Friday, December 1, 2017

First Sentences in (Fan)Fiction the 24th

So, you remember a while ago when I plugged my participation in the Alicorn Amulet Collab?  You know, encouraging you all to go read my Carrot Top chapter (because of course Chris wrote the Carrot Top chapter...), and also the others?

Well, if you didn't listen to me then, or if you did but then stopped keeping up with the updates, the collab has posted its final chapter.  Go check the whole thing out; there's some good stuff in there.

I had intended to comment on all the chapters as they were posted, but I fell behind, felt weird about commenting on chapter six when chapter nine was already posted, and long story short, I didn't.  But, since every chapter is mostly self-contained and has a different author, I thought, "What if, now that they're all posted, I did a blog post looking at the opening of every chapter?"

So I did.  Head below the break to see what I think of how everybody handled their hooks!

(Oh, and for the record: my opening was "Although she knew it was silly, Carrot Top couldn’t help but flinch when the door to the waiting room opened. She’d flinched when the princesses had come in the first time to explain the setup of the testing room and reassure the half-dozen ponies who’d volunteered with a thorough listing the safety procedures in place; she’d flinched when Twilight had popped her head in to let them know that they’d start in just a few minutes; and now, she flinched again as Twilight trotted back into the room."  Make of that what you will.)

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 chapter 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 chapter, I'll give the title, author, and focus character--no link to the fic in question, though, since that'd just mean linking here over and over.   
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.  Also, since all the chapters have the same overarching premise behind them, I'll just be giving my overall thoughts on the first sentence, taking knowledge of that premise as a given.

Family, by Cleverpun (Cadence)

The first line:  “I wish I could go in there with you.”

“Shiny, I know.”

“I’ll be here the entire time. If anything goes wrong…”

“Shiny, shh.”

Thoughts:  It's an all-dialogue open (I cut if off right before the first bit of narration), which has a couple of potential pitfalls.  First, it can potentially make it hard to figure out who's talking, obviously that's no problem here.  The other issue is that without any context for the conversation, that dialogue can feel unmoored.  Given the story premise and the fact that this is the first chapter, it's not hard to figure out what these two are talking about, but "Shiny is nervous" and "Cadence is leaving, so probably we're in the Crystal Empire, maybe?" is about as much scene-setting as we get here; that's not a lot for the first four sentences to communicate.  Still, picking up in the middle (well, at the tail end) of a conversation does give the fic an immediate sense of impetus.  On the whole, I'll give it a three: it's an opening that if perfectly fine in context, but doesn't really stand out when isolated from the chapter it introduces.

Knowledge, by Titanium Dragon (Twilight)

The first line:  “Are you certain this is wise?” Luna asked. “Cadance seemed unwell after her ordeal.”

Thoughts:  Coming right after Family, that's a pretty obvious understatement, which I like; it gives Luna a bit of personality without sacrificing her speaking style.  That said, it also seems like an odd question to ask at this juncture, rather than have discussed earlier; it smacks of artificially delaying a conversation for the sake of narrative flow.  That said, it's not egregiously unusual timing, and gives Twilight a convenient jumping-off point for some important setup, so I can't dislike it too much.  Call it another three.

Love, by No Raisin (Moondancer)

The first line: 

I could tell that Twilight was uncomfortable with me handling the Alicorn Amulet for the whole week—even though the study will be done in an enclosed space and with guards at the ready in case something goes wrong.

Thoughts:  On one hand, the change of format--this chapter is presented as a series of journal entries--gets it some points right away.  Breaking from expectations is a great way to get a reader's attention, and this does just that.  On the other hand, giving Moondancer the amulet for a whole week doesn't really fit with how the previous chapters worked, with the amulet capable of dilating time and creating a long(er) term temptation in a short(er) timeframe.  It also doesn't flow cleanly from the previous chapter, with its "Send in the first volunteer" lead-in.  That's the risk of having all the chapters be semi-independent, I suppose.  I guess I'll make this my third three in a row, then;  while I like the idea, the context raises questions that the chapter doesn't seem keen to answer.

