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2w, 3dStory Update Weirdness6 comments · 96 views
So I've just posted a new chapter of The Quiet Equestrian—it's awesome, I'm awesome, go read it—and despite it being nearly a week since I posted the last chapter, it's not showing up on the 'latest updates' page. Is there a queue for the latest updates, or is this just a weird bug? DISREGARD THAT, I'M A MORAN
3 comments · 87 views
A writer friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous has written an extra chapter of that Big Mac/Gilda sexy cripplingfest that I mentioned a few blogposts ago. I did some beta'ing on it and it has turned out in a rather sexy manner (and not just in the holy fuck my mind has been terrified into bonerness by the bone crunching of the previous chapter), and since the author is remaining anon, I figged I'd promote it. So go check it out, on Jub's page.
3w, 3dDemesne Side Story Up!1 comments · 89 views
The Quiet Equestrian, ready for viewing.
I'm damn excited about this one—I'm using a bigger group of delightful antagonists than usual (I'll add character tags as they appear in the story), and playing in a wonderfully expansive playground.
13 comments · 157 views
The delightful Queenslandian Mr Numbers has graciously allowed me to flop around in his sandbox with explicit approval.
This is to say, I am writing an official, canon! side-story to The Demesne of the Reluctant Twilight Sparkle, concerning Twilight's attempts to stop the brewing civil war with a team of the most dedicatedly devious individuals she can get her hooves on. Yes, lots of Gilda/Trixie action.
The story is in moderation right now, and since you're all following me (else you would not be reading this blog) you'll get a little notification when the story comes up. I will stick a link here anyway as soon as it's out.
Love you guys,
26 comments · 280 views
NOTE: I posted this review some time ago, labelled as NSFW as it discussed a NSFW story. It got stripped away in the great NSFW purge of 2013. Here it is, reposted, with the NSFW links edited out. Enjoy it in most of its former glory!
Co-written with my boyfriend.
A lot of digital ink has been spilled over AnonAuthor’s Xenophilia, from those who love it, those who hate it, those who praise its sumptuous world building while lamenting its clunky expositional style, those who deride the sex scenes as awkward, to those who label it grade-A fap fodder. (Scarlet's thoughts can be found here.)
Something intrigued me about the role of Lero and Rainbow Dash, not so much their characters or roles in the plot, but their use as emotional tools. I had thoughts running round my head, but it wasn’t until my partner-in-crime (and partner generally) showed me this video that it all clicked:
Campster mentions that while Alyx Vance is a good female character, she’s not a great female character — contrast her level of characterisation with Dr Breen’s, for example — and the reason gamers love her so much and think she’s such an amazing character is that she’s been specifically designed to make you love her. To roughly quote him:
So you’re bumbling around City 17 and you meet this girl. She’s instantly warm and inviting, she gets you out of your current jam and helps you find where you need to go. She’s cool and hip, yet approachable; chaste and innocent yet still flirty; independent and capable yet still fragile in a weird way. Here is this beautiful, single, age-appropriate woman who lives with her father and by all accounts is just waiting for you to arrive, to befriend her robot dog, save her world, and whisk her away.
Pretty sweet deal for you. How could you be so lucky?
BECAUSE SHE WAS ENGINEERED TO MAKE YOU FEEL THAT WAY, YOU DOLT!
The basic premise of the story: Rainbow Dash has a severe crush on all around Good-Guy-Human Lero. Dash finally confesses, Lero considers the proposition, and the pair embark on a relationship. Sex and worldbuilding happen, with a tiny dash of plot added somewhere in the mix.
Lero’s role in this is obvious and a well-worn trope in the human-on-pone genre. He’s the reader insert, and not particularly remarkable except in his highly-competent execution. He has a sense of humor but the readers aren’t forced to groan though godawful ‘witticisms’ or punch the monitor as all the other characters laugh at things that aren’t funny. He banters with Rainbow Dash and shares her interests, while still being his own distinct character. He’s intellectual to a certain extent, but not so much that he verges on Mary Sue territory. He has a masculine occupation — handyman — but he’s a masseur, is quite capable of romance, and apparently the better cook in the relationship. He’s friendly, warm and empathic to everyone he meets.
