The Writeoff Association 927 members · 663 stories
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More reviews! This was a good competition to read. I'm going to offer these in the spirit of constructive criticism and/or prereading, which means I'm going to be pretty aggressive on them despite the fact that the tight deadline means these are all essentially first drafts. Hopefully this can help the authors tighten the stories up before publication — even a good story can always be made better.

However, it's important to note that none of them made me feel like my time was wasted, and I do want to give each of them credit for what they got right. :twilightsmile:

REVIEWS CONTAIN UNMARKED SPOILERS. We're almost at the end of judging so I don't feel too bad about that.


Benevolence
I feel shallow in saying that I dinged this one for its writing errors, since the deadline was awfully tight and every story had some significant editing issues. But it felt like here they slapped me out of the story more than usual. For example, as Celestia is trying to keep an earth pony standing on a ledge from leaping off and committing suicide: " 'It’s not fair, you know? So many bad things happening at once, you’d swear the gods hated me or something.' He jumped, and rubbed his neck. 'Erm, no offense.' " Storywise, it feels nicely ambitious, covering Celestia's relationships with Twilight, Nightmare Moon, her mother, and this random earth pony, all in 3,000 words. It rushes through those topics to get them all in, though, and I think would have improved with a tighter focus, i.e. solely on Twilight's maturation and Mint's death. I also wonder how it would have worked if Celestia weren't so in control of things on Mint's side, allowing you to draw a contrast between the idea of Celestia simultaneously teaching and learning how to let go. You could probably make it work in parallel rather than contrast, though, and either way I expect this one to strengthen significantly with editing.

Totally gratuitous nitpick: Pancreatic cancer feels bizarrely un-pony.



Court Musician
This story both is and isn't about its main character, and I mean that as a compliment. Despite the fact that the main plot arc is clearly meant to focus on Pinwheel, it introduces and characterizes several canon ponies and gives them satisfying arcs of their own. Octavia's historical research is lovely (and for bonus points, one of the ones she plays is a real song!), and there's so much implied depth in Celestia I want to melt. It's well-researched, contains a little poem, teases princess-shipping … there's basically no way I couldn't like this story. That having been said, the choice at the end rings hollow to me, because Bronze Patina is never given any real characterization; he comes across as a consolation prize Celestia's pointing her toward, and "he's nice enough, I guess" just seems like a recipe for regrets. The story's already one of the longest of the competition, but it never felt like it dragged, and I think the solution here is more words — giving the two of them a not-quite-date where he can have some depth injected, and they can be shown to have some actual chemistry that Pinwheel just fails to ignite due to her own issues. That would also foreshadow the final choice more. Third-place pick.

Totally gratuitous nitpick: Lose the tense change of the last scene.



The Case of the Cowled Changelings
:trollestia: (post-competition edit: fake review)
Points for audacity here — taking a theme about "masks" which makes changelings an obvious focus, and then using both changelings and actual masks in a way that makes good use of both. In hindsight, rolling that into a piece of detective fiction is a logical next step, and pretty engaging. There were a few factors which held this back, though. The story seems to shift gears halfway through — it's not until the second changeling unmasks that the logic puzzles start to unroll, and a lot happens before that which feels like it wants to be a deconstruction of changeling stories or something (though to be fair, it seems to work on that level). It's disappointingly uneven in which Chekov's Guns it fires (I was certain that something more was going to be made of the knife). It's also weird that, if I read it right, every single changeling lies through their mandibles to Fancy Pants, yet he's able to pluck out individual points like where they were in the mansion that we're supposed to accept as honest, and the story turns on the truth of those statements. I'm not sure whether I should feel cheated by the big reveal or not, but it does tie up a lot of loose ends rather neatly.

Totally gratuitous nitpick: Sergeant's "bars"? Lrn2army. :V



A Rubber Mask Of Emotions
This story was polished but ultimately disappointing. I say that because I was really admiring the character interaction and excellent Mane 6 characterizations throughout the story … and then the ending wound it up into a giant shaggy-dog setup for a joke that wasn't nearly as rewarding. I mean, you spent so long playing it straight, it could have legitimately been a look at Pinkie's insecurities (and even after the sting, that still felt like its strongest takeaway for me). And then the ending is so outrageously implausible it's like it's asking me to discard everything I enjoyed about the piece. Anyway, there were some nice touches in the details; I think just about the right amount was made of the hideousness of the mask to keep it an effective comedic element (until the ending which didn't exist lalalala), and I think the subversion of "let's involve all the Mane 6" that InquisitorM pointed out in his review feels both deliberate and meta-clever. Really, given that I was never going to appreciate the structure and payoff, I still have to acknowledge there's a lot to like here.

Totally gratuitous nitpick: Can't help but feel "Horsey" was a missed opportunity for a great name.



