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  • E Sisters

    Stories about two sisters who are best friends, and rulers of Equestria
    6,514 words · 13,416 views  ·  1,297  ·  18
  • E Mortality Report

    Celestia writes a report to her queen about what she's learned from living among mortals.
    4,313 words · 18,224 views  ·  1,486  ·  27
  • E Experience

    Celestia is thousands of years old, and has experienced almost everything the world has to offer. But there's one ordinary thing she's never experienced.
    1,289 words · 4,119 views  ·  645  ·  15
  • E Big Mac Reads Something Purple

    Twilight asks Big MacIntosh to read to the Cutie Mark Crusaders while she runs an errand.
    3,720 words · 4,864 views  ·  407  ·  11
  • E The Saga of Dark Demon King Ravenblood Nightblade, Interior Design Alicorn

    Should the incredibly powerful new alicorn pursue his destiny as savior of Equestria, or his love of interior design?
    4,940 words · 10,233 views  ·  810  ·  34
  • T Bad Horse's Bedtime Stories for Impressionable Young Colts and Fillies

    Bad Horse retells bedtime stories to teach foals the real facts of life.
    2,642 words · 1,213 views  ·  240  ·  7
  • T Fluttershy's Night Out

    Fluttershy would like to be a tree. But she doesn't want to be an animal.
    7,936 words · 11,486 views  ·  476  ·  20 · sex
  • T Old friends

    Philomena is reborn after she dies. Ponies are reborn before they die. Kind of. A little. It's hard for a phoenix to understand.
    1,582 words · 1,528 views  ·  259  ·  9

Blog Posts333

  • Sunday
    I don't want to know...

    26 comments · 292 views
  • Sunday
    Fifty shades of marketing

    My question about "story views" reminded me...

    "Fifty Shades of Grey" was a spectacularly popular Twilight fan-fiction; it had over two million downloads online. The publishing giant Vintage Press saw that number and realized they had a hit on their hands. They filed off the Twilight serial numbers, put it in print, marketed it like hell, and now it's sold 60 million copies, satisfying a huge but previously unrealized market for bad BDSM chick-lit-porn.

    Part of that is true.

    Though the Twilight fandom was very large, it was still too small, I thought, for one story to have two million reads. A little searching and I found the original quote was "over two million hits". It was reported by Anne Jamison, author of "fic: Why Fan-Fiction is Taking Over the World". I emailed her and asked where that number came from. She replied,

    The "millions" numbers I had were not public; I had them from screenshots from various writers. The counts were from fanfiction.net which, for the Twilight fandom, remained the biggest hub--most if not all stories that were also posted at Twilighted.net and TWCS were also posted on ff.net. Ff.net tallies reads but doesn't--unlike Wattpad or AO3--make them public.

    But for all the sites, read or hit counts are for every time someone clicks on the story--so if they click through the front page to get to chapter 37, that's 2 reads.

    Fan-fiction is published one chapter at a time. "Fifty Shades of Grey" has 26 chapters, but when it was originally published on fanfiction.net as "Master of the Universe", it had over 100 chapters.  More digging by gwern showed that the story had over 40,000 reviews when it was on chapter 70. It had 37,000 reviews when it reached 2 million hits. So let's say it had 65 chapters when it reached 2 million hits on fanfiction.net.

    fanfiction.net adds 1 hit every time any page of the story is reloaded. If you go to chapter 1 and read all the way through to chapter 120 in one sitting, that's 120 hits. If you log in, see it updated, go to chapter 1, and then go from there to the new chapter, that's at least 239 hits to read the book. If you refresh the page, that's another hit. (I verified this myself by refreshing one chapter of one story of mine 3 times on fanfiction.net, checking the stats before and after.) If you read half of one chapter one day, and log in again and finish it the next, that's at least 2 hits. If you leave it in an open tab on your computer, that's 1 hit every time you open your browser. If you reread the story, the hits double. If you click on the story each day to see if it's updated, hits go way up.

    Two million hits on a 65-chapter story means a theoretical maximum of 2,000,000 / 65 = 30,769 readers had read it on fanfiction.net when that "two million" figure was reported. More likely, given re-readings, users who always go in through chapter 1, users who quit halfway through, browser refreshes, etc., perhaps 10,000 readers finished it on fanfiction.net, and let's say another 10,000 on other sites. That's about as many readers as finished My Roommate is a Vampire.

    What actually happened was that a fanfiction that had been read by at most a few tens of thousands of people was reported on in a way that misled publishers into thinking that it had millions of readers, when really, it just had a lot of chapters. So they put a major marketing campaign behind it, and sold tens of millions of copies.

