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So, last week I gave my 4-year-old niece a MLP DVD for her fourth birthday. She and her twin brother love it, according to their mom. (He's very into superheroes, and the DVD has Wonderbolts Academy on it, so now they ask to watch "superhero ponies.")
However, their mom is very careful about what they watch, for good reason; the girl gets scared of Disney-level monsters and intense scenes, and the boy tends to hit his sister after he watches fight scenes (why yes, this does cause a bit of a problem with his superhero obsession.) I made sure the DVD I got her had slice of life episodes (Wonderbolts Academy, Winter Wrap-Up, Too Many Pinkie Pies, Apple Family Reunion, Keep Calm and Flutter On, and Look Before You Sleep,) but since the kids liked it I thought I'd give my sister-in-law a heads up on which episodes she might want to check out beforehand or avoid.
So, I put together this list, and I wanted to toss it out to you guys to see if you could think of anything I forgot, or anything I included that you don't think should be on here. Remember, I'm looking for:
1) Scenes that are intense/scary like the climatic scenes in Disney movies tend to be, with characters running from or fighting monsters.
2) Scenes with actual combat (punching, kicking, weapons, and I'm including offensive magic because I don't know how she feels about that.)
Here's what I have so far:
The Elements of Harmony -- a kind of scary bad guy, scenes in a creepy forest, a fight with a monster, and an intense final battle (with no physical fighting in it.) However, the fight with the monster ends with the revelation that the monster had a thorn in its paw and needed kindness to be good, and the scary part ends with the song “Giggle at the Ghosties” about making things less scary by laughing at them.
Feeling Pinkie Keen -- A monster they have to run away from.
Luna Eclipsed -- A fake, but intense (for a few minutes at least) return of the villian from Elements of Harmony. Part of the message of the episode is that it can be fun to be scared if you know it’s fake.
Read it and Weep -- A take-off of Indiana Jones, with a fight scene in it.
A Canterlot Wedding -- this might be one you want to avoid, it has a kind of scary bad guy (Chrysalis,) some tense scenes, and a big fight scene between the main six ponies and bad guys who can shapeshift to look like them. (I can just see Louie telling you it’s okay to hit his sister because she’s a changeling.)
The Crystal Empire -- a few tense action scenes.
Sleepless in Ponyville -- Some scary or creepy “ghost story” type scenes. The message of the episode is that it’s okay to be scared and talking to other people can make it less scary.
Spike at your Service -- a monster the characters run from/fight.
Princess Twilight Sparkle -- two fights against monsters (a crocodile type thing and a vine that’s attacking them) and a flashback to a kind of intense fight between Princess Celestia and the villain from the Elements of Harmony.
Castle-Maneia --a haunted house-style story at an old castle with some creepy scenes of the ponies being scared of things. The lesson of the episode is not to let your imagination get the better of you.
Daring Don’t -- Another Indiana Jones thing, with a few more fight scenes.
Power Ponies -- a superhero themed episode that does have some fight scenes against bad guys (not much physical violence, but there may be some.)
Bats! -- a scene of the characters being chased by a vampire pony.
Somepony to Watch Over Me -- a creepy/tense scene in a swamp and a fight with a monster.
Twilight’s Kingdom -- a kind of scary bad guy, and a big magic fight (shooting magical beams at each other that do seem to do damage to the surrounding area, at least.)
Is anything on there unfairly, or missing?
20 comments · 262 views
My Monday blog post is done early, and I can’t wait to post it, so even though it’s a half an hour until Monday (my time) this is it. This week, my writing post is as much about ponies as it is about writing, and it’s a subject I hold near and dear to the obsessive part of my personality my heart: this week I’m blogging at you about pony type/tribe subcultures.
On my last writing post, someone requested that I provide a bit of a table of contents, with what subjects I’m covering, so I’ll do that here:
This post covers
What culture and subcultures are and what they mean for an individual who’s a part of them.
What we know in canon about pony type (earth pony, pegasus, and unicorn) subcultures.
My headcanons on type-based subcultures and opinions between them (‘cause it’s my blog and I can.)
Ways of working subculture into a story.
Some rambling at the end because I don’t know how to end a blogpost.
And since I don’t know how to transition in a blog post either, let’s go:
Any society, real or fictional, has a culture. It will probably have more than one. In the real world, many of us here on FiMfiction are part of western culture, which is just “the way the world works” in the US and Europe; a set of ideas about how people should act, what makes something art, what makes something important, and all sorts of other things we think everyone understands that have changed and evolved for thousands of years into the set of assumptions we have today in this part of the world. We talk about “western culture” because different ideas and attitudes evolved in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and among various tribes and island cultures around the world.
From the larger western culture, we can divide things further into subcultures, where some groups of people interacted with each other a lot and developed slightly different takes on all of these ideas-- American culture is slightly different from European culture, the culture of Jewish people is slightly different from that of Catholics. Gay people in the western world have had slightly different experiences than straight people. Women have slightly different experiences than men. I say slightly here because all of these subcultures start from and include the same basic ideas and assumptions, they just have different priorities, concerns, points of view, and ways of expressing them (including common subcultural reference points in art and philosophy); this is as compared to a completely different culture which might not share the same assumptions at all. A gay, Jewish man in the west is likely to have more in common with a straight, Catholic woman in the west than he will with a gay, Buddhist man in Japan.
