: Late. Again.
: Well, yes, but… you see, I’m in a different timezone, and…
: And that somehow delays you for an entire week?
: That is exactly what happened. Bloody Yank.
: God, whatever. And where the did Pav run off to?
: He said something about that new MMO…
: Oh great. He’s probably in here…
[Plum opens a doorway, spilling light into a darkened room. Pav, eyes bloodshot, looks up from his computer and hisses.]
: ...you haven’t slept at all, have you?
: Scoff if you must, Casca. My beta weekend was well-spent, my Miqo’te is fully rested, guildleves accumulating, just browsing Reddit to put together my crafting itinerary…
: [judgemental stare] Pav writes the intro?
[Plum, Casca, and Alex nod in agreement.]
: Oh, that? I did that ages ago.
: See, I was inspired when I saw that spoof intro you did a while back. Thought of doing my own external intro link…
: Oh no. No, no. Someone stop him.
: Newp, too late. [clicks the link] I’m actually pretty proud of it.
: Pav, just…
: Actually, that’s not too—
: Don’t say it. Don’t encourage him.
: God, it’s like pulling teeth with you guys. Fine. Whatever. It’s hilarious. Just gimme your damn reviews so you can get back to being not American, and not bathing.
: Wow, xenophobic much? Just because they live outside the States doesn’t mean they don’t practice good hygiene.
: Uh… [shares a look with Plum] pretty sure he wasn’t talking about us.
: Smells like Red Bull and jock straps in here.
: [without looking up from computer screen] I’m taking that as a complement. Implies I work out.
: Just talk about horsewords already.ROUND 25
Movements of Fire and Shadow, by InquisitorM
Tags are wonderful little things. They are labels that indicate to potential readers whether or not the story’s their shindig, helping people have more of an informed choice, saving time and effort all around. A rather interesting result is that you have stories written with the tag in mind - stories written decidedly as romance or adventure fics, for example, rather than an author telling a story and, after some frowning, manages to shoehorn its description into one to three words (you probably mean well if you have more than three tags, but you’re most likely doing it wrong). Today’s first feature, to my delight, transcends tags, in that its content, tone, structure cannot be boxed into specific categories if you want to do it justice.
The story takes the point of view of Artemis, a strong-willed personal guard of sorts to Luna, and delves into the issue of why the princess seems to be troubled - more than her usual brooding self. It is soon revealed that Luna has some kind of crush on Octavia, and so the story unfolds.
Let’s set aside the easy shot - “hey guys, unusual ship!” - and talk about what I found no less than impressive. First off is the amazing subtlety the author wields in both dialogue and description. There is just so much more to each line and word that is exchanged, a deeper meaning, subtext, that you can’t help but be drawn into the scene. The author shows great thought in crafting the characters before playing them out - the result is engaging interaction between characters that have relationships that go beyond the typical superior-subordinate, crush-subject dynamics. Both Luna and Octavia enjoy unique, refreshing interpretations that are not too deviant from what we expect - but different enough, and deep enough, to yield something unique. Those of you bored of all the typical grouchy!Octavia stories out there (high five) would do well to try this out on that basis alone.
Not just the scenery, but the world and its structure are nicely constructed, giving the story a solid body. It’s too easy to just assume the reader is willing to imagine a house or a bedroom on his/her own, and thus skimp the details - but imagery is strong enough to complement the excellent characterization at play.
Because of the way the conflict and motivations are handled, with each character being so natural and everything playing out so naturally, the story shines through on its own. Romance is the major conflict, except not really, because it doesn’t develop that far, and the air of humour that pervades the tone throughout is strong enough to warrant the possible use of [Comedy]. And yet to label it that isn’t quite right, because none of the jokes are direct - what actually goes on feels quite Slice-of-Life, even though this is clearly not that... Usually, having these different aspects being so strong leads to something wildly inconsistent and jarring in tone. But here, because of, I feel, the skill in control and choice of words, as well as the solid characterization, everything blends together very well to make what you have here. A very well-executed story, in which the characters deal with their motivations and conflicts in that unique way granted to them by their unique circumstances, giving not a care for what the coloured rectangle demands them to say or do. Pav Feira:
This is a very unusual story. And I mean that in the best possible manner.
