Coming up next on Problematic Reviews

Coming up next on Problematic Reviews

Saturday, July 26, 2014

FiM Fiction Review: On Time for a Change

Welcome back, internet travelers! It appears we're having an unofficial comedy week here as this is the second comedy I have reviewed and the second time I took the schedule as a complete joke! Yeah… Just give no regard to the calendar for now. I'll have it fixed by The Sword Coast! Promise! Jumping in, LordSmokedMeatsandFishes's On Time for a Change follows the story of Pendulum, an expert in logistics, as he tries to fix Ponyville's Winter Wrap Up problem. He runs into the inevitable roadblocks and humor ensues. Unfortunately, On Time for a Change has a great setup but is inhibited by its own setbacks. Pendulum is the stereotypical unlikeable Manehatten businessman and the story is rather ill-paced and badly executed. Everything else is not at all memorable or clever, making for an overall lackluster read. Head below the break for my review of On Time for a Change by LordSmokedMeatsandFishes. 

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On Time for a Change by LordSmokedMeatandFishes
Incomplete (last updated on 25th June 2014)

Pendulum lived a comfortable routine for an up and coming efficiency company in Manehatten. That routine was shattered when he was sent to a new client that could put them on the map.

A little town called Ponyville.

Oh sure they had sent their request late giving Pendulum only a day to get there and organize a schedule. Sure the records they sent were disorganized at best. Sure they hadn't come close to succeeding for over 70 years. But really, how difficult could it be?
Pendulum would soon come to regret those words... Read it here

Tags: Comedy, Slice of Life - Rating: Everyone
Word Count: 18,662 words total

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I often say the biggest problem with fan fiction writers, particularly with My Little Pony because of its outlandish characters, is that canon characters are all too often hard to write. This is hugely apparent in On Time for a Change. Many characters are ill-voiced or are completely out-of-character. Applejack, for example, actually gets along with Pendulum, an outsider, and, unlike everyone else, looks forward to the changes he proposes. It's odd because if anyone has proven to be speculative of the intentions of strangers, it has been Applejack. Even more strangely, Rarity hugely disagrees with the protagonist even when he’s trying to increase the town’s productivity. Wouldn't Rarity be the most likely (other than Twilight) of the Mane6 to approve of such changes? Not to mention he's a big city professional with a reputation of turning around backward businesses! This characterization of just two of the Mane6 comes off as hugely sloppy and rather contrived to fit the plotline. Unfortunately, this isn't the end of On Time’s character problem. 

Pendulum, without a doubt, drives this story. Yet, he's also its Achilles Heel. He's selfish, manipulative and his self-righteousness just drove me further and further away from him. It begs the question: What was LordSmokedMeatandFishes' outline for this character? Was he suppose to be an OCD-plagued hero that is just held down by this compulsive nature such as Soul Eater’s Death the Kid? Ignoring the fact that Pendulum’s disorder is actually his cause for success, Death the Kid actually does have redeeming qualities and while he has his setbacks, he prevails in protecting his positive core values. However, Pendulum doesn't have any of these values. He just indulges in his OCD and self-righteousness as it is his avenue for success. If he's not Death the Kid because of his lack of morals, would Pendulum be just a genius protagonist lacking in core values such as House’s Gregory House? Possibly. When you compare the two, it’s pretty easy to see the similarities in their God complexes and selfishness. But Dr. House serves as that kind of character done right. House’s primary goal to save lives, even if it is for egocentric reasons. In contrast to Pendulum who has no reason for us to root for him.

However, the ultimate difference between Death the Kid and Gregory House versus Pendulum is that Death and House make mistakes! The thing about unlikable characters is that they have to fail and in the process of failure they realize their faults. We root for those characters because we have seen their transformation into a better person by the end of the story. However, Pendulum gets his way too often to make the reader connect with him. In fact, I felt he really had no reason to complain everytime he had a setback because things seem to be going so well for him and his goals.

Perhaps even worse, Pendulum's Mary-Sue-ish perfection completely downplays the entire conflict. There's no tension when he does face a setback simply because the reader already knows he can confront it or ignore it and he'd win either way. Not to mention the worst he's faced just caused some minor annoyance. Remember I mentioned that Pendulum's lack of a redeeming goal also affects the conflict? Well, his lack of a redeeming factors actually makes it seem like the obstacles put in his way are justified. It’s almost like the story is told from the point of view of the antagonist. Which begs the question: Why should the reader hope that everything works out for him? 

