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Titanium Dragon


TD writes and reviews pony fanfiction, and has a serious RariJack addiction. Send help and/or ponies.

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Jul
29th
2015

Read It Later Reviews #23 – Friendly Correspondence, Wither, To Drown a Butterfly, Happy Hearts Warming, Pinkie Pie’s Glamorous Giggle Gas · 10:00pm Jul 29th, 2015

Between reading and reviewing entries for the latest writeoff, I managed to get another set of stories reviewed for you folks as well, mostly courtesy of the Royal Guard’s queue. I go into a fair bit of detail about prose in the review for To Drown a Butterfly, as well as talk a bit about meter in poetry in my review of Happy Hearts Warming, so there’s a few things which are a bit different in today’s reviews.

Today’s stories:

Friendly Correspondence by Pascoite
Wither by -TGM-
To Drown a Butterfly by Matthew Depointe
Happy Hearts Warming, My Friend by battleborn
Pinkie Pie’s Glamorous Giggle Gas by Magello


Friendly Correspondence
by Pascoite

Slice of Life
2,618 words

Twilight Sparkle always wrote to Princess Celestia about her lessons in friendship. Sometimes, Celestia wrote back. Even if Twilight didn't know it.

Why I added it: It got 9th place in the “Just Over the Horizon” write-off.

Review
Celestia gets Twilight’s first letter from Ponyville – the letter from Ticket Master, in which Twilight returns the tickets to the Grand Galloping Gala because there weren’t enough for all of her friends.

Celestia is at first stunned, worrying that Twilight might have failed to make any friends or had a falling out with them, but then realizes that Twilight said friends, plural, and is so proud of her finally coming out of her shell – as she had made not one friend, which was all Celestia could have hoped for, but five.

And so Celestia pens an emotional letter back. But that wouldn’t be quite right...

This is a story focused on Celestia’s view of Twilight, and seems to indicate a very close, almost maternal bond, but also gives a reason – several, actually – why Celestia might want to take a step back from Twilight and give her more space to grow on her own.

If I had a complaint about this story, it is that it takes a bit of time to build up its head of steam. The start of the story isn’t terribly interesting, and it is only when Twilight’s letter arrives that the story really takes off. The ending, too, feels a bit erratic, and the whole story is kind of sappy – but that’s the point, so it is hard to really complain too much about it.

Recommendation: Worth Reading if you want maternalesque Celestia and Twilight feels.


Wither
by -TGM-

Tragedy, Dark, Sad
3,714 words

Two years after the Canterlot invasion, Queen Chrysalis is the last of her kind. However, she is confident that the Changelings will survive. They always have.

The Ponies' help may be the only thing that will keep the Changelings from falling into extinction, but Chrysalis refuses to ask.

She does not need it.

Why I added it: The Royal Guard queue.

Review
Chrysalis is all alone, conversing with the corpses of her dead changelings that she has set up around the hive, pretending like she is still their leader, and not simply the only changeling left alive.

Her only hope is to ask Princess Celestia to take her in, but in her madness, she refuses. But part of her mind disagrees, and taunts her as she goes through her empty routine.

The story is competently written, but unfortunately, I’m not sure I can really say that I liked it; I feel like I’ve read this story too many times before, and this didn’t add any new twists to it. With a story like this, the character’s conversations with the dead are meant to really expose character, but here, there isn’t actually all that much novel to it; we know Chrysalis is an egomaniac, and while the story presses on the point, I’m not sure that her “other self” really came off as her as much as I might have liked. The story just doesn’t touch me emotionally because Chrysalis fails to evoke sympathy from me, and she really needs to; she’s a tragic figure here, but the story doesn’t actually make me care about her.

Recommendation: Not Recommended.


To Drown a Butterfly
by Matthew DePointe

Comedy, Random, Slice of Life
5,549 words

A not so regular crime story. Set in the backdrop of 50's noir Hell's Bakery, Los Pegasus. These gripping crime thrillers stars S.E. Ponetti, a complicated pony with many unspoken pasts. An unforgettable story of loss and redemption as our anti-hero Mr. Ponetti tries to get rich quick. In a city with four million stories, this is only one of them.

Why I added it: The Royal Guard queue.