It’s kinda like this. I mean, not this, but you know?
There’s a lot of baffling elements thrown into the stew here. We’ve got an unorthodox shipping pair that appears to have been selected literally at random. We’ve got a strange, off-kilter and off-canon (IMHO) Luna, mercurial to the point of manic-depressiveness, though with deliberate reason. There’s an interesting portrayal of Luna’s guards—fanonically known as “the bat-ponies”, though InquisitorM takes things in quite a different direction. To call her a foil wouldn’t be doing this justice; we’re well into obnoxious younger brother sister levels here. Octavia plays a minor role (in terms of screentime, not in terms of significance), and her role doesn’t really make a whole ton of sense until the interesting twist at the end.
There’s refreshing originality here (at least in my plebian eyes) but far more than that. As a short one-shot, this very much has the iceberg effect: only 10% of the story is shown to us. Paladins? What’s the deal with this order? Luna is practically defined in this fic in terms of her baggage, and this only gets touched upon enough to whet appetites. I want her to elaborate, to reveal more of what has transpired and what is to come. To say nothing of the relationship with Octavia... We are teased by the reveal with an interesting premise that could easily expand much, much further... and it does not. The author has said their piece, revealing this small vignette. The audience is left satisfied, yet hungry for more. That’s basically kind of exactly what you are always aiming for, as an author.
It’s amusing, in a way. There’s some sort of cliff, an uncanny valley perhaps, when it comes to working with canon characters. If someone nails the characterization, in terms of matching canon, the fic gets lauded for it (and we can all rattle off a number of examples). If they aim for canon but miss the mark, it gets flamed for it. But once you push past that, if you aim for a different mark… Not bastardizing the character, but putting your own unique spin on them, casting them in a different light… It actually ends up putting the character in quite a powerful role, and your story can benefit greatly from it. It’s an odd sort of balancing act—if people don’t like your alternate interpretation, they will hate it—but I felt that InquisitorM really hit the mark here. I’d actually be curious to hear what y’all have to say about these types of alternate character interpretations, and their role in fanfiction. Maybe leave a comment? Maybe a topic for discussion in our next livestream? Professor Plum:
I happen to have a brother who’s also a Brony. When I tried explaining this story to him over breakfast one morning, he loudly exclaimed “Oh God, you guys promote crackships now?”
While trying to explain the rest of it, I realised that was my first reaction as well, minus the spraying of crumbs. I mean, when you’ve got a romance story where the only three tags are Luna, Octavia and OC, a Lunoctavia ship is probably the best result you could hope to get from it, and that’s an unusual pairing. I’ve seen weirder, but not often outside of trollfics (Discord x Owlowiscious comes to mind).The correct response to crackshipping
Now, in all seriousness, this story isn’t a paragon of romantic glory, nor is it one of those stories which seems to have been thought out by throwing darts at a wall of pony pics and seeing what happened. It’s good, without a doubt, but not perfect. Hopefully, I’ll be able to explain why.
To start with, the author certainly knows how to world-build properly as his introduction of the paladins gives a rough idea of their role in society without holding the reader’s hand, dragging us through that most horrifying of exhibits, the Exposition Wing, without issue. Similarly, his explanation for the existence of Batponies in the Halloween episode left me rather satisfied, without having to delve into stupid amounts of detail as to what happens when a mommy pony and a daddy bat love each other very much.
Luna herself is characterised well, especially considering she doesn’t really fit into any of the common fanon personalities assigned to her. Or, quite possibly, she’s well-written because she’s not another cardboard cut-out YE OLDE SHOUTING VOICE Luna, or meek-and-timid Widdle Woona, or, God forbid, Gamer Luna *shudder*. Same applies to Octavia in that she’s not the one-dimensional snobby musician that she’s often portrayed as. A troubled prodigy from a rich family with an obsessive desire to finish her latest and greatest composition: the titular Movements of Fire and Shadow.
