Friday, September 29, 2017

Chris on Chris: a Fanfic Ranking

A few days ago, horizon posted a thing on his blog; basically, he listed all his FiMFics in order from best to worst, in his estimation, and contrasted it with the stories' actual ratings while offering a brief explanation for the discrepancy, if any.

That looked like fun, so I'm lavishing the sincerest form of flattery on him and doing the same dang thing.  Head down below the break to see how I rate my own ponyfic, and how it stacks up to the weight of public opinion!

Before we get started, let me clarify what exactly I'll be rating: all the stand-alone stories of mine published on my FiMFic account.  So, we won't be including my minific collection or anything in it, nor anything that isn't on that account, either because I didn't put it up (so don't look for my ancient Trollestia/Tyrantlestia April 1st story or my Stockton plagiarism fic), or because it's not actually ponyfic (so don't look for my "Bombadil sings about the Entwives" dealibob or absurdist metafiction).  As for the format, I'll put a little + or - after each story to show how my ranking differs from the "rating" list on FiMfic--for example, the number one story on my list is my number two story on FiMfic, so it gets a +1 to denote that I have it ranked one spot higher than The Masses.  So, now that you know what's for, let's dive in:

1.  (+1)  To Make a Spark

If you don't know/don't remember the backstory on how this story came to be, here it is: early-fandom ponyfic author and all-around excellent human being WTFHIW won a charity commission for me to write a short story.  He asked me to write a story about Cadence, but gave me basically carte blanche to do whatever I wanted with the story, with one key condition: it had to be an entirely "Chris" story.  No outside influences, no references, no stylistic homages... just a pure Chris-fic.  And I feel like I pulled it off.  Sure, this is a fairytale-esque piece of writing, but it's something I feel represents, as much as anything can, my style, my tone... it's something I feel I could point someone to who asked "what kind of story do you write?"  Since that was what WTFHIW wanted, I feel good about the outcome of the commission--but more than that, it's a story that I still very good about.  I'm still pretty happy with the just-so narration style, with the little hints of worldbuilding and three tribes stuff (I'm still very fond of "The Royal Castle was even grander and more imposing than Cadence had imagined. Towering marble walls soared up from the ground, seeming to defy gravity with brute, implacable strength. The cloud towers of her home were impressive, but to see the arches and spires of Cloudsdale not only replicated, but exceeded, and to see it done using stone, made the young pegasus boggle. The weight of the earth seemed to tower above her, and looking up at the endlessly rising columns, Cadence suddenly felt very small and insignificant"), and there are at least two parts that still get me a little choked up when I re-read them (the ending, and when Cadence looks in the seneschal's eyes).

2.  (+3)  Wyrmlysan 

Of all my stories, this is probably the one that got the best critical reception (I love that ponyfiction can get a "critical reception"), and I don't have trouble seeing why.  It's an epic-in-tone, but small-in-scale story that piles on the tension and has an ending that I still feel lands pretty darn well, reinforcing the message of the fic in what I consider, even with hindsight, a very effective manner.  Not coincidentally to its high rating, it's also one I got editing help on, in this case from Pascoite--as you go through this list, you'll see editor credits tend to cluster toward the top end of my rankings.  Who'd have guessed that getting help could make your stories better?

Besides the ending, I also think I succeeded in communicating my vision of Luna shortly before the NMM incident, and... well, pretty much everyone agrees that the Equo-saxon was overdone, but this is personal rankings, and I personally like it.  Throw in the multiple ways the story works as a commentary on fate, including at the meta-level, and I'm very happy with the result.

3.  (-2)  Going Up

My most popular story, and even if I don't rank it my personal best, I don't really disagree that it's one of my better works.  It's written in an easy-to-please style; as a children's bedtime story with the narrator an authoritative yet whimsical character in his/her own right, this isn't a fic that requires a lot of investment to enjoy, but which doesn't rely on a bunch of lowest-common-denominator gaggery to appeal.  It may be that part of my satisfaction with this story is in why I wrote it--it was part of a care package for Kiki Havivy, a young cancer-stricken girl who loved ponies, and her family.  Even without that, though, I still feel like this is a good mix of wholesome and humorous, a warm, gentle story that benefits from being read aloud.

Plus, there's a joke about Carrot Top's weight that seems to be everyone's favorite part.  I mean, it's not like I hate that scene or anything, but it just seems like a really weird bit to me for people to latch onto.  Regardless, I think it still holds up as something that's sweet, but not at the expense of being actually enjoyable.

4.  (+2)  A White Hearth's Warming

My only Christmas Hearth's Warming fic, my only Sunset Shimmer fic, my only fic published within the past year (I really need to write more... thank goodness I've got something new coming soon~), and my only fic on this list with no downvotes!  The original version of this was written as a Secret Santa gift, but with no small bit of help from Pascoite, it got polished into something that I think is a stronger piece of writing than it seems at first glance.  While it might easily be mistaken for a light piece of fluff--and while it is a fairly light story--I think it also manages to say a few things about both Shimmer and Celestia that expand them as characters, and that flesh out their relationship both in the moment (at the start of her studies as Celestia's student), and later on.  And I'm pretty pleased that it does that without falling into the prequel trap of "nothing important can happen since we already know the future."  More than anything, I'm happy with how it captures a seasonal message, which evokes just the mood people looking for a Hearth's Warming fic are likely coming for.