If there's something this story has a lot of, it's filler. Unfortunately, On Time for a Change is about 19,000 words in and it's still moving at a horribly slow pace. It feels almost as if we have barely touched on the conflict simply because everything - and I mean everything - in Mr. Pendulum’s day is covered. If he was a normal character with a torturous case of OCD, I would call this an engenius illustration of the main character's attention to detail, but the end result is a story that crawls along at a snail's pace. In all honesty, my best advice would be to trim the fat and cut a lot of the word count for the introduction. Inevitably, the story will be able to focus more on the conflict and keep the reader engaged. 

Speaking of keeping the reader engaged, I can't say the scene visuals do a very good job at that either. Scenes usually open with long descriptions of a setting followed by the actual scene. The problem with this is that it's a clunky and forgettable way to introduce the scene. Not to mention the scene that follows is void of any visualization of the situation and outdoor scenes have almost zero description. In other words, there's barely any scene visualization and the little there is slams on the brakes only to set up a scene. 

If there's one thing that I can say On Time for a Change did right is its dialogue. Although the characters behind it aren't well done, conversations rarely falter and characters deliver their lines well. Even with some unusual awkward moments when aggression shifts quite suddenly, the exchanges feel well rounded and flow well. One thing I would say to be careful with is that some of the paragraph structure might be confusing to the reader. I understand the seemly random breaks in paragraphs during conversations are there to prevent “walls of text” but this just left me thinking it was another speaker. It would be easier on the reader if there were natural interruptions in the speaker’s line or some indication that it's in fact the same speaker. Other than that, the dialogue is rather solid. 

From the weak characterization to the lackluster scene visuals, On Time for a Change will need some polish before I can recommend it to anyone. Many of the story's issues can be attributed to Pendulum's character and his lack of depth or relatability. Along with the problems surrounding canon characters, flawed pacing and faulty conflicts, I can't help but recommend this story goes back to the drawing board. This has been Amy Clockwork. Thanks for reading and have a great weekend! 


  1. Before I begin I would like to apologize for my long comment and thank you for your review. You obviously put a lot of thought and effort into it and have given me a lot to think about in regards to my story. I hope I can use what you said to improve this and other stories in the future. I must warn you that I now feel obligated to write a story that you will give a positive review and will one day be pestering you with several one shot stories that have been festering in my mind for a while. Now for the answers to some of your questions, counter arguments, and questions of my own.

    For your first question, the outline for the character was along the lines of Temple Fugate from the Batman the Animated Series episode The Clock King. (I haven’t seen your other examples.) This episode always stuck with me as a child mainly for its unique opening that devotes almost 4 minutes to the villain’s origin. Specifically by showing how a single alteration to his schedule causes a complete downward spiral into madness. (If you have three minutes forty seven seconds here’s a link, it's an incredible opening that uses every second without feeling expositiony. Particularly the conversation on the subway between Fugate and Hill Clock King Opening

    If you can’t see the video, the idea I was going for with Pendulum was a character skilled in this one area. However, he is completely lacking in any social skills. Lacking any friends or a life of any kind. For him there is only the schedule, everything else is irrelevant. I feel this is shown a bit in the story by him scheduling himself going to the bathroom beforehand and watching ponies outside the window for fun. However, I think the biggest sign is his inability to hear the background music that ponies are prone to dance and sing to. Such an impediment in Pony Society would cause serious issues.

    I would also counter that the Mayor’s concessions comes from her lacking any sort of planning whatsoever (have we ever seen anything in the show to prove otherwise?) Though I was trying to illustrate his extreme OCD, you make an excellent point when you say it causes the story to move at a snails pace. I personally felt the Mary Sue comparison was a bit extreme, (mainly since NO ONE but Pinkie likes him, and even that’s just technically) although from a story conflict side I sort of see where you’re coming from. I’m trying to build him up so when he falls (as he is doomed by cannon to do) he falls hard, painfully, and with only himself to blame. However since his spectacular and utter failure has yet to happen in the story proper, I can sort of see hints of Marey-sueishness.

