well, he’d better. It’d be pretty weird if he didn’t. I won’t harp on it though. I’m done talking about that.
The final sentence of the first paragraph describes the exciting things in the main character's life, such as him meeting an old friend, finding a dollar on the ground, or getting chased by a stray dog. Okay. Meeting an old friend is nice, sure. Finding a dollar on the ground can be kind of cool, and getting chased by a stray dog? Wait, what? When did that happen? Huh? He just blithely mentions it in passing.
This is the “solemn apathy” I was talking about. He mentions horrible, serious things in passing, but he does it in an apathetic way so as to give us the impression that he’s used to it. There’s raw emotion hidden under writing like this. I think it’s surprisingly affecting. It puts you in the shoes of a person who’s all but given up. Recently, the first time I read this story in four years, I was actually caught in the trance of sentences like that, so much so that I didn’t notice any of the less obvious stylistic problems, such as the perspective shifts. Here’s the following paragraph:
Living in a dying city isn't very fun or interesting. This city was once full of life and color, but now... now most of the houses are sagging, the businesses sit empty and abandoned, and several open fields lay barren of the once great factories that helped drive the economy. I had never seen this city during those times in person, but I have seen pictures. My mother and father lived happy, and they could only wish the same for me growing up.
The first sentence is a piece of plot exposition hidden in a piece of emotional exposition.  “To live” is a gerund in this sentence, not a verb, so we learn he’s “living” in a dying city without him having to state he does as a matter of informing us. Next sentence: “The city was once full of life and color,” he starts. He then describes what sounds like a dilapidated ghost town. I won’t make a Detroit-joke here, clichéd as that would be, but the city is Detroit. These are the loaded words of the sentence: “sagging,” “empty,” abandoned,” and “barren.” In my view, these are powerful, forceful words, particularly “abandoned” and “barren.” They paint quite a, well, abandoned and barren picture. The main character says he’s seen pictures of the city in its booming years, and then bam! We learn the main character’s parents are dead, but they lived happy, and they could only wish the same for our main character, growing up.
Note that throughout this paragraph, we’re hammering at the same dramatic point: the main character’s life is horrible. The author appears to have made up a dilapidated ghost town to convey this, and so the main character’s mood is reflected in visual motifs all-around him: sagging houses and barren fields. This is a towering, dramatic environment that actually has little practical meaning as a setting outside of conveying how the main character feels. Most of the story is spent in self-thought and aside from going to the park with Rainbow, which he wouldn’t be able to if this was a bustling city, the dilapidated setting is actually only a reflection of how the main character feels. To be clear, that’s its practical function in the story. Here’s the paragraph that follows:
Sadly, I cannot say I have achieved that wish of theirs.
This is what I call a “dramatic single-sentence paragraph.” It’s a stylistic trick people use when they want to put special, dramatic emphasis on something. Sentences like this are isolated from the rest of the story and punctuate it as they come. Being that they’re their own paragraphs, you have to stop for a second before and after you read them. That makes them stick in your memory more than normal sentences and what they want you too feel, you feel for a second longer than you would have otherwise.
This sentence states that the main character’s unhappy. That’s fine, except that we already know this, so it isn’t a reveal. Therefore, I think the special emphasis on this sentence is unwarranted. What is relayed here isn’t something new or unexpected. It’s harrowing for the main character to be sure, but it doesn’t feel like the punch the story intends for it to be because it simply echoes the same dramatic point we’ve already had echoed back to us for paragraphs. There are other examples of dramatic single-sentence paragraphs I won’t mention for fear of wasting your time. I think some of them work and some of them don’t, as a general statement. Now, for the next paragraph:
I've fallen into the same dull routine: Wake, work, sleep, repeat. I do have some moments of bliss, but the daily struggles I go through outweigh the small moments of joy I have. My Little Pony has helped, but it's still just another thing to give my hopes up on. Every time I see the show, or one of the ponies on a fan site, I recoil a bit at the bright colors, the joyful faces of the ponies, and the peaceful scenery of their world. It's so hard to look at that beautiful world, having it so close to my grasp; I reach out to touch it's warm colors and bright, smiling faces of the ponies.
The first sentence of this paragraph repeats something said in the second sentence of the first paragraph: “I wake up, walk to work, work, walk home, then bum around until I go to bed.” Perhaps it’s repeated for dramatic emphasis, to hammer home the point of how dull his life is. I’m not sure. He says he’s got “some moments of bliss” in his life but that the bad moments outweigh those. I can only imagine what he means by “some moments of bliss.” I suppose he means “bliss” as compared to the horrors of the rest of his life. The language is vague, a reflection of the main character who himself is ill-defined.
The main character says MLP helps but that it’s just another thing to give up his hopes on. I suppose that’s because he can’t actually go to their world, though he’d like to. I had similar feelings when I started watching the show to be honest with you, reader. Curious. The rest of the paragraph is spent expounding on the contrast between Equestria and Detroit. He reaches out to touch its “warm colors” and the “bright, smiling faces of the ponies”:
