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Pony Story 219

08 Sep

Well, turns out Earth and Sky gets better. I managed to finish it and enjoyed the ending. Below the break is my further thoughts on the story. Plenty of spoilers, and probably some major ones below the break. So I’ll sum up. Pretty good, major flaws at the beginning, ending is much better. I’m still not sure if I’d recommend it because the second half doesn’t quite make up for the first half. It does pair up Applejack and Soarin though, if you like that particular romantic pairing. It’s long, but if you get past the halfway point you’ll probably enjoy the rest.

Really, this story would be just wonderful to take apart paragraph by paragraph and line by line as an editing exercise. To see what worked and what didn’t. There’s just a lot of good and bad not working against each other, but more like at overlapping 90 degree angles to each other. A bit of editing and polish and this would be a great story.

Earth & Sky by Warren Hutch

This one was curious. I liked it and thought the author had some interesting stuff, but I’m not sure I would recommend it. The first third or half of the story is a fairly slow slog to get through. I almost didn’t finish it several times. It picks up at about the 60% point and the rest of the story was a much easier read. I’ll cover the bad bits first, then the good ones.

For the bad, this story has the worst case of lavender unicorn syndrome I’ve ever run across. Even at the end I sometimes struggled with who was speaking or doing things at any given point. It’s not so much that the ponies were referred to by their color, that would have been fine. The ponies would be indicated by their color, their mane, job, or even their emotional state once or twice. Sometimes using the same phrase a few times in one scene, then switching to another one in the next scene. I think it was hiding, either on purpose or accident, a weakness in the author’s skill. Just replacing all of them with each character’s name would have those names popping up all over the place. Which means that things need to be edited and re-written to be clearer, not simply use a different word and/or phrase instead. Now, I don’t know if I got used to it or it happened a lot less, but the last quarter of the story I wasn’t noticing it as much. Given the other improvements in the writing, I suspect the author simply got better as the story progressed. Or maybe got a new editor.

A more minor one, this story had dialects up to the gills. Really heavy apostrophe-thick dialogue for the Apple family was the worst. We are talking an average of one ‘ for every two words. Seriously. It was so bad I pretty much skimmed all of Applejack’s and Apple Bloom’s dialogue for a majority of the story. A similar example was Princess Luna being very cool and hip to the extreme. Her use of slang and casual behavior was cool at first, but got a little too much after a while. There is a hint that she’s doing it over the top on purpose, so I’m happy to cut a little slack in that department. Just wanted to mention it as a warning. Still, I enjoyed the Princess Luna in this story. Fun version.

The third big thing was the pacing. It was kind of wonky. Not in a bad way exactly, but still wonky. A lot of the relationship stuff seemed rushed and other stuff seemed really slow. Nothing really seemed missing. The best analogy I came up with is a animation where you take out every other frame of art. The result is still basically the same, but things look jerky and semi-stuttering. Plus we have the trouble of the classic shipping troubles of everypony pretty much falling in love with their partner at first sight, then boom they are in a relationship. The one involving Soarin and Applejack gets a decent arc through the whole story, but in general things could have been built up more.

The last thing I’d want to comment on as a annoyance was word choice. For the first half of the story or so the author used very odd word choices. Nothing incorrect. In fact, overly precise terminology was a major factor. It stopped me from getting immersed in the story when every other sentence or so used an unfamiliar word my brain had to consciously decipher before moving on. That, more than anything else, is probably what made reading the start of the story so slow. The odd word choices made it impossible to get lost in the story, which meant I was noticing all the other flaws with the writing.

Enough of that, on to the good stuff! Which there actually was a decent amount.

First, all the characters were well characterized. None of the ponies got deep and complex personalities, but everypony had a personality and motivations. Even most of the side characters we didn’t get much time with projected a sense of being actual characters and not just plot devices. A few of the really minor characters were somewhat close to cliche, but even the one-note joke ones managed to avoid seeming two-dimensional.

Second, the plot was pretty neat. Pacing issues aside, the actual events of the story were all pretty good. Interesting concepts and a few clever little twists to things. The events made sense and the story itself felt like it was firmly in the thematic and emotional area as MLP. For example: There is a scene when a battlion of royal guards are attacking the bad guy’s airship and a hatch pops open and a gatling gun pops out. I was a bit worried that the author was going to try to add violence into a fairly fluffy pony story. Then it turns out the gatling gun was firing puffs of sneezing powder that merely disabled each guard. Then another gatling gun popped out the top to take out the pegasus guards from that direction and it was shooting poison joke. So, I’d say this author is great at keeping pretty close to pony in that respect.

