How Can You Tell You're Reading An Alicorn Story?

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How Can You Tell You're Reading An Alicorn Story?

Postby Alicorn » Sun Nov 23, 2014 2:06 pm

I ask partly because I thrive on attention (and am thrilled of course to hear complimentary answers to this question), but also because I want to know if I have any bad habits - words I use too much, turns of phrase I dip into irrespective of character voicing, twists of plot or worldbuilding that all fall into the same predictable pattern if you're looking at them from the outside. So: how can you tell you're reading an Alicorn story?
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Re: How Can You Tell You're Reading An Alicorn Story?

Postby DanielH » Sun Nov 23, 2014 3:27 pm

Since most of the Alicorn stories I’ve read recently are glowfic, the answers (both good and bad) may be colored by other authors. Perhaps you don’t do something below that Kappa or Aestrix does, and my memories have gotten mixed up. Also, note that the primary way I know I’m reading an Alicorn story is because you linked to it and said you wrote it; what’s below is figured out retroactively.

First, characters rarely if ever hold the Idiot Ball. Sometimes they do things that I as the reader know are clearly the wrong move, but the actions usually make sense in-universe. When I post things in the Talk to the Characters thread telling them not to do things they’re doing, they are making mistakes which are perfectly understandable and which I either notice because they’re fictional (when I thought Linya and Miles should figure out that Mark was doing things) or because I’m removed from the situation (and usually in those cases the character figures it out anyway; I can’t help wondering if you’re reading that thread and using the suggestions there when appropriate).

Secondly, the characters always suffer (we knew that!), but as you pointed out on Tumblr when I was deciding whether or not to start reading glowfic, they usually recover. Part of the reason I took so long to start reading glowfic despite liking everything else you write is because you implied on Twitter that one of the main characters would fork and one fork would suffer greatly and not recover. I came up with a way for recovery to happen anyway (which I filled in with more details when I started to read Effulgence), and was pleased to see that it did happen the way I imagined.

Third, there is often blatantly increasing power involved. In Luminosity/Radiance, Bella wants to give immortality and magic to everybody (and succeeds eventually); in Elcenia they use foreign magic (and technology to great effect; the examples for glowfic are obvious. I don’t think this has happened yet in Goldmage, and I don’t see a way for it to happen, but I would actually be somewhat surprised if it didn’t. This is usually a bad thing in most people’s writing, but you usually pull it off. Sometimes I think you could do it better (the part in the Harry Potter ’verses in glowfic that is borrowed from HPMoR seems to not be a big enough moment for the Bells involved, leaving the impression that more people should be able to do this, and not being clear in Lumos why the Aurors’ patronuses vanished), but you still have the characters face big enough challenges that their massive levels of power don’t cause too big a problem.

Finally, a small issue (and the one I was thinking of that might be more Kappa than you) is a grammatical construction I haven’t seen elsewhere and I find somewhat jarring. If I were going to ask about the availability and price of peaches at the local store, I’d say “How much do peaches cost; are they even sold there?”. Some characters instead say “How much do peaches cost, or aren’t they sold?”. The “aren’t” expands to “are not”, which under grammatical transformation becomes “are they not sold” (which sounds stilted, but that’s what happens when you expand contractions). The thing is, I have rarely seen contractions with “not” used in questions this way. I keep trying to parse that as “Aren’t they sold?”, which loosely means “Are they sold? I would be surprised if they aren’t”.
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Re: How Can You Tell You're Reading An Alicorn Story?

Postby Endovior » Sun Nov 23, 2014 3:39 pm

One thing that seems to usually be the case is a lack of significant opposition. You write intelligent protagonists, but they generally do not encounter intelligent opponents. They might experience setbacks, or be unexpectedly assassinated, or kidnapped and tortured or something, but the people doing those things don't seem to have any significant goals or plans of their own, so their defeat happens as soon as significant effort goes into doing that.

Luminosity involved more substantial opposition than most of your other stories, but even then, it seemed like the opposition was stronger because it was more fleshed out and had dangerous information-related powers that constrained possible planspace, instead of because the opposition there was actually intelligent and making intelligent plans.

Most of the one-sidedness that results in the stories seems to come from this. To get better as a writer, you need to develop stronger antagonists.
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Re: How Can You Tell You're Reading An Alicorn Story?

Postby anthusiasm » Sun Nov 23, 2014 4:05 pm

Major characteristics I've noticed are as follows:
1. Unusually detailed and engaging worldbuilding (especially regarding magic systems)
2. Interesting protagonists
3. Frequent and expert use of the one-liner
4. Side characters that are sort of broadly drawn, which can be positive or negative depending on the character and story.
5. Not very plotty (again, can be positive or negative depending on whether the filler stuff that's happening is engaging)
6. Plot events that do happen are usually exciting and unexpected
7. Very upsetting (but in a good way)

For what it's worth, I think the best thing you've written is Goldmage, my favorite thing you've written is Effulgence, and the best character you've created is Bella.