    But was Fifty Shades of Grey really what people wanted? Or would the same thing have happened with almost any book they'd marketed as heavily?

    27 comments · 238 views
  • Sunday
    What do "story views" mean now?

    The site upgrade is pretty awesome; I'm still discovering big changes. But I'm confused by the new meaning of "story views". I saw my stats page says I have 242,137 story views, and I thought, Awesome! A little while ago I had only 100,000!

    Then I realized that was impossible.

    Exhibit A: Terein. 1 story. 1 chapter. 188 views of that chapter. Yet his/her stats page says 381 story views.

    I had never heard of Terein until just now, when I went looking for someone with just 1 story with just 1 chapter, and as I was typing out his/her username just now, I got a pop-up notification saying "Terein posted a new thread in The Writer's Group."


    But anyway.

    Exhibit B: Web of Hope. Might be reading this. 3 stories, 6 chapters between them, 1242 views across those 6 chapters. Stats pages says 2059 story views.

    Story views--what do they MEAN?

    18 comments · 177 views
  • Saturday
    Symbolism in the Doctor Who episode "Amy's Choice"

    A good Doctor Who plot has two plots. One is the Doctor saving the world. Another is helping somebody (possibly the Doctor) deal with some personal problem. Ideally, these two plots should connect.


    At the start of the episode, Amy is engaged to marry Rory, but still finds herself attracted to the Doctor. Then a mysterious “Dream Lord” springs a trap for the Doctor, forcing Amy, Rory, and the Doctor to move back and forth between two realities. In one, the Doctor is visiting Amy and Rory, who have been married a long time and are having a baby; they are all chased by murderous old people. In the other, Amy and Rory are travelling with the Doctor, but they’re all trapped in a TARDIS drained of power and are slowly freezing to death. Each time they wake up in one reality, they feel convinced that it is the real world, and the other is a dream. But time passes in the other reality while they aren’t in it, and they don’t have enough time to escape the threats in both realities. The Dream Lord tells them that they must choose which reality is real, and kill themselves in the one that is a dream. For reasons I no longer remember, Amy must be the one who chooses which of these worlds is real.

    Of course the worlds also symbolize the two men she feels she needs to choose between. And her choice ends up depending not on reasoning out which world is real, but realizing which man she wants to be with (Rory). (There’s a crossed circuit in the symbolism, because she has to choose the Doctor's world rather than Rory's world in order to be with Rory, who was killed in Rory's world. He should have been killed in the Doctor's world if they wanted to keep that symbolism straight. Though they way they did it still worked.)

    After she chooses, and they kill themselves in Rory’s world, the Doctor kills them all in the Doctor’s world--and they wake up back on the TARDIS. The Doctor explains how he figured out that …

    … wait for it…

    … both of the worlds Amy thought she had to choose between were just dreams.

    Whoa. See how that fits with the symbolism?

    In Rory-world, the danger was old people. In Doctor-world, the danger was freezing to death. Almost as if she were afraid of growing old and boring with Rory, and afraid of a cold life with the Doctor, who did not love her.

    So Amy has now resolved to marry Rory, but has also learned that both of the futures she imagined she was choosing between--as well as her greatest fears about those futures--were all just dreams, which may or may not happen regardless of her choice.

    Thus, this episode has one adventure plot-line and one love-life plot-line, and they are unified completely by the end. But which came first: The adventure plot, or the love plot?

    In this case, we know: The love plot came first, according to Wikipedia.. And that doesn’t surprise me. Everything came back to Amy’s love quandary. It would have been amazingly good luck if a random adventure story had all that fall out of it in the second draft. It can happen, but not reliably.

    (Bonus: There’s a third plot line in this episode: Who is the Dream Lord? The answer to that tells you a lot about the Doctor.)

    NOTE: I'm linking to this post from the Story & Episode Annotations & Analysis group, which everybody seems to have forgotten about.

    7 comments · 217 views
  • Wednesday
    ROF1. A general evolutionary theory of fiction

    What’s a story?

    "Story" is a very broad category, even when counting only fiction. It includes:

    - nonsense stories that are supposed to be stupid and make no sense:

    One fine day in the middle of the night,

    Two dead boys got up to fight.

    Back to back they faced each other,

    Drew their swords and shot each other.

    A deaf policeman heard the noise,

    Came and killed the two dead boys.