Only to be stopped by my computer screen.
This is where the dramatic flair with which the story’s written just putters out. It happens at a few points throughout but here’s an example. It’s another dramatic single-sentence paragraph, and it describes how the main character reaches out to touch the ponies only to be stopped by his computer screen. The scenario being described here is not as big or grand as the story supposes when it isolates this sentence in a single paragraph. He’s so entranced by the wonder and magic of Equestria that he just reaches out to touch it? What? Try to imagine someone actually doing that.
It seems silly to me to pause on such a moment and put emphasis on it. If this sentence was part of the previous paragraph and had we seen the main character initiating the action, it might’ve felt more natural. In this case, dramatic emphasis is placed on the action of him reaching out to touch his computer screen, since the action is its own paragraph. Why? The voicing can’t always be solemn and punctuated with dramatic pauses, not in moments like this at least.
I’m not exactly impressed by the language the story uses, but the repetitive style it’s written in really got under my skin, emotionally. ROBCakeran will take a dramatic point, like the main character’s depression, and hammer at it. Then, he will change angle and hammer at it again. Following this, he’ll flip the dramatic point around and hammer at it again. It’s surprisingly and disturbingly affecting. If there’s something I think the critics of this story should give ROBCakeran credit for, which they don’t, it’s this. If the story didn’t have issues of metaphor and perspective and even grammar weighing it down, I think more jaded readers would be able to appreciate this.
11. Suspension of My Disbelief – Part 2: The Swirling Winds of Insanity
Imagine everything I’ve said so far in a whirlwind, spinning around in a giant circle. What does any of it have to do with whether people like this story or not? Let’s put these pieces together. To complete the puzzle, I’m going to need a point of reference to refer back to the earlier things I’ve said. On one hand, I don’t just want to quote myself, but on the other, I want it to be obvious that these are points I’ve made before. To solve this problem, I’ve commissioned my trusty assistant: me of four years ago. That’s right, because I wrote a review of this story four years ago. Granted, I was barely literate, but I still made similar points to the ones in this critique. It works. I’ll quote my own writing from that review, add my commentary to it, and show you how the points I made can cohere into a picture of enjoyment. Ready when you are:
I don’t know how much into what element ROBCaceran53 thought himself to be when writing this. There is a lot that could be said about this piece of fiction but little that needs to be heard. The author obviously did not understand the full signification of what he was writing before flinging it outwards for the world look over. Whether this is the case or not now is no less than the speculation, it lies beyond me at the very least.
Jesus Christ. The full signification? Oh, I’m sorry! Is it even clear what I was trying to say here? To work out this Rubik’s cube of a paragraph for you, my point was that the author didn’t understand his own product. I mean that in terms of grammar and style, because the author seemed to be using words that he didn’t understand how to use. Anyway, the next paragraph of my four-year-old review follows as such:
My Little Dashie is the story of a man whose life is coming along less than firmly. It starts off with narration done by our beloved whoever, telling us about just how tremendously vacant his life is. Both of his parents are dead, both of them, for unknown reasons, and everything they ever wanted was for him to be happy. But one day, it is all put to sudden change, this, the day when he finds a filly in a box on the middle of the sidewalk. Supposedly, this is to lead over to some captivating moments, character development in shape of serious emotional growth and a life the main character would not even had been able to dream of. What follows is a series of discombobulating events, each one eager to stretch your suspension of disbelief in one way or another.
God, this writing is terrible. I was like Sméagol from Lord of the Rings, but instead of with a ring, it was a thesaurus. In retrospect, I actually don’t think an unbelievable portrayal of specific events was an issue. It sounds like I’m saying that the “discombobulating events” in the story made it hard for me to suspend my disbelief. That’s not true. What made it hard for me to suspend my disbelief was the sort of blitheness with which the main character’s emotional growth was handled, which I sarcastically allude to in my review. I didn’t feel like I could get a fix on whom this main character is or what he was really going through. That’s the first puzzle piece. Moving on further to the next paraflax of pone:
Then again, that really goes without saying, does it not? Or at least it should do, but who am I to pinpoint the opinion of an as expansive mass of people as the follower base this story grounds itself on. What really matters is whether a story can succeed in being captivating or not, confidently carrying out its attempts at distracting you from plot holes, contingency errors or whatever bitter demerits might hide itself in the writing on varying scales, to the largest extent conceivable.
What the fuck? I like how I’m making a mockery of myself while trying to make a mockery of the story. I was onto something here, but the point got so jumbled up in gibberish word-choices that it’s not clear what I was trying to say at all. I think my point was­­––and it’s a valid one­­––that it doesn’t matter how many logic problems there are as long as the story succeeds in being captivating. If the story captivates, then the reader likely won’t notice the logic problems.