(Oh wow, this feels so weird. It's like if J.K. Rowling called me up one day and said, "Hey, I finished a draft of my latest book. Do you mind going over it and telling me if you think I need to make any edits?")
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Re: How Can You Tell You're Reading An Alicorn Story?

Postby Alicorn » Sun Nov 23, 2014 4:13 pm

anthusiasm, can you go into more detail on what you mean by "broadly drawn"?
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Re: How Can You Tell You're Reading An Alicorn Story?

Postby anthusiasm » Sun Nov 23, 2014 4:20 pm

Sort of like, they have one or two distinctive personality traits and everything they do revolves around that one trait? (Although, now that I think about it, for most of the examples I'd thought of there are hints that there's more to them that just isn't relevant to the story, so maybe that doesn't apply as much as I thought it did).
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Re: How Can You Tell You're Reading An Alicorn Story?

Postby Lambda » Sun Nov 23, 2014 10:55 pm

The characters, especially the main characters, tend to be very focused and directed. They know what they want; they may be said to take time to think about it, but they're never shown to be persistently mistaken, confused, or unclear about their own drives. They understand these things explicitly, not implicitly, or sometimes (in the case of minor characters) there is instead someone else who understands them; the understander is able to articulate this understanding clearly and succinctly, as though they had spent time considering and composing their explanation. The characters do not substantially miscommunicate, though they may keep secrets, or (rarely) lie or forget to mention important details. In summary, they tend to act more like decision-theoretic agents than most real humans do.

I think this is most visible in HTHT, which suddenly acquires Distinctive Alicorn Voice at the same time that it switches from comic format to prose format.
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Re: How Can You Tell You're Reading An Alicorn Story?

Postby MTC » Mon Nov 24, 2014 12:33 am

A big difference I’ve noticed between Alicorn stories and other fiction is the inclusion in Alicorn stories of things that would be cut out of other fiction. I want to emphasize that I see this as a good thing. Even before reading anything by Alicorn I would commonly notice things seemingly missing from other stories that I thought should have been included. Often in other fiction this means conversations that seem relatively important either not being included at all, or getting cut off in the middle (where the latter part of the conversation happens in the world but not “on screen”); this also applies to other stories ending earlier than I’d expect, without giving any real idea of what happens afterwards. In Alicorn stories these things are usually included. An example of the latter is at the end of Radiance; I think other authors might have been inclined to end immediately after the Volturi are defeated, but Radiance continues for a few chapters beyond that and then there’s the Flashes afterwards. Some of the other examples may be an artifact of the RP format, but I still notice this difference between RPs involving Alicorn and some (not all) other RPs (some glowfic, some not).

I’ll also add another grammatical construction that I don’t usually see elsewhere: “You want I should …” or “You want that I should …”. I think the first time I saw this was in a part of Effulgence where I could think that it was put in because the characters are speaking a weird dialect due to the setting, but then I noticed it elsewhere too.
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Re: How Can You Tell You're Reading An Alicorn Story?

Postby Adelene » Mon Nov 24, 2014 12:45 am

Lambda wrote:The characters do not substantially miscommunicate, though they may keep secrets, or (rarely) lie or forget to mention important details. In summary, they tend to act more like decision-theoretic agents than most real humans do.


Similarly and perhaps relatedly, the characters are correct unrealistically often when it comes to factual matters, particularly when they're guessing. Sometimes it's a matter of the characters getting things right with less evidence than most people would need to be right that often; sometimes it's a matter of them having enough evidence, but that they've gotten the evidence through more luck than would happen that often. Between the two we very rarely seem to see a character be wrong about a factual matter. (They're wrong often enough about most other things, though I would also expect to see rather more culture-related miscommunications than we do, too.)
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Re: How Can You Tell You're Reading An Alicorn Story?

Postby Alicorn » Mon Nov 24, 2014 1:16 am

Lambda wrote:I think this is most visible in HTHT, which suddenly acquires Distinctive Alicorn Voice at the same time that it switches from comic format to prose format.


Now this is not just something to chew on (I'm getting lots to chew on in this thread) but especially fascinating and surprising. I have no idea how including illustrations would have suppressed these habits; can you say more about what you noticed? Does Syzygy (if you've read it) have an obvious characteristic relative to this trait? Is there enough Ensorcel for you to say whether it matters if I'm doing the drawing?
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