One thing it’s important to keep in mind about cultures and subcultures is that they don’t create a homogenous unit, they’re just the basic assumptions we all start from and understand that other people in our culture start from. Take the subculture of internet users as an example. Here I’m referring to people like us, who spend time on the internet for entertainment, rather than people who mainly use email and facebook for keeping in touch with people they know in real life. We might not all agree on things like trolling, forum etiquette, or how much benefit of the doubt to give anonymous people, or about issues like #GamerGate, net neutrality, or copyright infringement, but the chances are that we all understand what these things are, share some basic assumptions about the internet (purposely trying to prevent people from reaching a third party’s website is an act of malovance, you don’t ask for someone’s real name without a reason, Rule 34 is verifiable) and have some sort of opinions on major internet issues (even if the opinion is “I wish everyone would shut up about that.”) Even someone who entirely rejects all the common opinions of internet culture and refuses to consider internet-important issues is a part of internet culture because they understand what they are rejecting.
Another thing to keep in mind is that people often judge each other based on subcultures we’re a part of. Part of this is totally valid, because there are experiences that people within a subculture share; that’s what makes it a subculture. On the other hand, within a subculture people react differently to different things, or sometimes reject the common attitudes entirely. To continue the internet example, people might assume that those who spend a lot of time on the internet don’t have a social life apart from the internet. While this can be true, after all many us consider our best friends to be people who live halfway around the world, it also might be offensive to people who are careful to balance internet and offline social interaction, or who use part of their time online socializing with people they know offline.
We often don’t realize how much our culture influences us, and how many assumptions we, as members of it, make based on it until we’re dealing with someone who isn’t part of our culture. In terms of internet subculture, many of us have had experiences trying to explain something about it to someone who isn’t part of the subculture (often parents or other relatives.) Trying to explain what 4chan is, or why you believe (or don’t believe) your friend from FiMfiction about their life situation, or why you’re pissed off about the latest changes to youtube will often open your eyes to how much you just assume people understand about the internet, and sometimes you’ll realize that you don’t even know where to start because these are just things that everyone knows. How much you encounter this depends on how many of the people you interact with are not part of your subculture; if most of the people around you are heavy internet users, you’re less likely to have to explain things and you have more frame of reference when you do, but on the other hand when you encounter someone who isn’t an internet user, that divide is going to be even greater and you’ll probably be missing even more of the tools to begin explaining. If you’re surrounded by a lot of non-internet users, you’re more likely to be careful about the divide between your subculture and theirs (for instance, less likely to use a term like “troll” in everyday conversation) and more likely to be used to explaining things carefully when your cultures do clash in some way.
Equestria obviously has both an overall culture (which may or may not be distinct from other parts of the world like Saddle Arabia,) and just as obviously has subcultures based on type of ponies. The existence of these subcultures just makes sense: not only do we see that the different types historically had totally separate cultures in Hearth’s Warming Eve, but they also have different abilities that are going to continue to separate them to some extent and reinforce those bonds within the subculture.
The show backs this up, sometimes explicitly in the case of things like Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, or the fact that Ponyville does Winter Wrap-Up the earth pony way, which is specifically mentioned as different from how Canterlot does it. Cloudsdale is obviously mostly segregated, since unicorns and earth ponies can’t even visit without a magic spell. And Trenderhoof shows that at least some ponies make assumptions based on these subcultures, by specifically mentioning to Applejack that he has “such respect for the work ethic of earth ponies.”
There are more subtle indications of these differences too, for example we’ve never seen a group of pegasi who weren’t competing at something-- even raising the water to Cloudsdale becomes a matter of breaking the record set by another team. And important ponies in Canterlot are almost always unicorns: Prince Blueblood, Fancy Pants, Shining Armor. On the other hand, even the “upper class” of Ponyville are earth ponies: Mayor Mare, Filthy Rich, Diamond Tiara, and Silver Spoon.
Given what we talked about before, this means that there are likely to be deeper differences between the subcultures: things that a pegasus assumes about life or the world that a unicorn wouldn’t, types of art or sayings that are common among earth ponies and totally different from the ones pegasi are used to. And since the types are all aware of this, it’s equally likely that they see some of it, and form assumptions based on this. This isn’t always racism, the way most people think of it (though it certainly could be). For one thing, the assumptions might be true, especially in the case of ponies who interact with different types of ponies a lot: a unicorn who spends a lot of time around pegasi might understand quite a bit of pegasus culture and know what he’s talking about when he generalizes that pegasi are very competitive. For another, different assumptions carry different weight in our world (Italian grandmothers are good cooks vs. all Italian-Americans are in the mafia), and we have no idea how innocent or loaded any given assumption might be in Equestria. On the other hand, it’s safe to say that ponies are less likely to appreciate unflattering opinions about their type (no matter how true) and it’s likely to irk someone to have something good about themselves reduced to just an aspect of the culture they were raised in (no matter how true).