I’ve written about this in my English class: I picture the fiction writer’s basic priorities in gradations expanding across three concentric circles, one in the middle that encompasses characters, another outside of that one that encompasses events, and another outside of that one that encompasses ideas. If you can’t get the events-part of it right, then it doesn’t matter of creative your ideas are. Likewise, if you can’t get your characters right, then all events and ideas will seem trite and meaningless, insofar as they concern the characters. This is because the reader’s range of interest begins with the characters. People don’t buy books because they want life lessons or to enjoy logical sequences of events. That’s part of it, sure, but people read for the characters. An exception to this might be something like an allegory, but even then, I doubt you’ll hold the reader’s attention for long if you don’t have sympathetic characters. That’s why I think a fiction writer’s priorities should begin with characters and then expand outwards to believable events in which those characters are involved and then interesting ideas that concern those events.
The metaphor can be turned on its head in that a solid character-element in a story can help you ignore unbelievable events or ideas. That is to say: logic problems. If the main character had a clear dramatic arc, then many of the other things I’ve criticized the story for, such as Rainbow’s non-presence in terms of character, probably wouldn’t have bothered me. This is puzzle piece no. 2. Onward to the incoming paragraph of doom:
So what are the substantial values making themselves able to estimate from the beginning, all the way over to the end of this story? How about characters? Characters do stand among the cornerstones for a person being made able to be enthralled upon reading a fascinating piece of literature. Well, the main character is dung and is not to be judged as such on a proportionate level. Essentially, he is empty. There is not much more to it than that, he is a surface, he could quite literally, be anyone. When I think about it, does it not put ground for an innuendo hinting at the more disgusting kind of self serving? Certainly the wrong reason to be willing to read (or write) a story if put singularly in this particular context. Even beyond that, I’d argue that the story may very likely be too blank, even to be able to fill this deterrent purpose.
“Characters do stand among the cornerstones for a person being made able to be enthralled upon reading a fascinating piece of literature,” huh? It’s not technically incorrect, grammatically or factually, but Jesus Christ is it incorrect on every other level. Wow. This is painful to read. Anyhow, anyway, my point here is one I was stingy about making earlier. The short and sweet of it is that I feel like the main character should’ve changed in some way during the 15-year runtime of this story. Who wouldn’t? But I’m left with the feeling that he barely does, and that’s really, really jarring for me.
I don’t know what to do with it. When it happens, it instinctively causes me to question the entire intent behind a story. If there’s not a clear dramatic arc, then does the author really care about the emotional ups and downs and changes in their character? Or rather, is it that the author doesn’t understand that characters need to go through this kind of emotional progression, just as human beings do? And this is where I usually just shut down that line of thinking because it takes me down psychoanalytical routes. I start to suspect ulterior motives outside of writing for the characters. In this case, I suspect that the main character is a reflection of how the author wanted things to be between him personally and Rainbow Dash as he wrote this story. I suspect he’s a self-insert character in other words, that conveniently goes through few hurdles and little change over the course of 15 years. This is the third puzzle piece. Moving on down to the edge of the word:
The narration is tasteless; does it come in an attempt at depicting the character for all intents and purposes? Sounds like a load of barnacles to me, but a valid one nonetheless. Disregarding that, it should not have been done, more so, even considered. Dialogue does too go beyond unconvincing, I would consider an example but the ample library of lines actually uttered in this story are few and thankfully so. The colourless narration, the clumsy dialogue, the lack of any semblance of further thought regarding the art of writing fiction or dealing with linguistics in general is ultimately disregarded. A total jumble of an inaesthetic mess, to be sure.
Wow, this is like the ramblings of a lunatic at this point. I’m sorry. I had no idea this was so poorly written when I came up with the idea to quote myself. I just kind of skimmed over my old review and decided to do it. Actually, I don’t think the narration is “colourless,” and the dialogue is okay, save for Applejack. I have no problem with it. If this author is poor at voicing, then it didn’t show in the dialogue. Lol, no puzzle piece here, I’m afraid. Just nonsense. Moving on up to the next of the text:
Up until now I have been nothing but negative, as I feel it, I have not been given room to be anything but negative. Heheh… heh, that’s what for you right there. Although really, there were in fact some things I quite appreciated about My Little Dashie, quite. I liked some of the setups for a couple scenarios, like Rainbow Dash and Whowhatwhywhere’s moments at that abandoned park. Sure, the story didn’t make much out of the settings but I would always be able to use my sense of imagination in trying to make something out of them. This is of course still unacceptable on the behalf of the author. Whether he was trying to write a freaking dairy from the main character’s perspective or if he was actually trying to depict events as they went along, (the amount of time you face pieces written in present tense is scarce but all is depicted in first-person without dispensation) he failed. Also, I did like the bits of narration showing this light sense of doubt, having him ponder about, touching upon the differences between worlds and how he is to handle each and every situation coming into his way.