    For your villain POV comment, I would like to say I was reading Superior Spider-man while writing and I was going for that feel. It’s all the villains’ perspective but since you can only see it from there you have sympathy or at least understanding for him. Obviously that didn’t work out here but that was my mindset.

    I will freely admit I have little experience with writing the Mane Six. My only other story that features them What Happened to the Orange Frog? just briefly has them at the beginning and end so I didn’t have to worry to much about that. I never even conceived the observations you made and would really like to know where I erred in the portrayal of the others. Or more importantly, whether I succeed in any aspect with them. Again, I apologize for how long this is, but I eagerly await your input.

    1. Thank you for the reply to the review. It's not everyday that an author counters a review and I applaud for your well thought-out defense of your story. Not to mention I enjoy a good conversation.

      While I can now clear see the inspiration for your character and the point-of-view for him (that being one from the antagonist), I still can't say he's a well-built character. You see, while you certainly illustrated his obsession with time keeping well (albeit at the sacrifice of the story's pacing), the character's other aspects are weakly founded at best.

      Firstly, you mentioned that Temple Fugate is driven to insanity when he gets off schedule. While I see the similarities between him and Pendulum, especially in the earlier segment with him on the train, Pendulum is never really seen upset when slight changes that should bother him really do occur. The counter argument would be the confrontation with the Mayor Mare over the speech, but this feels completely downplayed as something that should've lead to complete panic is simply ignored by our protagonist.

      Also, I'm afraid it's hard to feel sympathy for Pendulum when we're this far into the story and he's still winning. He keeps getting his way and it feels like he's going to win with nothing seriously opposing him. Yes, he's doomed according to canon but the reader shouldn't have to refer to the show in order to relate to the character.

      While I should also feel sympathy for him because of his lack of friends or real role in Equestrian society, I don't because it feels justified with his arrogance and nose-in-the-air attitude.

      On the topic of the Mane6: Aside from the ones mentioned in the review, I can say a few more things about your portrayal of the Six. While Pinkie Pie's character is well-rounded for the role she plays in the plot, I felt she was a bit too over the top and often interrupted some of the story's key points. Fluttershy, while she appears briefly, because she confronted our protagonist head on without any friends or anything. This appears way off character and left me rather shocked. If you did one of the canon characters right, it would probably be Rainbow Dash, who's hot-shot attitude is well reflected in her scenes with Pendulum. My only complaint would be that I feel RD and him had a lot of wasted opportunities in which they could've bounced well off each other for characterization.

      That should be it but make sure to tell me if I missed anything.


  2. After rewatching the opening itself I see what you mean with Fugate. I'll defiantly be working on the sympathetic aspect of the unlikable sympathetic protagonist. (Along with the Mane Six and scenery detail and whatnot)

    Although that does lead me to one question. Though we can both agree that the obsessive POV fits with the character, after reading it again I see what you mean with the pacing. Do you think it would be better to do a complete overall of the format into a 3rd person POV? Or is the 1st person salvageable albeit in need of some serious trimming down? Obviously I'm very hesitant to completely rework over 20000 words of material (I've been working on the 4th chapter) into a different perspective, but I'd still like to know your opinion.

    On a side note, if you ever have the opportunity I highly recommend you see the entire episode of the Clock King. It's definitley one of the best episodes of one of the best shows of all time. Or at the very least its one of my top 5 for Batman. And believe me, I know my Batman. (Though Spider-man is still my favorite.)

    1. The first-person point of view is ultimately not worth scrapping. It's what fills the character with life and is a great example of "show, don't tell" in the case of a character with OCD. The best course of action would really be to trim it down so it doesn't bring the story to a crawl, but keeps the attention to detail this character needs.

      I'll definitely consider your recommendation. Albeit, I'm at a huge loss when it comes to superheros. Growing up on books, writing and photography really disconnected me from the wide, wide world of Batman and superheros in general until the recent Marvel films that appealed to a wider audience. I mean, I still believe their popcorn movies (I don't think anyone denies that), but after a few dates with guys that are into that, dipping my toes into the medium isn't as odd. I'll make sure to make some time to check it out.