As an aside, competently-executed reader inserts are rarer than you think. Compare and contrast Lero to the protagonist of This Magic Moment by ScatMan2001, who is a boring, snippy douchebag with a boring military desk-job in Equestria yet manages to earn and keep the romantic affections of Princess Celestia herself. Or the protagonist of Prefsab’s Sophistication and Betrayal, a boring engineer whom Rarity falls head over heels for despite the pair having nothing in common, kept together only by the machinations of the universe that seems to be exclusively on the protagonist’s side. Lero is better constructed because AnonAuthor is apparently smart enough to recognize there are people in the universe who aren't him.
Now, I suggest that a romance protagonist has three components that make the reader love them and their story: connection, fantasy and pathos. We’ll use Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight as an example, as it’s incredibly popular with readers and you’re all probably familiar with the basics from cultural osmosis alone.
Bella Swan is our protagonist. She connects with the reader because she’s just like what Meyer’s fourteen/forty year-old female (initial) readership imagine themselves as. Dark hair, just like you. Loves reading, and is a ‘cut above’ the rest of the dunderheads she’s surrounded by, just like you. Her family are nice, kinda, but don’t understand her and she’s as much their caretaker as they are hers. She’s intellectual but not intimidating, pretty but not beautiful, kinda clumsy, and is the ideal blank slate for the reader to project herself onto.
The fantasy is straightforward — she gains the affections of Edward Cullen, who is explicitly constructed to be the author/reader’s romantic ideal, an amalgamation of Romeo of Romeo and Juliet, Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice, and Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights. Like Romeo, he can think of nothing but Bella, but like Darcy he’s also mature and capable of actually caring for her. The fantasy here is that a man like this — alluring, exciting, dangerous but still loving — will fall for you — YOU, YOU THE READER, READING THIS, YOU — and your life will grow awesome.
If the ‘connection’ component is presenting Bella’s ‘good’ characteristics so that the reader can feel happy projecting themselves onto her, the ‘pathos’ component is presenting the shitty bits of her life so that the reader can better empathise with her. She feels completely alienated in the rainy, gloomy town she’s stuck in. Both of her parents are well-meaning messes and she feels like she’s gone from being the caretaker of one to the caretaker of the other. She’s painfully clumsy, she’s plain, she’s not exciting or a cheerleader or a genius (well, she might be this but only compared to her dull classmates who don’t read things), she’s just an average girl who likes reading and is burdened with a bunch of childlike idiots stuck in Craptown, USA.
Thus, of course, making it all the more special when Edward Cullen appears and uplifts her from her soul-destroying, rainy life.
The problem with this is that pathos is required for emotional impact, but if there’s too much or it’s done wrong, the reader will hate the protagonist and everything they represent. The protagonist will be seen as a whiny, unlikeable douche, and the reader will resent the implication they should project onto them. And if there’s no projection, the romantic triad falls apart and there’s no emotional impact, no catharsis. And the right/wrong amount of pathos varies considerably between readers (ain’t that the truth)
And that’s where Rainbow Dash comes in. All the stallions in Ponyville think she’s ugly and butch, she’s only had sex once, and the stallion dumped her the next day. All the stallions she knows are either taken or are shallow, and are only interested in hot mares who are total douchebags* or her friends, who she loves, but knows that she’ll never be as good with women stallions as, and it hurts her. She frequently gets crushes and they all work out badly, because the stallions only ever want to be friends with her, as if they have some kind of area, or ‘zone’ for romantic partners, and another one for friends, and she always ends up in the latter.
When she finally makes a move, she thinks that Lero isn’t interested and prepares to slink off, he kisses her back. He tells her she’s actually beautiful, and the rest of the stallions are just blind not to notice it. They take the moment where you confess your crush and the person is completely taken by surprise — a nightmare moment for a lonely twenty-year-old boy, who has gone through that exact same thing again and again — and turn it into a moment of pure, liberating, ecstatic catharsis.
