Wednesday, January 31, 2018

First Sentences in (Fan)Fiction the 26th

Following up on the 25th installments "look at an author's oldest and most recent ponyfic" theme, here's a continuation with a few more high-output long-timers!  Head down below the break to see how the first sentence they ever inflicted on put before the ponyfic public compares to their latest works.

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. 

OLD FIC:  All of a Fluttershy, by Impossible Numbers

The first line:  It was a gloriously sunny day on Sweet Apple Acres, which just goes to show what a pegasus can do when somepony gets her out of bed on time and makes sure she does her weather duties for a change.

A few thoughts:  Semi-annual reminder that Impossible Numbers has been writing good stuff for more than seven years, produces content consistently, is an RCL inductee (with a story of which my top-line summary was “Oh, this is lovely”)... and has under 200 followers.   What's a guy gotta do to get some attention around here?  Of course, then I have to look back and acknowledge that I've only reviewed one of his fics on this blog, myself.  Maybe I'm the problem.

As for thoughts on this first sentence?  It's hits most of the standard "this is why you shouldn't do weather report openings" complaints (the weather has no immediate relevance to the story, it's cliche, etc.), but it also has that lovely bit of characterization in its second half.  Granted, that's also not particularly relevant--Rainbow Dash doesn't even appear or have a subsequent reference in the story's first scene--which makes this a prime candidate for cutting-without-losing-anything-of-note.  So it's not a bad sentence in a vacuum, but it's a bit weak as an opening and doesn't lead anywhere.  With that in mind, I'm calling this an upper-end two.

NEW FIC:  Dame Trixie and the Countess of Wyrd, by Impossible Numbers

The first line:  As usual, Trixie put her all into her entrance.

A few thoughts:  Normally, a short and ambiguous sentence like this is a prime candidate for me to sneak the next line or two on and test the limits of what constitutes a "first sentence," but I feel like this is the appropriate piece of text to examine in this case.  First, because those nine words are the entire first paragraph, and second, because the second paragraph doesn't immediately follow up on Trixie's entrance, instead jumping back to describe the town of Fall Bridge.  With that as context, this is a bit of an odd choice for a first sentence (at least, I find it a bit odd)... but one I think works well.  It immediately evokes Trixie's previous arrivals in Ponyville to the reader, gives us some solid clues about what her headspace is in this fic (that "as usual" tells us a lot), and sets us up to want to know what she actually did for her entrance--and the short delay before IN starts revealing that provides a textual surprise which gets the readers attention, without stretching it out so long that it becomes frustrating or confusing.  Looking at just the first sentence and knowing nothing else about the fic, I'd probably say a three, but the job it pulls in context is going to knock it up to a four in my book.

OLD FIC:  Present Tense, by PresentPerfect

The first line:  "Spike, you're sure this is the book?"

"As sure as I can be!"

"And you're sure that there's absolutely nothing in this library that explains how we're supposed to read this?"

A few thoughts:  How did I never know that PP's first ponyfic was a play on his pen name?  Or possibly vice-versa?  Either way, I respect him at least 17.4% less now :o

The opening itself is pretty typical exposition-through-dialogue; it's the kind of conversation that doesn't really happen because it involves a lot of repeating stuff for the reader's benefit that would've already been said (this becomes increasingly clear as the opening continues), but at least it's still well shy of the dreaded "as you already know."  It introduces its central problem/premise quickly and efficiently, but it doesn't do it elegantly, either as a stand-alone or in context.  Given that, a two seems about right.

NEW FIC:  The Princess's Captain, by PresentPerfect

The first line:  The sound of Tempest Shadow's armor-shod hooves echoed off Friendship Castle's towering ceilings as she entered for the first time.

"Aaaaand here's the castle!"

A few thoughts:  I couldn't decide whether or not to include the next sentence; it's important insofar as it tells us that the dialogue is spoken by Twilight Sparkle, but beyond that doesn't really fit in with my idea of an "opening line."  Ultimately, I decided to leave it out, but just tell you all about the Twilight bit :p  This is a classic example of setting up something dramatic for the purpose of immediately undercutting it, but it works here because it doesn't just reflect a comedy staple, but a key character dynamic that the story carries through: Tempest is, as the description says, "not a happy kind of pony in the least," while Twilight is her earnest-yet-kinda-goofy self.  I don't like repeating "castle" twice in as many words, but I'll still call this a low-end four: it's funny, while also setting up the two mains in as many sentences.

OLD FIC:  A Very Long Day, by bookplayer

The first line:  The wedding was finally over, and all of the Ponyville ponies in Canterlot had gone to bed. It was almost one in the morning and it had been a very long day.