    - meta-fiction (stories about stories), like Borges' stories that are literary analyses of imaginary stories ("Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote" is my favorite)

    - ancient Greek rape comedies [h]

    - Goodnight, Moon

    - Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra

    - Waiting for Godot, a story about nothing happening

    - this story from the infancy gospel of Thomas:

    After that again he went through the village, and a child ran and dashed against his shoulder. And Jesus was provoked and said unto him: Thou shalt not finish thy course. And immediately the child fell down and died. ... And the parents of him that was dead came unto Joseph, and blamed him, saying: Thou that hast such a child canst not dwell with us in the village: or do thou teach him to bless and not to curse: for he slayeth our children. And Joseph called the young child apart and admonished him, saying: Wherefore doest thou such things, that these suffer and hate us and persecute us? But Jesus said: I know that these thy words are not thine: nevertheless for thy sake I will hold my peace: but they shall bear their punishment. And straightway they that accused him were smitten with blindness.

    I don’t believe there are rules about what kinds of fictional narratives can be set down as text and appreciated. Anything goes. So what am I talking about when I talk about rules of fiction?

    A general evolutionary theory of fiction

    I think people have evolved cognitive dog-treat-recognizers, things in their brains that give them little jolts of pleasure for doing things that tend to get their genes propagated. When we read fiction, we get these doggy treats even for things we didn’t do ourselves. [1]

    The evolutionary explanation for erotica is obvious: People enjoy sex. (I don't know why there isn't food porn, too.) Bashing your opponent on the head gives you a different kind of jolt of pleasure. Action stories are efficient structures that give you jolts of pleasure at bashing other people on the head without suffering the (culturally-specific) jolts of guilt that prevent people from bashing each other on the head all the time.

    “Dramatic” stories play on the reader’s emotional bonds to the characters. This requires a complicated story structure to build up these bonds, then yank on them so you react as if these things were happening to your friends.

    Dramatic stories are like roller-coasters. Roller coaster design has rules. Some are engineering: The track has to go up before it can go down. Some have to do with what patterns of tension and release feel dramatic: You need to cluster small, fast curves and loops together; you need to have moments of respite between these clusters.

    None of the examples I listed at the start of this post are dramatic, except for the rape comedies. So drama isn’t found in all fiction. But it’s in a hell of a lot of fiction. Drama is the backbone behind most good stories. It’s what you feel when something is at stake and you care what happens. When people say stories must have conflict, or that there must be two false climaxes followed by a climax and resolution, or that a play or movie must have a three-act structure, they’re talking about dramatic stories. If you read Syd Field, Jack Bickham, or Writer’s Digest, you’re going to get theories of dramatic structure. Most of what is written about how to write novels and movie scripts, is written as if conflict-based dramatic stories were the only kind of story. So they’re a pretty important class of stories! [2]

    BUT. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of sets of “rules” about dramatic stories, or “basic plots” of dramatic stories. They’re… helpful, maybe. But most of them just address the plot: What sequence of events happen in a story? They’re stuff like this:

    1.        Once upon a time there was …

    2.        Every day …

    3.        One day …

    4.        Because of that …

    5.        Because of that …

    6.        Until finally …

    What’s the point of that? You’d have to really work at it to write a story that didn’t fit that structure. I want to understand what my brain is looking for when deciding whether to give me a mental doggy treat. Knowing a hundred slightly different plot sequences that trigger it is a good start, but we can do better.

    “Literature” is, I’m gonna say for the moment, stories that make you think about things outside of the story. In my mind, Song of Ice and Fire is fantasy, while Lord of the Rings is fantasy and literature. Twelfth Night is (bad) romance. Romeo and Juliet is (bad) romance, and literature. 2001 is science fiction. Brave New World is science fiction and literature. If you read Aristotle or Dramatica theory, you’re going to be reading about how stories make you think.

    Literary stories, I think, reward you for learning. They're simulations that teach you what might happen if you do one thing in some set of circumstances. The dog-treat mechanism in your head drives you to seek literary lessons that tackle the questions currently important to you. This may account for the strange fact that there are specific story types, like alicorn OC stories, that many people love and many other people think are stupid. Maybe they’re beneficial to children, or to people struggling with self-confidence.

    So stories don’t serve any single function. There are as many broad, top-level story types as there are evolved patterns of experience that trigger mental doggy treats, and a good story will trigger lots of them. But a few top-level story types are very general and very important, and I want to understand them better. If our more-specific theories about how stories work mate well with the top-level evolutionary justification, it’s a sign that we may be onto something.