Because this is clearly a subject I love, and this is my chance to talk about it, I’m going to take a break here and unload my personal headcanon about the tribes, how they see each other, and how “racism” works in Equestria. Some of it will probably be familiar if you’ve read The Importance of Being Earth Ponies, Losing New Year’s Eve, or Maidens Day. This is just my headcanon, based on my reading of what we’ve seen in canon:
Pegasi have a strong martial tradition, and their cities and communities are meritocracies based on athletic prowess and flying abilities, with some weight given to strategic intelligence and ambition. While they do often care about about the other tribes and each other, overt emotion is a weakness and pegasi who tend to show it are ostracized to “toughen them up.” Their aesthetic in art and architecture is what we think of as greco-roman and they’re prone to using military, weather, or flight related language and metaphors or analogies. In the abstract they tend to see earth ponies as tough and honorable but too tenderhearted to be equal to pegasi, and unicorns as intelligent and cunning but physically weak and not accountable to honor.
Unicorn society has always styled itself the leader of the tribes in politics, magic, art, and science, and most unicorns strive to be at the bleeding edge of whatever they do. Novelty and innovation is praised, as long as it seems to be the direction the field is headed. The harshest slight to a unicorn is to simply be ignored. Politically they prefer a traditional peerage system, and Unicorn style tends to be ornate and reflects what we would see as a variety of upper class styles from the Renaissance to the early twentieth century. Their language will often reflect (or attempt to reflect) a good education, using more complex words than other types. Unicorns see pegasi as nearly their equals, if only athletics and battle were more… creative. Being ground based, they tend to work closely with earth ponies and appreciate them as hardworking and talented ponies in their own right, but are often surprised when a new idea came from an earth pony, or when one rises to be a leader in their field.
Earth ponies as a group are very socially minded, to the point of putting this ahead of individual success. Which social group is important can vary from pony to pony, but it always includes family and usually the local community, and often extends to all of Equestria. They may not care for individual ponies, but will set that aside for the good of “everypony.” For their own towns they tend towards democratic systems of government. Traditional art and architecture tends to be “folksy,” whether in European peasant or American country style, though earth ponies are the most adaptable of the tribes and easily pick up and imitate different trends and styles and traditional sayings and slang tend to be related to food, or the preparation or farming of such, . Earth ponies admire both pegasi and unicorns for their abilities, but have the suspicion that many members of both groups will always work a little harder to make themselves look good than they will to help everypony else.
In all cases, the stereotypes tend to be reserved for “a unicorn/earth pony/pegasus” and not “this pony in front of me.” Even with the good parts, it’s rude to imply that one is noticing a pony’s tribe rather than the pony themselves (*coughTrenderhoofcough*) though with close friends ponies might be able to get away with some ribbing about stereotypical behaviors. (For example, AJ could get away with calling Dash a “puffed-up pegasus,” while saying that to Spitfire would rightfully earn a glare.)
With this in mind, we can see that some of the mane six are deeply involved with their type-based subcultures, and others are on the outside for various reasons. Applejack and Rainbow Dash obviously grew up with the attitudes and traditions of their subculture being very important, defining part of who they are. Twilight and Pinkie were more subtly influenced; they don’t see Twilight’s focus on academic excellence or Pinkie’s desire to make ponies happy as being a part of having been raised in unicorn or earth pony culture, even if that certainly influenced those things. For Fluttershy, being unable and/or uninterested in being a part of pegasus culture is almost a character defining trait, and Rarity seems to have grown up in a family that rejected a lot of unicorn culture, while she embraces it for herself.
Now that I got that off my chest, and can use that as an example, let’s talk about using culture in stories. There are two ways of doing this, which I mentioned briefly when talking about how the show does it.
The most obvious way is to use it explicitly. This is where you show or mention differences, whether as central to the plot or details that inform the characters actions. Whether it’s mentioning something is an old earth pony saying, writing a fic about how different views of unicorn culture affect Rarity’s relationship with her parents, or inventing a cultural courting tradition to use in a ship fic, these require a bit of world building, making sure to fit these things into overall pony culture and the way you’re depicting the subcultures in that fic. An old earth pony saying should feel like it came from situations ponies were likely to come across, or the attitudes of a pegasus should feel like they apply in some way to the pegasi we know from canon if you’re going to point them out as part of that subculture. But when done well, readers appreciate new ideas that make sense and add dimension to the setting and the character’s place in it.
The other way you can use culture in your fic is implicitly. When you do this, you have a strong headcanon for how the subcultures work and you show it in the characters and setting without ever bringing it up. This is a good way to do it if you want the cultural aspects of your fic to be a part of a larger, murky whole. Examples of this would include a pegasus and unicorn royal guard working together and dealing with differences in how they see the job (some of which stem from culture), showing an earth pony unable to do something in a unicorn home because the unicorn typically does it with magic, or slipping in swear words that seem to fit earth pony culture. These can all be things where cultural differences are never mentioned specifically as cultural differences, but they’re there all the same.