I’m cringing. “That’s what for you right there”? Oh no. “Without dispensation”? I didn’t even know what that word meant in all likelihood. Mhm… awkward. In this part, I’m talking how I liked some of the motifs, though I could’ve phrased it somewhat more clearly, but only somewhat. I also say that I like how he ponders on the differences between Equestria and the human world. I do. I found those parts to be creative, but remember the concentric circles. If the characters don’t work, which they don’t in my opinion, then it doesn’t matter how creative the story is, and it only matters to the extent that I can either suspend my disbelief or detach those ideas from the story itself. That’s numero es puzzle piece four. Next paragraph comes this way here now:
Problem is, no particular part of Dash’s life is advanced upon, those couple heart-warming moments that could have been are all kind of lost on us in the heavy war the story has apparently decided to declare on, even the merest hint at ‘showing’. What about Dash and the Humbadubguy’s little attempt at making… b-b-baking something for the blue spectacle of bright colours and flapping feathers on her birthday. I would have loved seeing that actually come into realisation, but no. Instead, I get a fly-by-night excuse of an attempt at compelling an audience. Am I just expected to take in the ideas, scrambled down and turned into rough drafts, and imagine them put into reality myself. Seems more than a little senseless, don’t you think?
“The blue spectacle of bright colours and flapping feathers”? I have to have been trolling. I need to believe that for the sake of my own sanity. This paragraph is sort of a roundabout way of saying that most of the story is told in narrative exposition. I think I wrongly identified that as an issue by the time I wrote this review. Don’t get me wrong. It is an issue in that the story would probably be better if it was written more in action than in exposition, but it might as well not be an issue. To quote myself from earlier in the critique: “The central conflict and main character aren’t interesting enough to justify the laser-focus on them that the autobiographical style demands. I think there might be other ways of telling this story that’d poke the author’s creative bone in happier ways than this did.” No puzzle piece here, but I’m happy to return to that point nonetheless since we’re closing in on the end. Nex- *burp*:
Character development? Psh, the story does barely even know how to develop upon itself, let alone showing how both Rainbow and Ravioli has changed and how their changes has come to affect as time passes. We, the readers, go completely without knowledge concerning exactly how this main character has become a better person as the finish ticks in. The majorly, monumentally, gigantically unexpected ending to this eye-socket-squeezing masterwork of a story. Okay, so I’d been told what the ending was more than a year before I read this story… or was it the other way around?
We don’t get a clear sense of how or even if the main character changed in most instances. This is an issue because we can’t follow along on his inner journey, his character development, which is or should be constant as long as a character experiences new things. Personally, I don’t feel I have a real sense of who this character actually is, what kind of human being he is, what really happens on the inside of his mind from moment to moment. It feels like that’s hidden from me or as if it doesn’t exist. This is the first puzzle piece again.
As for Rainbow Dash, the narrative doesn’t revolve around her anyway, so her character development isn’t as important. I will only add that it feels like the narrative should have revolved around her, since the conflict did, but that’s neither here nor there. Incoming paragraph that comes next:
In any case, sure, we know that he has got a new house and that he won an unspecified amount of money at the lottery or the casino or whatever but what is that supposed to tell us? The story doesn’t want to take any time to itself in projecting an image of just why exactly we are supposed to care, care with our emotions, about ‘whatever the ending may be’, for the no ones of you out there that doesn’t know of it. And when I say “no ones”, I do not refer to you as nobodies. When I say “no ones”, I refer to the fact that it is very difficult being a brony and not knowing the entirety of this tale from start to finish. Even for ones such as myself who just turned away from it the moment they saw it because of disinterest before clambering their way back, puzzled at the enormous burst of popularity it has accumulated.
Whoops! Imagine a guy with a pickaxe in his hand striking at a mountain, and out comes word vomit. It’s like the verbal form of cat-gold. You can make fun of it if you want. Let’s try again:
Everything appears prodigiously flat and jarringly impassive. Where’s the energy? Where’s the emotion? This entire story, taken from beginning to end, is a mechanic, one that successfully manages to be hurtfully insulting (e.g. I hope the ending raised more than one couple eyebrows as it acted the cherry on top of the insensate construction this story is) at more than one occasion. You don’t get dragged in, you throw yourself into it. You don’t get thrown off, you fling the thing out of thought. You think there is some kind of ostensible bond between this––
All right. You know what? I’m done. This isn’t fun or funny anymore, and I have everything I need anyway. Let’s count up the puzzle pieces in a numbered list:
1)    The main character’s inner life is unclear. His dramatic arc­­––his emotional ups and downs and changes as a character, don’t register in the narrative.
2)    If the main character had a clear dramatic arc, then the logic problems in this story probably wouldn’t have bothered me.
3)    The main character is a self-insert character.
4)    If the characters aren’t engaging, then it doesn’t matter how creative or believable the other aspects of the story are.
I think if I lay down these pieces, you’ll have a clear view of why I reacted to this story the way I did, and what it would take for me to react differently. To begin, the main character’s emotional progression is not clear to me. If it was, then all the little questions I had about Rainbow’s life, such as whether she’s feeling well, how she got to the human world in a crayoned box, all of those wouldn’t matter as much. The extent to which they would matter would show at moments when I’m not immersed in the main character’s dramatic arc, to which the story has attached this laser-focus because of the autobiographical style. Conversely, if the characters aren’t engaging, then much of the creativity and events, and the believability attached to them, I won’t even notice or care about. I’m simply making this point because this main character in fact didn’t engage me, and I can give a thousand reasons why. I can continue to expound upon my dislike of this character ‘til the day I croak, but what does it matter?
My words aren’t going to change anyone’s opinion. If someone had an emotional reaction to this story, then I can’t somehow disqualify that reaction by going: “Aha! But you shouldn’t have reacted that way.” That’s like, whatever dude. Anyone can say that for any reason, so it’s a completely vacuous statement. My saying that I reacted differently to a story and explaining how with fancy metaphors and the language of storytelling doesn’t mean the other person didn’t react the way they did. Sticks and stones may break your bones but words don’t mean a thing when we’re talking about the actual experience of reading a story. That’s all up to every individual person.
Whether the main character is engaging or not affects my relationship with an array of other aspects of the story. That is the point I was making, and the one aspect of this story that seems aberrant and off is the main character. There’s nothing unusual about the premise. I don’t mean in the MLP-fandom but in fandoms in general. I’ve seen this kind of thing before.
I made the point––and this is the final puzzle piece––that the main character is a self-insert character. I don’t know if this is true, obviously. I kind of sheepishly delineated my reasoning earlier. I said that since the main character doesn’t develop naturally from scene to scene, since he’s stagnant, the only one out of two rational explanations is that he’s a self-insert character/a kind of freakish Gary Stu of nonspecific characterization. The other explanation is that the author didn’t understand how to write a character that seems like a real person.
It seems to me that the charitable explanation is actually the first one, not the second. Furthermore, this author is too good to not know how to write a character that seems like a real person. Don’t get me wrong. He does seem inexperienced in many ways, but there’s also real intelligence and creativity that I sense in the constant flow of ideas and loaded descriptions bursting forth. Some of them will hit you, yes. ROBCakeran’s writing is not without real punch at moments. So I think to myself: could it really be a coincidence that the main character maps on to an idealized view of how it is to raise a daughter? Could it be a coincidence that the main character does this without any of the emotional undercurrents you’d expect that would change him as a person? In other words: an increasing sense of responsibility, genuinely worrying about his daughter’s health, financial distress, and so on. I think this is what’s so appealing about this character. It’s not that he himself is idealized, it’s that his experiences are. As a reader, you get this heightened, idealized sense of how it is to raise a daughter that of course upon closer inspection, doesn’t map on to reality at all.
I’ll finally make the point that it doesn’t even matter if this is a self-insert character or not. I think it’s likely that he is but regardless, this is the function he actually fulfills for people who read the story, in my opinion.
12. Final Conclusive Summary
The essence of the Rainbow speaks to countless colored crossbows, shooting arrows of emotion through the sky, but what does it mean? It means that you’re the one shooting the arrows, dear reader. Not the author, but you! In the end, I guess this is always true. Any story is codependent on its readers’ ability to enjoy it, right? That’s by definition. I only want to say that I’m not responsible for my own emotional reaction to this story, though I think I’ve tracked it fairly well. It’s not always the case that you can look at the mechanics of how a story’s told and then use that to explain how you felt about it, but in this case I could. You might’ve cried, and I don’t fault you for failing to hold back your tears. I wish I‘d cried. I did once cry to this story in fact, the first time I read it five years ago.
A year later, I wrote a passive-aggressive, totally childish, malignant review against it, but the truth is I only did that because people I respected didn’t like it. I wish I wouldn’t have done that, in retrospect. I wish I‘d been honest to myself about how I felt because I have trouble getting such strong emotional reactions out of reading fiction today. I guess I’ve changed since then. Today, most fanfics I read just leave me feeling slightly annoyed afterwards, and I honestly mean that. That’s why I adore authors who can make me feel more than that, and ROBCakeran is one of them, or at least was at one point, and now he’s a thousand times better so most of the criticisms I made in this critique don’t even apply to him anymore.

