Oookay, so let’s do this. As I said yesterday, I’m going to make an in-depth analysis of the route I ended up reading –mainly, the one that ends with Twilight failing after seeing Lyra. And as I said yesterday, the vast majority of what I’ll say here is more or less subjective (unless I say otherwise), so don’t make any change if you’re not comfortable with it. And look for more prereaders or something.
EDIT: Oh dear. This is going to be long. You better prepare some coffee. Also sorry I guess. I tend to ramble a lot.
ANOTHER EDIT: So, like 5k words. There. A little more than just a short comment, I'm afraid.
Anyway, so starting with the first chapter, which is actually the second because the first one is an explanation. I think that’s actually a good idea, although I’ve seen other Choose Your Own Adventure stories that don’t bother with the explanation. But this gives it a more professional look, so whatever.
So as I was saying: first chapter. The first thing I notice is that the narration of the first two paragraphs has absolutely no joke, and it’s mostly about the setup of the story. That’s fine, but if I remember correctly, you told me yesterday that you enjoy absurd humor. You could use some absurd humor here, by presenting a situation that makes no sense as if it was the most normal thing in the Universe. I’m thinking about this part:
What did that mean? Hanging up spooky-looking “Welcome!” banners, making sure the orange cupcakes with the grim faces on them don’t have too much icing, and checking if the costumes were presentable. All ponies were having these or quite similar worries to deal with.
As it is, it explains what’s happening. I think the pacing is a little bit off (the last sentence appears too telly for me; I would change it to something like There was enough work for the entire town to be as busy as they could, or something like that. Something that doesn’t tell the reader directly that “there’s a fuckton of work, so they were busy with what I’ve said or similar things”. You’re not listing everything that needs to be done, and if you add the “these or quite similar worries”, the readers ends up with the impression that every single pony is doing more or less the same chores, which doesn’t give the “busy” vibe I think you’re looking for. If you imply the list is much longer, then any reader can imagine a town filled with busy ponies easily.
But then again, that’s just me being an ass and thinking that everything that’s not my personal style is bad, so don’t bother. Maybe I’m overanalyzing this. But then again, overanalyzing is fun, isn’t it?
But I got sidetracked. I said that you could crack a joke in there, and I still think so. You have the perfect opportunity –you’re explaining what the town is busy with, so add something that a normal town wouldn’t be doing it. “Checking if the costumes were presentable, making sure Pinkie Pie isn’t eating all the cakes again, getting the new wave of cakes done because Pinkie has eaten them (like always), hanging on spooky decorations, making sure Pinkie Pie isn’t eating the new wave of cakes, getting yet another wave of cakes just in case…” Something like that. Of course, this is optional, and the joke I just wrote fell flat because I’m horrible at this. But you know what I mean.
The thing here is: this kind of adventure calls for that kind of humor. It’s a slice of life and it deals with Ponyville, of all places. You have countless characters that you can use to bring the humor there, and the plot is not a problem because it’s determined by the reader. So take them when you see the chance and then think what could happen in there with them that could be funny. They have very strong characterizations because this show is awesome, so you should have no problem in doing that.
Applejack wants to use apples instead of pumpkins (“They’re better!”), Big Mac is in charge of decorating the western part of the town but he only talks in “eeyups” and “nopes” so nopony can understand him, Fluttershy is in charge of the bird chorus again but it’s too scared by the spooky things in town to get out from her cottage and a team of five ponies has been trying to do that for three hours… The possibilities are endless! (I’m sure none of this works in your story, but you know what I mean).
Wait, I think I’m not explaining myself pretty well here. What I mean is: create a funny background. Use absurd humor, but an absurd humor that can cope with the usual tone of the show. Those examples in particular work well only with the first description, but the general idea can be used along the general fanfic. If I see another clear opportunity, I’ll tell you.
Now we move to the Twilight issue we already talked about. I’ll paste the paragraph here:
All the ponies save for one: Twilight Sparkle. The purple librarian had quite a few different issues on her hooves.
“I can’t believe it!” she shouted angrily. “Today may be the thirty-first of October, but is that a reason not to have any newspapers delivered? ‘It wouldn’t be worth it for a day like this,’ they say. Yeah, right. I mean, I’m not even expecting the ponies to read them, but buying them could be the least they could do!”
As I said, she needs to chill a little. The very first thing that you do is showing us a very angry Twilight, that A) yells at the air and B) explains the exact reason why she’s angry to herself.
