Monday, November 13, 2017

First Sentences in (Fan)Fiction the 24th

While watching football yesterday, I started thinking about the word "scrimmage."  It's a weird-sounding word when you think about it, isn't it?  It doesn't roll cleanly off the tongue; the scr- beginning pulls your tongue back, but unlike with a word like "scrap," where that pullback is followed by a comfortable jaw-drop, it follows it up with another tight vowel with the tongue hurrying back to the front, then a closed-mouth m.  It's not elegantly constructed at all!

I should write a letter to Rodger Goodell, and suggest he change the word to something with better mouthflow.  I'm sure he'll appreciate the suggestion.

And speaking of things that trip off the tongue, here's some first sentence reviews!  Check them out, below the break.

As a reminder, the first sentences here are being judged as first sentences, using my patented HEITSIBPMFTSIATRAEMTCR ("how effective is this sentence in both preparing me for the story I'm about to read, and encouraging me to continue reading") scale.  On that scale, a five equates roughly to "immediately evokes a specific tone, prepares the reader for the rest of the story, and encourages me to continue reading," a one is "makes me less likely to continue reading," and a three is "a perfectly adequate first sentence, which neither inspires great excitement or great dread."  For each story, I'll give the title with a link to the fic in question.   
Note that, as part of my ongoing tweaking/developing of these posts, I'll be taking a fairly liberal definition of "first sentence," so some "sentences" may be two (or more!) sentences long; "first complete idea" might be more technically accurate, but it's not as catchy.  Additionally, the review of each sentence will be split into two parts.  The first part will be my thoughts after reading ONLY the first sentence, and the second, my thoughts on it after having read a page or two in and gotten a better sense for the line's context, graded as BETTER, WORSE, or THE SAME when taken as part of a larger whole.

There, They're, by FanNotANerd (overall story rating: two stars)

The first line:  “Oohh…where is it?”

Spike ducked as hardcover novels, sheaves of research notes and a pair of weighty math textbooks went flying past. “Maybe you left it in the-“ he started, but cut himself off as a quill flew past with lethal force, the sharpened tip embedding itself a full inch into the solid oak of Twilight’s workbench.

Initial thoughts:  Spike dodging Twilight's aggressive searching is something we've seen in the show a few times, so that plus the humorous, faux-murderous bit place this opening firmly in the "show-tone comedy" category.  And as far as that goes... well, it doesn't really leap off the page at one or otherwise wow the crowds, but it very effectively sets the tone right off the bat, as well as setting the characters, mood, and location for the reader.  Call it a high-end three.

After reading:  I suppose it's as good as advertised through the first chapters, but given the darker tone shift as the fic progresses, I'm hesitant to praise it too much for setting the tone.  Nevertheless, I suppose it's about THE SAME on average; it still makes for a gentle, acceptable opening that doesn't call much attention to itself while accomplishing some useful things for a first line to accomplish.

Binkie Pie, by Miyajima (overall story rating: four stars)

The first line:  It had been a slow day at Sugarcube Corner. Mr. and Mrs. Cake were away on business in Fillydelphia, and had (reluctantly), left the shop in the competent hooves of their lodger and employee, Pinkie Pie.

Initial thoughts:  I don't like it.  The first sentence is fine, but the the second seems like a non-sequitur (how does their absence explain it being a slow day?), it's telly, there's a disconnect between the "reluctantly" and "competent hooves" bits, and there's an extra comma floating around in there.  Not the worst start to a fic I've ever seen, but definitely a one.

After reading:  It's WORSE, because it's unrepresentative of the writing quality in the story as a whole.  So not only is it underwhelming, it's also misleading.

The Brightest and the Best, by Pineta (overall story rating: three stars)

The first line:  “May I have your attention everypony,” said Professor Crystal Clear, Chairpony of the Board of Examiners at Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns. “The schedule for the final round of admissions tests has now been posted on the notice board."

Initial thoughts:  It's dry, but in a deliberate sort of way that asks enough surface-level questions to keep the reader engaged.  So in that sense, it's effective, and I have nothing against effective when it comes to storywriting... but when it comes to first sentences, this feels rather too staid to speak to a reader on its own.  A high two.

After reading:  It's BETTER in the sense that that "academic" tone is so integral to the story (or rather, to framing the less-"academic" behind-the-scenes panicking), though it's also fair to say that all of those initial thoughts remain entirely accurate.

It's Elementary, My Dear Rainbow, by bats (overall story rating: two stars)

The first line:  The light of the early spring sun drifted through the windows of Golden Oaks library, spelling the start of an exciting new day.

Initial thoughts:  It's a little on the goobery side... which makes perfect sense, for a shipfic.  Without getting too silly or purple, this opening gives us a good sense of the kind of vague-yet-evocative prose one might associate with romance.  It does feel a little too nonstandard in its descriptions to me (I'd be more accepting of sunbeams drifting through the window than the sun itself...), but I still won't knock it below a three.

After reading:  It's THE SAME, in that it accurately presages the tone, sets location, and otherwise does what it looks like it's doing.

The Mare Who Once Lived on the Moon, by MrNumbers (overall story rating: four stars)

The first line:  Lacquered wood. Polished brass. Vented steam.

These three things represented the pinnacle of the modern era, an era that shaped and defined Twilight Sparkle's library.

Initial thoughts:  I mean, I personally dislike it because I have a reflexive dislike of steampunk.  But moving beyond the idiosyncratic, I think it's pretty solid.  The short, blunt delivery catches the reader's attention, and is quickly followed with a suggestion of how this AU is different than the Equestria we're all familiar with--it's a world where magic has taken a backseat to engineering, and where scientific progress has languished in favor of applying old technology to ever-more-improbable designs.  That it then also casts Twilight as also being part of this mindset helps (re)set her characterization for the reader as well, prepping them for the differences between her personality here and in canon.  A solid four.

After reading:  It might be very slightly WORSE, in that the bit about Twi's characterization proves only partly accurate, but it's still a very fine opening.

A Change in Three Parts, by GaPJaxie (overall story rating: one star)

The first line:  Dust started the day as an earth pony.

Initial thoughts:  This is a great example of how to catch your reader's attention with something nonstandard.  One doesn't normally describe oneself as starting the day as a member of a particular species, after all, and right away the reader is being invited into one of the major (intended) story elements: pondering the implications of racial flexibility.  I'd give this a solid four, and only shy of top marks by dint of its lacking the grandiosity and/or evocative quotability of my favorite first sentences.

After reading:  It's WORSE, because (as I discussed in my review), the story isn't actually about the ethics of race-changing; it's about freedom of information, and that makes the particular information (which is given prominence in the first sentence) almost tangential.  Still a hooky, concise first line, though.


  1. "I'd be more accepting of sunbeams drifting through the window than the sun itself..."

    The sun isn't drifting through the window in the passage you quoted. Only the light of the sun is.

  2. Oh great, now Chris hates steampunk, too. D: Is there no limit to your hatred?!