Sorry, did I say ‘a lonely twenty-year-old boy’ instead of ‘Rainbow Dash’? I apologise, I have no idea how I could have gotten those two confused after all IT’S ONLY THE ENTIRE SUBTEXT OF RAINBOW DASH’S CHARACTER IN THIS FIC!
That, dear reader, is where your pathos went. Instead of the dangerous balancing act of placing connection, fantasy and pathos all in the same character, AnonAuthor splits the narrative in two. Lero connects to the reader and gets the fantasy of being seen as an awesome dude and banging Rainbow Dash. Rainbow Dash stirs up pathos by being unfairly unloved, and gets the ugly duckling/Cinderella treatment when it turns out she IS loveable after all, and by an awesome person who loves her back and oh she totally gets me she’s just like one of the guys we can talk about anything together it’s like we’re best friends and she’s totally hot — sorry, there I go reversing the genders again when you got the point two paragraphs ago.
This is the grand allure of Xenophilia. Just under the surface is a Nice Guy fantasy, but you aren’t innately repulsed by it because it comes from Rainbow Dash, raised in a different culture from ours (though, note how an explicit comparison is drawn when Lero remarks that ‘in our culture, courtship rituals are reversed’, implying that human males have to go through the exact same horrible shit that Rainbow Dash goes through in a culture with a 5:1 gender imbalance). It’s a story where you can eat your cake and keep it too: You get to feel like the decent, honest and worthwhile Lero, while also feeling the relief of the awesome but unfairly maligned by those bitch cheerleaders stallion culture at large Rainbow Dash when she finally finds love and lust.
So how do we judge Xenophilia with the facade stripped away and the internal mechanics revealed? It’s certainly a novel technique within ponyfic, it paid off in spades in terms of appeal, and AnonAuthor should be applauded for being an early adaptor. Otherwise, there’s a few views you can take.
On the one hand, in light of other HumanDash wish-fulfilment tropes? It’s a good thing that Dash and Lero are constructed this way because it presents a model of HiE wish-fulfilment romance that encourages the reader to try to project into characters who aren’t perfect models of themselves, and forces them to empathize with common experiences rather than common identities. From a strictly critical perspective, it means we can do better- it’s one thing to get people to empathize with characters because ‘look, they’re just like you!’, it’s another to start from scratch and immerse them in a character and make them feel a connection to someone they don’t necessarily want to use as their avatar. Xenophilia might be a best-of-breed, but what that means is that we can always be on the lookout for better.
On the other hand, it’s a blatant emotional manipulation designed to appeal to a certain subset of readers — the poor little straight young male readers, and fuck those guys because everything caters to them already — who get to put themselves in the same position as Dash. They get all the pathos and catharsis of your super amazing crush finally saying yes and validating them as an attractive and wonderful human being, and they also get to pretend to be Lero the omni-capable and omnibenevolent, but separating the two (and dumping the pathos on a character we already love, and justifying it by creating a whole universe so the cards CAN be stacked against her) stops more discerning readers from being grossed out and squickquitting.
When you open Xenophilia, you’re not just seeing a pair of central characters whose story you can immerse yourself in — you’re seeing an escape to a new and fantastic universe where you’re having lots and lots of magical sex with a perfect partner. It’s not immediately obvious who that partner is, however, and therein lies AnonAuthor’s cunning design. You think you’re just enjoying a touching, genuinely poetic love story. You think the writing is sweeping you off your feet. Nope! That’s just your fantasy carrying you away and making you forget that everything you’re seeing is engineered to feed your basest sentiment.
*(In fact, we technically even meet a few- the mares who freak about Rainbow Dash’s interspecies sex. Come to think of it, they’re also a way to make Dash a secondary conduit for reader projection- you jerk to MLP porn or have fantasies involving the characters, people will mock you. Ergo, hey, look, Dash has to deal with that too! in the context of the worldbuilding it works, but it’s worth noting that even details like this subtly reinforce her status as player-character two rather than ‘just’ object of desires.)