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PaulAsaran


Technical Writer from the U.S.A.'s Deep South. Writes horsewords, and reviews both independently and for Seattle's Angels. New reviews posted every Thursday! Writing Motto: "Go Big or Go Home!"

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Mar
9th
2015

Paul's Monday Reviews III · 10:26pm Mar 9th, 2015

I've been looking at what it will take to get five reviews in every week – read: how much I have to read – and found that sometimes there's just not enough time in my work breaks to get to everything. Such is the case for next week, where if I keep up my regular reading system, there's no way I'd be able to get five reviews in. That just won't do.

So, I've amended my personal reading rules! From now on, unless the amount of reading required is just plain horrendous, I will also be reading on the weekends when it's necessary to keep up. I know, I know, you're all thinking 'big deal,' but for me it kinda is, considering I've been sticking to this rule for several months now. I've always firmly believed that 'home time is write time.' Then again, realistically speaking it's pretty hard to just write all day, so this isn't such a bad thing. Besides, now that I've joined the writeoffs I have to read a bit more, anyway.

In addition, I've decided to use my bookshelves as a sort of ranking system. From now on I'll state what bookshelf each reviewed story goes into. They should be self-explanatory, and include (from best to worst):

Why Haven't You Read These Yet? (Favorites)
Pretty Good ...I'd read it again.
Worth It (newly made just for this purpose, so empty at the moment)
Not Bad ...but not great, either.
None. There are some stories that just don't make the cut.

But you're not here for that. Reviews! Today we have:

The Seventh Element by adoptpetz
My Domestic Equestria by Pascoite
Hello, Sedna by shortskirtsandexplosions
Surface Deep by TheSlorg
Pointless by Dark Avenger


The Seventh Element has a little going for it and a lot… not. When I first spotted the story, I looked at its cover art and its description and came to an immediate conclusion: it was a blatant self-insert, probably written by an amateur. Then I paused and thought on that. I said to myself, “Myself, everyone started off as an amateur. You’re not giving adoptpetz a chance, and shame on you for it.” So I added the story to my RiL, figuring that maybe I’d get lucky. And you know what I got?

I got a blatant self-insert written by an amateur.

Now, the story does have some things going for it. Ambition, for one thing; here we have a revised history of Equestria featuring an entirely new pony race, complete with at least an attempt at creating a culture for said race. Adoptpetz was clearly trying to make an epic, and though the attempt failed on takeoff I can’t fault someone with ambition or the drive to complete a 120k story (with a 310k sequel).

At the same time, it’s clear that adoptpetz has never received serious criticism, because the errors of this story are many and constant. Let’s just talk about a few, shall we?

First off, formatting. No double spaces between paragraphs, for the entire story. I got used to it after a while, but it still looks terrible, and it gives the illusion that things are happening a lot faster than they really are. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: use double spacing. It works wonders and really doesn’t take much to do.

That’s not the end of the formatting issues, oh no. Most of the story was written in first person, which I typically don’t care for, but I’m not worried about it here. The problem is that some scenes – scenes not coming from the main character’s PoV – were written in third person perspective. This alone isn’t bad, it’s just that all scenes written in this perspective were underlined. The entire scene, every time. Unless the scene focused on the events involving the thestrals, in which case the entire scene was written in italics. Do I really need to explain why these are such terrible, terrible decisions?

Speaking of thestrals, they were another major screwup. It’s important to note (and apparently adoptpetz gets annoyed at people who make the ‘mistake’ of being confused) that the author does not translate ‘thestral’ to mean ‘bat pony,’ but instead equates them to a breed of half-pony, half dragons. Okay, fine, I can live with that. Oh, but wait ‘til you hear what they can do: they have dragon wings (not bat wings, no no no!), are astounding fliers (main character Acrylic could match Rainbow Dash for speed and was actually superior in terms of aerial agility), are naturally acrobatic (Acrylic demonstrates this repeatedly), can summon and control fire (including fire breath), are immune to fire damage (Acrylic comfortably swims in lava in one scene), have superior physical and magical strength (two thestrals alone defeated the entire Mane 6 cast, including Princess Twilight, without so much as breaking a sweat), have excellent night vision, and can eat gemstones when normal food isn’t available. Oh, and they can hide all of these abilities, including the wings, on a whim. The entire race is so OP it’s ridiculous. The author apparently doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘balance.’

But wait, let’s apply these things to the main character, Acrylic Storm! That’s right, she is of course a thestral, that’s the whole point of the story. So our main character is already physically superior to all the other characters around her. Fine, but at least she’s no better in terms of her choices and actions, right? Nope, we don’t get that bit of character either. Acrylic – who of course gets to meet and befriend the Mane 6 and become the constant 7th mare (but this isn’t a blatant self-insert, oh no!) – looks at every single situation in a way completely off from what the Mane 6 think.

Grand Galloping Gala tickets? Twilight shouldn’t be pressured into a decision.

Rarity’s making dresses for everyone? Her generous gift shouldn’t be nitpicked.

Discord’s causing havoc? It’s kinda fun, really.

Discord needs to be reformed? Sure, let’s give him a chance.

It’s like Acrylic is there purely to plant the author’s opinions into each event. Acrylic always knows exactly the right opinion to have to correct the Mane 6 towards a better solution. With a character like this, why do we even need Twilight Sparkle?

Then we get to Acrylic’s melodrama. Adoptpetz makes the classic mistake of confusing whiney angst for drama. I need go no further to demonstrate this than the Grand Galloping Gala: Acrylic meets the most important ponies in the art world, gets her paintings featured in a prestigious art gallery in Vanhoover, earns a number of regular clients and even gets to meet the stallion of her dreams – who returns the interest, no less. Oh, but she forgot to ask said stallion’s name. Her overall response? “Oh, woe is me, this has been the worst night ever! How could it have possibly gone so horribly?” Nevermind that her dream stallion works at the art gallery where her paintings are now featured, so finding out his name would be a piece of cake.

Acrylic is more than just a blatant self-insert, she’s the dreaded Mary Sue. The one saving grace in all of this is that she didn’t get plugged into a relationship with an established character, but an OC. Even this is a bit of a screwup, though, because by incredible, who-would-have-thought coincidence, said OC happens to also be a thestral-in-hiding. I waved goodbye to any sense of realism in this story long ago.

Speaking of realism, the entire story fails in terms of plot progression. I’ll just give one example. The background premise is that thestrals are considered evil by their very nature, and that’s fine as a plot tool. The problem is that Acrylic spends two years in Ponyville, becoming best friends with the Mane 6 and going on all the same crazy adventures. By the time the wedding of Cadance and Shining Armor comes around, they’re practically attached at the hip. Then the changeling attack happens, and Acrylic (being OP and in just the right place to do everything correctly and be the hero [not a blatant self-insert!]) reveals herself to be a thestral to all in order to save the day and stop Chrysalis.

Her reward? All her friends save Rainbow Dash reject and abandon her. Celestia and Luna throw her in prison, then cast a transformation spell to get rid of the supposed evil that must be inside her – because all thestrals are evil, remember? – thus destroying her wings and taking away all her thestral abilities. Ignore the fact that she just saved all of Equestria, helped the Mane 6 find the Elements and defeat Nightmare Moon, is an established and loved figure in the Equestrian artist society, never committed a single crime, was instrumental in the reformation of Discord and willingly turned herself in once the truth was revealed. Do I really need to describe just how OOC almost every character is being? Especially considering they just got out of an ‘abandonment’ situation with Twilight and the royal wedding.

And this is just one instance, mind you.

Waitwaitwait, we’re not quite finished! Take a look at this passage:

“What’s wrong, Spike?”

“Acrylic, am I a lame dragon?”

“What?!”

“Be honest. Do you think I’m a lame dragon?”