If you have trouble thinking of things to use, some places cultures are frequently different include the emphasis placed on family, work, or education; treatment of guests; grooming rituals (even utilitarian ones can be performed in different ways with different emphasis); common and uncommon foods and their preparation; holidays and celebrations; traditional stories, crafts, and music; courting and wedding rituals; attitudes towards parenting and important rites of passage in growing up; specific words, alternate definitions, and slang; and assumed gender roles and responsibilities.
While ponies we see on the show spend a lot of time in places where they interact with other types of ponies, so they’re likely to at least know about or recognize a lot of these things, they still might differ in how they actually do or think about them, and the more private or subtle ones could still surprise a pony of one type who sees the other type doing it differently (for example, maybe pegasi always shower with their romantic partners, or unicorns see the fourth date as an important milestone in a relationship, either of which could surprise an earth pony in a new, mixed relationship for the first time.)
Culture is a fun world building dimension, because you can use it in settings and with characters you’re familiar with but still introduce new and creative ideas. One important thing to keep in mind though: if you borrow a ritual or way of thinking from a real world culture, or use one in original fiction, make sure you really understand the concept and implications before you use it, because someone among your readers will probably be a part of that culture and no one wants to see people mess up something they recognize. But with ponies, there’s plenty of room to get really creative, and tons of stories to be told about how three diverse types of ponies live and interact peacefully and happily in spite of their differences.
Thanks to my October subscribers: Ultiville, Jake R, Kiro Talon, Singularity Dream, bats, Merc the Jerk, nemopemba, diremane, First_Down, sopchoppy, Not Worthy, jlm123hi, stormgnome, and JetstreamGW. If you want to see your name in links, or get other fabulous prizes, check out this post for information on how to subscribe: Subscription Info.
10 comments · 210 views
I published a new pony fanfic. Just not here.
Rangelost, a regular on the AppleDash forums, has opened the beta of Equestriart-- a new pony website, primarily for artists, but with writing/blogging capabilities as well. Think of it like Fimfiction is to Fanfiction.net as Equestriart is to Deviantart.
In the interest of messing around with stuff, I posted a little 1000 word story there that I've been sitting on for a year, unable to decide if I should subject it to the gnashing jaws of FiMfiction. So you can check it out here: bookplayer's Equestriart page (It's called A Moonlight Torture, and it's Discord with background AppleShy.)
And if you're curious about the site, especially if you know or are an artist, it's nice! It's not focused on fiction publishing, so FiMfiction is still going to be the best spot for writers, but if I was an artist, I'd set up shop there. It's more attractive than deviantart, which makes it a million times more attractive than derpiboo.ru. It's pony focused (unlike deviantart) and creator focused (unlike derpiboo.ru,) and the creator pages are very customizable. (I did not take advantage of this yet, but the capability is there.)
If there are complaints, the primary one would be that after registration, getting things set up can be a little counter-intuitive-- it took some playing around for me to figure out how to get a story posted, and Rangelost admits that documentation for some of the systems is next on his list. Also, obviously, there are barely any users yet, but with any luck that will change. I think it's a worthy addition to the MLP community, and worth messing around with.
I'm not an artist at all, but I'll probably use it to post stories that are too short or weird for me to post here. So if you join there, friend me!
19 comments · 246 views
I’ve never written much about AppleDash, mainly because what I would write about is shown much more clearly in my fics, especially The AppleDash Project, which really hits on everything I think is awesome about this ship. But in the interest of fairness, I’m finally going to share my thoughts and explain how AppleDash is the most romantic ship...
AppleDash is not a traditionally romantic ship. That honor goes to FlutterDash and RariJack.
But AJ and Dash really shine as a couple because AppleDash is the best funny, down-to-earth, slice of life ship. Applejack and Rainbow Dash make a stable-but-messy couple who can take what life throws and come back for more. AJ and Dash are a couple you’d want to invite to a barbeque, because they seem fun and relaxed and might butt heads in a snarky way, but not end up flipping tables at each other.
Applejack and Rainbow Dash fight, second only to Rarity and Applejack, but where a RariJack argument tends to take over an entire plot or subplot and turn into wild demonstrations, AJ and Dash are more likely to bicker verbally, or possibly turn to a competition to solve it.
This makes sense, because they’re characters who are both very, very different, but still share a lot of the same values. They both value courage, physical prowess, honesty, and straightforward solutions. They call it like they see it. Their approach to solving most problems will be the same, or at least totally understandable to the other, building a deep mutual respect between them. But at the same time, Applejack is an earth pony’s earth pony, tied to her land, focused on family and community. She’s a nurturer at heart, and steeped in responsibility and personal honor. Dash, on the other hand, is the model of pegasi ideals; she’s ambitious and focused on individual excellence, with a taste for grand adventure. She’s also a dreamer who easily gets wrapped up in any amusement or novelty that strikes her fancy.