No, my problem with this story comes from the characterisation of the OC part of this Luna/Octavia/OC Romance story, Paladin Artemis.I think this character was specifically designed to be annoying, in which case, the writer should be congratulated for doing their job so well. Then tactfully reminded that DELIBERATELY ANNOYING IS STILL ANNOYING! ~Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw
Paladin Artemis is effectively Luna’s personal aide in this story, but also happens to fulfill the role of that guy. You know, that guy. The lovable idiot. The one who people describe as the funny guy or plucky. The one who gets into trouble every damn episode before turning to the camera and spouting off a possibly once-funny catchphase, earning deafening guffaws from the show’s canned laughter. In case you can’t tell, I’m not a fan of this type of character.
I get what the author was trying to do with her, though: use her as a device for making Luna to get off her moon-stamped ass and do something about Octavia. It’s just I hate that kind of character. Whatever Artemis seems to do just rubs me the wrong way. I’m not sure if that’s what the author intended, or if it’s just me letting my bias colour my opinion of her but I just can’t seem to like Artemis at all.
Pony Urkel aside, I rather enjoyed this story. Short and bittersweet, it knows what it is and doesn’t pretend to be anything but. I’d say give it a shot and make up your own minds on whether I’m just being silly.
Decisions, by hester1
It’s worth reading everything on the cover before you start, character tags included, before going in. Just a heads-up.
Unlike the first rec, the author is relatively new at the time of publishing. Yet like the first, there is a good show of subtlety in the writing and dialogue. I’m pretty sure that trying to explain subtlety is one of those things that qualify as irony, but, what to say - it’s the rich context that gives the actions and lines within much more meaning. It’s actually quite a nice surprise to look back on this and peel back the muffled layers of small restaurant-talk - how such a simple scene with simply real characters can be used to the extent as this. In fact, this is the main reason I brought this to the table: for a new author, hester1 shows commendable direction and craft.
The story, without spoiling too much, takes scenes from a restaurant where two groups of ponies talk. The subject matter revolves around their talk as they wine and dine, and through this, reveals piece by piece about the lives of these characters. So, yeah, it’s Slice-of-Life.
Aside from the crafting skill, the story brings into play an honest, interesting view of its characters. It doesn’t presume that we’d find it interesting straight up, but it plays at its own pace, making sure to develop its actors and their situations just enough. Nothing ever intrudes beyond the space it occupies - it unfolds and has you thinking, trying to unravel it, and before you know it there you are, chasing the ending (mentioning this probably jinxed it though). This is a difference to all of the stories that force-feed you backstory or action, sans the context needed to give it life
It’s not perfect, of course. The key punchline flew over my head, and I didn’t get it until I read the comments. The descriptions, while sufficient, could have been made a bit sharper in presentation - word choice being my personal-and-unqualified prescription - to give a richer effect. But the way it all comes together as it is - slightly hazy, the clink of glasses and moving chair legs, and the murmuring discussion of two groups of ponies in vicinity, is good enough to produce something I enjoyed reading. And as such I place my confidence that you would find this worth reading, too - a very scenic, thought-stimulating piece to freshen up the reading palate. Pav Feira:
Let’s be totally honest here. I am a simple pony. A simple pony with simple needs and simple, ahh, understandings of things. Nuances tend to fly over my head a bit. So when a fic like Decisions gets put on my queue, well, it’s not really a great fit at first. Several things flew over my head, I saw only things at their face value, and I missed tons of the nuance. And, well, I was a little bored. ^^; If that’s the reason that this fic floundered on release—plebs like me—then that’s a crying shame.
Because there is a ton of nuance in Decisions. So much is here that’s merely hinted at. So much is here that flat-out isn’t said. As the reader, you’re called upon to be a participant and to use your noggin. This isn’t a mystery novel; it’s a simple slice-of-life, so I’m not trying to overbill this as some fiendishly clever riddle here. But rather than be hand-held all the way through it, led by the nose, fed a cookie when you guess right… this story treats you like an adult. It’s… actually extremely refreshing.
When we can’t even be called upon to play our own games, actual reading doesn’t stand much of a chance. On a related note, did you ever notice that these quests have text above the Accept button?
I think that we, the writing and reviewing community, are largely at fault here. There’s a general drive for accessibility. We must make sure that all readers can follow what’s going on. We must make sure that everypony can “see what I did thar”, because how can the readers appreciate my cleverness if it goes over their heads?
