The Difficulty of Writing Pinkie · 5:51pm
Gratuitous picture of Danny and Surprise. I wish I had a talking, flying horse.
That picture made me lose my train of thought . . . oh, yeah. Pinkie Pie. It so happens that I'm a little over a third of the way through Pen Stroke's Past Sins, which I'm finally reading so I can understand what the cool kids are talking about. As I suspected, this 200,000-word story could easily lose at least 50,000 words without incurring serious damage, but I'm not here to critique Pen Stroke's earlier, less developed writing. Considering how polished he is now, I don't think there would be any point, and I'm not sure I have the right anyway.
Besides having the pace of a casual stroll through the park, assuming that stroll is being taken by an elderly lady with a walker, Past Sins makes a few of what I consider to be minor missteps to which My Little Pony fan fiction seems to be especially vulnerable. One in particular jumps out at me--a throwaway gag in which Pinkie Pie casually says that she remembers everything she and her friends said during their battle with Nightmare Moon because she "read the transcript." This was not enough to seriously harm the novel, partly because the book is just too huge to be wounded so easily, but also because Pen Stroke was wise enough to drop the joke immediately after having made it. Still, my suspension of disbelief crumbled for a moment, and I had to work to get it back.
There is a good reason that it is a no-no in film for actors to take to the camera: the audience is supposed to forget that there is a camera. Rules like this can be broken, of course; film adaptations of Shakespeare can usually get away with leaving characters' monologues to the audience intact, and cartoons especially, at least if they're the right kinds of cartoons, can get away with "breaking the fourth wall" on a frequent basis by turning it into a recurring joke, so when Wyle E. Coyote holds up signs to the screen to reveal his emotional states or stand in for his dialogue, it's funny and doesn't ruin suspension of disbelief.
Cartoons can get away with other things that live-action television can't: characters can hover in midair and hold a brief conversation before falling, or they can continue walking for several steps off the edge of a cliff before realizing that no ground supports them, or they can stretch their limbs out to impossible lengths in order to grab things from off the screen. To make these gags work, the characters must act as if nothing is amiss, as if this is a regular part of their experience. The one major exception I can think of is the film wherein live actors and cartoon characters interact, in which case the cartoon characters' absurd abilities become plot points--as in Who Framed Roger Rabbit or Space Jam. In this case, drawing attention to the cartoon physics makes sense because the film is about two sets of characters who must behave by different sets of rules. In fact, Roger Rabbit is such an impressive work of fantasy because it draws out all the implications, even the disturbing ones, of human/cartoon interaction.*
The fan fiction writer who writes about cartoon characters faces a problem: cartoons and narrative fiction are two different media. Whereas the cartoon can display cartoonish physical comedy without drawing too much attention to its absurdity, the narrative writer can only depict such physical comedy by narrating it. Take the scene in "Secret of My Excess" in which Spike and Rarity hover in midair and exchange a few sentences before beginning to fall. In the show, the hovering fits seamlessly into the world, and the viewer will accept it unthinkingly, perhaps not even considering that it's unrealistic. But a writer who translates the scene literally into a narrative would have to write something like, "With a burst of light, Spike shrank back to his regular form. Blinking in surprise, he and Rarity stared at each other, hovering in the air for some reason, suspended by nothing." Even if we know the story is based on a cartoon, this detail doesn't make sense; it ceases to be a gag and instead becomes a bizarre anomaly within the story. To avoid such problems, the fan fiction writer is forced by the conventions of his medium to alter the cartoony Equestria into a (slightly) more realistic version, which may be one reason fan fiction is frequently grittier than the show it's based on.
Mind you, it is possible to write physical comedy, even extensive and crazy physical comedy, into a narrative, but it's not easy. The novel Incompetence by Rob Grant is basically a mixture of physical comedy, vulgarity, and anti-American hate speeches, and the physical comedy parts, which fortunately make up the bulk of the book, are very funny. But these parts, although physically impossible in many respects, are impossible mostly in subtle ways, and they usually start out halfway believable and grow more outlandish only gradually, and Grant's narrator describes them with a deadpan that is the novel's equivalent of a cartoon character's blithe acceptance of a flexible law of gravity.
All that brings me around to Pinkie Pie, a character who is basically a bundle of cartoon gags. Although she doesn't break the fourth wall as frequently or as blatantly as fans give her credit for, she regularly hovers or changes speed in midair, twists her body in impossible ways, and pulls objects out of Hammerspace. All the characters do this, but none so often as Pinkie. Take away all her behaviors that don't work well in a narrative, and not much is left aside from her distinctive dialogue. She has some interesting personality traits that the writer can explore, such as her drive to make everypony happy and her halfway neurotic dependency on others' pleasure in her company, but the main vehicle for delivering her--which in the show is her zany antics--is lost or at least drastically inhibited. Pinkie has the fan fiction writer at a disadvantage.
I was gonna finish this essay off with an ingenious solution to the problem, but I don't have one.
*Patty Cake. Man, that movie got away with everything.