I also really liked Fluttershy as presented in this story. She was using The Stare a bit too much, but her behavior as a mother with her foals was very nicely done. As was Pinkie Pie as a mother. All of the mane six were presented well enough that they were recognizable and felt like time had passed since the events of the series. As for other characters, one of my favorite parts of this story is how it treated Princess Celestia and Princess Luna. The royal pony sisters had a wonderfully demonstrated relationship. It’s probably one of the best I’ve seen, particularly in a story that isn’t focused on them. Plus it had Princess Celestia losing her temper in a grand divine fashion. Her anger tinting the color of the sun, and at one point exploding the building she was in. In a comedic fashion and not a tragic one. The villains, a deranged version of the Flim Flam Brothers, are proper cartoon villains.

Lastly, the author did a good job presenting a pegasus culture. We don’t actually see much of it, but I got a strong sense that it was there in the background. Just how some of the pegasus characters reacted to various things in a consistent fashion. As well as pegasus themed curses and oaths. The biggest example is that all the pegasus cussing and curses were simply bad weather terms, things like ‘sleet and hail’ when something went wrong. The good luck phrase ‘clear skies’ which I’ve seen in other fanfics, but it has a casualness in this one that really sold it. Really, the consistent casualness of it worked well. I really did feel like the pegasus characters were drawing on a weather-and-sky based culture for their expressions of various emotions. Much like a ‘standard’ American might draw on Christian based imagery such as ‘damn’ or ‘bless you’.

Anyway, the good ponies win, the bad ponies lose and get chances at redemption, and things turn out awesome. With some major editing this could easily be a MLP movie.

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11 Comments

Posted by on September 8, 2014 in Books 2014, Ponies, Reviews

 

11 responses to “Pony Story 219

  1. Warren Hutch

    September 8, 2014 at 9:25 am

    Thanks for the review. I’m honored that you’d give me your time and attention.

    I really appreciate you sticking to it and not winding up with a TL,DR. Honestly, I can handle someone disliking my work, but indifference cuts deeply.

    I guess I’ll start off by admitting I don’t really have an editor or a pre-reader. I tend to just post as I finish stuff. One one hand since this is a hobby at best getting involved with an editor seems like extra rigamarole, on the other since the work doesn’t have that layer of polish that an editor brings I should take what I get in terms of people’s reactions to it in its raw, ungroomed form. I’m bringing my dog to the dog show after letting it play in the yard all day, I shouldn’t be surprised if the judges complain of the burrs and tangles in its coat.

    As for LUS I guess it’s a fair cop, but I generally have trouble seeing what the fuss is about. I guess my instincts say that just repeating proper names could get like a doorbell being repeatedly rung, so I try to alternate proper names and some form of descriptive. I choose a discrete set of descriptors so THAT doesn’t get repetitive (I tend use color, profession, species, & gender in varying combinations, as you’ve observed). It’s a stylistic choice, and I guess it works okay for some people and not for others. Sometimes I suspect that simply because I actually use the term “lavender unicorn” it knocks some people’s mind into that particular pocket.

    I’ve been accused of writing with very “purple” prose, and I’ll own to that. I am by trade and calling an illustrator, thus I think very visually and it comes out in my writing. Part of it is that in writing about MLP the setting is a colorful world of cartoon horses, and I try to inject that into my prose.

    Regarding dialect, yeah, it’s something I sometimes struggle with. I guess people in general don’t tend to read phonetically anymore and I overplay my hand in that department. Looking back over the apostrophe ridden Apple dialog I agree it could be toned down. I’ve also had a lot of trouble with y’all. I had a similar flameout in my other story “The White Mare” where I overdid a Brooklyn accent and had to tone it down a lot.

    As for pacing issues, I think it’s a fair criticism. I rush to get to the parts I want to sink my teeth into, and take shortcuts or back fill to get to them. Sometimes it doesn’t do much damage, sometimes it diminishes the impact of the story. In the end it’s an artifact of having too many projects going at once and being lazy and/or impatient.

    Finally with word choice, this one kind of throws me, because I honestly don’t think I’m using that exotic a vocabulary. Nothing trips off the spell checks so I figure it’s fair game. I guess the popular lexicon isn’t as broad as I assume it is.

    Anyway, I hope this response isn’t TL,DR, and while I might be driven to belabor the points of criticism, the parts you praised make me very happy because those are the points in which I’m proud of my work, so overall I’m very happy that you took the time to write this, and hope you’d read some of my other pieces if you were so inclined. A lot of my other stuff is a lot shorter than Earth & Sky turned out to be.

    Thanks again!

     
    • Griffin

      September 8, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      For LUS, it is mostly a matter of preference. It comes down to how invisible the text is compared to the story itself while reading. In this case, the text was almost never invisible because I was constantly trying to figure out who was talking/doing things.

      Like I said somewhere in the review, having the character names being repeated that often might get just as annoying. My advice is instead of trying to switch the name out for descriptors, edit the story so that the name doesn’t come up as much. Then again, my editor tells me I need to put more names and pronouns into my stories, so I might just be biased towards the other end of that particular spectrum.