That I wrote this dang thing without ever having seen an EqG movie or short is icing on the cake.  I don't know if that's a selling point, but I'm pretty dang proud of getting her character right--of writing her in a way that expands on her character, even!--despite my lack of interest in Generic High-School-Fanfic: The Show: The Movie.

5.  (-1)  Letters from a Senior to a Junior Changeling

There are a few things I'm really proud of with this story.  I'm proud of how I managed to translate a story about Christian Morality into one about Friendship and Love; I'm proud of how much of C.S. Lewis's style I was able to capture without resorting to plagiarism; I'm proud of how many of the beats of The Screwtape Letters I was able to repurpose to my own ends.  I still think of this as a very successful pastiche, which can be enjoyed with or without familiarity with the inspiration/source material.

But there are a lot of other good things here--like the way the letter format is so carefully hewed to without sacrificing the narrative, or the letter-writer's malevolently affable voice and layers upon layers of deception--that I can't properly take credit for, because that's a product of the pastiche itself.  That's not to say this story wasn't difficult to write, and Pascoite can attest to the amount of editing work that went into making it work.  But I do feel like I can only rate a style of this sort so high on my personal list, because for as much as the message and the specific examples Maxilla cites are personal (sometimes intensely so), the construction is rather less so.

6.  (+4)  The Sweetest Water

Here's an unabashed fairytale, and it's good for what it is... but what I think really makes it work is the ending, or rather, the in-universe author's note.  Maybe I'm overvaluing a few paragraphs, but endings matter, dangit, and I'm still really happy with the way this one encapsulates the story's message.  It's another story that benefits from being read aloud (it's got a pair of great readings linked on the story page), and even if the "to thine own self be true" message can be misread (it can be; a failing on my part), I think it comes through clearly enough--and is an enjoyable enough story in terms of its classic structure and inherent sweetness--to merit a high ranking.

7.  (-4)  The Purloined Pony

The most ambitious thing I've ever written, a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style story with hundreds of possible paths to 18 different "the end"s (you don't need to read it hundreds of times to see all the pages, don't worry!).  I spent about a month working on this, with extensive help from two editors (LightsideLuc, and one who wished to remain anonymous), who helped make sure not just that the editing was on point and that the links all went where they were supposed to, but that you couldn't break the "game" by following some set of paths I didn't foresee.  A lot of work went into this, is what I'm trying to say.

So why doesn't it rank higher on my personal list?  Well, it was written in May 2011, and to be blunt, I wasn't as good an author then as I was later on.  There's some cringy dialogue, some pointless meme-y stuff (nothing too ill-fitting, but still), and the tone can shift pretty significantly from one page to another, depending on where you go.  Still, it was a great learning experience, and was the story that put me on the ponyfic map, inasmuch as I ever made it on "the map" as an author.  You'll have to take my word for it, but it was a mildly big deal when the google docs version of this went up on EqD.

8.  (+5)  The Fall of Discord

The Fall of Discord is not one of my best stories, by any objective measure.  Even allowing for in-universe explanations for the writing of this in-universe epic poem, it's plagued with construction issues, weak alliterations, and a poor match of narrative focus to event importance.

And yet... I'm really fond of it, far beyond what its technical quality would merit.  It was written for a challenge on a one-week deadline, and over 3000 words of alliterative poetry (plus another couple thousand words of in-universe history and translator's notes) in that timeframe feels impossible looking back.  The way it's framed as a piece of Equestrian historical writing may be too academic for a lot of readers, but it's the kind of thing I love.  Also, horizon offered to bear my progeny in the comments section, so I must've done something right.  This is a lot rougher around the edges than some of the stuff I have it ranked ahead of, but it might be the story I like the idea of the best.

9.  (-2)  Relinquishing

This is a small, simple story that doesn't try to do too much... and I think that's the right decision for it.  It's a piece of reflection on how life never plays out the way we expect, and how even the good surprises still mean that things can't go the way we hoped.  Maybe "the way we hoped" wouldn't have been worth changing those good things for, but it can still hurt to see doors closed that you had hoped to someday walk through.  In barely a thousand words, I think I captured that idea reasonably well.

I didn't do much else, other than introduce a single (albeit surprisingly popular among readers) bit of headcanon about Equestrian tradition and law, but this story still does what I set out to do with it.  Doing what you wanted to may not always be the path to unqualified brilliance, but I can't think poorly of this story.

Besides, Georg wrote a comic epilogue that reframes Twilight's melancholy in a... well, I don't want to spoil the punchline.  Point is, if someone likes your story enough to write some recursive fiction of it, it's clearly doing something right.