Rebel Angel
Let's start with the good: the worldbuilding is very punchily done here, with a veteran's grasp of how to engage the reader by defining its vocabulary with hints dropped through context. I want to point people to this story — alongside Chris' Wyrmlysan, from Augie's Luna contest — as a marvelous example of how to frame an alien setting. … Which makes it all the more puzzling: How did an author with such a good grasp of such a non-trivial lesson decide to enter a story about quadrupeds who burst into flames in sunlight, one of whom is winged, who live in a big wet pit in the ground, into an MLP mask-themed competition? The closest I can get to G4 MLP canon is mumble something batponies, but clearly they aren't, and ambiguous references to a moon goddess don't help. The mask-of-mud moment feels tacked on to justify the theme, which doesn't help matters either. So I guess the advice I have here is: put some thought into matching audience and story, rather than forcing this into a mold it breaks. Anything else I could say, good or bad, about this is overshadowed by its misplacement in a competition it doesn't fit.

Non-gratuitous suggestion: Horse Voice's "Wild Fire" and Filler's "Beyond The Wall" are two stories that I feel did right what you were trying to accomplish — providing that sense of distance from the show while still incorporating enough about MLP to make it feel genuinely pony.

Totally gratuitous nitpick: I appreciate the symbolism of "Morning Star", but if the ponies are nocturnal, shouldn't it be something evening-related … e.g. Twilight Sparkle?



A Taxing Situation
This story is exemplary slice-of-life — which is to say, it takes a low-stakes situation about normal ponies doing normal things and makes that compelling. I was impressed by the ease with which it slotted its premise into canon, while keeping Derpy's authorship anonymous (I see what you did there with the mask theme). Her gradual descent into cost overrun is handled well and makes the ending payoff satisfying; I love the implication that Celestia knew that would happen all along, which means the tax-relief law isn't meant to be used for tax relief at all, but as an entrepreneurial seed program. Canon characters are used well. I did find the interplay with Dinky to be pointless and twee — though whether that's because she adds nothing to the story or because I'm a joyless childless old grump is left as an exercise for the reader. Other than that, I've got no real complaints; this feels as polished as it needs to be for general publication, and I'll stand ready to favorite it when that happens. Second-place pick, and the only thing that held it back from first is that I'm a sucker for stories which take an audacious jump and stick the landing anyway, and one of the others happened to.

Totally gratuitous nitpick: I'm still mightily on the fence about "Derpy Hooves" as a legitimate character name; it seems far too pejorative in my mind to be what people publically call her.



Brave Front
This story is definitely at its strongest when it's focusing on the interplay of its characters. I enjoyed the Shining-Cadence dialogue, and the young-Cadence scenes definitely seemed like they were building up to something cool. But, as others have commented, this story was clearly damaged by the deadline. Those two threads never thematically unite ("it was a dream" links them, but doesn't connect them), the "darkness" inside Cadence is never adequately established, and the thing with Cadence's parents just comes out of left field. (I recognize some of the Shinedance backstory from the MLP comics, and Lady Prismia from GM Berrow's novel and/or Skywriter's awesome "Cadance of Cloudsdale" cycle, but if there's something anywhere in canon about her being raised by breezies, it's gone completely over my head.) And the ending is … no, just no. This story is a delicious pie that was only just now put in the oven; I can smell something tasty but in its current form it's not ready for the table. Keep at it and give the entire piece the time it needs to live up to its earlier scenes.

Totally gratuitous nitpick: "Cerise" no longer sounds like a real word.



The Masked Mare of Canterlot
Consider the hero's identity. This story walks a very fine line between clubbing you over the head with the "Luna" bat, textually concealing every hint that it's her, building suspense over it, and outright admitting during the reveal that it was blindingly obvious. (I figured it out within the first 500 words, but when I did I had to stop and reread for clues to see whether I was supposed to figure it out, and that's when I realized how subtle the writing was being about it. Kudos.) This ultimately feels like a strength to me, but it also contributes to an unfortunate blandness in the central plot. Shiny knows it's her, and we know he knows it's her, which means we know the guards are there to back her up, and she's being fed her tips. That support destroys the tension of her outings, which means that the story doesn't have any real stakes. On a second writing pass at this story, you could really make something of this by throwing out the straight-line plot and digging deep into that question: What if Luna goes off-script by accident and comes across a villain who's a genuine threat? What if Luna finds out she's being milk-runned, and rebels? Or what if she finds out she's being milk-runned and crumples, deciding she's being humored and she never accomplished anything? Any of those could be extremely juicy.

Totally gratuitous nitpick: I still don't understand what the Celestia-Shiny talk is supposed to convince Luna of.



Party Animal
It's a longstanding piece of advice among sci-fi/fantasy circles that, when you're worldbuilding, you get one major divergence from reality "free" — e.g., The Force in Star Wars, the existence of vampires in Twilight — and the rest you have to show your work and explain. (You can tell a speculative fiction fan from the average reader, I suspect, by the magnitude of the "freebie" they're willing to blindly accept.) Well, I'm a spec-fic nut, and if you spot this (as I did) the one admittedly outrageous divergence from canon of Pinkie being kicked out from the Elements of Harmony for a reverse Cutie Mark Failure Insanity Syndrome moment, what it does with that idea is magnificent. I like the backstory it builds for how it happened, the new life it builds for Pinkie, and especially the idea of her smile quota and the magnificent tension it draws from that. The scenes with the orphanage and diamond dogs are excellent. Really, I'm having trouble coming up with constructive criticism, other than the jarringness of the Twilight-skull dream, and that the climactic fight scene feels less compelling than all the emotional drama preceding it. This story feels remarkably polished for a three-day comp. First-place pick.