Now, the angry part is clear: she should be calmer. Annoyed, of course, but nothing strong enough for her to yell. It’s just a minor issue, so she shouldn’t lose her temper so easily. Besides, if she’s yelling at the sky, I guess that she’ll look like a maniac. Not like she cares very much about this, but it’s still a thought. So you can write her muttering this bitterly, or maybe thinking about it, or maybe thinking out loud. But not yelling. It strikes as something odd, and looks like you’re trying to drive her off the sanity wagon as soon as possible. No idea if that’s your purpose at all, but even if it is, it’s not an excuse. Plus, it looks OOC. So yeah, this part’s an issue.
And about the “explaining everything” part –I wouldn’t let it the way it is right now. You can use the narrator to explain why is she so angry (in a funny way, I mean. Use sarcasm, use witty narration, whatever calls your phone better), your you can lampshade it, you can write her thinking that and immediately after it, saying out loud that explaining things she already knows is a great way to calm herself (wait, does that count as lampshading? I think it does. Okay, so I only have two options for this). You can do a lot of things, but if you just leave her yelling things like that, the reader gets the impression that you just want to finish this part as soon as possible and move on. Which can be your goal, and that’s perfectly fine (in fact, it’s what you should do), but the reader can’t know what is your goal. Ever. That’s the first rule.
Innerly she had almost hoped something would happen just so she could spend her time on something.
Her pseudo-desperate wish had been answered when she saw the only pony she had hoped to avoid until later that day.
This part confused me a little, because I didn’t know if it was supposed to be a joke or if it was supposed to be normal narration. It works both ways. But if you want to make it a joke, you have to spice it up a little. Exaggerate things: if she wants something bad to happen just so she can stop being bored, you could add an example. “An Ursa Minor attack could be fine. She knew how to deal with that, and it was a great way to have a good time. Or maybe another 1000-years-old-evil-thing-that-came-back so she could spend 44 minutes dealing with it with her friends and the Elements of Harmony. It was funny how their adventures always lasted 44 minutes. Sometimes just 22, but those weren’t as epic as the long ones.” Something like that? Then again, this seems a little unnecessary even for me. So yeah, this was just a thought.
(Also, yes, never use numbers in narration. I know. I’m writing this pretty fast, so I thought that I could let myself write 22 instead of twenty-two for once : P)
“Twilight Sparkle, just the pony I was looking for!” an overly excited Mayor Mare cheered.
“Oh, good day, Mayor,” Twilight replied with a slightly forced grin.
“There has been a little change of plans. Do you think you could bring me the fireworks right now already?”
“Right now?! But I thought you wouldn’t need them until midnight!” Twilight exclaimed upset.
Again, Twilight doesn’t act in a logical way. She wants something to happen, and when it happens, she is upset for the change of plans. You know, those plans that were boring her a couple seconds ago. Plus, now that I think about it, this sounds more Dash-like than anything. Wouldn’t Twilight just read a book while she has nothing to do? She likes books. And she lives in a library, so it’s not like she can run out of books. Although that’s a nice idea for a story. I’m writing that down for later.
Anyway, so yeah. This part should be edited. Just delete the “upset” part. The dialogue can be the same, but the exclamation marks make her sound like an over excited filly, so maybe that should be off too. Oddly, I didn’t find Twilight very OOC later on, it’s just the first chapter. What happened here?
“Yes… I know. That won’t change either, but our team of voluntary pyrotechnicians didn’t show up, and now we have to set the system up ourselves. We don’t know how long that will take…” Mayor Mare explained.
“Ugh, fine!” said Twilight. “It’s not like I had anything else to do right now anyway.”
See? She’s whining. That’s annoying.
(Yes, I’m aware of the hypocrisy).
“Thank you, Twilight! I’ll wait for you at town hall.” With that, the two parted ways for now, and the librarian walked to her house to pick up the fireworks.
Minor editing: I would delete the last part of the sentence, and then say that Twilight is in her house in the next paragraph instead. Sounds better, because if you explain this, it sounds like the Mayor just turns around and gets the hell away from there, not bothering to say goodbye to Twilight. If you just cut the conversation in there, the reader’s mind will automatically imagine a normal end for the talk and everything is fine and dandy once again. Is it lazy? Yes. Does it work? Yes. It’s perfect!
“Aaaaaaahhhh!” screamed Twilight at the sight before. “Where is it?!”
Maybe my love for all-caps sentences is taking the best of me here, but that scream sounds false. You can also just narrate that she yelled. Writing down screams and laughs is usually a no-no for a lot of authors. Your choice, though, because this is not wrong, it’s just a stylistic choice.