This means that as a couple they can have a strong core built on values they share and an understanding of the other and how she thinks. Applejack might not want the adventure of being a Wonderbolt herself, but the goal fits in with the deeper values she holds so it would seem undeniably worthy to her. Similarly, Dash might never want to be a farmer herself, but it’s simple and straightforward enough that she can understand the reasons AJ would want to do it.
But at the same time, they still clash frequently, both directly and indirectly. Directly, they’re likely to dig their hooves in on different sides of an issue, understanding both sides equally well but thinking the other is just wrong due to the different weight they give to aspects of their lives or the cultures they were raised in. Indirectly, they develop a problem and go about their own business until it becomes big enough to be the other pony’s problem as well.
They also have communication issues, but they stem more from withholding information from each other that not being able to understand what the other is saying: Applejack tends to keep personal problems inside and not reveal weakness to the ponies who could help her. Dash is often thoughtless enough that she doesn’t realize that she should tell other ponies something, and she’d rather ask forgiveness than permission if she’s pretty sure other ponies would object.
A quick aside: Many people cite their competitive streaks as being a potential problem between Applejack and Rainbow Dash, but I think it rarely would be. People who argue this seem to miss a major aspect of both characters: they both love competition. It’s their hobby. When they have a day off, they go looking for a pony to compete with. This could easily drive a different pony crazy: if Dash kept trying to compete with Twilight, she might eventually ask if every darn thing has to be a competition. But Applejack is unlikely to ask that, because what’s wrong with every darn thing being a competition? It keeps a pony on their hooves. Not to mention that, as a romantic couple, they’re no longer single competitors: they’re a team, and a team that’s likely to be unstoppable when they work together. Competition is as likely to drive Applejack and Rainbow Dash together as it is to break them apart.
So, AJ and Rainbow Dash are a couple that finds themselves in minor conflict again and again, but will undoubtedly return to a core understanding to patch things up before moving on to the next petty squabble. They’re the least likely to show a “romantic” side in the traditional sense, and most writers have to content themselves with a kiss and some private cuddles in the apple orchard or barn to show the loving side of the couple. That’s cool and all, but we’re talking about romance. How is that romantic?
AppleDash is really the ultimate sitcom-style couple. Like any couple on a long running TV show, they have their frequent ups and downs, but they settle easily into a loving relationship.
They work better than any couple in episodic fics, or "wacky situation" fics like Those Blue Wings or What Would Daring Do? that let them run around like crazy ponies for a while before they fall into each other's forelegs. They also work well as a side plot in a fic about one or the other of them, without stealing the center stage. They're a great comedy duo, and a couple you want to watch having conversations and arguments about little things, reacting to each other with a mixture of love, friendship, and teasing.
AJ can easily fall into the role of stoic, dry-witted, long-suffering anchor for Dash's antics, and Dash is the best character on the show at both going over-the-top and then realizing that she went over the top and coming back, slightly embarrassed, for some cuddles and reassurance that their love will always be there anyway. Or you can play AJ’s love of tradition and more country mannerisms off of Dash’s more urban coolness and modern attitudes. In any case, teasing will be a major part of any dynamic; both characters are thick skinned, understand each other enough to both dish it out and take it without really hurting each other, and flawed enough for the audience to enjoy a joke at either’s expense.
I think this might be one of the reasons for AppleDash’s continued popularity (other than Tchernobog’s evangelism): it’s a very comfortable ship both to read and write. Most of the serious AppleDash fics are tempered with humor, and you probably already know how the character’s interactions will play out. In the same way it’s always nice to catch an old episode of a sitcom you like, picking up (or writing) an AppleDash fic is unlikely to be a new and exciting experience, it’s more likely to be checking in with old friends and remembering how well this works.
Now, this isn’t to say that AppleDash can’t do drama. Often it does it quite well because it’s unexpected and a little messier than other ships-- watching two ponies who aren’t good with their feelings muddle through something emotional gives a “feels” fic a realistic edge that more romantic ships can have trouble finding. It grounds it in something inherently stable, which makes shaking it mean that much more.
Another place AppleDash doesn’t do well, unexpectedly, is adventure. On their own, AJ and Dash are great additions to an adventure fic: they’re the fighters of the mane six, and the two ponies who will never back down from a job that needs doing, no matter the risk. But together, the romance between them doesn’t have enough tension to support a grand romance plot, they think too similarly for a “your-way-or-my-way” plot, and they tend to fall short on quiet, tender moments when they’re under stress.
But if you’re looking for a romance story that’s funny and not that mushy and makes you feel like the couple spends enough time hanging out that they know the other’s taste in music even if they still think it sucks (except for Tawny Cash. He’s cool.), AppleDash is your ship.
You know, I don’t feel like that was as eloquent as my arguments for FlutterDash or RariJack. As I said in the opening, I tend to save my AppleDash arguments for the fics, so if you want my eloquent opinion of AppleDash, I suggest checking out the AppleDash Project chapter What’s So Great About Cider.
Thanks to my October subscribers: Ultiville, Jake R, Kiro Talon, Singularity Dream, bats, Merc the Jerk, nemopemba, diremane, First_Down, sopchoppy, Not Worthy, jlm123hi and stormgnome. If you want to see your name in links, or get other fabulous prizes, check out this post for information on how to subscribe: Subscription Info.