Totally gratuitous nitpick: Disappointed not to have Discord involved after Pinkie specifically calls back to his meddling in the bar scene.



Never Stop Fighting
Like the above, this is a story that asks you up front to accept a pretty outrageous idea (Cadance was, uh, semi-literally raised by wolves), and depending on what you're willing to spot it, it does some pretty cool things with the idea. The "freebie" here is admittedly on shakier ground (Who taught her to make traps and knives, and why do they never show up? Why's a pony living as a meat-eater in a non-postapocalyptic scenario with civilization right around the corner?) and I feel that could have used more lampshading/exploration. However, this sets up some really cool scenes of Cadence as a teenage rebel, and Celestia having the parental talk with her to balance doing the right thing with the necessary compromises of civilization. Celestia teaching Cadence the breathing exercise sets up all sorts of delicious parallels with Cadance's semi-maternal relationship with Twilight. That having been said, the final scene doesn't feel to me like it reflects the main theme, and needs some more work to live up to the high standards of the core of the piece. After such a great central scene with Celestia, what we need to see is how "Never stop fighting" changed as Cadence matured — to take the thesis of her childhood and the antithesis of her royal grooming, and reach a synthesis where her happy ending results from the correct application of both. If all three parts were as good as the core of the royal talk, this would have been my favorite.

Totally gratuitous nitpick: Blueblood's way over the top.


Thank you all again for some wonderful reading!

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer
Group Admin

LESS THAN 24 HOURS TO GO

VERY EXCITE

SO HYPE

WOW

3325322
These are some very good reviews, sir. :O Thank you for spending the time on them!

RazgrizS57
Group Contributor

I wrote this before the results came in so I could post it immediately after and then go skedaddle and hide, so take this for whatever it’s worth. Anyways, I figured I’d try and offer up some explanations behind my story Rebel Angel, as I’ve noticed some confusion in its reception (here’s hoping for last place and/or most controversial!).

Basically, I tried to write a mythical origin story for batponies. I decided I couldn’t just outright call them that, and for whatever reason I decided to come up with my own word for them: Tsairzions. They’re called that after the name I invented for the literal hole in the ground they live in, the Tsairse, and the Tsair is basically the chief. I drew my inspiration from the story of Lucifer (as 3325322 noted) and I pretty much turned it upside down, in a sense. I didn’t want that symbolism to distract, however, and I think I succeeded with that at least.

About three hours away from the deadline (I had just finished the second scene), though, I had an epiphany. Mostly, that this story needed to be two or three times as long as it currently is and I’d seriously have to go back and rework a lot of things. Many scenes I wanted are missing from it’s current form... But I was running out of time, and instead of just dropping out with a shred of dignity, I said “fuck it” and rushed the rest of it with ten minutes to spare. I’ve heard lots about it’s connection to the prompt, and yes, the mud mask was pretty much shoehorned into it. I was trying to go for a metaphorical mask of some kind, but that obviously didn’t happen.

I plan on fully developing and clarifying this more into an actual story at some point and not this dirty mess it is now. I’ve got a laundry list of things it needs improving with. I thank everyone for whatever time they invested in my drivel, doubly to those who found good and bad, and especially to you, 3319481. :heart:

And thanks for the compliment, 3314791. Though writing pone is just a hobby of mine that is taking over my life. Also, this is pretty much my first “romance” I’ve published... so yeah. Rushed story was rushed.

Now then, as promised, you all can catch my reviews below.


Benevolence: The biggest thing I noticed when reading this was how disorganized the story felt. You’re juggling so many scenes and ponies here that, while not confusing, the story rushes through them. I can understand that given the time restraint, but I also have to ask if it would’ve been best to just stick with the present, with Mint. Celestia herself is opened up for a bunch of character study, which is taken advantage of, but not as completely as it could have been. There is definitely a story here to be told, and I do like how it’s being explored, but the way it’s structured hinders it in my opinion. Still, good story, but it’s a bit too ambitious for its own good and needs to be restrained.

Court Musician: I love Pinwheel, and I love how she’s the focus of the story but at the same time she isn’t. The care that went into this story is obvious, and your characterization of Celestia is so enjoyable to read, and I especially love her interactions with Pinwheel. However, the plot of the story seems a bit too laid back, and the pacing—while level—is as equally relaxed. There’s just nothing here that’s really eventful or engrossing. I’m not advocating for excitement at the seat of your pants, as that would be detrimental given the story, but it stands out as being weak, or rather, boring. That being said, I still found it enjoyable to read and very, very sweet. Good work.

The Case of the Cowled Changelings: +1 for actually using literal, physical masks, and at a ball no less. I really enjoyed Fancy’s dialogue with the guards, and I thought the little “interrogation” with the first changeling was played well enough, if a bit cheesy. Pretty much everything up to Fancy’s discussion in the pantry was excellent, and it all felt so natural that it’s really something admirable. Unfortunately, the story quickly died off for me from there. The explanations and excuses being tossed around just weren’t justifiable enough given the circumstances, and the surprise and suspense that I’d been anticipating came off as unnecessarily forced, not to mention the sharp left turn that was Fluer. The little jokes about buttonholes were humorous, but I think they ultimately distracted from the immersion. In total: amazing first third or so, lackadaisical second. But you get bonus points for being the only story written to feature changelings. That honestly surprised me given the prompt.