Ok, so it only took me 2k words to pre-read the first chapter. Yes. This is looking fine. I sure hope you did make some coffee when I told you to do so.
Second chapter, and here we see Spike for the first time. Here is where you commit the mistake of making him laugh, and the way he reacts is wrong. Twilight is suddenly in-character, so the first chapter strikes me as odd. But hey, she’s acting fine now, which is awesome.
But anyway, the scene:
“Spiiiiike!” she screamed eventually
Her number-one assistant appeared seconds later. “Yes, Twilight?”
“Where did I put the key?!”
Spike chuckled. “Heh, you mean the one and only thing that can open that safe? The key you made from indestructible diamonds so that I couldn’t eat it? The key you created yourself so that nopony could steal the fireworks? The key that—”
The last part. Spike chuckles, and that is fine. But then you write “heh”, and then for some reason that I don’t know about, the rest is not funny.
I mean, it IS a funny joke. But instead of laughing at it, I just read and think it’s funny. Sorry for being harsh here, but it’s kind of the truth. I get what you’re trying to do here –the joke is basic, and it should work. Why doesn’t work then?
I think it’s actually the “heh”, as I said before. This kind of joke deals with the absurd. It’s not exactly English humor (well, I guess it could be Python-esque? They’re English), so the reader has to laugh because it’s ridiculous. But for that to work, the characters need to deal with it with a completely straight face. So long story short (because I don’t know how to correctly explain this in this case, as it will be far more clear with the Lyra example that will come later), I would erase the chuckle and the “heh”. Spike should just list the characteristics of the key. Don’t tell the reader it’s a joke beforehand. Humor needs surprises.
“Yes!” she interrupted. “And don’t you blame me for taking extra precautions to prevent another drama caused by ‘Cutie Mark Crusaders Pyrotechnicians Yay!’”
This was actually a good joke. I like how she says “Cutie Mark Crusaders Pyrotechnicians YAY!”
Spike face-clawed. “By putting the fireworks in a spell-proof safe not even you could open without that key?”
I think sarcasm works better when the snarky character doesn’t overreact. Facepalming (faceclawing in this case) shows a character being baffled, while here Spike is just making fun of Twilight. So he should just answer in a flat tone, with no expression whatsoever. I would also change the wording to something like “Well, I’m sure putting the fireworks in a safe that even you can’t open was the best course of action here.” (Mentioning the key breaks the rhythm of the joke. Twilight should answer something like “I can open it with the key! Now tell me where it is!”)
This advice can also be used later. Every time Spike snarks, he should do it in a very flat tone. Adds a lot to the humor (for some reason they taught me this in Law School. Laugh is a response we use against things we can’t comprehend or things that don’t follow our expectations. A character saying a funny and/or ridiculous line in the most serious way possible is funnier than a character laughing his ass off. See Leslie Nielsen for more examples)
“I know! But it isn’t there!” Twilight fell to the floor, heavily disappointed in herself. “The mayor asked me to get the fireworks early, but how can I do that with no way of getting at them?”
Woah. She throws herself to the floor? What a drama queen. I would change the entire bolded sentence to just “Twilight sighed”. Far more showy, far less telly.
Also, that last line of dialogue is not entirely needed. She can just say that the Mayor needs the fireworks. Your readers are clever enough to understand that if Twilight can’t get the fireworks, she can’t handle them to the Mayor.
“You could call a key service, hehe.”
“Har har. Very funny, Spike.”
Again, Spike laughs at his own joke. That should be edited out. Twilight’s sarcastic laugh can be left, however.
Besides, you may want to write an explanation about why calling a key service wouldn’t work. But then again, why wouldn’t it? If the lock can’t be opened with anything BUT the key, then using a screwdriver to open it is stupid. This is a good point and a hint that tells you that using the screwdriver is a bad idea –so if the reader is stupid enough to try it, it’s her own fault and you can laugh at them as much as you can. This has laughing potential. Use the choice thingy to create humor at the expense of the characters and the readers!
A few awkward seconds passed before Twilight asked, “So, what now?”
“Well, sitting around here whining about it won’t get you the fireworks either. You have to find a way to get in there.”
Twilight stood up again, confidence flowing through her. “You’re right, Spike. Just…”
This feels weird, but usually the choices are delivered like this in the CYOA books. So I guess it’ll work fine. I would edit out the “a few awkward seconds passed” bit, because it sounds unnecessary. Just write Twilight saying “What now?”