“Why... of course not, Spike! Why would you think such a thing?”

“Rainbow Dash said so.”

“Oh, Spike, you know Rainbow.” I smiled and turned back to the bottles on the shelf.

“But then all the others agreed that I didn’t act like other dragons. If I don’t act like other dragons, then what am I?”

“But, why come to me with this? Why not Twilight?”

“She was there. And she doesn’t know anything about dragons. Aren’t you an expert on legendary creatures?”

“Sort of, but-”

“So do you know anything about dragons?”

“Well, sure...”

“Tell me! Tell me everything! Please, Acrylic? I need to know my destiny!”

That’s right, talking heads. Bear in mind that roughly 80% of all dialogue runs like this. Try adding more than two characters. Throw in some undirected ‘he’s’ and ‘she’s’ so you have no idea who is saying what. And then there’s this other frequent mistake:

“I've just been trying to gain his friendship any way I can, so he'd come to trust and listen to me!” I sighed with her.

“Where is he?”

Pop quiz: who’s saying “Where is he?” Is it the ‘I,’ the ‘her,’ or some unspecified third figure? Once context is established, you come to realize it’s ‘I’ who is speaking, but it takes a moment to figure out. This particular mistake appeared over and over again, and it frustrated me every time. Simply put, adoptpetz really needs to work on dialogue.

Okay, I’ve gone on for way too long on this story (and no, I haven’t covered all its problems, not even close). The point is, while the concept is ambitious and some of the ideas had merit, there are so many obvious flaws in this blatant self-insert that I can find no place for it in my bookshelves. There’s no way I can bring myself to add the 310k sequel to my RiL, either. If adoptpetz can find some editors and pre-readers and take a few lessons from others, there might be a chance for some solid stories in the future from this author. For this story… yeah, just no. I am amazed and just a little distressed that The Seventh Element has a 92% positive rating.

Bookshelf: None


I’m not sure this is so much a ‘story’ as it is a recording of events. Either way, it was a delight to read. I was curious to find that an individual so renowned in the FIMFiction community as Pascoite is, in fact, a closet brony rather than a flaunting one. Regardless of my thoughts on this lifestyle decision, it made for some amusing little anecdotes involving such things as a visit to Cracker Barrel just for a pony toy for his kid.

There’s really not much to say about this, except that Pascoite has a cute kid who will soon be the proud owner of at least one plush of each of the Mane 6 (if he isn’t, already). I can’t help but wonder if the enthusiasm will keep up as the boy grows older and comes to realizes that MLP is a show for girls (:pinkiesick:). If you want to enjoy some legitimate father-and-son silliness, try this out. It’ll make you smile at the very least.

Bookmark: Worth It


I had my suspicions about what this was, and I was about half-accurate. I refuse to spoil it for anyone; this is the kind of story that needs to be read for oneself. Well-written as usual from SS&E, and with a bit less of the flowery prose he’s known for (although it is there). While the topic may not be original, it achieves its goal with masterful precision. I have often contemplated the subject matter of this story, and it reflects the somber, quiet unpleasantness that I would expect: a level of desolate loneliness that is typically missing from these kinds of tales. There’s really no need to say anything else.

This story is going on my favorites list. It should be in yours, too.

Bookshelf: Why Haven't You Read These Yet?


TheSlorg is often mentioned by my friends as someone whose writing is excellent and whose advice is exceptional. If Only In My Dreams was a delightful story that is rightly in my favorites list, and I had high expectations for Surface Deep. In particular, I looked forward to seeing Rarity treated as the great character she is.

Unfortunately, this is one of TheSlorg’s earlier writings, and it shows. The lines were nearly all telly, which on its own is a bad thing. Also, the author hit upon one of my pet peeves: going through the trouble of describing everything we already know. Each of the Mane 6 gets a color-coded descriptive treatment; Sugarcube Corner and the Carousel Boutique also receive a bit of description. This, to me, is nothing but wasted text. The people reading this story are My Little Pony fans, I think they are already well aware of what the characters and locations look like. I can tolerate the Carousel Boutique, because it was Rarity’s first time seeing it in its completed form and thus warranted some description for her sake, but the rest? Nope.