A Rubber Mask Of Emotions: This story is stupidly fun, and I loved it. The descriptions were great, especially of Horsey’s grand entrance. The character interactions were also sweet and pretty darn good. It may not be the best written story of the bunch, however, I did very much enjoy it. The one thing holding it back though is that I saw that ending coming from so early on in the story. But really, there’s next to no complaints from me here. Good stuff.

A Taxing Situation: This story is positively delightful. Of all the entries, I think this is the one that encapsulates the “pony” feel the most, while still trying to be human to some degree with the incorporation of such a thing as actual tax work. I don’t think that hindered the story, and in fact I have only two small gripes with it. The most pressing is the utter lack of an actually engaging story. It’s cute, but that’s pretty much all it has going for it. The conflict is weak and underplayed, I think. Celestia was also slightly out of character, coming off as meaner than I think you intended with her short scene. Those were the only things holding me back from giving this a perfect 10, but this is still my favorite story of the bunch. Great work.

Brave Front: This story’s strongest point, I’d think, is its Cadance and Shining Armor. Their interactions are heartwarming and while there isn’t much depth given to their relationship, what’s there is certainly taken advantage of. The story is also pretty well written, but that’s about where the strengths end for me. The rest—the actual story—is too confusing for me to properly get a grasp of. The past and present aren’t properly connected, which ends up leaving next to nothing explained. This wouldn’t be a problem if I could infer the reasonings myself, but I didn’t, and if the inferences are there, then they’re just too subtle to get a firm understanding of.

The Masked Mare Of Canterlot: What this story relied the most upon was concealing the hero’s identity. Sadly, the story seems to take every step it can to avoid revealing the hero’s identity, which inadvertently makes whom the hero is supposed to be painfully obvious. It was also a bit of a chore to read through, which I’m going to blame on the tellingness of the narrative. The story itself is good, but I have to admit I found it overall disinteresting so I can’t find much to say about it.

Party Animal: This story seems confused with itself, which makes it confusing to read. I found it hard to tell who was speaking at times, most notably in the beginning at the board meeting: I thought only Maud was in the room with the dogs and was giving the presentation herself. The crestfallen and gloomy atmosphere that’s developed is a nifty metaphor, but it came off as way too forced. The scenes themselves are great, and while they were obviously linked together, I found those links muddled. I got the sense Pinkie turns into a monster of some kind, but this monster’s description changes wildly as there wasn’t really a concrete description. The smoke monster at the end was a bit too shoehorned, as I was completely unaware it was an actual entity of some kind. And by the end, I was still a little confused about exactly what happened. I liked the themes, but the story itself was difficult to understand.

Never Stop Fighting: This story suffers a tiny bit from disorganization. I feel like I read two stories, strangely enough (one where Cadance is Bear Grylls? And the rest is, well, Cadance being Cadance). I really enjoyed the interaction between Cadance and Celestia, which I think is the highlight of the story. Celestia herself, however, comes off as unnecessarily mean and straightforward, and I found it hard to pin an age on Cadance and the others around this point in time. Presumably preteens, but I’m still left a bit in the dark. Regardless, this is a good story, but I think it spends too much attention where the focus isn’t and not enough where it is. I walked away with Cadance having a new, less literal interpretation of survival (a la “never stop fighting”) but the two halves—especially the first—seem too weak to actually make that change meaningful. They are upheld by that great middle part, but again, the beginning and ending scenes are lackluster in comparison. As is, I can’t help but wonder if those two were scraped, just how different the story would be if it centered solely on this preteen Cadance in Canterlot.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer
Group Admin

WHOO WRITEOFF!

I'm quite happy with the winner's circle, congrats horizon! (P. sure this is your first writeoff, y/n?) I'm actually slightly surprised that Court Musician finished third, I thought it was a stronger entry than Taxing. For the record, my favorite was A Rubber Mask of Emotions.

Meanwhile, I ended up right where I thought I would, given the responses. :B I guess it wasn't overly obvious that Pinkie Hulks out at the end? Because that's what Party Animal is, an Incredible Hulk crossover. I wrote it solely for the "you wouldn't like me when I'm happy" line, which I guess failed to connect because not comic nerds? :| Disappoint. Maybe I should change the title back to "The Incredible Pink", which I dropped out of concern that it would give away the ending. I mean, if you're just waiting for it to happen, there's not gonna be much story.

As for those confused by The Sadness, I based its appearance off the Daidarabotchi from Princess Mononoke.

And then I combined it with the Smooze, because I love mixing generations. I'm surprised and slightly saddened that no one commented on that. I need to get out more. D:

So, I don't think I'm going to do the "PM me for reviews" thing again. :B I didn't want to write up one for my own story because, despite basing it largely off the second Hulk film, it felt to me more like the first one as I was writing it. (Plus, in hindsight, having been the only person who got what was going on would have outed me as the author for sure.) But, along with apparently decreasing the amount of reviews (though we had a couple people outside the site reviewing on their journals, which is both a first and a good thing!), I just realized that now, when these entries are polished up and submitted, I can't just come back here and find out what I thought about them. And if there's one great motivator in my life, it is laziness. :B So yeah, gonna suck it up next time.