    A general evolutionary theory of popular bad fiction

    The brain doesn’t expect your experiences to be fictional. So it gives you a reward even when you’re just imagining someone else having these experiences. An ape gets a big jolt of relief or exhilaration for outwitting a predator or enemy, and that’s fine, because that doesn’t happen much in the wild. But your brain wasn’t informed that you can sit down at B. Dalton’s and read trashy novels and make it give you that jolt every ten minutes, for things that don’t benefit your genes at all.

    Some “popular but bad” story types might be ones that fool your brain into thinking it’s succeeding or learning when it isn’t. Nonsense stories, for example, are bad baby literature. Babies learn fastest by looking at things they haven't seen before. They get cognitive dog treats for looking at anything surprising, even if it's surprising just because it's really stupid. Nonsense stories don’t help anybody learn anything, but because they’re full of things that don’t make sense, they keep triggering your brain’s reward for paying attention to things that you don’t understand yet.

    Even stories that benefit you some way can be “junk stories” if you indulge in them too much. In a world where we can seek out exactly the kind of food we want, we end up eating too much fat, salt, and sugar. In a world where we can seek out exactly the kind of story experience we want, we end up reading “too much” (from the perspective of our genes) of certain kinds of stories.

    So I expect successful stories to include “good good stories” that reward you for confronting things in fiction that help you or your genes in real life, “junk food stories” that we over-indulge in because they give us big rewards for things that don’t happen very often in real life, and “good bad stories” that reward you for mentally jacking off [α].


    h. A Greek rape comedy is a once-popular story type in which a young man prepares to marry a young women who, unknown to him, was recently raped. When he realizes she's pregnant, he must cast her off as a shamed woman. But then it turns out that he was the man who raped her, so it's okay. Everybody has a good laugh and they get married and live happily ever after. (This summary is a  little unfair to the Greeks, since they didn't have a concept of, or at least a word for, rape. On the other hand, that in itself is another indictment of them.)

    1. Transhumans will of course evolve brains smart enough to distinguish real experiences from fictional ones, and to reward them only for real ones. They will therefore no longer enjoy fiction.

    2. It’s hard (maybe impossible) to distinguish between drama and tension. Dramatic structure, whether it’s 3-act theory or scene and sequel structure, can be used to create drama, but it can also be used in action movies where we arguably don’t care much about the characters, like Crank.

    α. Not that jacking off is bad. Or using birth control. You don't always gotta do what your genes want you to. Usually, your genes are looking out for you. But plenty of stories are designed to teach you altruistic lessons that are good for your genes, or your society, to your detriment!

    39 comments · 269 views
  • ...

The Case of the Starry Night

Being an Excerpt from the Reminisces of John H. Watson, M.D., of the Canterlot General Hospital

Chapter 1. My friend, Fetlock Holmes.

Picture by aqane.

In the course of my association with Mr. Fetlock Holmes, I have often been the subject of his keen insight. More than once, this has made me wish he would turn his unflinching gaze upon himself. I learned how needless that wish was from a peculiar entanglement with a most peculiar mare.

To Holmes, she is always "the mare." I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. If he once felt something akin to love for her, he at least believes he has since sublimated it into an intellectual admiration. He never speaks of the softer passions save with a gibe and a sneer. For him to admit such an intrusion into his own finely adjusted temperament would be to introduce grit in a sensitive instrument. And yet, to him, there is but one mare. It was in Fillydelphia that we first encountered her.

Holmes' appearance regularly drew attention in Canterlot, that magnet for everything and everypony outlandish or excessive in Equestria. He could hardly pass unnoticed on the streets of Fillydelphia. In height he was rather over fifteen hooves at the withers, and so excessively lean that he seemed considerably taller. By breed he should have been a plow-horse, but one could not imagine him engaged in dactylous labor. Aside from his ectomorphic frame, he had a delicacy of touch in his hooves not exceeded by any unicorn; and something imperious in his eyes as well that at times called to mind the Canterlot high-bred. But he walked with the awkward urgency of a grounded pegasus, and I was once again pressed to keep up with him without breaking into a trot, as we headed from the train station towards the center of the city.

He would have stood out even had he not had a completely uniform tan coat, bare of decoration on both flanks. Either by virtue of his mastery of innumerable subjects, of his impatience for pursuing any of them with regularity, or (as I am inclined to believe) through sheer force of stubbornness, Holmes had managed to avoid ever manifesting a cutie mark relegating him to one trade or another. I may give the impression in my missives that detective work was his sole occupation; but in reality it took only a fraction of his time, and served as much as a framework to organize and justify his hobbies and vices, as a profession.