10.  (-2)  Even in Dreams

When I wrote this story, I didn't think much of it.  It was something of an episode reaction fic; not a fixfic or anything, but a brief idea inspired by seeing Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep? on the weekend it came out.  But to my surprise, people have continued to read and enjoy it after that weekend, and with the benefit of hindsight, I can see why.  It's got a nice mix of dry humor and out-and-out absurdism in the early going, and the author's note (an actual author's note this time, not an in-universe one) at the end ties things together nicely.  So yes, it's better than I realized.  But it's still a very uneven story, and one which relies on the reader to be pretty familiar with the episode in question.  With that in mind, it just squeaks into my top-ten.

11.  (-2)  The Showmare's Tale

One of my calling cards as an author, inasmuch as I have one, appears to be endings; whether its dark/dramatic/ironic twists, real or in-universe author's notes, or examples like this, where the denouement simultaneously comes out of left field yet fits what the entire story was actually about, I don't seem to do what readers expect when I get to "the end."  I'm still fond of the ending of The Showmare's Tale, and I like the way the story itself is set up, with piece of history/folklore being simultaneously told and dissected/discussed, but the writing on this one is rough compared to my later work.  Great moments and ideas crop up more than once, but often they end up being buried in a little too much exposition, or overshadowed by some hokey overdramatic dialogue.  It's still not an awful story, but it represents my good ideas more than my good execution.

12.  (-1)  A Simple Little Party

Remember back before S2, when "sad Luna" was prevalent?  You know, "woe is me, I'm back but everypony still sleeps through my beautiful night, I'm so lonely and misunderstood and full of self-loathing?"  Well, this fic was written for the "Happy Luna" challenge: write a Luna fic where she's not emo.  So, I wrote a story about how Luna just wanted to be left alone to play with her stars, because she don't need your stupid parties to be happy.  It's a very uneven story, especially near the start, but it's got a few comedic moments that still stick out to me as really great (Dash's "What?  I didn't do anything wrong" still makes me smile), and a sweet ending that hasn't aged well but which still is... well, sweet.  It's a bit paint-by-numbers in structure (it's got a take on the letter to Celestia, it's got a "visit each of the main six in turn" setup, etc.), but it's got enough actual funny bits not to feel too slog-y, at least to me.

13.  (-1)  The Princess and the Rose

As you look at the bottom of the list, you'll see a number of my earliest MLP fanfics.  No surprise;  was coming off a five-year creative writing hiatus when I got into pony, and my early works show plenty of rust (plus, you know, I've actually learned some stuff about writing since I started in on ponyfic).  This is probably the story that was hurt the most by that rust, though.  Not because it's the rustiest, but because it's a sad story about a dealing with dementia, and when the dialogue swings toward the overwrought, it wrecks the whole tone of the piece in a way that it doesn't in, say, A Simple Little Party.  And that's a shame, because man, this could've been a great story.  The mid-story reveal about Rose's fairytale, and the ending, are powerful by themselves.  It's all the clunky stuff around them that let this fic down.

14.  (+1)  Bad Luck

This is not a good story, and it's solely and entirely saved from last place on my list by the grimly humorous/darkly ironic ending.  But to get there, you first have to wade to Trixie apologia, bad and out-of-character puns, forced "sadness," and inelegant exposition.

15.  (-1)  The Truth About "Pokey" Pierce

My first ponyfic, and it shows.  There's a cute idea at the core of this, and a nice arc at the concept level... but almost everything about this is overwrought, exaggerated to the point of self-parody, weirdly unnecessary, or all of the above.  The best thing about this story is that you can see massive improvement from the first chapter to the tenth and final one; at least I was improving.


So, for those of you who've read a bit of my stuff beyond my reviews: agree?  Disagree?  Think I put something too high, or too low?  Let me know!


  1. No way I'm doing this on my own stories. Ranking 70+ of them is far too much of a time investment.

    I'd also like to point out you're not exactly following horizon's lead. He's copying Estee.

    1. I kind of want to do this, but I think I'd do a top and bottom ten. Because really, what's in the middle isn't all that important. :B

    2. Having just 15 to rank does, admittedly, make the prospect of ranking them a lot less daunting.

  2. If I read this right, the people ranked your Carrot Top stories 1 and 3 out of all your stories - and you're telling us they're wrong?

    1. Carrot Top is always underrated--even by her fans! That's part of her charm, really.

  3. I think your ranking is much close to my own reaction to your stories. I wonder if it's a writer thing?

    BTW, are you using FiMFic's ranking, or upvotes-per-view, or something else for the "official" ranking?

  4. Lots of good stuff here, and of course it's great you feel that writing in this fandom has made you better at it (again).

    I may need to give "To Make a Spark" a second look, with an extra few years to blunt my initially extremely negative perspective on Cadence. (Skywriter and some of the comics may have helped.)

    It occurs to me that it's too bad there's never been another CYOA since yours and "Brony Hero of Equestria" that made it big, at least that I'm aware of.