Regardless, it was a great writeoff, and I'm looking forward to the next one. :D

Silent Strider
Group Contributor

3330011

Plus, in hindsight, having been the only person who got what was going on would have outed me as the author for sure.

Actually, while I didn't post it yet (just turning on my real computer for the first time after the results), the review I had for your story was to start with something like, "Let me get this straight, it's Hulk, with Pinkie Pie filling in for Bruce Banner, Happiness in place of Anger, and a freaky magic accident with Twilight instead of the gamma bomb?"

I had the Hulk part of your story pegged from the start (well, mostly, at first I thought it was an out of control version of the "Sugar Rush" power she was supposed to have but was cut out in preproduction), and the happiness thing the first time a smile quota was mentioned. But then, there are quite a few Hulk stories that follow a very similar structure, which was a dead giveaway for anyone as familiar with them as me.

That being said, your story had very good execution. You went from that premise and figured out how Pinkie would react in an interesting way, with Maud serving as her psychological support and, to a point, guide. The point of Pinkie's small acts of kindness, meant to help her bear her now hapless life, was a very nice touch. This really pushed it beyond "Hulk with Pinkie" and into being its own story.

BTW, using Discord as a red herring about the villain was another nice touch :raritywink:
(And I actually thought you had based the villain on the Nothing, from NeverEnding Story, just with nothingness replaced by helplessness. I don't know the Smooze, though, never having seen anything pony before FiM.)

What I didn't like about your story:

First and foremost, the narrator's voice. It was monotonous. Given the quality of the world building and the care that went into the characters, at first I thought it was intentional, meant to reinforce the mood with Pinkie forcing herself to not be happy for the sake of everypony around her, and expected it to change at an appropriate time; When the story got to the parts where Pinkie transformed, and then fought, and the end when she seemed happy, and the narrator continued monotonous, I was sincerely disappointed.

Second, though this was likely due to the deadline, I thought the final opponent appeared too suddenly, giving the story a clunky pacing in the middle. There was some foreshadowing, but it seems to me like you wanted to figure a better way to introduce the enemy but ran out of time.

(And I guess I will skip your story now when I post my impressions about the other ones, I already wrote here an expanded version of what I was going to say anyway :scootangel:)

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer
Group Admin

3330045

expected it to change at an appropriate time; When the story got to the parts where Pinkie transformed, and then fought, and the end when she seemed happy, and the narrator continued monotonous, I was sincerely disappointed.

This is actually something I realized just now that I could have done, to get everything across a little better. The style I was using was very light on forwardness, but manipulating it to not only show the major change in Pinkie's state of mind, but also to allow myself to describe things more clearly, is precisely what would have cleared up a lot of people's confusion, I think.

And no, that's how I planned the Sadness to show up in the first place. :B It's part of what I don't like about how this story came out.

Also, I would recommend all current MLP fans, in the wake of Twilight's Kingdom, get themselves some working knowledge of G1 villains, especially Tirek, the Smooze and Grogar (which I myself need to do). Of course, doing so will require a certain tolerance for bad 80's cartoons, but I'm sure we're all resilient. :)

Silent Strider
Group Contributor

Now that this pesky anonymity thing is out of the way (:trollestia:), let me post what I thought about the stories. Except Party Animal, which I posted about just above, and The Masked Mare of Canterlot, which was my own.

Warning, unmarked spoilers abound. I expect anyone reaching this point in the thread to have already read the stories.

Benevolence

It's a fairly conventional plot, with someone gentle helping convince a suicide to not take his own life, but I found the plot (and the reason for the suicide attempt) somewhat jarring in a pony fic; the story seems to, for the most part, attempt to keep in the tone of the show, but then uses some elements that really feel out of place.

It's one of two stories where grammatical errors actually hampered my enjoyment; I would usually not mention it, I usually don't even notice such errors unless I'm looking for them, but in this case they threw me off a few times.

The story had it's good points. Using it as a justification for Celestia pushing emergencies towards Twilight was interesting, as well as the reasons for Celestia to not want to leave him alone. But, IMHO, it really failed in giving the main character depth.

And, since I used subjective aspects in my evaluation, I really disliked the reveal in the end. If it was better tied to Celestia's flashbacks, if there was some foreshadowing on her motivation (rather than just on the instrument), it might have been better. It also completely changes the tone of the work in the final lines, which I'm not sure is a good idea.

Court Musician

A shipping story that, for the most part, I liked. Given that I tend to dislike shipping stories on principle, well done.

Good writing, very good characterization of most characters, and good attention to detail. It managed to turn one of the most tired plots one can imagine, that of the impossible love, and make it into something worth reading. I feel like I can learn quite a bit from how this story was done.

If I was to point a fault, it's how the castle, both in its description and in the activity described inside, felt more like a mansion where a recluse pony lived with a few servants than the center of government of a nation. In a way, I thought the castle out of character, which threw me off; this makes the story feel like it was first planned for different characters, and adapted to have Celestia and her assistant as the center pieces.

I also disliked the choice at the end, but that is mainly because of my preferences in shipping.