The issues with My Little Dashie can be summarized as such: it’s poorly edited and it’s obviously poorly edited; it has some stylistic quirks that while questionable, didn’t distract me much; it’s mostly told in narrative exposition in first person narration; and its main character is vaguely characterized and kept at a distance from the reader while his experiences are themselves idealized and emphasized. None of these is necessarily a deal-breaker for anyone. It’s not a problem that people enjoy this story. The only reason why discussions on it have gotten so heated and weirdly deep is because of how overwhelmingly popular the story is. Well, that happens. Let everyone take their battle positions then. I’m not sure if there’s anything to say about this story that hasn’t already been said, but if there is, I’m ready, guns blazing. I love arguing. You should too. It’s healthy. Cheers!


Thanks, ColonelWaffle!  That's a massive amount of text to absorb, but it's also a massive amount of insight, and I'm always thrilled to share thoughtful breaking-down.  I also want to mention that I appreciate the tone of the whole article; while it's clear CW isn't exactly an MLD fan, his approach is evenhanded and open-minded.  "It's not a problem that people enjoy this story" is a good lesson for all reviewers; yes, it can be frustrating when readers enjoy stories the "wrong" way, or for the "wrong" reasons, but


  1. Replies
    1. I feel no need to expand upon that thought. I won't insult the reader's intelligence by spelling out what they should obviously have picked up by now in a careful reading of my after-the-column paragraph.

