• Member Since 15th Dec, 2011
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Neon Czolgosz


"Violence for violence is the rule of beasts" - Barack Obama

More Blog Posts153

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Aug
21st
2014

Alien Shipping Syndrome Is A Terrible Thing · 8:59pm Aug 21st, 2014

Fuzz:
An element of motivation the author was too lazy to supply. The word “somehow” is a useful tip-off to fuzzy areas of a story. “Somehow she had forgotten to bring her gun.”

—Turkey City Lexicon

I know you gentlemen have been through a lot, but when you find the time, I'd rather not spend the rest of this winter TIED TO THIS FUCKING COUCH!

—Station Commander Garry, reflecting on his experiences with imitative, body-stealing alien life forms.



Today’s topic is Alien Shipping Syndrome (or ASS), a malady in romances where chemistry does not occur through shared interests, personal magnetism, or personality traits, but is instead instilled by parasitic brain worms.

ASS is subtly but substantially different from good romantic development. Good romantic development can look like this:

Dash swallowed thickly and let out a slightly shaky laugh. “Thanks for the save, Twi. For a moment there, I thought I was gonna--”

“Stupid!” Twilight’s voice lashed out like the crack of a whip and, when Rainbow glanced up, she found the unicorn glaring down at her with blazing eyes. “That was so stupid! You’re so stupid! I told you not to go over there--I told you it wasn’t safe--but did you listen?”

Dash shrank back, almost involuntarily. “Twi-Twilight?”

“No, you didn’t! Of course you didn’t! You never listen! Because you’re Rainbow Dash, and Rainbow Dash doesn’t listen to anypony!”

Twilight held onto her glare for a few moments longer and then, suddenly and without warning, she burst into tears. Her sobs echoed off of the high ceilings of the ruined building, and Rainbow just sat and stared in silence. The tapestry lay right beside her, forgotten and utterly unimportant. After Twilight’s sobs finally gave way to more muted sniffling, the unicorn whispered, “You could’ve … you almost …”

And it was then that Rainbow Dash understood.

Thrill of Discovery, by Donny’s Boy


Or it can look like this:

“You’re not as annoying as I thought.”

That had been the first mistake. Admitting any sort of positive emotion towards Pinkie was an error of first order. A crack in the shield, a chink in the armor.

“You wanna hang out?”

That had been the second mistake and an even graver one than the first. But Pinkie’s eyes had been so happy and so hopeful, and her laughs had been so infectious, and her smile was as bright and as warm as Celestia’s sun … but, still, it was a mistake.

They spent all day together, playing and pranking and giggling like maniacs, until finally the moon slipped up above the horizon as the sky turned dark. Rainbow Dash couldn’t remember the last time she’d had so much fun in a single day. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt so happy and at ease in another pony’s company. In anyone’s company, really.

It was all a terrible, terrible mistake.

The Lovers That Never Were, again by master genius Donny’s Boy.


It can look like this (and I relish the chance to quote this masterpiece again):

“Well, the thing is... I’m not sure how to explain this. I used to have a roommate. Every time she would get dumped or angry or depressed or moody, she would eat. Like candy or cakes or donuts. She would always feel better afterwards. I guess I’m kind of like that, only with books.”

“Comfort books,” you suggest.

“Yeah, comfort books,” she says, and laughs. “Those were just some of my favorite books. I grabbed them in a rush.”

“You’ve got pretty good taste. They’re all of my favorites too.”

“Really?” she asks, surprised. “You’ve read all of them? Most people I meet have hardly heard of some of them.”

“Well, to be honest,” you say, “I haven’t read Vitruvius. Although I’ve been meaning to. There was an interesting article about him in American Scientist a couple of years ago...”

“Oh was that the one on LFT reactors?” she asks. “I read that same article! That’s why I first picked him up too.”

“And it’s been a long time since I read Foote. I think I might have skipped a section around Vicksburg, but I finished it. You know, what I like about about Foote is that he seems to have a natural Southern bias, but he manages to put it aside completely for the sake of objectivity.”