(Also, I don’t know if Spike should apologize. It sounds a little weird, giving the situation.)
Well, second chapter of the story done. This is getting a little faster, thankfully. I guess that as this goes on and on I have less to whine about.
Now, to the city.
“Hehe, you think so?” commented Spike.
Goddammit. Spike, stop laughing. I swear to God…
Twilight closed the door behind her and started looking around her house. Confident that the key was nowhere near the library, she went further into Ponyville’s town center.
Nitpicking: this is not necessary. The reader wanted Twilight to go to the city, so of course the key is not around the house (unless it is, in which case shut up). Twilight should head to town immediately, without thinking twice about looking for the key somewhere else. Okay, maybe some dialogue saying that “I had the key when I went to town, so it must be there” could be good to avoid a possible plothole, but if there’s a reader whiney enough to actually get angry because Twilight is obeying his command instead of looking for the key in a somewhat logical place, then that reader is an asshole.
“Now, where should I look?” She looked over the busy village being prepared for the festival. It was evident that all the ponies were too busy for Twilight’s silly problems. All except one, as Twilight noticed the mint-green pony sitting on a bench. She walked up to her.
“Oh hey, Twilight! What’s going on? You look rather stressed.”
“Hello, Lyra. Yeah… I’m looking for a key, and I need it really, really urgently! You haven’t seen one, have you?”
Now, I have a problem with this segment, but it’s not what you think. Part of me thinks that the pacing is too fast. But then again, the fic needs a fast pacing because of its structure: this is how CYOA books usually work, with quick description and dialogues.
However, you should start another paragraph after Twilight’s dialogue. It will look more classy. And again: you can add some background joke in the description. I’m talking about what I said at the very beginning of this message. It will make the world of the story feel more alive.
“Alive” as in “colorful.” “Funny.” Not alive as in “Frankenstein monster.” A shame, I know.
Lyra put a hoof to her chin and started thinking. After a while she said, “A key, eh? Big, golden, unique-looking?”
Two things: first, the key was made of diamonds that for some reason Spike couldn’t eat. How can it be golden?
Second: I know this gag. It’s a pretty old one. Lyra describes the key perfectly, then says she hasn’t seen it before. The problem here is that the description is too vague: Lyra should write something far longer for the joke to come alive. Again, it’s the absurd of the situation what makes you laugh –Lyra describes the key to the last detail, but Twilight believes her when she says she hasn’t seen it. Extra points if Lyra hasn’t really seen the key. (This long description joke is very similar to the one I analyzed before, with Spike. The difference is that Spike is describing the key perfectly because he knows how it is, so the joke is that his description is entirely unnecessary. Also, now that I think about it, Lyra should use the exact same words that Spike used to describe the key, if only for the extra absurd it brings to the whole deal).
And extra EXTRA points if Twilight actually asks Lyra how can she describe the key so perfectly if she hasn’t seen it, and Lyra says something like “I spend a lot of time thinking about keys. It’s kind of my hobby,” and Twilight accepts that as an explanation.
“I would help Bon-Bon, but she explicitly told me not to come anywhere near her candy.”
Twilight chuckled. “I can’t see why she would do that.” Her face hardened up again. “Anyway, I need to keep on looking for the key. Thanks for your help, Lyra!”
Twilight laughs at the joke, and that’s bad! That makes it less funny. Plus, you lack a punchline here. Twilight should ask why Lyra can’t get near the candy, and then Lyra should explain something ridiculous. “I kind of ate it all in a berserker rampage last year” could do fine, but a subversion (“Why? You ate it last year?” “No. I set fire to the house. Apparently candy is flammable”) can work even better. Your choice though, but the joke feels incomplete.
And Lyra tells me to go to the coffee stand. This is where the weird stuff appears:
“Well, looks like I’ve got to do this on my own.”
Stretching her muscles for the quest she was about to start, she charged towards the first thing she would interrogate: a plant.
The plant thing. What? I get that it’s a joke, but you need to explain it a little better, or word it in another way. Because here it’s just… well. It’s just “what the hell?” inducing. Not like it’s a bad thing, now that I think about it? But it looks more Dadaist than absurd. What the frick.
Maybe wording it to:
The only thing she could interrogate was a plant. “Well,” Twilight said, “I guess nothing bad comes for trying.” Maybe a pine could give some insightful information about how to find a key.
Two hours later, a tired and with zero results Twilight had a sudden realization: that had been the stupidest idea ever.