The Case of the Cowled Changelings

Typical detective story. Not usually a genre I enjoy, but this one was quite well done. The scenario really made me feel like I was seeing the inside of the mansion, without dragging things. Also impressive for being almost completely done in a single scene.

This story also gained points with me for all the levels this story worked the concept of masks into. There are the actual masks, the changeling transformations, and the hidden motives. This being a competition with a prompt, this point served as a tie breaker for me.

There is little more I can add; this not being in a genre I usually enjoy, I have few similar stories to compare it to.

The only reasons I didn't completely like this one are because it had the typical shenanigans of detective stories, and the steady increase in the number of changelings got tiresome after a while. Still, this is the one I picked as the best of this writeoff.

A Rubber Mask of Emotions

This one had very good characterization of the mane 6, though I cringed a bit at how Twilight was portrayed. The base idea (well, what the ponies thought was happening) was also interesting. But it completely lost me in two points.

First, Fluttershy. Not the fact she was not visited, but the fact her friends didn't even notice her absence in the end. Twilight is making a plan so complex she has multiple failsafes, and she doesn't bother doing a roll call before starting to explain? And none of the others notice her missing?

Second, the reveal. Too out of the left field, too implausible, even for something related to Pinkie. It would be like doing a story that related to the shape of the planet just to reveal in the end that the planet is a cube. It was also predictable; well, the only thing preventing the reader from figuring it out was how absurd the whole thing was, which is not a good place to be.

If the story had played it straight, and at least acknowledged what happened with Fluttershy, I would have actually enjoyed it; with the way it played out I didn't actually enjoy it, unfortunately.

Rebel Angel

Competently written, but, well, the only pony thing about it is that the characters have four hooves. It's also a very common story played completely straight, which makes it unremarkable despite the competency shown in the writing per see. This one felt really out of place in the contest.

A Taxing Situation

First, the thing that for me was the stinker: Derpy is portrayed as a Mary Sue. Her greatest issues are solved for her because she showed distress or started to cry, and almost every word is meant to make the reader feel sympathy for her.

Also, Celestia was a bit too Trollestia for my liking, with how she seemed aware that Derpy would spend more than she would save, and have to do a fair amount of work on top of it. I would have enjoyed it quite a bit more if, after the fact, Derpy discovered that she could have gotten a refund for what she spent, as long as the cost was seen as reasonable, if she had filled the proper forms in time.

Apart from that, a quite nice slice of life, even touching.

Brave Front

This one feels like half of a story, with the author starting the story at a leisurely writing pace, and then starting to rush as he saw the deadline looming. Parts of the story seemed to have seen proofreading and editing, and parts seemed to have been just written once in a rush and left that way. This has happened with me in the past, though usually if it gets this bad I choose to just not submit the story instead.

The plot itself seemed to suffer. My guess is that the author had a larger plot in mind, and had to cut things out in a hurry to make the deadline, without enough time to even find a way to cover the glaring holes those cuts left.

In short, the way it's currently, it's bad, but a ran-out-of-time bad; it's impossible to tell, just from what was presented, how good it could have been had the author had enough time to properly develop it.

Also, nitpicking, but... using the word "autopilot" in a pony fic set in the show time period? Saying that the roofs are steeper to better runoff rain? It might be just me, but this kind of thing really breaks my immersion as I go through a "WTH" moment.

Never Stop Fighting

Interesting retelling of Cadance’s story, with what she keeps bottled inside. Not bad, not at all; it’s well done, with bits of comedy and drama in the right places. Should be quite enjoyable for most people, I believe.

I found the beginning to be too… harsh. For me it didn’t feel like it was Equestria. Also, the middle was too comic book for my tastes, and I don’t really like how the comics develop the scenario and characters.

So, in the end, I think it’s a good story, but it pushes the wrong buttons for me.

M1Garand8
Group Contributor

First off, a few words on my entry. For those who have mentioned that the story has no ending, you are very, very correct. The story actually ended on a cliffhanger because the part with Present!Cadance and Present!Shining Armor was still not truly resolved and I was out of time and options (that my sleep deprived brain can think of, anyway).

The plan for alternating flashbacks and the present didn’t turn out working well. At least because I couldn’t reconcile the ending of the flashback and the actual ending of the present with the time I had with my sleep deprivation. The story was intended to be a world-building piece as well, with the introduction of the Flutter Ponies but from the ending, I can see it must felt like it came out of the left field for the readers.

Looks like I have a lot of work to do on the editing and re-planning of the story.

Here are my reviews on the other entries:

Benevolence
The story was simple and effective. I think the author did a good job showing the mask Celestia wore to hide her emotions through the two short flashbacks. Though, Mint Mountain’s plight felt kind of forced and I wished I got to see the actual circumstances of the things he mentioned rather than simply said to Celestia.

Court Musician
The story was well-written but the tense shift in the final scene was rather jarring. I find that the story focusing on the red herring in the form of Octavia a little too much, though the jealousy of Pinwheel was well played. On my first read through, I thought Celestia was oblivious to Pinwheel’s love/crush but rereading it again, she came off a little sharp in her rebuffing of Pinwheel’s confession, even if she doesn’t outright in spelling out the rejection. I guess that vagueness contributed to the impression of obliviousness. Also, if Bronze Patina had gotten more focus, at least on Celestia’s part on noticing his affections towards Pinwheel and actually suggesting him to Pinwheel instead of Pinwheel mentioning him herself, it would have made the comment that she was “pretty good at figuring out which ponies would do well together” less completely out of the left field.