2 comments · 231 views
In the post I made offering incomplete stories and outlines for adoption, I noted that most of them contained unattributed bits of dialogue, because that’s how I write my rough drafts. That happens for a few reasons: it makes a good notation device because I can probably remember the scene and story based off of that; it lets me check out the emotional flow of the story without having to get the whole thing written (since I’m a big believer that character interactions should carry an emotional storyline;) and when I come up with something funny or heartfelt it’s usually a line of dialogue, so this way I don’t forget it.
There’s both some cause and effect in this. I truly believe that dialogue is the most important part of 90% of the fics out there. There are exceptions, of course, but usually they’re intended to be exceptions-- people don’t just happen to write a fic about two characters where there’s no dialogue or it’s unimportant, and often those fics are impressive because that’s a huge limit to place on yourself. But dialogue is the most natural way of “showing” character interactions and relationships; what characters say to each other and how they say it shows how they feel and how that changes as they talk.
For the most part, dialogue comes to me naturally. A scene plays in my head, and I write down what the characters say. But I’m also picky about dialogue in the fics I read, so I do think about what makes it work, and what’s wrong when it’s not working. I thought those thoughts might be useful to some people, so I decided
Dialogue is kind of a funny thing in writing, the “rules” are relaxed; grammar can be mangled, words can be used incorrectly or inefficiently, sentence fragments or run on sentences are all a-okay… as long as it reflects the character talking. To that end, knowing the characters you’re writing and writing dialogue go hand in hand.
One thing I’ve always found useful is to slightly exaggerate the voice of the character you’re writing. If they would have a limited vocabulary, make sure they don’t use words that are really specific. If they have an accent that changes the sound of words or their usage, that’s important to make clear. This might seem like just “how writing is,” but I can illustrate because in fanfiction we have a point of comparison.
On the show, the writers can get away with making character voices less clear or obvious, because we can hear the literal character voices. A line of dialogue doesn’t need to “sound like Rainbow Dash” because Ashleigh Ball is going to say it and it will literally sound like Rainbow Dash. So, if you read the transcripts, the characters don’t really talk like themselves that much, because so much comes from the cadence, tone, and inflection in the actual show.
In books and stories, we have to convey the same voice with words, so we have to use word choice and sentence structure to make people hear the difference between Rainbow Dash and Rarity. Bad Horse put it best a while ago, in response to a comment I gave him: “Point being that writing dialogue that a character might say might be realistic, but it isn't as good as writing dialogue that a character might say, and no other character would.”
Now, the other side of this coin is that you don’t want to go to the other extreme. Too much of a written accent, over-using catch phrases, or over-emphasizing vocabulary differences can make a character feel like a parody of themselves (and, in the case of accents or intellectual vocabulary, make your story harder to read.)
I find the happy medium in combining these things for each character and trying to use different ones in each line. For example, Rarity has a kind of catch phrase in using “darling” as a pet name, she uses upper-class language and some sprinkled British-isms (shall instead will, for example,) and she has an extensive vocabulary (she uses words that often surprise me for a kids show.) Using any one of these things in every line she has, or worse, all three, will make her sound like a joke. But alternating them between lines, with some more neutral lines thrown in for good measure, will result in a Rarity that sounds more “Rarity-like” than the show (so that we can hear her in Tabitha St. Germian’s voice) but not like some rip-off of Rarity that’s trying extra hard to be “real.”
Accents are a little different, in that they should be consistent, but the key there is to use as little of one as you can while still mimicking what the accent sounds like. Personally, I’m against using “Ah” for “I” in the Apple’s accent, because I feel like drastically changing the spelling of the word makes it something that people need to translate, which makes reading harder. And that goes for anything else where the word doesn’t retain most of its original letters (with the exception of “ya” for “you,” which is common enough in English that it’s regularly used in things like the title to Trade Ya, making it more recognizable.) There’s no right way to write it, but this is a place where less is more.
This brings me to another important subject in dialogue, one that’s separated from characterization. Timing. The time it takes for the character to say something, where they pause is especially important in comedy, but it can be equally important in other kinds of conversations between characters. There are a lot of jokes out there that aren’t as funny if a character doesn’t pause for a second before delivering the punchline. At the same time, pausing for a second before saying “I love you” back to another character can totally change the meaning of the response.
As writers, we have some limited control over how fast people read things and where they pause. This comes in two major ways: the number/length of the words you use, and punctuation.
When it comes to number and length of words, fewer or shorter words are going to make people read it faster, which will feel like the character is speaking more quickly. This is where accent comes in, when we combine words it can change how quickly they’re read: “Gotta” reads more quickly than “Got to,” “y’all” reads more quickly than “you all.” But this isn’t limited to accent, having a character like Twilight or Rarity say “agreed” is faster than “I agree.”
This extends to dialogue tags, as well. If a character is responding to something quickly, don’t put the tag in front of it, and if it’s part of a quick exchange consider not tagging it at all. If you must tag, just use said. On the other hand, if you want to draw out what the character is saying, long and descriptive tags give the words more heft, and make them feel like the character is thinking about them more.