“Oh, I agree. There’s not a hint of Lost Cause sentiment or propaganda. In fact he destroys its entire foundation.”

“And Vance,” you say, shrugging your shoulders. “What can I say about Vance.”

With her elbow on the table, Twilight places her chin on the palm of her hand and sighs a dreamy sigh. “He’s got such an ear for language. Nobody writes like Vance.”

“You know, I was once reading a review of his work. The point was made that if it wasn’t for a bias against English language sci fi authors, he probably would have won a Nobel for literature.”

“Oh,” the dreaminess seems to disappear. “A Nobel. Huh.”

“Even the place names. It seems such a little thing in all that ocean of prose, but even his place names stood out better than anybody else’s. The Persimmon Sea. The Thaumaturge Sea. Lurulu.”

“The Gaean Reach,” she adds. “The Beyond. The Cobalt Mountains.”

“Alphanor.”

“Barleycorn.”

“Chrysanthe.”

“Diogenes.” You both laugh as you realize that you could keep this up for awhile. You like to discuss books, and neither of you have found somebody else who shared such similar tastes. The conversation you share lasts so long that you lose track of time. You both diverge from Twilight’s original reading list, discussing books that you’ve never read, or that she’s never read. It’s as if you’re feeling around each other, seeing where the other has been and what they know. The busy cafe bustles around you. If you were on time lapsed video, the other patrons would ebb and flow about you like the tides of a sea, while the two of you remained fixed at that table.

I Wish I Might, by RagingSemi


ASS, on the other hand, does not look like any of these things. It looks more like this:
From Here

In Alien Shipping Syndrome, one or both characters in the ship act as if some presence has forced its way into their mind, and is tearing down the wallpaper of their memories and personalities and repainting it with something different. Thoughts that had never occurred to them pulse into the forefront of their brains and refuse to leave. The very logic of their worldview seems to shift, a schizophrenic delusion where everything suddenly makes sense.

Symptoms of Alien Shipping Syndrome include sentences like ‘Rainbow Dash couldn’t understand why she was so hot from thinking about Rarity,’ and ‘Applejack didn’t know why she’d never thought this way about Spike before,’ and ‘Twilight was confused. Why couldn’t she stop thinking about Pinkie Pie all of a sudden? She’d never felt like this before.’

Physical symptoms include stammering, pondering, long introspective walks to reach obvious conclusions, blinking in confusion, inability to grasp obvious hints, dramatic shifts in canon personality to accommodate a new, naive personality, and frequent blushing.

The latest case of shipping brainworms is recent feature-box topper Spike Through The Heart, by Golden Graham. Here are some choice quotes:

In all the years they had been living together, not once - not once - had she considered the possibility that Spike might see her like that. The thought hadn't even occurred to her. She had practically raised him since the day he had hatched, and he had become such an integral part of her life, that she had never even thought to look at him as anything other than Spike.

As you can see above, the initial infection has begun and the brain worms are already implanting thoughts. This comes as a surprise to the patient, but the brain worms have already influenced her to the extent that she does not immediately seek treatment.

Dear Celestia, was she blushing too? Twilight quickly turned away to hide her embarrassment.
"That..." she squeaked, before clearing her voice to speak more evenly. "I think that's enough talk about your book report today, Spike. Good job. I, uh...I should really be getting back to work here..."

Physical symptoms and behavioural tics set in quickly. Mere paragraphs after initial infection, she is blushing and avoiding eye contact. Speech disorders follow immediately, squeaking and coughing and stammering all within three sentences.

What was wrong with her!? Why was she making such a big deal out of all this? It was just Spike growing up! No big deal! She knew it was going to happen eventually, didn't she? Well, the part where he'd suddenly start blushing around her was unexpected, but that was because she hadn't expected him to look at her like that! It would just take some getting used to, and then things would just go back to normal, right? This was all just a phase he was going through, and it would pass with time, right.