Protocol, by FanOfMostEverything (Ditzy Do)

The first line:  Ditzy Doo awoke to the sound of every parent’s nightmares.

Thoughts:  I like this one a lot.  like Love, it breaks the previous format of chapters by--apparently--skipping straight to Ditzy being tempted.  That's not a bad choice, since the previous four chapters (my Carrot Top chapter immediately precedes it, if you're trying to figure out where the missing chapter went) all introduced the character and setting before diving into the Amulet's machinations, and the reader's probably got a pretty good sense of the area the Amulet's being kept in by this point.  It's also delightfully dramatic, while still leaving itself open-ended enough be hook-y.  A high-end four.

Hubris, by Moosetasm (Doctor Whooves)

The first line:  The Doctor entered the room and shut the door behind himself. He held a metallic cylinder in his mouth and pointed it at the door knob.

Thoughts:  I'm not a huge fan of this opening, for two reasons.  First, it's rather bland; "character futzes with door" plus telly style doesn't add up to immediate engagement.  Second, I dislike it because it opens heavy on Doctor Who, sonic screwdriver and everything, and that's not really the direction the chapter itself takes.  I mean, yes, it's still Doctor Whooves, but it's not just "David Tennant with fetlocks," which is what this opening is setting the reader up to expect.  It's a better chapter than its first two sentences by a long shot (it's actually pretty funny!), but those two sentences only merit a weak two from me.

Nothing Happened, by Kai Creech (Rainbow Dash)

The first line:  “Are you sure about this?”

Rainbow Dash lashed her tail irritably. “Ditzy, we’ve had this conversation twice. I’m even surer now than I was when we started.”

Thoughts:  This is a line that is stronger in context than it is by itself.  Specifically, it's stronger because Ditzy already had a chapter, and her cautioning Rainbow builds on her own temptation--when Rainbow brushes her off, the reader knows what Rainbow's dismissing.  And (this should probably be "needless to say"), that's just setting up Rainbow for some suffering of her own.  That said, it's still pretty bland on its own and smacks of the same kind of timing convenience I mentioned in Knowledge, but it's still a high-end three.

Pride, by nioniosbbbb (Chrysalis)

The first line:  Drip, drip, drip, drip.

The wary mare shivered at the light wind blowing against her coat. She tried to cover herself against the cold, but her hooves disobeyed her. Like rubber, again and again they were snatched back to their original place.

Thoughts:  This is one that I want to like, but that doesn't quite go far enough to seal the deal for me.  It's clear that "evocative" is what the prose is going for, and there are bits of it that hit that goal, but there's also some rather odd choices in phrasing (although it may not be wrong, my first thought when I read "like rubber" isn't "stuck in its current form").  Also, the inconsistent presentation subsequent to this opening (we go from "wary" to "groggy" without obvious transition) retroactively weakens the start by casting its characterization into uncertainty.  That said, I don't object to starting with some onomatopoeia, and this is still at least a two on my scale.

Cutie Marks, by Sollace (The Cutie Mark Crusaders [and Twist])

The first line:  Apple Bloom bounded through the open street. “Ah’m open!” she screamed, leaping from hoof to hoof, reared up and waving her hooves as she made a beeline for Scootaloo.

Thoughts:  There's an awkwardness to the "reared up" phrase in the second sentence that trips me up--I want to read "reared" as a verb, and I think that's a natural reaction to the sentence.  Mind, the sentence isn't wrong, but I think it's fair to call it ungainly.  Plus, I have a lot of trouble picturing a pony bounding around on two hooves, though maybe that's my unwillingness to accept the show's ever-increasing lack of equine physiology nods poking through.  Beyond that, CMC playing like a bunch of foals seems to me a pretty natural place to open a story starring them (unlike with Protocol, you couldn't really skip the setup with these four--you kinda have to explain why a bunch of kids got hold of the Amulet!), so this opens on the right tonal note and in the right place.  That said, the sentence structure is going to drag me down to a two.