Review
This story is a bit of a bait and switch; at first, I thought that the first story was a PI meeting with a client, but it rapidly came out that the character in question was actually a thief meeting with a vain woman who he had robbed. But maybe there’s a bit more than money he wants…

The core to this story was presenting a thief with some amount of moral values, but in the end, the story felt incomplete; while there was a definite arc to it, showing what kind of pony the protagonist was, even if he didn’t realize it himself, at the same time it felt like it needed to be a part of something larger, and it didn’t go far enough – he was a bit better than he thought he was, but at the same time, nothing really changes in the grand scheme of things for him in the story, and there’s little reason to really feel sympathetic for him in the end, as he is still a bad guy, even if he isn’t the worst of the worst, and he doesn’t really seem to want to be any better than he is.

Written in a noir-style, this story’s prose ended up being so distracting that it was a struggle to read through. I thought I’d give a few examples of the writing, as well as why it struggled and how to make it better, which hopefully will help folks. Examples taken from the opening paragraph of the story:

She was a petite pony, with hooves that seemed covered in everlasting polish that reflected all her exterior beauty.

Starting off with a description isn’t a bad idea, but this is awkward. “all her exterior beauty” is an awkward way of describing someone’s beauty; the writer is describing her appearance here, so “exterior” is redundant. As far as “beauty” goes, it is not a word that you should always avoid, but it is one of those words that comes off as telly – telling the audience that X is beautiful rather than showing them such. Telling someone that something is beautiful is much less convincing than showing it to the audience.

Grayish mane that looked to have just been stylized at a rather expensive beauty parlor only hours before, and her teeth, while sparkling white, had the impression of holding back a scowl.

The start of the sentence is choppy; there’s very little reason not to use “Her” at the start of this sentence. Likewise, “grayish” is wishy-washy; there is little reason not to just say “gray”.

“looked to have just been stylized at a rather expensive beauty parlor” has far too many modifiers in it. How does the narrator know this? It would be better to show us how the narrator came to this conclusion, rather than simply telling us this outright.

“While sparkling white” is a strange aside; it has nothing to do with the impression of holding back a scowl. While is usually used to contrast something in this context, but here, the two don’t have anything to do with each other.

Also, “had the impression of holding back a scowl” is both telly (rather than showy) and kind of awkward. It would probably be better as a standalone sentence somewhere later in the paragraph.

Her horn wasn’t glowing, but if it had, it would have been dusting the old saloon we were in.

This is just an awkward thing to say; it is generally best to avoid hypotheticals like this in physical descriptions. “Dusting” is also an awkward way of describing what might happen if she did light up her horn.

Her coat was mostly ash, with a hint of lavender.

This isn’t awful, but it is kind of flat; in the noir style, frequently there’s some sort of allusion made to something else when making a description like this, some sort of simile used to compare it to something.

Her green eyes with curly eyelashes hid a hint of a glare for me, like she couldn’t believe was being forced to stoop to asking lowlife like me for help.

If he is noticing it, she isn’t hiding it at all, she’s trying and failing to hide it. It would be better if the narrator noted this – that she was trying, but she wasn’t a very good actress, and to express his feelings about it/her as a result.

This is the sort of stuff you can really use to build up character in a first person perspective noir story; you can use the descriptions and the narrator’s reaction to them – and the way that their mind flows along putting together the pieces – as a means of characterizing the protagonist as well as adding additional depth to the story.

A few other things I noticed throughout the story:

She looked liked she was as bored, and annoyed as anypony I have ever taken on as a client.

You can usually skip stuff like “She looked like she was” and just go with “she was”; there’s no reason to be indirect in a description like this unless there’s a particular reason why you want to make note of looks versus reality. Even beyond that, the sentence is telly; it is better to show this sort of thing via the character’s actions and body language.

I watched her for a few seconds and leaned back in my chair. My chair and I had a long history together, with me occasionally napping while on it, or passing out from drinking too much. The ass-print on my chair left me wondering if I was going to spend the rest of my life in this bar. I didn’t have the blood-shot eyes that many years of drinking would earn you, but it didn’t surprise me. I was only twenty-four years old.