Also, again you’re describing how everypony is busy. And again I think a joke (describing the ponies being busy in some bizarre chore) could add a lot to the story. Hell, you can make that a running gag: every time Twilight looks at the ponies in town, they’re doing something different and crazier than before.
“Uuuaaarghh!” Twilight seethed about two hours later. She had just looked through every part of the park she could; every spot that looked like a place a careless pony would lose a highly valuable and one-of-a-kind key. A key that is used to open a safe that contains extremely dangerous fireworks. And a key Twilight would’ve needed much earlier.
You need a couple examples here. Where did Twilight look, exactly? You can make it humorous or informative, that doesn’t matter (I would use humor, but I use humor everywhere and I guess that can get tiring).
Mulling over her defeat, Twilight thought about the options she had left. A smile formed on her face after a while. “Heh. Hehe. Hehehehe…” A smile that slowly turned into maniacal laughter. “Who says I need a key to open that safe? I don’t! I never did! I made that safe! Nothing I created can’t also be destroyed! Hahahaha!”
I think you tried to show Twilight losing her mind here, but even if she’s overreacting, she falls off the wagon too fast. I would delete the laugh entirely to make her look a little calmer. Sounds better, and I think it also works better (because later she’s surprisingly calm again).
Or even if you don’t want to calm her down a little, at least delete de “heheh”. I’m aware that I’m asking for something quite heavy, because your intention was to show Twilight becoming slowly crazy from the beginning. So, do as you please, but I strongly recommend changing her attitude here : /
“I’ll take it you didn’t find the key?” he inquired with a chuckle. Twilight didn’t say anything. “Alright, fine. I’ll bring it to you.”
It’s amazing how I think that laughing in a comedy fic should be forbidden. Maybe I’m wrong in the head or something.
But, comedy is born out of misery! Nobody laughs in a comedy! Plus, Spike is being sarcastic again, which adds points to the no-laugh policy!
A couple lines later: Spike sweats because he’s moving a toolbox. Welp, what a weak ass. Also, Twilight has a toolbox? That’s weird.
“What was I thinking, trying to open a safe with a screwdriver that I enchanted?!” She facehoofed. “Was I guided by some unintelligent demon’s claw who really didn’t have anything better to do than make me suffer?”
Not much to add about this scene, as we talked about this yesterday. I would use the word “idiot” somewhere, however. “What kind of idiot would use such a tool in such a situation?! I explicitly said that this thing could only be opened with a key! It’s like my own brain, or whatever is the thing that forces me to make a choice now and then, was a rampant imbecile who couldn’t understand such simple concepts as “NO KEY = NO OPENING THE LOCK”!”
Although maybe that’s a little too strong. Hmm.
Twilight tried to stand up, but immediately fell back into her self-pitying situation, now sobbing heavily. She didn’t notice Spike, dressed in his dragon costume like last year, walking up to her.
I would say she’s being a drama queen… but hey. She cried when she messed up Winter Wrap Up, so this is completely in-character.
She’s still a drama queen though.
“I have failed!” interrupted Twilight, crying heavily. What came next was a shower of hysteria in the form of her recapping the entire event of the day to Spike, hoping he would find the mistake.
Ok, hysteria? She might get crazy now and then, but this is definitely not how Twilight would deal with the situation. Maybe some tear, and then she tells the entire story in a sad way. Hysteria is too strong.
“Simple, use that time spell you used the other day, only this time to go back to the past. Start over, and learn from the mistakes you made so you won’t mess up this time.”
The spell can only be used once. I see that you tried to avoid that plot hole having Spike explicitly say that she won’t be exactly travelling back in time again, but it’s still fishy. Besides, how can Spike know so much about magic all of a sudden?
I would leave this like it is, but then I would write something like:
“Of course! Spike you’re a gen– wait.” Twilight frowned. “I’m sure I can’t use that spell again.”
“But didn’t you hear me? You won’t be travelling back in time! It’s totally different.”
“I’m not sure it works like that…”
“Details, details.” Spike rolled his eyes. “I’m sure we can bend a little the laws of magic for this.”
“Nightmare Night is going to be ruined.”
“NOTHING CAN MAKE TWILIGHT SPARKLE GIVE UP! NOTHING!”
And she used the spell.
Of course, this is probably way too different to your style for you to use it (or like it), but I’m just trying to give you ideas here.
Aaaaaand that’s it for now. Whew. Almost 5k words. I only pre-read the route I followed yesterday. I guess that if you find this helpful (instead of finding it just long as hell) I can do the same with the rest of the fic. It will take me a while though : P
I hope I ended up being useful!