As the infection progresses the patient realises there is something deeply wrong, but like a hypothermia sufferer performing paradoxical undressing, her brain functions are now so severely compromised that she is incapable of seeking correct treatment. From here, her condition is sure to worsen.

"Have you considered the possibility, Twilight..." [Celestia] began, in a slow, deliberate tone "That maybe, out of the two of you, Spike isn't the only one who may have feelings for the other?"
Twilight's eyes widened substantially.
"M-Me!?" she demanded, flabbergasted. "Interested in Spike?"

Here, the patient’s faculties are degraded to the extent that she is taking ponderous visits to see her mentor and is unable to reach simple conclusions. Her speech is littered with stuttering and said-bookisms, and she must rephrase the simplest of questions just to understand them.

By now, the prognosis is truly dire. The worms will soon migrate to the genitals, leading to a round of halting, nervous sex described in stale prose.*

Flippancy aside, I must confess: Spike Through The Heart is far from the worst example of ASS ever foisted on the FIMfic community. I’ve read dozens of brain-worm ships from the feature box alone, but I’ve never got around to pointing them out. Why? Because they’re so forgettable. I see a fic, and by the time I’m ready to write a blogpost, I’ve forgotten its name and author.

That’s part of the reason why Alien Shipping Syndrome is a bad writing habit: It makes for forgettable stories because they reduce every ship to the exact same thing. Chemistry is ignored in favor of a mild fever with gutwobbles, personality traits are subsumed into tweenish stammering, all the wonderful uniqueness of characters and the flavors of their relationships are thrown aside in favor of overdone, undersalted and undersweetened mush. It’s romance by those who have not experienced it, or those unable to turn lived experience into prose, or those who have simply read so many dull, generic romances that they see no other way of writing them.

Of course, it’s also a reflection of a cardinal writing sin: Fuzz.

The ‘fuzz’ is pure laziness—’somehow’ feeling these things, characters ‘not knowing’ why they suddenly find one another pure sex. ‘Somehow’ and all its forms are substituted for motivation. Characters do not do things because they are internally driven to do them, instead they act because the writer is jerking and twitching them around on stage like a marionette, where the reader can see the strings.

So why is this strange, stilted form of shipping so popular?

My personal theory is that the authors have confused love with validation.

Let’s face it: early relationships are rarely about love. They’re not entirely about sex either. When virgins are mocked in popular culture, it’s not because they’re unable to physically perform sex, or because they’re voluntarily celibate, it’s because nobody wants them.

Look at how these crude ships play out: Pony A isn’t excited because Pony B wants them, Pony A is excited because Pony B wants them. The story makes it clear: The important thing about the relationship isn’t chemistry or shared traits or compatible personalities, it’s that both ponies are willing to be in a relationship with each other. That’s the low, low bar the author is tripping over, because it’s not about the qualities of the relationship, it’s about what the relationship represents.

Safety. Acceptance. Validation.

This, I think, is a perversion of romance, especially when the author straight-up tells you it’s romance. It turns romance from a partnership to an acquisition, a pot of Ben & Jerry's for the ego, a body-pillow with a pulse.

It’s shallow. It’s dull. It’s the kind of thing that appeals to unlucky-in-love seventeen year olds who don’t yet see other people as people.

And so obviously, I expect to see it popping up, slug-like, in FIMfiction’s verdant feature-box for some time to come.



*Caveat: I did not actually read the sex scenes in Spike Through The Heart. After my quibbles both with the chemistry and with the characterisation, I was thoroughly turned off the fic and had no desire to continue. I am simply extrapolating from ASS cases that I have read in the past.

Report Neon Czolgosz · 4,436 views ·
Comments ( 40 )

Funny thing is, we also have examples where one pony deploys actual brain worms to get the affection of her loved one. And it can be awesome.

Thank you for articulating this, especially the concept of fuzz. I had never even thought about the concept of fuzz before, but it makes so much sense. :twilightsmile:

I love you.

My personal theory is that the authors have confused love with validation.