Real talk, you guys. This show, that we sit around discussing, with billions of words of lore-building fanfic, hundreds of hours of analysis videos, not to mention the countless other fanworks… Need I remind you that this is aimed at six year olds? And yet we are able to derive so much from the canon, and flourish in our imaginations and creativity. DHX does not need to talk down to its audience. Why should we writers hold ourselves to lesser standards?
hester1 went on a bit of a limb here with his first ponyfic, and the viewcount never really panned out. I couldn’t be happier to recommend this and give it the second chance it deserves. We might all need to take a look at a story like Decisions and reevaluate our own writing style. Professor Plum:
Hoo boy, Cadence and Twilicorn tags? Jeez, this fic’s just asking for mindless downvotes. The only way it could be worse is adding the Dark and Romance tags into the mix. 3edgy5me and all that.
Okay, in all seriousness, it’s a rare story indeed when we get to see all the princesses together for a sit-down (even if they are in their totally not princesses at all guys forms). That being said, we don’t actually see a lot of them. Not only is the word-count a little under 3k but Tia and Luna don’t actually feature that much. Luna doesn’t say a word, in fact, and Tia only says seventeen (I counted). The only princesses who play an active part in the story are Cadence and Twilight, but even they’re forced to share the limelight with the other stars of the show, Sparkler and Roseluck. Sparkler being the supposed older sister of Dinky, with Roseluck being one of the infamous Flower Trio, whose greatest contributions to the show include screaming, fainting, and screaming while fainting.Hard at work. Keep up the good job, girls
Now, as you’d expect from such a short story, there’s not actually a lot physically there. In fact, the entire story can be summed up by a question asked about halfway through:
“Don’t you think that if I can see that two ponies are going to hurt themselves, I’m obliged to stop them?”
This story isn’t one you read to put a cheery grin on your face. It is by no means “fun”, but it’s interesting, mature and satisfying. In this, the author expects a certain maturity from his readers and if you’re willing to give him it, then he’s willing to treat you like an adult. Decisions asks a philosophical and deeply personal question that’s still being debated in parliaments around the world to this day. And while the princesses wrap their heads around this interesting little mental exercise, the consequences of their choices are happening all around them.
It’s sometimes hard to remember that philosophy and politics actually affect real people with real lives. This story gives a gentle reminder, while providing an view of the princess (who posed the question) I’d never really considered before. At only 2.8 thousand words, I’d recommend this story to anyone with a taste for subtle storytelling and five minutes to spare. There are certainly worse things you could be doing with your time.
Ascent. Book 1: Twilight, by viwrastupr
Not ten paragraphs in and we’re made aware that this is not best ship.oh hey character-so-awesome-she’s-above-the-need-to-be-shipped how did you get in here
Jokes aside, one has to wonder: shipfics, what do? They are for better or worse the cornerstone of fanfiction (shipshipshipshipship). They’re one of the Top 10 Guilty Pleasures for some, and a terrible scourge to others. I’m pretty sure none of our own good reviewers fall on either end of the spectrum, though we do have a couple who fall on the latter side, with at least one refusing to touch the stuff. What’s in a shipfic - rather, what’s in a shipfic for someone squarely in the middle such as I and probably you?
Once again I find myself returning to my ol’ parameters: writing style and skill, characterization, plot.
LIttle slip-ups are scattered rather unfortunately across the first chapter, decreasing slightly as one reads on, ranging from inexplicable capitalizations to missing punctuation. The writing is functional but not terribly fantastic - it’s decent, at least, though some descriptions could be handled with more finesse. A thorough but perhaps overly-strict editor might pan this for the style falling on the side of tell rather than show a leetle too much.
What you also notice in the first chapter is an incredible grasp of the Mane 6’s characterization. Everypony sounds just as they would. It sounds so simple, but it’s so easy to take for granted the kind of grasp shown in this fic that goes beyond “good”. The tone is light and almost show-like in how it handles its subject matter, leastways for the beginning, and there are some truly appreciable character moments that glaze over most if not all of the technical mistakes. Because unlike grammar derps, you can’t teach or fix the creation of genuine moments. And all of these blend to form vivid, moving imagery. And that’s that - you’re now immersed. Congratulations!