This is an awkward way of dropping his age into the narration, but it isn’t a terrible IDEA to tie him contemplating about how he was too young to develop those blood-shot eyes, but that he was possibly (or probably) on his way there already.

In the end, it was very hard to get past the problems that the prose had to actually get down to enjoying the actual story the author was crafting. When the prose is acting as a constant distraction, it is hard to tell if a story would be engaging without those problems or not. Still, I hope these examples were helpful for some readers to better understand stuff like this.

Recommendation: Not Recommended.


Happy Hearts Warming, My Friend
by DL33TED
Poetry
1,049 words

Santa Hooves brings presents to all the good fillies and colts all throughout Equestria on Hearts Warming Eve. When he stops in Canterlot he makes a long stop at a member of one of Celestia's Own.

This is a retelling of "Merry Christmas, My Friend" by James M. Schmidt

Why I added it: The Royal Guard queue.

Review
“Happy Hearts Warming, My Friend” is based on “Merry Christmas, My Friend”, which is itself based on “A Visit From St. Nicholas”.

The title of this story is a mondegreen, as the Equestrian holiday is actually “Hearth’s Warming Eve”, a hearth being a brick or stone-lined fireplace – though because of their one-time omnipresence, they came to symbolize homes in general (hence the term, hearth and home, and the symbolism of relaxing with one’s family in front of the fireplace). Ironically, I suspect many people nowadays likely don’t even have fireplaces in their homes, let alone call them hearths.

In any event, this poem has some issues (as does Merry Christmas, My Friend).

Poems have something known as cadence, which is the natural rise and fall of one’s voice as you read through a piece and is what makes it sound good. What regulates the cadence is the meter of the poem, which is the basic rhythm underlying a poem.

If you look at “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” here are the opening lines:

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.

The poem follows what is known as the anapestic tetrameter. An anapest is two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable; tetrameter means that the meter has been repeated four times per line. Thus, you get the following per line:

da da DUM da da DUM da da DUM da da DUM

You’ll notice that a few of the lines don’t actually follow this meter! And yet, this is a much-beloved poem that sounds very pleasing to the ear. Why is this?

The answer is that the poem periodically drops unstressed syllables, and on rare occasion sticks in an extra one as necessary. For example, the third and fourth lines of the poem drop the first unstressed syllable, and the clatter/matter lines not only drop an unstressed syllable at the start of the line, but cheat and stick one out at the end!

And yet the whole thing sounds nice anyway because it mostly fits, and the unstressed syllables aren’t quite as important as the stressed ones. As there are four sets of the meter per line, having the first one be weird isn’t as big of a deal as having one of the middle ones be off, because you quickly end up picking up the same general rhythm as you read through a line, and it sticks to it.

The rhymes also help to make the poem sound good; not only do they break up the poem into nice chunks of tetrameter and serve as a guide to the meter, but they further add to the rhythmic quality of the piece. We see every pair of lines rhyme – AA, BB, CC, DD, EE, ect.

Compare to this poem’s opening lines:

Twas the night before Hearts Warming, he lived all alone,
in a city made of ivory colored stone.
I already made my way around Canterlot,
yet I hadn’t visited one home in this particular lot.

Down below, the house came alive,
even though it was 11:05.
soon the light was out once again
you could even hear the drop of a pen.

This poem does stick to the rhyme scheme, but it fails to hold to any sort of meter. The first line of the poem starts out telling us “This is going to be written in anapestic tetrameter”, but then it deviates almost immediately. The second line is particularly problematic, as the stresses are very irregular. Consequently you end up tripping over yourself very early in the poem, and you never recover because the poem just doesn’t really follow any real pattern – the verses don’t have even remotely similar numbers of syllables in many cases.

Without any sort of meter to it, you never pick up the cadence that makes a poem pleasing to the ear.

Recommendation: Not Recommended.


Pinkie Pie’s Glamorous Giggle Gas
by Magello

Comedy
1,060 words

Rainbow Dash needs to be in tip top condition to try out for the Wonderbolts, but she's too busy suffering from easily preventable horse diseases to pull through with her typical style and flair.

With her only options being highly trained medical professionals or Pinkie Pie's dubious homeopathic remedies, Rainbow opts for the only choice that makes sense.

Or at least whatever's quickest.