    2. From Chris' after-the-column paragraph: "It's not a problem that people enjoy this story" is a good lesson for all reviewers; yes, it can be frustrating when readers enjoy stories the "wrong" way, or for the "wrong" reasons, but

      Here, we have an example of an unfinished sentence. This kind of issue can arise when the writer is obstinate and refuses to correct himself out of a misplaced unwillingness to admit that he's done something wrong. In situations like this, the writer simply needs to be honest with himself and admit that not finishing your sentences is an invalid stylistic move, beyond being grammatically incorrect.

  2. To add:

    Uttermost is written in two words at one point, as "utter most."

    Leftovers is written in two words at one point, as "left overs."

    Upstairs is written in two words at one point, as "up stairs."

    Shoe box is written in two words at one point, as "shoe box."

    Many words are written in different ways at different points, and that's my final observation.

  3. From "My Little Dashie": I still speculate when the time is going to arise that she goes back to Equestria. And each day it gets harder for me to imagine when that actually happens. I just hope that she never forgets me, because I will never forget her.

    There’s a small stylistic blunder in the second of these three sentences. It’s the word choice of “‘when’ that actually happens.” The main character says in the first sentence that he speculates “when” Rainbow will be brought back to Equestria. In the second, he says that by the day, it gets harder and harder to imagine “when” that happens. But wait a minute, he’s not talking about “when” it happens anymore, he’s talking about it happening, period. It doesn’t get harder and harder to imagine “when” that happens, because he’s not trying to imagine “when” it happens. He has no idea “when” it will happen. He’s merely speculating about when. What he’s talking about it “that” it’ll happen. Let me clarify by amending the sentence:

    My version: I still speculate when the time is going to arise that she goes back to Equestria. And each day it gets harder for me to imagine that actually happening. I just hope that she never forgets me, because I will never forget her.

    The reason why I removed “when” is because he’s not distraught over when it’ll happen. That’s not what these three sentences are about. He’s distraught about it happening, period. Once again, it doesn’t get harder for him to imagine “when” it’ll happen, it gets harder for him to imagine it happening. I simply deleted “when” to reflect that.

  4. Nitpick, but I found it interesting that you explicitly brought up the issue of transitive/intransitive verbs, yet you missed a blatant (albeit commonly confused) one in a sentence you made three attempts at revising, no less:

    "Laying there, sleeping and curled up beside me had me smiling ear to ear."

    "Laying" is transitive, yet there's no direct object given. The correct verb here is "lying," but people understandably confuse lay and lie, not only because their base forms are fairly similar, but also in that the past tense of "lie" is "lay," even further entangling them.

    I like a lot of the focus on why certain metaphors or constructions don't work, but honestly, some of them didn't bother me, particularly the one about grocery bags "in tow," as I think it adds to the mood, in that these shoppers are so beaten down by the mundaneness of it all that they figuratively drag the bags on the ground behind them. There were a few others that didn't strike me as odd, either, but on the whole, they are the kinds of things that trip readers up.

    And really, the central point stands, that everything builds upon the characters, and if you aren't along for the character's arc, then it severely limits what impact the story can induce on you. And I deliberately use "induce" here, since the reader is free to plug in whatever impact they care to invent for themselves, and there's obviously a lot of that going on in the fanfiction community. It's making the reader do the author's job, but many readers are happy to do just that. And even if we understand what this character's arc is supposed to be, it's so vague as to feel detached.

    One thing I say frequently in reviews is that a few specific examples are worth far more than any number of generalities. We're supposed to be invested in things like these birthday parties, but we just get glib summaries of them after the fact. If I'm actually there in the moment, seeing the party as it happens, and I get to notice details, like what the decorations are and how Dash reacts to them, it suddenly becomes a whole lot more real to me.

    The uniting thing behind the vagueness and the character arc is this: the less of the story I have to fill in for the author to make it seem authentic, the more powerful a reading experience it will be.

    That seems a little counterintuitive, right? If I'm the one filling in the details, it's tuned more to what I'd envision and makes it a more personal experience, right? Not really. For one thing, it kind of accentuates the self-insert aspect, assuming the reader doesn't find that preferable (and to be fair, many do), but it also takes time to invent those things, time I spend disengaged from the words on the page and off in my vision of it until I jerk back to reality, as it were, and continue reading. I find it more effective when I can see and share the author's vision than when I have to make my own. If I preferred the latter, I might as well just read the synopsis, then leave the story unread as I go imagine on my own how I want it to play out.

    1. Love this comment. Let's respond.

      The "laying/lying"-issue is honestly one I didn't even know about. I just took it as regional spelling. Whoops, I guess. I'll put that in my memory bank.

      Yeah, that's the danger with talking about metaphors and constructions in terms of their ability to evoke. It's mostly a matter of intuition and there are only a few broad principles to play with, one of which I brought up in the last post: the main verb-rule. The "in tow"-thing is actually the only one I was genuinely unsure about, but I decided to keep it in anyway because it just didn't sit right with me, even though I tried to return to it with "refreshed vision," as the main character would put it, several times.

      I think the issue is that it's a little too over-the-top for me to actually buy it as a figurative turn of phrase. I want to take it literally, but that just ruins the emotional quality of it. On the other hand, maybe I was a little undisciplined in keeping it in. I want examples that are relatively unambiguous, and I think that probably wasn't one.

      The other criticisms as regards construction and metaphor, I'll stand by though. If they're not overt trip-ups, they're potential ones, and the reason why I picked them is because they tripped ME up. That's good enough for me. I also don't pick out issues in the domain of construction unless I can articulate to myself clearly why they bother me. It's not necessarily that something will "strike me as odd," either. Sometimes, I'll look at a piece of writing, and my eyes will immediately be drawn to a certain word or phrase that strikes me as wrong.