The Case of the Cowled Changelings
A Masquerade ball with actual changelings, I guess that’s about as obvious to the prompt the story can be. The atmosphere, tension and characterization of Fancy Pants are well-written. The swearing near the end put me off a little but it’s not a big deal, just felt out of place for such a setting. Overall, the tone is a little darker than was the norm for ponies but it’s well-realized and consistent. As for the ending revelations, I find it to be a bit of a jump in the conclusion, maybe it was just me being bad at logic puzzles (despite being a programmer, who is supposed to be good at logic >_>).

A Rubber Mask of Emotions
The story was nicely written. The interaction between Twilight, Rarity, Applejack and Rainbow Dash was great. However, I feel that the “twist” ruined the entire thing, which is a shame because I liked that interaction and the subversion the author did with Fluttershy. I really wanted to like this story and it could have a great introspective story on Pinkie but that was squandered for the sake of a “joke”.

Rebel Angel
The story suffered from a severe lack of context. My first impression on reading the first ten paragraphs or so was that I was missing a primer to Irish/Celtic mythologies, what with all the exotic nouns and pronouns thrown my way. The confusing choice of names threw me off quite badly as well—a female sounding name for the male protagonist and vice versa. I literally confused Morning Star for a female and Jinn for the male for almost half the story and I found myself rereading those paragraphs at least five times. I also admit I didn’t get the Morning Star reference, at least at first. On top of that, the dialogue can’t decide whether it wanted to be formal or not, which as a little jarring as well.

On the whole, the story was mechanically sound and the plot is decent if a little cliché. The world-building of the setting (the cusp and the living quarters) is actually good, if a little thin. The story wasn’t bad, just frustrating and difficult for me to read. If the setting has been expanded more and the problems above fixed, it would be a solid story.

I’m sorry if I come off as a little harsh. =/

A Taxing Situation
This is a nice little slice of life story. It was well-written but I find the almost lack of conflict a little disappointing. The three potential conflicts (the sets, the costumes and the actors) were resolved pretty much without any problems. It would have been more interesting if Derpy faced a bigger challenge with those conflicts. Overall, the story is very warm and fluffy and that’s not a bad thing. The link to the prompt was rather tenuous (in that the owner of theater didn’t recognize Derpy) but it was tied to a warm moment, so I found rather endearing. Only thing is that it could have been a little more interesting rather than just a simple ride from start to end.

The Masked Mare of Canterlot
A simple story about pre-Season Two Luna and the only entry that is the closest to a Power Ponies story people are claiming would pop up like weeds in this contest. I liked the quirkiness of the narration. The plot is fairly predictable, the foreshadowing was pretty obvious and the ending is weak. The story can certainly do better than Luna suddenly quitting the vigilante business. Was it because Celestia put a stop to it and arranged the talk with Shining Armor to disabuse Luna to the notion of her inadequacy or was it because Luna had an epiphany and Celestia arranged the talk to put Luna’s last worries to rest? I couldn’t have known for sure because I only have Celestia’s words for it.

Party Animal
The story is well, weird, at least in the first read through. It was well-written but the overall tone felt like the story came from another cartoon entirely. Not to mention the Twilight skull scene, it felt a little like a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment but I could see where it was coming from (from Pinkie’s guilt, I believe), maybe if the dream was recurring, it would have been better. The premise of Pinkie “hulking out” from partying and being sent by the rest of the Mane Six broke my suspension of belief a little. The scene with the diamond dogs was a little confusing with the wording. I thought Maud was the one negotiating until after the part where the diamond dogs stormed off and Pinkie turned to Maud. The fight scene with The Sadness was well, it wasn’t bad but I don’t feel any emotion from it and I don’t know why, maybe it was the narration, which has been designed to evoke an emotionless feel but something is off and I don’t know what.

Never Stop Fighting
Badass. Cadance. That is something I haven’t seen done for filly Cadance. It would have been nice that the intro and Cadance’s adoption (which was unclear whether the mare was her adoptive mother or Celestia herself) part be expanded. I’d really love to see how this Cadance handled Prismia (of course, certainly more awesome than my lousy attempt above). Blueblood came off as rather harsh and to be honest, I think he deserved it when Cadance broke his nose and Shining Armor was totally adorkable. Celestia came off as rather stern as well, more like a fussing mother than what we have seen in the show. I think my biggest gripe out of all this is that the story doesn’t seem to relate to the prompt at all and the ending could have been better if we get to see Cadance using her “sweet” persona (after her epiphany from Celestia’s talk) as a mask to trick the changelings into getting their butts kicked. Personally, I think the story would have done even better if the prompt was “Never Stop Fighting” or “Never Give Up”.

Silent Strider
Group Contributor

3330011
Oh, yeah. I forgot one bit in my earlier comment:

Maybe I should change the title back to "The Incredible Pink", which I dropped out of concern that it would give away the ending. I mean, if you're just waiting for it to happen, there's not gonna be much story.