I also take issue with the story itself, but this is an issue of personal taste. The gist of the tale is that Rarity was bullied as a kid, which led to her drive for personal perfection. This alone wouldn’t be so bad, except that Rarity treats this bullying as if her entire life has been destroyed and her world will never be happy. She’s shown – as an adult, no less – regularly sobbing just because of something a few jerks told her when she was still a kid. Now, I grant that the intended lesson of this story is to accept the past and move on, but the entire ordeal felt extremely melodramatic, even by Rarity’s standards. All I could think the entire time was ‘grow up.’ I didn’t sympathize with Rarity, because to me her ‘problem’ made no sense, and especially not enough sense to warrant her crying in front of her mirror on a daily basis for her entire life.

If you’re the type who hates and/or are deeply affected by bullying, you may get something out of this. If you’re like me and think bullying is nothing but a bunch of air coming from empty heads not worth your time, don’t bother.

Bookshelf: Not Bad


To put it as simply as possible, this story was… interesting. The concept behind it is that Twilight is feeling unappreciated – even ignored – with her place in Ponyville and is facing a lot of deeply personal issues she can’t seem to figure out on her own. After talking to her friends fails her, she ends up writing a spontaneous letter to Princess Luna, if only for the sake of putting her feelings down on paper for somepony to read.

This story is borderline psychological, as it delves into many issues that Twilight faces that are far less than physical. At the same time, it makes for an interesting comparison piece, as there is a certain understanding that everything Twilight is going through may well have been exactly what Luna went through decades ago before her turn to villainy. Luna’s response is at times curious and confusing, as she goes on to detail a story about Starswirl the Bearded that, at first glance, doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Twilight’s issues.

Pointless is not a straightforward story, and it follows up that tactic with a sense that the situation hasn’t been resolved. Despite this, it still felt like a good ending, perhaps because the problem has been acknowledged. It’s helpful to remind people that sometimes it’s not the resolution of all problems that makes a story complete, but simply the understanding that something is being done. This is a hard thing to achieve, but I think Dark Avenger did a good job.

This story won’t appeal to everyone, especially those who don’t value open endings, but to me it was a nice little read. Try it if you’d like to see a different way to approach storytelling.

Bookshelf: Pretty Good


Stories for next week:
Days of Wasp and Spider by Luna-tic Scientist
From the Eternal Love of a Sister by Scootareader
Six Followed By Nine by -TGM-
Of Mirrors and Madness by Violetta Strings
To Romance a Magician by Mooncalf

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Comments ( 20 )

That really was a haunting piece by SS&E. I'm glad you didn't spoil it in your review because it definitely is something you need to read yourself.
And did you really read all 120k words of self-insert fanfic just for a review blog? I'm impressed.

2863336
Actually, I read the entire story because, even if the story i terribly written, I was interested in seeing how everything went down. Underneath the poor writing skills, adoptpetz does have some potential, and I kept going in the hopes of seeing some of it. The story could have been really compelling.

Alternatively, you could say that it was like watching a train wreck: you just can't look away.

2863373
That makes sense. So does that mean you're gonna attempt to read that 300k sequel someday? Probably not for a review like this but just out of curiosity?

I'm impressed that you went through the effort of reading 120k words of self-insert. If the author does stumble upon this (or if you left some comments) at least he'll have some quality advice.

I'll add SS&E's fic to my Read Later shelf. It's been awhile since I've read anything aside from the Austraeoh series.

I'd read Pointless but I'm not sure if I'd be up for a psychological fic anytime soon.


Can't wait for more!

2863387
Not likely. to be honest, while I was very interested in knowing what would happen next, I took a glance at one or two chapters and saw all the same problems. Thus, I decided not to bother at all.