      As for the word choice, I’m not sure exotic is the exact word I’d use. Simply a bit unusual. The one that really through me is when you used a precise term for a part of a horse’s leg instead of just using the word ‘leg’ when describing a character having a cast on their leg. I actually though the character had a weapon canon for a paragraph or two because the words cast and canon have different connections in my brain.

      Regarding an editor/prereader, it is a bit of effort, but it does really help improve your writing. A writer tends to miss sometimes obvious mistakes in their own work that another pair of eyes can catch.

       
      • Warren Hutch

        September 8, 2014 at 12:33 pm

        Regarding word choice I get where you’re coming from now. I’ve been accused of thesaurus abuse before for words I didn’t think were that out there. (One reader objected to my use of the word “discursive”, which I didn’t think was that out there. Then again, maybe they were objecting to how discursive *I* tend to get.)

        I guess using equine anatomy terms is a little inside baseball, but I think it results from consciously trying to stick to the idea that these are ponies and not humanoid creatures. In the case you mention, I probably should have used “foreleg” instead, because I wanted it clear that Pip was injured but wasn’t an invalid, and was sporting what would be for us a light forearm cast.

        It’s got me in trouble before, partly because I would confuse the terms sometimes. (Specifically, I tended to confuse the pastern (the part on the hoof between the “wrist” joint and the top of the hoof) with the peytral (essentially the chest, but more specifically a term for the armor plate that protects it.)

        Anyway, as I said, I appreciate the critique, and agree that all my stuff could us an editor’s touch. Perhaps I should inquire around FiMFic to see if someone would be willing to take on such a gargantuan task.

        Thanks again.

         
      • Griffin

        September 8, 2014 at 3:36 pm

        Just a pre-reader would be a good idea. Someone willing to read through a story before you post it and point out the ‘huh’ moments they run into. I hear there are groups and such on fimfiction that are good to go looking for that sort of help.

         
      • bchandler2

        September 11, 2014 at 12:57 pm

        Huh. I personally think it’s really cool when writers use specific horse vocabulary.

         
      • Griffin

        September 11, 2014 at 1:06 pm

        It can be cool. I’ve enjoyed a story or two that used horse vocabulary. It’s just a bit harder to work into a story smoothly. In the case of this story, it was just another tiny bit of grit between me and immersion.

         
  2. Present Perfect

    September 8, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    A similar example was Princess Luna being very cool and hip to the extreme.

    Oh fuck, I forgot about this. Every time Luna came into the story, I would skip her dialogue. I couldn’t stand reading it. I try to always take when a story was written into account when reviewing it, but while this might have worked pre-Luna Eclipsed, I just couldn’t stand it.

     
    • Griffin

      September 8, 2014 at 9:08 pm

      I bounced between enjoying it and hating it. For pretty much the entire story. If it had been just a little more low-key I think it would have worked a lot better. Like, a lot less slang and more just her being really casual. I ended up skimming some of her dialogue as well, but some of it was fun.

       
    • Warren Hutch

      September 9, 2014 at 10:03 pm

      Present, I say this with all due respect and immense fondness for a true connoisseur of ponyfic whose recommendations have rarely steered me wrong, but there are times when the story elements or even just word choices that make you clutch your pearls so emphatically cause me to scratch my head in bemusement.

      I’m sure you had to have figured out that her mode of speech was an affectation, but I suppose if you just skipped her dialogue you missed the parts where she would slip into her familiar archaic speech pattern in unguarded moments. (It allowed me to set up a nice brick joke in chapter 42.)

      This experiment of mine would never have happened pre-Luna Eclipsed, because I was pretty much responding directly to her overly formal portrayal in most canon MLP material. I figured after 10 years of re-integrating back into pony society Luna would have let her hair (or hairlike corona) down a little. I kinda get tired of the canon portrayal of our beloved lunar princess as an uptight prig.

      I will own that I probably overplayed the gag several times, in particular the chapter where she and Twilight discuss the history of the Pegathalon, and perhaps it got grating to some readers. Honestly, I’ve had readers who absolutely love it, and others who loathe it with poisonous intensity. Ah well. We try things. Sometimes they work. :-/

       
      • Griffin

        September 9, 2014 at 10:18 pm

        I must admit that I enjoyed it a bit more when I realized that it was something Princess Luna was doing on purpose and not just what she was like as a character. The forced nature of it made it a lot more tolerable in the places where otherwise it was getting overwhelming even for someone who liked it more often than not, like me.

         
      • Present Perfect

        September 10, 2014 at 6:34 am

        It all just came off as very “dad who has discovered internet slang and thinks using it makes him hip”. It was funny the first time, and then I was entirely ready for it to stop.

        I need to get some pearls to clutch. 😀

         

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