The other way of controlling timing is with punctuation. That’s among the things punctuation is for, actually, it tells readers where and how long to pause. But dialogue is a place where people will let you play with it to get the right timing for a line. People understand that if Pinkie is talking in one long run-on sentence, it’s her excitedly barreling through the thoughts, or that if Twilight responds with a phrase with a period between each word, she’s saying something very slowly and clearly.
So that’s how to control your timing. In order to know when you need to control it, imagine the character saying the line, or read the scene out loud as you have it written down, paying attention to punctuation. Are characters pausing in the spots your punctuation is showing? Are the jokes getting lost under a bunch of words? Cut the words from the dialogue and tags. Is the emotion feeling terse and rushed? Add words to those places, even Big Mac can have a detailed and descriptive tag added to give his “nope” more emotion behind it. If a character is pausing in a weird place, or hesitating before they say something, there’s punctuation to show that. Don’t be afraid to use it, even if it’s incorrect in a technical sense.
Since I touched on dialogue tags, let me talk about them for a second. Common wisdom is to limit yourself to said, asked, and a few others. This is to avoid something known as “said bookism,” where authors get… fanciful with their dialogue tags: “she expressed,” “he insinuated,” “she acknowledged.” This often happens because authors get nervous using the same words over and over again (this problem is also the cause of Lavender Unicorn Syndrome, where people use description in the place of names) This is annoying to some readers, because dialogue tags are supposed to blend in. All they’re doing is letting you know who’s speaking. But an unexpected word calls attention to itself, often unnecessarily.
At the same time, words mean things, and sometimes you don’t mean that she said something, you mean that she acknowledged it, or admitted it. There are connotations there that imply tone of voice or even body language, and if your goal is to let people hear the conversation the way you hear it in your head then using the right word can help you.
The solution here is two parts: First, don’t be afraid of said. If the connotations of the dialogue are clear enough, use said. The only reason to use anything else is if the line itself could be interpreted in different ways, and the situation and actions around it can’t differentiate between them. Second, when you don’t use said, use a short, simple replacement. “Agreed” is less conspicuous than “acknowledged,” “shouted” is better than “exclaimed.” If you do use a longer tag, it had better be because it exactly expresses how the line was said, and this should not need to happen with most lines.
So far, this has all been technical stuff about how to write what you want the characters to say. The next part is about what you want the characters to say.
Showing and telling works differently in dialogue. In narration, showing and telling is an stylistic choice. In dialogue, it’s another part of characterization. Different characters will come right out and tell you different things about how they’re feeling. It’s perfectly valid and in character for Rarity to announce and detail the depths of her despair to anypony within ear shot, and if nopony is around she’ll tell Opal; Twilight might be more hesitant and only tell one of her friends privately; and getting Pinkie to verbally admit that she’s sad and explain why is like pulling Gummy’s teeth. Exposition works the same way: Rarity will happily tell everypony about her latest crush, Twilight has no problem explaining the history of the ruins they’re exploring. The opposite wouldn’t always hold true.
There are some things that almost any character will tell. If they’ve been thinking about their love for another character for the whole story, they can go ahead and let loose with a nice speech about it at the end. The point of showing, rather than telling, is to let the readers experience the feeling of something rather than telling them to feel it-- the other character would probably rather just be told, since they don’t have access to narration.
When people accuse a story of having “tell-y dialogue,” they usually mean that characters are talking about things they wouldn’t normally talk about that are supposed to tell the reader how they feel. It would be unusual for Applejack to randomly tell her brother how much she loves farming. If the author wanted to make it clear that Applejack does, in fact, love farming, they should probably show it.
But you can use dialogue for that, too! Applejack might not tell Mac that she loves farming, but it certainly would be in character for her to be cheerfully talking about plans for planting a new field, or developing a new apple hybrid. In romance fics, I’ve talked before about “conversations about stuff” that show the pairing interacting in the way a couple would over something ordinary, rather than just talking about their relationship.
The key with these showing conversations is not to let them overstay their welcome. Give people a good scene to understand the emotions involved, but end it before it turns into fluff or filler. Of course, tolerances for fluff vary depending on the person and the emotions involved, so this really depends on the kind of fic you’re writing, but it’s something to keep in mind if you find yourself writing a scene that’s supposed to show that Applejack and Twilight are in love that’s a whole chapter long.
That’s about it, but I’ll finish off with one final trick I use: if there’s a conversation you need in a fic, and you can’t figure out how the subject would come up, start off with the characters talking about something else. Actually, any dialogue can benefit from this, conversations shift and turn around all the time, and as long as it’s not meandering (unless that’s what you’re going for) a subject shift will feel realistic and get you to where you want to go.
If you need for the mane six to talk about their dating history, rather than the tired “truth or dare” cliche, try having them talking about gifts they’ve gotten, and have one of them bring up a gift from an ex. If you need Rainbow Dash to let slip to Applejack about the crush she has on Rarity, start the conversation about exercise routines and have Dash know more than one commonly would about how Rarity keeps in shape.