Plotwise, the story takes what I feel is a better direction. I say better because while I don’t know what’s best, I do know what’s bad - presenting something stale. Chapter 1 brings a beginning well-plotted enough to start you off. Chapter 2 brings in an interesting turn of events - where Celestia lol read it for yourself. Now have some text to give the illusion of this being an actual spoiler. Patchypatchypatchypatchy. But trust me, I’d bet an internet ha’penny that it’s something you haven’t seen done before on Fimfic. Yep. I confess that I was eager to end this review having only read the first two chapters, confident that I have enough good points to talk about. But the end of Chapter 2 did something unexpected - it made me want to continue on account of interest, because the author shows that he/she is very willing to give us something new. Freshness? In a shipfic? Surely you jest!
What is in this shipfic for you, good readers? The same it had for me - delightful characterization, well-thought planning, heart, and simply fun reading. Which is pretty much the same thing I’m happy to have in any other genre of fic. Pav Feira:
I… wait, I don’t? This? Wuh? Bwuh wuh? After nearly ten months since this group’s inception. After seventy four other fics reviewed. After numerous fics recommended by myself, only to have them shot down by the hooligans I choose to consort with. After one of our reviews sent me on a fake-out, luring me in with a deliberately misleading synopsis. After six (or seven, who can count?) livestreams, forced to sit and listen as these otherwise-outstanding gentlemen try to convince me that I’m the one in the wrong here. And now, finally, at long last, myself and my two compatriots proudly bid welcome to Seattle’s Angels’ first Twilestia shipfic.
Is today my birthday?
Ironically, depending on the exact date that this gets posted, this is indeed my birthday, plus or minus a week.
Such that I might not appear to have a complete wingboner for this fic based on genre alone, lemme quickly touch on the parts that didn’t work for me. No matter how you slice it, the synopsis comes across as slightly pretentious; a few of us found that off-putting. While viwrastupr did a great job portraying Celestia, I actually found that Twilight’s character arc escalated quite rapidly at the end, which was amusingly since everyone tends to have the opposite problem.
And now… the parts that did work. Once I mention to people that Twilestia is my OTP (and I do mention it… Believe me, I mention it. For instance, that Saturday dinner with a few friends at TrotCon), frequently the argument against goes something like this. “But how would that even work?” they cry. “There’s the huge age difference, the student relationship, Twilight’s unhealthy fixation, Canterlot court and other royal duties, etc etc etc. It would never work!”
“Exactly!” I exclaim, an excited twinkle in my eye. (In the case of the TrotCon dinner, this is the point where people awkwardly scooted away from the table.) What makes Twilestia so captivating a ship to me is its impossibility. At a conceptual level, this ship is conflict. Sure, FlutterDash has been growing on me, but that’s because they’re a cute couple, and so perfect for one another, and it is boring. Stories are borne from conflict, and I’m sorry, but “Will she or won’t she? ~doki doki~”, as the sole conflict of a story, sucks. Twilestia, as a ship, contains a myriad of issues that must be addressed, else the ship will immediately sink like a stone, then spontaneously combust.
And this, circling back to Ascent, is what I enjoyed so much about viwrastupr’s portrayal here. Rather than shy away from any conflict to expedite the journey to sloppy makeouts, rather than phone in a “I hope senpai will notice me this year” melodrama, they unabashedly tackle the difficult problems. Chapter One spoiler? Celestia doesn’t want a relationship, as you might expect. Neither does Twilight. It’s a distraction from her studies. She wants help getting over her crush. Tell me, how many shipfics start with that type of setup? On this website? From there, Celestia and Twilight take things organically. They act as they are naturally inclined, given their beliefs and interpersonal dynamic. The plot serves them, not the other way around.
Paraphrasing something that Applejinx said at BronyCon (or, I think it was him who said this, memory’s not so great), nopony enjoys an action fic where the enemies are cardboard and the heroes just waltz right through. Such as it is with romance. Battles must be hard-fought, happy endings must be earned. What viwrastupr does here is not simply a great Twilestia fic, but an excellent example of what a romance fic should be. Professor Plum:
What’s this? A second Romance story in one round? And a Twilestia at that? Somewhere out there, I can feel a Helicoprion die inside…
Ah well, might as well push on. We play the cards we’re dealt with, after all. Perhaps next time I should try to be more involved in the fic selection process, rather than entrusting it to Pav of all people…
Alright, the big problem I have with this story is the first chapter isn’t great. In fact, it’s pretty much the stereotypical shipping opener, where one character (in this case, Twilight) confesses to another their long-hidden and deeply-held love for another pony.