How Great and How Terrible, by Winston (Starlight Glimmer)

The first line:  “Remember, if you start getting uncomfortable—”

“Yeah, yeah, free to stop whenever I want.” Starlight Glimmer waved a hoof. “You’ve only told me three times, Twilight.”

Thoughts:  There's an obvious comparison between this and Nothing Happened, in that both involve a pony who's gone through the temptation being more-or-less blown off by a the focus character.  But I feel like this opening is weaker, for a couple of reasons.  First, Twilight's temptation wasn't emotionally wrenching in the same way Ditzy's was, so the implicit dismissal isn't as dramatic from the reader's perspective.  Second, cocksureness is sort of Rainbow's thing.  While Glimmer may be full of herself and prone to mindrape acting without thinking, she's also shown in many episodes that she takes Twilight's approval seriously.  She may not always do what Twilight says or wants, but she doesn't do so lightly.  So the casualness she evinces here doesn't match her character the same way Nothing Happened's does with Dash.  But beyond those elements, it still remains functional for basically all the reasons I highlighted with that chapter.  So, we'll give this one a three just like we gave that one--but on the lower end, rather than the high side.

Forgiveness, by cleverpun (Luna)

The first line:  Luna closed her eyes and rested her hoof upon the Amulet.

Thoughts:  This is another example of a first sentence that's better in the context of "chapter eleven of a 'variations on a theme' story" than it is by itself.  Starting with someone actually touching the Amulet is at once a natural opening point for the chapter, and one the reader hasn't seen yet, so that gives it at least a hint of freshness while still feeling like a comfortable, obvious place to begin.  That said, it's still the definition of a three-opening; it does it's job, but it doesn't particularly inspire me to either keep reading, nor to close my browser.

(I don't think you can actually use "either/nor" together like that, come to think of it, but it feels right to me, so Imma keep it)

Value, by Kai Creech (Pinkie Pie)

The first line:  Pinkie blinked, disoriented, as Sugercube Corner slowly swam into view. For a single moment, the world rocked back and forth like a boat as edges of the room swam into place.

Thoughts:  I'm not a fan of putting "swam into place" into the context of "a single moment;" the former feels like it has to be gradual, while the latter precludes that.  Beyond that, this strikes me as a perfectly unremarkable first sentence, that has enough surface-level questions to keep the reader going for a few paragraphs, i.e. enough short-term hook for a first line.  But between that and using the phrase "swam into" twice in such close proximity, I'm going to knock this down to a two.

Redemption, by cleverpun (Trixie)

The first line:  Twilight refilled her quill, and started slowly on the next line. Now that the entire business with the Amulet had concluded, she had lots of paperwork to catch up on.

Thoughts:  This last chapter is an epilogue... and for an epilogue, I think this is a good first line.  Right away, it gives us a sense of peace and the passage of time; you don't sit around dithering with your quill when there's something to be tensed out about (like, say, the risks you're exposing your friends to vis a vis Amulet-exposure), and presenting Twilight in a familiar setting gives the reader something to latch onto.  It's still not particularly quotable, but it does such a nice job of setting the tone in context that I'll knock it up to a four.

So, there you go.  If you haven't already read the collab, you should; it's right here, it's got some great stuff, and by making it to the end of this post you've already read a few hundred words' worth of it.  I mean, you're basically committed now, right?  Right.


  1. That's a surprisingly small participation level. Only 10 authors contributed? I wonder if it wasn't publicized well enough or the time limit was too stringent.

    Either way, I'm always wary of doing things like this. I'd have to check out the organizer and see what their history is. If it's just a fun idea that others can join in, that's fine, but it always rubs me the wrong way when they smack of self-promotion. For instance, I've seen "contests" that had entrants finish a story for someone or add side stories to the originator's 'verse, so they're less focused on the contributors' efforts and more glorifying the organizer. Plus pumping up readership for the story entrants would need to be familiar with.

    1. Framing "write my sequel for me!" as a "collaboration" would rub me the wrong way, too. Glad to say, this one didn't turn out to be like that!