2863419
I did neither, because I couldn't tell from what I saw if adoptpetz was the kind of individual to be largely accepting of such criticism.

As to Pointless, calling it 'psychological' isn't really accurate. It's not like it's written all fanciful with weird descriptions to confuse and confound. It's just that Twilight's letter is so rambly and Luna's response is so... indirect. It's the kind of story that you have to really think about to understand the point behind what Luna's trying to tell Twilight.

2863452

What a shame.

Heh, I might give it a shot, but saying I suck at finding the hidden meaning in things is like saying it's little chilly on Pluto. I guess we'll find out, hmm?

Yeesh. I would have stopped reading the seventh element. But that's just me. Also, I didn't see anything wrong with your example excerpt. Yes, talking heads can be annoying at times, but the quote you copied was of a rather simple exchange.

Any story involving plot points from the actual show is almost always written as a "plot fix" to correct something that the author sees as wrong. They're not always bad, but those that aren't are the exception, not the rule.

Two good examples are Post Nupitals by Darth Link and Faith and Doubt by Defender2222, which both deal with the events of A Canterlot Wedding, and manage to do an all right job of it. A very . . . questionable example would be The Assassination of Twilight Sparkle by Rated PonyStar. Aside from making no sense (the alicorn that tries to kill the whole world in endless night is fine and dandy, but the new alicorn that saved Equestria three times gets killed because ponies are afraid of her!? WTF!?) and its underlying theme seems to be "Fuck you Celestia for making Twilight an alicorn!"

Meh.

2863900

Also, I didn't see anything wrong with your example excerpt. Yes, talking heads can be annoying at times, but the quote you copied was of a rather simple exchange.

I don't know, it seems pretty crappy to me, especially considering that there's absolutely no reason not to use narration to put some emotion into the dialogue. Maybe I picked a poor example but, I repeat, 80% of the dialogue. Perhaps I should have picked one of the more 'intense' (or not) moments in the story featuring more than two characters. Nonetheless, talking heads annoy me when used improperly, and I don't see how you can justify eight straight lines of it (and bear in mind that I only ave you a small portion of the conversation).

And before anyone calls me hypocritical over Of Angels: that was written as being directly from a journal. There was no body language to make use of. The Seventh Element is not written in a journal format, and therefor it has no excuse.

I read Post Nuptials. It was pretty good. Its sequel, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired (although seeing Celestia drop the royal guise to mock the villains was a rare treat).

2863952

Eh, there's a time and place for everything. If two characters are standing in an elevator, just standing there, then I see no reason to add anything beyond a simple "he said/she said."

But if the characters are doing something dynamic, then yes, character actions should be added into the mix. If only to give a sense that things are going on. But that's all I have to say on that. Except that I was refering to the first passage. The second excerpt was a little cringe-inducing.

2864480
I know you were referring to the first passage, and it too is cringe inducing. In my view, two lines without narrative is fine, three is pushing it, four goes too far. In that particular conversation, I seriously doubt spike is just standing still.

Something makes me feel like "The Seventh Element" is actually "Monsters" if I did literally everything wrong.

Ah ha, now you begin to learn the truth. You can either have a life or review ponyfic. First it gobbles up your weekends. Then your sleeping time. You'll wake up halfway through a ponyfic and realize you've written a half-dozen reviews when you weren't paying attention to your hands.

Flee now while you can!

2865610
Aha, but I have already caught the problem ahead of time by limiting myself to only five reviews a week! Take that, you time-guzzling monster of a hobby! :rainbowdetermined2:

...

If ever I increase my review count, please call for an intervention. :fluttershyouch:

2865610
2865616
Ayshh, this life. It's so true.

Pointless and Hello, Sedna look interesting.

(Pointless comment is pointless, but I'm too tired to care.)

Thanks for the review, Paul!

Surface Deep has a special place in my heart, as it was the first time I attempted to write anything that was serious. My previous stories had all been comedies.