Obviously you don’t have to do this, characters sometimes go to other characters to talk about something, and talk about that thing. But in that case, you probably know how to bring it up (however the character would bring it up.) If you don’t know how it would come up, it’s probably something that they wouldn’t normally talk about, so talking about something else first just makes sense.
And that’s everything I can think to say about writing right now.
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Within the Acres of Sweed Apples there lived a mighty stallion, and a large and muscled stallion was he. For this story of a stallion or largeness and muscles refers to a pony of great might. A pony maned Big Macintosh.
Upon a sunnish morning on the acres of Sweet Apples, this stallion, Big Macintosh of the largeness and muscles, was pulling a plo, thought fields of soil the deep brown colors of dark chocolate. The plow pluued easily, because Big macintosh was a strong stallion, and the strength with which he pulled easily moved it.
When there cane a scream:
The scream came with a sound as if a pony was tarpped by a large objects, but not as large a Big macintoshs muscles. Big Macinsish knew that if there was a pony to be saved, his muscles must same them, and he would have to be there.
So he wnet there fast, galloping with a swiftness of speed like a fast movine river down a steep mountian of rocks where it picked up speed until it was moving with altricity. And thus is Macintosh go, with that speed, to where the pony has screamed.
Upon arriving at a place where a pony was trapped, he could see this pony, beneath a piel of rocks was Cheerilee. He loved cherriell with the love of a big heart, because a heart is a muscle and all of Big macintosh muscles was large. So when he saw the po ny her came to save, he knew he had to work quickly to rescue her and aid in her escape.
“I came to rescue you.” Macintoshe said with a deep voice like a rubble of thunder on a summer day when there’s a storm. “I was plowing a feld with I heard a scream and I thought you might need my muscles to save you, so I came. I’ll save you now.”
“Good.” Chreerilee answers happyly because even if she was under a gargantuan pile of rocks she was happy to have a stallion with many muscles come to save her from being trapped beneth it forever.
He, Big Macintsoh, put his large hooves against one of the rocks, a big one that was somehere near the middle of the pile, and pushed as his muscles pushed agaist his skin.
The orcks left when they exploded violently away because that was how strong big Macintosh was with his muscles psuhing them.
“I’m saved. Thak you, Big Macintosh.” Cheeriles aid.
“You’re welcome.” Big Macintosh said. “I love you.”
“Oh, well I love you, that way, also I think we should be Special somepoies.” Cheerilee said. Cherilee smiled with happiness and was in love with Big Macintosh and because he saved her and she liked his muscles that got rocks off of her.
“I don’t know.” Big Macintosh said. He really did want to be her special somepony, but for some reason he said he didn’t. It was like something inside him couldn’t decide even though he would decide he wanted to love Cheerilee. So he said that he didn’t know.
Then more rocks tumbled down pon Chrreilee, with a loud crash like a bunch of drums falling down a big flight of stairs, if drums were wrocks. She screamed and felt a ache in her heart because she didn’t know if Macintosh was her special somepony, and also how she’d get out from under these rocks.
“I wish I’d said I’d be her special somepony.” Big Macintosh said in his head so Cheerilee couldn’t hear. But his muscles heard his deep voice that didn’t say anything, and they got to pushing the rocks again, because if Big Macintosh wanted to be cheerilee’s special somepony he was going to rescue for her from all the rocks that fell on her.
When Cherrilee was free again, she smiled and Macintosh said “I rescues you becUSE i want you to be my special somplony.”
“Good.” Cheerilee said.
Cherrilee kissed Macintosh, and Macintosh kissed Cheerilee and they pressed together like tow boards that were nailed togehter with no space between them because they nailed them really good.
They stopped kissing.
“LI like your muscles, and your deep voice.” Cheerilee said.
“Good.” Macintosh said. And he was glad because Cheerilee loved him and loved his muscles which he had a lot of. That meant she loved him a lot. “I like your pretty face and the eye of color you have.”
“Good.” Cheerilee said. She had eyes of a color all the time, so she knew he would love her forever.
They loved each other because big macintosh moved rocks and saved her, and there was love in that that was deeper than a hole in the ground that lead to the core of the earth which is the deepest thing and they loved deeper then that.
They got married, and it was beauitufl becase it was a lovely day on the spring with the apples on the trees of the acres of Sewwt Apples where the sun shone with a glow like a giant candle that was bring enough to make it daytime. Other ponies where there, such as: Applejack, Applebloom, Grannysmith, and Applejacks friends and Apple Blooms friends and other ponies from town. There were many ponies on that brightly day, and Cheriinglee and Macintosh got married then. All the ponies were so happy because they could see the love that Big Macintsh and Cheeriell had and showed in their eye.
The goodness of the day was increased when no rocks fell on Cheerilee and Big Macintosh could not use his massive muscles for saving her, but for marrining her. This made the day better then any day before when they weren’t married yet and sometimes rocks fell, because they liked getting marries and they got to get married to each other, which was good.
At the end of the day they were married and liked together forever.