This and everything that followed it is the best thing I've read all day.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

Thank god for Chuckfinley.

This has made me pause and re-examine my writing (yay more delays!) and... well.

People need to hear this. It's an important distinction.

You are so gloriously articulate in your analysis. Reading your posts is like having an intellectual orgasm!

... oh dear Celestia, that was more than I intended to say... huh. I guess I AM a little too much like Twilight.:twilightblush:

Well said, however, as you stated, Golden Grahm's work isn't the worst case of "ASS." I would like to point out that this is his/her first published work on Fimfiction. He/She is obviously going to improve as he/she continues writing the series and, for his/her first work, its a far ways away from horrible.

I can understand your aversion to it, but I wouldn't put it down just yet. it is after all taking its first steps into the cluttered fields of Fimfiction.

This blog has taught me exactly what I needed to know. Soon my very special plan will come to fruition. *obligatory evil laugh*

That's a great point about validation. I always figured it was authors watching too much anime, but that makes a lot more sense.

The worst of it is that they're spread by flesh-to-flesh contact; even casual shoulder to shoulder contact, hugs, nuzzles, or even accidental collisions can result in the spread of this horrific infection.

It is all downhill from there. But then their friends, they're happy for them, and it is hugs all around, further spreading the infection, resulting in more ponies stammering, stuttering, and blushing.

It is a terrible thing to see.

I was going to quote the parts of this post that made me laugh, but then I'd be quoting half of it.

It's nice to see the bottom of the barrel analyzed so thoroughly. Knowing what not to do can be even more helpful than the alternative. Thank you, Chuck. :twilightsmile:

You know, I've always noticed this and never had a way to articulate what was wrong with it. In fact, I started to believe, for a moment, that that is how people actually sometimes fall in love. The main reason is that's how I kind of came across my first girlfriend. Long story short, I never really thought of her until we got into a spat about someone saying I called her a whore. After I wrote a rather well-worded email (because that's what I did back in the day), she asked if I was saying I liked her. And then I started to think about her, and then I liked her. It was weird.

Anyway, this at least gives me a clearer picture. I'll never be swayed to believe that side again! Thanks for writing this post, my friend. It's perfect.

This reminds me of what Harlan Ellison said about love. In a really tight nut-shell, he said that love looked like this. Harlan's mother loved Chinese food. His father, on the other hand, hated it. However, every sunday, he'd say to his wife, "How about we go out for some Chinese food?"
She'd smile and go for it. While she dined on her beloved Chinese food, he ordered the veal cutlet.
Every time. THAT, my friends, is what love is.

The whole love/validation thing is probably why so many people hate clop-fics for the same reason.
(I like "Rumble Splits Lickety" because it was sexy, but also funny.)

Absolutely excellent blog post.

Unfortunately, more than anything else, it's got me worried that this is how I've been writing romance. Eesh. Well, the first step toward correcting a problem is to recognize that it's there.

The latest case of shipping brainworms is recent feature-box topper Spike Through The Heart

There's a reason I don't read shit like that when I see it in the feature box. Quite frankly, I'm surprised you did. Or maybe you are curious what kinds of writing blunders stories like that employ. Then again, I tend to stray away from shipfics as a whole, because, yeah, they usually turn out to be shit. Let's just face it, they do. Sure there are a few gems out there... what's the term for this? Sturgeon's Law? Yeah.

God I could never fully understand what irked me so much about that intrusive thought shit until I read this. Romance doesn't work like that unless you're so stupid you can barely breathe and eat at the same time.

Welp.

This is an excellent blog post.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

2390223
Thank Chuckfinley for Chuckfinley.

You can pull off the 'blind to love's infestation' thing: I did that in 'Derpy Desires' between Derpy and Rarity. Each were intent on winning an entirely different pony: Derpy wanted Twi, and if I remember correctly Rarity was distracted by her BDSM relationship going awry, and was getting scared of Twi.