I would suggest against the name change. I believe it would not help those that didn't already get it, and throw the whole plot into the face of those that got it from the start. Besides, Marvel sometimes shuffle the adjectives, so Hulk has gone sometimes by the adjective "Indestructible".

Instead, I would suggest simply making the change more explicit.

The main giveaway of the Hulk transformation, the growing and the gain in muscles, in your version is only described indirectly by the size of the holes Pinkie makes; the second largest giveaway, the change in color, was apparently not used, with Pinkie just reverting to her usual shade; the change in the name Hulk uses for himself didn't exist here, with Pinkie still calling herself Pinkie; the change in speech pattern was there, but the change in word choice didn't exist, reducing its impact. On the whole I think your version is just too subtle for anyone that don't already know what is happening.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer
Group Admin

3332524
I still don't like the title, and likely I'll change it to something. Just a question of what.

3322626 Just forgot this was here at the time, is all.

3319481 I love you man...

alexmagnet
Group Contributor

3333215
Heh, apparently my reviews were a bit... divisive this time around, which I thought was odd since that's how I always review, and I generally don't get shit for it, but meh.

horizon
Group Admin

3333260
Speaking as one of the downvoters, I had no objection to what you said about my story, but several of your reviews of other authors' entries seemed borderline nasty, and the reaction gif on the last one felt even worse — against the spirit of the whole enterprise.

It was in pretty sharp contrast to 3301658's comments a few posts up about treating each author as if they were a first-timer who might be scared off. Not enough for me to say anything at the time, but enough to add a marker of disapproval. On reconsideration, speaking up and standing behind my opinion seems like the more honorable and productive way.

Silent Strider
Group Contributor

3333260
3334568
The main issue I had with AlexMagnet's reviews (and the InquisitorM ones) was that, in a way, they chided authors for not making story elements more explicit (due to the fact that, in a few cases, they seemed to not get the actual point of the stories, then proceeded to criticize the story for not having said point) in a contest with a prompt that invites subtlety. It was not enough for me to downvote, though (but it was enough to prevent me from upvoting).

I had no issues with the tone itself; I'm used to blunt, or even caustic, in my day to day job, and the reviews didn't seem to be to be malicious, they just assumed the author was ready to handle blunt assessments no matter how negative they were. But I do agree with Horizon in that I think this approach is somewhat misguided for a competition meant to, among other things, foster new writers.

BTW, for what it's worth, I'd like to thank everyone for the reviews of my fic. Even when I don't really agree with the review, it helps me see how (and, hopefully, why) others might reach different conclusions about what I write, and might allow me to adjust what I write to minimize those issues in the future. Also, for my part, I don't mind bluntness, or even caustic, as long as it's not a malicious attempt at griefing, something none of the reviews came even close to in my book.

Pearple Prose
Group Contributor

3334568

As the writer of Never Stop Fighting, I've already taken the chance to speak to Alexmagnet regarding his review of my story and now all is rainbows and daffodils once more.

doesn't mean i can't be sad that my story had as much of a lukewarm reaction as it got in general ;~;

Also, I actually wanted to ask you this, Mr Horizon: how would you recommend tightening up the first part of my story? I feel like I should write another scene tying the Cadance we see in the forest to the Cadance we see in Canterlot but I'm still not sure given how I've received lots of conflicting feedback (particularly regarding Celestia's characterisation).

horizon
Group Admin

3335300
Hmm. Well, as for fixing the first scene …

It just feels like you're asking the reader to accept, with no explanation, a great many things that are in conflict with show canon or common sense:

- Cadence had a Tarzan-style wilderness childhood (this is your freebie)
- Cadence eats meat (!)
- Cadence was taught by someone how to cook and trap (those simply aren't trial-and-error things when the environment is so harsh)
- Cadence lives completely alone despite that
- All of the above could happen in civilized modern Equestria
- That she somehow leapt from that beginning to princesshood
- That despite that beginning she'd earn a cutie mark of a heart

It's not "tightening" the scene needs, per se; it's already pretty fast paced. But what the scene needs is answers to those questions (or possibly, for one or two, acknowledgment that they're legitimate questions but you're carrying on regardless: "lampshading"). You're putting a huge amount on the reader's plate, and then you're taking a screaming jump from that into a fairly show-faithful second scene. Help readers connect those two dots.

So if you're writing a "bridge" scene, your goal is to use it to answer the question of how she got from Point A to Point B. Who's the pony that picked her up out of the cave? To avoid introducing new narrative elements, probably Celestia. What's she doing out there? Why does she take Cadence home? ("So the rumors were true. There's an alicorn living in the northern wastes.") A lot of the other questions are perhaps better answered as you introduce them in the narrative, early on.

Hope that helps some. :twilightsmile:

Pascoite
Group Contributor

3325322

and for bonus points, one of the ones she plays is a real song!

Actually, they both are. "Myn hert altyt heeft verlanghen" is one of those that was probably a popular song set to music by numerous composers, but the best-known example is by Pierre de la Rue.

Bad Horse
Group Contributor

3301658

- It's a low blow to finagle anonymity to your advantage, i.e., noticing that people don't understand your story, then posing as a third party who got it and wants to explain it to everyone, only to turn out to be that story's author.

What vile creature would stoop so low?

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