Blech, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Unfortunately, this seems to have become a bit of a staple for the genre, and one that doesn’t do much to break the stigma that merely carrying the Romance tag brings. If it’s not Rarity harbouring an undying love for Rainbow Dash for that one thing that happened a couple years ago, it’s Applejack falling for the prismatic wonder and using their constant competitions to try and spend more time with the object of her desire. Or it’s Fluttershy, who’s buried her longing for her fellow pegasus ever since flight school, because who could ever love someone as timid as her? Or Pinkie Pie, who enjoys hanging out with the cerulean weatherpony a bit too much for it to be just friendship. Or Twilight, who loves Dash because…
Books?Shippers. Gotta admire their persistence, I guess.
Back on-topic, after the first chapter, things begin to look up. Rather than a gushing I’ve-also-loved-you-secretly-forever-and-it-was-tearing-me-up-inside-as-well response from the benevolent princess, both parties agree that it’s merely a foalish crush and try to work it out of Twilight’s system. It goes wrong, naturally, but that’s besides the point. Despite the shaky start, Viwrastupr (say that twenty times fast) understands that these characters aren’t simply vessels to be shipped alongside each other. They’re more complex than what a lot of shipfics seem to portray them as, and don’t even want to fall in love. It’s awkward, distracting, and eats into time that could be spent reading about the way crystals affect the wavelengths of magic when exposed to the light of the moon, or something.Surprisingly apt.
One reason I will love this author forever for is the way he portrayed Applejack’s Accent. It’s barely there, and that’s excellent. Far too many authors think that because she has a southern drawl, it’s required that they drop every other letter, finish each word with an apostrophe, and stick a good half-dozen “y’alls” in there to make it believable.
We know what Applejack sounds like. We haven’t forgotten in the handful of months since the last episode, so give the reader some credit and let them picture it themselves. If you’re introducing someone else with an accent, then just bloody say so rather than forcing your reader to have to sit down and decipher what the hell the character’s supposed to be saying.
Right, enough faffing around. Now, I’m fairly sure I’m going to regret saying this, but I did enjoy this one. It’s not quite the same sort of bittersweet romance as Movements, and it certainly doesn’t make you sit down and think about how your actions affect others like Decisions, but you could certainly do a lot worse. Push past the less-than-exceptional exterior and you find a story that’s both genuine in both its intentions and believable in its execution. I wouldn’t call it the greatest romance story I’ve read (it is, like many other things, The Best Night Ever) but it’s better than most. Give this one a shot if you think you might enjoy a well-written romance story for once. Avoid if you’re a Helicoprion.Actual image of Csquared08 upon encountering a shipfic
: And what the hell do you think you’re doing?
: Getting ready to tank Ifr—
: Reviews! Posted reviews. Just finished ‘em up now.
: Not that. The intro and outro. You guys know script format isn’t allowed here.
[Silence. Everyone looks to Wanderer D, then to Pav. On-screen, Pav’s character dies.]
: The looks on your faces. They make me smile.
[Group bursts into uproarious laughter. Pints of lager and cigars materialize.]
: I don’t smoke…
: Well well! Twenty-five rounds of reviews in the bag, and seventy-five underappreciated stories recommended. I’d say Seattle_Lite’s little experiment has been an overwhelming success.
: I’ve actually got a few fics that I’d like you guys to check out, when you get the chance.
: Doesn’t the beer-and-cigars shtick just make us look egotistical and full of ourselves?
: Ah, that reminds me! Our biweekly-ish livestreams has been totally hitting double-digit views! Maybe we should think about advertising those more than 2 hours in advance.
: We’re setting a bad example for the children out there.
: No, Casca’s right. [looks directly at the camera] Kids. Don’t use script format. I’ll totally ban you.
[Wanderer D, Plum, and Pav burst into laughter.]
: I think I’m starting to hate all of you.
: [deadpan] Take a number.