That said, it certainly shows its age. Written in a time when stories that properly explored Rarity's past were few and far between, I'm satisfied with the backstory I created. The downside is that it's grammatically immature, and suffers a bit from 'Try Hard' syndrome. "Rarity is sad, guys. No, really. She's sad!"

At any rate, I still like it. I've been tempted more than once to rework it, but decided to leave it as-is. It is good to go back and see how much I've improved over the years.

That said, I recently wrote another Rarity story: Allure. I'd love to see what you think. I had about as much fun writing it as I did writing If Only In My Dreams, and hopefully it shows.

2879169
I know exactly how you feel. My own first story, the No Heroes series, is very near and dear to me. Even though I know it's terribly flawed in many places and is in desperate need of an editor, I decided long ago to never edit it save for the sake of fixing plot continuity problems with its sequels/prequels. If someone gave a similar review to No Heroes, I'd probably react in much the same way.

My general rule is to read stories directly in the order they are added to my RiL collection, which would mean it would be months before I actually got to read Allure. But at the same time, I've never had anyone directly suggest a story before. I may bump Allure up and get to it sooner.

If you’re like me and think bullying is nothing but a bunch of air coming from empty heads not worth your time, don’t bother.

I HIGHLY disagree. Bullying is NOT something to be taken lightly, especially in this day and age.

In the old days the most a bully might do is make fun of you, pull your hair, or maybe punch you once or twice.

Today, bullying can mean extreme harassment, including ruining a persons reputation, physical assault, theft, inappropriate touching, putting humiliating footage of a person online, intimidating a disabled child etc. (And I have seen accounts like this on the news.)

I was bullied for almost my entire time in school and it always seriously irritates me when people make light of this. Trying to make a person feel bad about themselves in any way is NEVER okay, and is far more than just "a bunch of air coming from empty heads."

Bullying has lead to extreme circumstances such as kids doing school shootings because they were bullied or they became so depressed they ended up taking their own life. As such, this is definitely an issue to take seriously.

2968818
You misunderstood, and that's entirely my fault for not writing things clearly. I'm not saying that bullying isn't a problem for children (although I maintain it's not 1/10th as bad as you think, that's just the media hyping a few incidents to make you believe it's rampant). Children need support from parents and loved ones during such times.

But Rarity is not a child. She's a grown mare, and the bullying happened ages ago. I was bullied when I was a kid, too – I still vividly remember having my head bashed into a brick wall for daring to defend my place in line at the drinking fountain – but you don't see me breaking down and sobbing every time I look into a mirror as a result. I think the show makes it clear that Rarity is not that fragile an individual.

2969042 It doesn't seem to me that Rarity is crying every single day of her life over this. When I read the story it seemed like over the course of a few days she vividly remembers the past then learns to come to terms with it, but that's just my own interpretation of the story. I'm guessing yours is different. Though I see what you mean when you say that Rarity is stronger than that. Perhaps the story should've been labeled as an AU?

I know some things about psychology so I tend to over think and over psychoanalyze things at times. Such as knowing that hearing the same thing over and over for years can end up sort of "brain washing" you to believe it, even when you know that you shouldn't. Or that when something incredibly traumatic happens to you as a child it can still effect you as an adult. Or if you have low self esteem things can hit you much harder than they do other people. Etc etc etc.

I do agree that Rarity does seem more fragile then she should be in this story though. Sure she was bullied for years at school, but she had loving parents waiting for her at home and that usually makes a HUGE difference. She was still getting emotional support so the bullying shouldn't have hit her as hard as it did. It's when a child is bullied constantly at school, has no real friends, and has parents who don't really care about them where things can get nasty. If a person has no real emotional support at all that kind of thing can definitely mess them up for life, though with Rarity that wasn't the case.

My biggest question when reading this story was WHY didn't Rarity tell her parents or the teacher about it? It's obvious that her parents would've tried to help her so I don't understand why she'd keep it a secret.

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