I was waiting a long time for the latest chapters of "The Chaotic Touch of Harmony" by Law Abiding Pony to come out. And when I saw that "Complete" marker on the second arc, I couldn't resist reading the whole thing from the beginning.
Aside from reinforcing that I really love this story, a couple of things really stood out to me. Mostly pertaining to writing style, but before I get to that, let me give my impressions of the story.
tl;dr version: I strongly recommend this work!
First off, the tags include sex, gore, AU, human, and mature. This is a scary combination. Most authors would use this kind of tag combination to thoroughly rape the MLP concept. But this one actually uses these tags well.
Err... except for the AU tag. I've ranted on this before, but the Alternate Universe tag is for a setting that is incompatible with the show. NOT for one that deviates from the show. If the events leading up to season 1 episode 1 occurred in the timeline of your story, then you are not writing in an alternate universe.
Okay, rant over! Now, the sex and gore scenes are few and far between, but I feel that they do add to the story. But be warned! The sex is... not erotic. This is partially because of what the scenes call for, but mostly it's because the author just isn't very good at it yet. So if you are looking for clop, look elsewhere.
The gore is done far better, but still not too bad. And is only actually disturbing in the guest chapter near the end of arc 2.
Overall, I'd say that this story only barely earns it's M rating. If this was on TV, I'd rate it PG-13.
Now, on to the technical stuff:
The first thing that I noted is that this whole story is written in an odd blend of third person omniscient and third person limited. First things first: these terms should be clearly defined, as many people seem to get this mixed up.
"Third person" is where the story is told from outside the characters perspective. In this style, it is not the character telling the story. Rather, it is a narrator speaking to the reader. A key trait of this style is a distinct lack of personal pronouns (I, we, us, me) in the prose (prose is the text outside of dialog (dialog includes thought)).
Within this style, third person omniscient is where the narrator has perfect knowledge of everything. The upside of this is that this style makes it easy to simply state what each character is thinking. The downside is that it makes it harder for readers relate to any single character, making it harder to invest in the story.
Third party limited is where the narrator follows a single character and only relays what the character being followed knows. This is by far the most common style for fiction because it incorporates the ease of feeding the reader information with the relatability of first person (where the character is the narrator).
In this story, the narrator follows a single character, but will sometimes jump from one to another to feed the reader the thoughts of other characters before returning to the primary character being followed. This practice, while effective in conveying raw information to the reader, has a habit of interrupting the flow of the story; as the reader must then step out of the mindset of the protagonist they are following, think like someone else for a second, then get back into the mindset of the protagonist. This can also be confusing as that shift in targets sometimes feels like a scene transition where there is none.
For me, the most frustrating part is that all of this can be conveyed to the reader through the primary character, without the need to interrupt things to inject the thoughts of others.
For a random example, in chapter 19 of arc 1:
In this chapter the story has been following the earth pony mare Crimson. And here we see her start talking to the unicorn Reed:
“You sure you’re only doing that so your cutie mark makes sense?” She tapped him on the flank was a steel colored scalpel. Reed knew it was one of the simpler marks out there, but he preferred it that way. It was simple and clearly displayed his profession without any abstract interpretations that some ponies had to deal with.
From an entire chapter centered around a single character, the author suddenly states another characters preferences. This is especially jarring as this information is completely unknown to the character I was following. The two then have a discussion involving cutie marks, so another option would have been to have Reed tell Crimson his preference for his simple mark in the dialog.
Now, to be fair, Law Abiding Pony has improved tremendously since then. These transitions litter all chapters of this story, but by the end of arc 2, they are pretty seamless. This allows the reader to go around a room touching on a dozen separate encounters that are entirely unrelated to each other with no scene transitions. This is well highlighted in the final chapter of arc 2, and displays the best strength of the third person omniscient writing style.
The second thing that I noticed is that characters will put thoughts into words that I simply cannot imagine someone actually thinking.
Here's an example:
Crimson smiled in a minor victory. At last, I can call her a princess. She may not believe it, but I think she has more than earned it.
That first part? The "At last, I can call her a princess." I see that being thought, certainly. But the second? "She may not believe it, but I think she has more than earned it." Not so much. This character has been thinking this way for a while, and reinforcing the thought like this feels very forced (There are many far better examples, but I chose a chapter at random to pull an example from, and the ones I ran into before this were very spoiler-y).
I think this highlights one of the weaknesses of third person omniscient, the inability to write in character. When writing in third person omniscient, anything that is stated as truth must be truth. However, in third person limited or first person the author can state as truth whatever the character being followed believes is true. This not only allows for greater information management, but it greatly simplifies showing what characters are feeling and their subconscious thoughts. In third person limited from Crimson's perspective, the above excerpt can be written as such:
Crimson smiled in a minor victory. At last, I can call her a princess. Alexia may not agree, but she had more than earned that title.
Notice that not only is the second part is outside of the italics tag, it's stated as fact. Because Crimson believes it's true, it is stated as such. You may also note that it is written very similar to the actual thoughts, as if it was dialog itself. This is because it represents the subconscious thoughts that never quite make it to full verbiage in Crimson's mind.
Now, if this was from Alexia's perspective, you would only have Crimson's victorious little smile to go off of. The reader would have to catch it, note that they are talking about Alexia being called a princess, and put two and two together to figure out that Crimson wants to call Alexia a princess. Which really isn't hard, and making the reader put things together like that can strengthen the experience.
Closely related to this topic is the third thing I noticed: Repeating thoughts. It was pretty common for the narrator to describe how a character thought about something, then have the character repeat the actual thoughts to the reader. This was pretty jarring. I remember seeing this several times, but I can't pull up an example right now.
There was one more thing that I wanted to comment on, but I seem to have lost it while typing...
So to wrap things up: If you have not read this story, I strongly encourage it.
And tell me what you think. Would you guys like to see me review other stories? Do the technical details matter to anyone out there, or would you rather just see the story itself reviewed?