Why I added it: I thought it was quite funny in the writeoff it was in.

Review

“Yo, Pinkie.” Rainbow grimaced, rubbing little circles into her forehead. “So, Twilight thinks I might have ‘many-guytis’ or something like that, so I’m s’posed to go to the hospital, right? But hospitals are expensive! I don’t have time for that nonsense!” Rainbow slumped onto the counter, cradling her head in her hooves. “Help a friend out?”

“Aw, you don’t have to go to that mean ol’ hospital—that’s why I opened up this!” Pinkie motioned at the stall, replete with sugary wonders.

Rainbow’s head came up quickly, and she smiled through the stabbing pain behind her eyes. “Rad!”

“Soooooo, what can I getcha?” Pinkie gestured expansively at her vast stocks of holistic remedies. “A Cherry Placebo Pie a la Mode, perhaps? Homeopathic Hazelnut De-lite? Ooooooo, maybe my Cupcake Curatives—”

This is a black comedy about homeopathic and herbal remedies. I think it could have probably been shorter (and was, in the write-off), but it is still a funny little story, clocking in at just barely over FIMFiction’s minimum word count.

Recommendation: Worth Reading if you like black comedy.


Summary
Friendly Correspondence by Pascoite
Worth Reading

Wither by -TGM-
Not Recommended

To Drown a Butterfly by Matthew Depointe
Not Recommended

Happy Hearts Warming, My Friend by battleborn
Not Recommended

Pinkie Pie’s Glamorous Giggle Gas by Magello
Worth Reading

A reminder in case you missed it: I released a new story, The Tenth Anniversary of the Death of Jonagold Apple, yesterday. It is a fun little character piece about Applejack which I had a blast writing.

I’ve also been sporadically chewing away at the rest of Mistletrapped, so hopefully that will be out soonish.

And all in the meantime, The Writeoff Association’s latest contest is continuing apace; we’re in the middle of the first round of judging a bunch of 400-750 word entries which folks wrote in the space of just a single day. If you’re interested in taking a look at what a bunch of (temporarily anonymous) authors write, including yours truly, the present round can be found on the Writeoff website.

Number of stories still listed as Read It Later – Important: 73

Number of stories still listed as Read It Later – High Priority: 305

Number of stories listed as Read It Later: 1633

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Comments ( 10 )

Bad group today? Still some recommendations.

Wither
by -TGM-
Genre
3,714 words

Genre? *Gasp!* :pinkiegasp: My favourite genre!

You might want to fix that. :raritywink:

Thanks for taking the time to look at my fic, TD! :pinkiehappy:

Some fics make the box, some just languish in popular stories for weeks. That's the problem with the box, TD: Even a bad story will maintain momentum for ages in there. At this stage, you'd need hundreds of new readers to push you in. But hey, it's already gotten more views and upvotes than most writers can dream of, so don't feel too bad.

3281019
I can hardly complain. But I am a shameless self-promoter.

And a dragon. You know us. Always greedy for more. :moustache:

Stargate: Shangri-La managed to just poke up enough to really take off after being stuck below my story and Siren's Call. Siren's Call managed to poke in there. I can hardly begrudge either their success (though I haven't read the Stargate story, I can see why people would WANT to read it, even if it isn't my cuppa).

I've also noticed there's a bit of a divide between writers.

Normal writer: "FEATURED ON 7/29/2015 FOR FIVE MINUTES! THANKS GUYS!"

People who have 500+ followers: "I only made the featured story box for two days? What the hell did I do wrong?"

Though I have to admit: I'm ALWAYS happy to get featured. Always. Because, well, it doesn't happen every time, and it is always exciting to know something I wrote really resonated with people.

Or at least made them laugh for a bit.

So, how much money did it cost Pinkie Pie to develop her homeopathic cures? :pinkiehappy:

3281373
She stuck a bit into one glass of water, then diluted it a hundred thousand times, so quite a bit, all told. :trollestia:

Pinkie Pie's Glamorous Giggle Gas brings up an important point:

One should avoid SCAM:

Supplemental
Complementary
Alternative
Medicine

One should only use Science-Based Medicine.

Everything is either "Not recommended" or "Worth reading IF..."

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