      More often, I'll notice small dissonances in the writing that I can't quite pinpoint but that seem to take me out of it little by little. I know I'm not just imagining things in those instances because if I follow that intuition, it'll lead me to a small logical contradiction in the writing or a piece of superfluous conceptual meaning, and it's those I tend to zoom in on, because they're easy to explain, from my perspective.

      Quote unquote "tonal contradictions" are more ambiguous, since you can by definition only talk about them in terms of your own personal impression. I've less ground to stand on there, so I'll only talk about them when I think it's something obvious, like I did at the end of section 4. I'd like to think I've been pretty disciplined about doing that but if you have any more issue to point out, feel free. I'm here to learn.

    2. About the main character and his arc––exactly. And I spend a lot of time trying to articulate that in a way I find lucid and clear. The thing is that we do understand what this character's arc is supposed to be, right? It's a classic narrative with such universal reach that it doesn't even matter that its forward development is not conveyed clearly. Its development seems to be implicit in the statements the main character makes about himself, the world around him, Rainbow Dash, love, compassion, and so on. And as you keep reading, you realize it's just a game.

      The true focus of the story you realize, once you break off the loose bits and pieces of narrative that ostensibly has to do with the main character's development, is on tone and atmosphere, and they permeate the story with the goal to get an emotional reaction out of the reader. Let's separate the story from the author now, because ROBCakeran53 has gone through enough nonsense as it is with regard to this story.

      This obviously wasn't some sort of scheme on his part, and most of the issues with the story can be explained away with a look at one of his more recent stories. He obviously didn't have his intuitions with regard to prose writing in check back then, and I'm saying that descriptively, not to be derogatory. People act as if he's some Machiavellian ponyfic-manipulator who conspired to write a shallow character with a shallow dramatic arc. No! Stop trying to make things so complicated. It was his first story, and as far as first stories go, not a bad job on the part of ROBCakeran53.

      People forget, or perhaps don't realize, that it takes a powerful intuition of a specific kind that you have to INGRAIN in yourself over the course of months and years to be able to do this. Sure, it's an enjoyable activity and all, but when you really get into the trenches of what professional narrative prose writing is, it's not something simple or easily digestible. That's why I have a hard time judging ROBCakeran53 or any writer on a personal level, even when their writing makes me angry. It's not like they made a conscious decision to write the way they write on the most base level. Much of it, not all, but much of it has to do with what intuitions you have and don't have, and these intuitions develop over time, and we simply need to be wary of that in ourselves and other people.

      Editors, I do get annoyed at sometimes. Maybe that's misguided? It's just, if a story looks like a first draft and it's the final product, how does that happen? I feel like the editors and pre-readers have something to answer for in that instance, since they literally don't seem to be doing what they were assigned to do. I don't know. That's just a thought.

    3. You're hitting the nail on the head, talking about specificity. I have a quote on my profile description on fimfiction from an wonderful analysis of a musical I like that encompasses what you're saying perfectly. It says: "The more specific you are, the more universal it becomes." I think that's precisely true, because the truth is always in the details, and avoid that fact at your own peril, if you're a fiction writer.

      I do think there is such a thing as being too specific. That's when authors describe things in terms that may seem perfectly precise and clear to them, but in practice, leave next to no room for interpretation on the part of the reader. It may be engaging on some level, but it doesn't have that immediate, kinetic, immersive quality that's preferably in narrative prose writing. And that's where the usefulness of metaphor emerges. Metaphor can create holes of meaning that the reader gets to fill in, because metaphors are evocative but often not particularly descriptive when it comes to conceptual meaning and putting specific words to specific things. It's perfectly understandable to leave holes for interpretation on the part of the reader, in my view, even big holes, as long as you're aware that's what you're doing.

      Anyway, if you're actually still reading this, all the more power to you. I've written more than I intended probably, but I'm happy to express my thoughts anyway, even if I am a little long-winded.

    4. Specificity can also go to far in that the sense of reality is already established and it serves only to add irrelevance. Like in a description of a room, give me the major features and a couple details. A few details add flavor, but add too much and you're sacrificing plot for atmosphere. It also helps if some of those details serve a double function: thematic symbols or objects that will prove important to the plot.

      Ah, and your remark about editors. In most cases, I'd agree with you, but there are some exceptions. I've had times when someone asked me for help, and I just gave them a little top-level advice, then they barely applied it and gleefully listed me as an editor.