A few thoughts:  This provides a fair chunk of information, in terms of setting, but it's bland and forgettable.  It's dry, telly narration that, in its defense, ends up being pretty representative of the writing on the rest of the fic, but doesn't accomplish much aesthetically beyond "preps the reader for what's to come."  I'll still give this a two, as it doesn't fall into "makes me less likely to continue reading" territory, but this opening is very much function over form.

NEW FIC:  The Spirit of a Pegasus, by bookplayer

The first line:  Commander Hurricane peered over the scroll in front of him at the pale blue mare standing at attention in front of his desk. She was young, three months out of the Academy, but she stood in perfect form and frozen like a statue. This was a pony who’d practiced.

It was a shame.

A few thoughts:  I like the bite of those last few words; they inspire just the right sense of low-key dread and general empathy for "the pale blue mare," while also giving us an immediate window into Hurricane's worldview.  The description here is a bit telly, but in contrast to A Very Long Day's, it's a good kind of telly; it's telliness from Hurricane's PoV, which let's us grasp the kind of situation he's dealing with and infer a bit about his own biases.  A strong four.

OLD FIC:  Crepes, by Titanium Dragon

The first line:  "Ain't this place a bit fancy for breakfast?" Applejack said, tilting her head back to look up at the impressive but out of place facade of the Prench restaurant in the heart of Canterlot.

A few thoughts:  TD Titty D The Author Formerly Known as Titanium Dragon actually has two fic collections which share the same FiMFic publication date as this, but for simplicity's sake, I opted for the only one of the three that is a full-length, stand-alone story.  Speaking of "full-length" and "stand-alone," I feel like the phrase "out of place" looks pretty, well, out of place when used as an adjective phrase sans hyphens.  But looking past that, this feels like a perfectly unremarkable opening; it sets up the scene, the character mood, and gives us our first character in a very workmanlike way.  That's the definition of a three.

NEW FIC:  A Thousand Roses, by Titanium Dragon

The first line:  Twilight’s eyes widened as she stepped into the great hall of her castle. “Spike! You said they were bringing in a few bouquets!”

A few thoughts:  In the context of the story's description (which tells us that this is about Twi dealing with being named "Equestria's Most Eligible Bachelorette"), the first line makes a bit more sense than it does when totally divorced from its moorings, but it does also feel a bit pat to me.  It's not a bad joke, but it's an easy one, and what it sets up for us is mostly surface-level stuff--we're learning that Twi's got too many suitors, but we're not finding the kind of hints about her views towards those suitors that we got about MCs from some of the other newfic sentences I've reviewed this go-round.  That said, it does set the stage, and gives us a sense of the kind of humor we're in for right off the bat.  On the whole, I'd call this another three.


  1. Either way, I respect him at least 17.4% less now :o

    Ahh, I've at last hit rock bottom. :V

    The pen-name came first, btw. Also I'm somewhat mortified you took it upon yourself to read that fic. XD

    1. Hey, he read *my* antique, and that must have taken some effort, because I started out pretty poor. Thankfully, I've improved. Slightly. Less drool on the pages, and I've learned about commas. :)

    2. I'm betting Chris didn't actually read all of those old stories. Maybe not even the new ones. Enough so that he could evaluate the "does it improve with more of the story's context" criterion, but you wouldn't have to finish the story for that. At least I can hope.

  2. Regarding the first para you wrote for my section, I do have a response to that, though there is a TL;DR segment (of two sentences) near the bottom, under the spoilery bit, if you'd prefer the abridged version. If nothing else, trust me when I say I didn't tap that message lightly.

    But getting back to the topic at hand, good grief is All of a Fluttershy a mixed bag for me. That opening sentence was a self-conscious bit of cliche-ribbing, though (as you point out) not a particularly elegant one. That said, surely the "weather report" opening has at least a theoretical value in helping readers visualize the scene? Or am I missing something crucial here?

    The fic as a whole exemplifies some of the techniques and style I'd employ later on, but it's a clear case of "first-time fanfic writer". I don't know whether to shoot it or salute it.

    A bit surprised by your choice of more contemporary comparison, though. I was assuming you'd pick a completed fic, as you usually compare the sentences to the whole story.

    All in all, I feel better for having read this. It does get me thinking about the elements of a good opening, and with examples from other authors too. Thanks, Chris!

    1. I don't think Chris chose which stories to evaluate. As I understood it, they were literally your oldest and newest stories as of the time he checked.

      The problem with the weather report opening is twofold. One, so many people do it that it's become cliched, and two, it's rarely crucial or particularly relevant to the plot; if it is, the author needs to make that immediately clear, and in the absence of such, it just tends to tell the reader that you couldn't think of anything interesting to say, which doesn't bode well for the rest of the story.

    2. Something I'd add, in this case, was it came to me as a small shock when Chris said Rainbow never came up again. I thought it was obliquely implying an Appledash thread (that is, the "somepony" was AJ), since it's not like Rainbow is the whole weather squad or anything.