The sight was too much for one blue-maned unicorn on the other side of the street, who cocked his head and widened his eyes until I could see the whites. My companion stopped abruptly as we drew up beside him.

"I see you were admiring my mark. That is a sign of distinction." He tapped his forehead with one hoof and smiled conspiratorily. "Only the wise can see it."

The stallion glanced at Holmes, at Holmes' blank flank, and back at Holmes again. "Ah... remarkable!" he replied.

"Really? What do you think of it?"

"Think... of it?" The poor fellow – it is impossible not to think of anypony who falls into Holmes' hooves when he is in a mischievous mood as a poor fellow, no matter wealth or breeding – twitched his ears back and forth, uncertain whether to venture an opinion or bolt.

"Yes, yes. The coloring, the geometry. Does it call anything to mind?"

"Not... immediately. Unique, I should say." The unicorn took a harder look. "Yes... unique. Excuse me, I have a train..." He sidled off, then hurried towards the station at which we had just disembarked, looking shaken.

"Holmes!" I admonished as we resumed our walk. "You should be ashamed of yourself."

"On the contrary, I have rendered him a service. I have taught him that he is not wise."

"But by deception!"

"That is the difference between you and I, Watson. You are a deontologist; I, a consequentialist."

"I haven't a deuce what you're talking about."

Holmes whinnied briefly. "Thank you, Doctor. It is refreshing to converse with somepony who will admit to not knowing something."

"It is fortunate for our friendship, Holmes," I huffed, "that I do not feel the same."

He tossed his head up and pulled back his lips. "Ha! Touché, Watson!"

He is a horse not given to sentimentalities, observing no emotional allegiances beyond those of close friends and, I charitably assume, family. Yet I have never seen him exercise his sharp wit this way on his fellow earth ponies. It is one of the many contradictions of his character. I would not ordinarily mention such small indulgences of his, but I think this one bears on this case in particular.

"I suppose I will allow you your vices, Holmes, if you will allow me mine."

"Did you have any particular vice in mind?"

"Indeed," I said, already scanning the storefronts along the road. "I plan to find a pub and a pint, and ply you with drink, if need be, until you tell me why you were so intent on arriving here by six for an exhibit that closed at five."

"Ah! I see where that might be confusing. Do not worry about the exhibit; I have an appointment with the curator at six. But it is essential that we see the magic show at seven. I am afraid your drink must wait."

Holmes has a bitter fascination with magic. He has often bemoaned the difficulty of eliminating the impossible when anypony with a horn can violate the laws of physics on a whim, and expressed the opinion that the world would be a good deal more orderly without such nonsense. Yet he devotes entire days to the study of magical theory, and delights in confounding well-educated unicorns with his superior mastery of the subject. He mostly applies this knowledge in eliminating magic as a possibility from his cases. Nonetheless, I could not see his practical study of the matter carrying over into a desire, or even an ability, to be entertained by a magical impresario. I told him as much.

"You are correct, Watson," he replied cheerfully. "We are not going to the show to be entertained. We are going there to witness the theft of the Starry Night."

#1 · 117w, 1d ago · · ·

I always feel considerably less intelligent after reading stories as well thought out and executed as this one is for some reason. I don't know if it's the fact that so many words that I've never used are used in them or what, but yes.

#2 · 117w, 1d ago · · ·

Good show old bean, jolly good show.

#3 · 117w, 1d ago · · ·


#4 · 117w, 1d ago · · ·

A work of art this is, I only hope that the latter pieces are as good as this one :moustache:

#5 · 117w, 19h ago · · ·

the beginning sounds like the intro of a scandal in Bohemia from the adventures of Sherlock Holmes.


#6 · 117w, 4h ago · · ·

>>956919  Had the same feeling.  I was reading it 2 weeks ago and I thought Bad Horse was rewriting the whole thing.

#7 · 116w, 6d ago · · ·

the second paragraph is also familiar but i can't put my finger on it...:twilightangry2:

#8 · 113w, 4d ago · · ·

This feels remarkably like the most recent reiteration of Sherlock on the BBC. Quite good, that one.

#9 · 112w, 6d ago · · ·


#10 · 111w, 3d ago · · ·

Ahhh, lovely.  Just what I needed!  A mad cross-over to keep my day going.  Thanks Bad Horse!


#11 · 106w, 5d ago · · ·

Kinda a rip off of The Emperor's New Clothes.

#12 · 76w, 2d ago · · ·

Pony Holmes? How the hay have I missed this in your back catalogue all this time?  Oh, I am going to savor this, once I get some time to read.

One quibble: "dactylous" labor, from pony lips?

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