Technically what you do to accomplish that is, you let the characters try to pursue their stated intentions, but keep reminding the reader there's more than one solution to the problem. Derpy was enamored of Twilight's powerful magic (in a worshipful way that wouldn't have really worked anyhow, not with mind-proud Twilight who was contemptuous of dull Derpy). Rarity had a dark past and tended to seek punishment acting out her sense of guilt. Derpy was fixated on Twi as the smart awesome magic pony, and Rarity was fixated on her kinky guilt-indulging. But, Rarity was using magic all the while (being another unicorn) and Derpy was earnestly grateful for any kindnesses Rarity did for her…

So, Derpy keeps getting rebuffed by Twilight and comforted by Rarity, and Rarity keeps getting that steady reinforcement of 'in this context you're not bad: this pony thinks you're wonderful'. And when they clue in it's like a thunderbolt, but only because the whole groundwork has been laid for the reader, with character-driven reasons why each would work great with the other.

And when they do get together, Rarity is totally smart and magical enough to meet all of Derpy's fantasies, and Derpy's stubbornly loving nature is exactly what Rarity needs to counter her drama-pony angst-fits. But this has been shown ahead of time, not just asserted. It's just that they don't see it in that context at first, because they're fixated on other, similar ideas.

Any dynamic CAN be written. It's just that some take a lot more work than others. It took three books to get Rarity to the point where she could hook up with a 'vanilla', truly loving partner and accept that. She'd have refused before then, on the grounds that she was a hideous (but fabulous) wretch who had no business doing anything sincere. :duck:

2390967
I think that falls well within what he's saying, though.

Basically, it's not that someone couldn't be in love with or interested in someone else and not notice it, or refuse to acknowledge it. But when they are, they didn't "somehow" never notice it, there's a reason they never noticed it. They were preoccupied, they thought their feelings were of a different nature, they were focused on things they didn't like about the person, they willfully suppress their romantic feelings... but a writer needs to show that and make it part of the story. In fact, if someone is writing a romance, that's kind of... what the story should be: Why is this romance not happening already and what needs to be done to make it happen?

As an example, I was watching the movie Clueless the other day in a fit of nostalgia (it's really is a good movie, too.) At the climax, the main character realizes she's been in love the whole time, but she also knows why she didn't see it (she was too focused on what she thought was right for her and everyone else.) It works because it's literally the plot of the whole movie. Another movie that gets away with it is When Harry Met Sally.

In those cases, as with your example, it's not that they "somehow" didn't notice it, the plot shows us every step of the way why they aren't noticing it, and how they do eventually notice it is the plot of the story.

2391186
Absolutely. You gotta write the 'not getting it' extra convincingly, it can't be the lazy default (which I guess it typically is, huh?)

If ever I write 'for some reason', it's because there is some unstated thing I am mercilessly beating into the ground so hard that I felt the need to lampshade it :rainbowlaugh:

2389245

No. Bad archonix. Consult Dean Wesley Smith until the wrong thoughts are out of your head. Then write some damn stuff.

And then ask me about Darf.

2391484

Good. Read that stuff. Then ask me about darf when you've read that stuff.

2391491 What about Darf?

I'm a speed reader. honest

2391504

At the height of his FIMficcery, Darf kicked out two 6k fics every week, interspersed with the odd 10-20k monster on top of those and the occasional giant poetry collaboration, (as well as a college Lit course and a part-time job). For him, writing 5k words in four days was the doldrums.

Now, Darf wasn't a Dick or a Wodehouse—plotting was a very small part of his writing, and I'd argue his pieces that most emphasised intricate plotting were his weakest—but his characterisation was always standout and his prose was always delightful. I cannot fault his prose. It's sumptuous, dark, always fitting, always gorgeous.

His work wasn't flawless, even his prose. Dig in deep enough and you can find something to nitpick, I'm sure. It doesn't matter. In terms of output to quality, I'd call him peerless. I might prefer individual works of other authors, but none of them have come close to putting out as much consistent, high-quality erotica as he did.

And y'know what? I talked to Darf a few times. Motherfucker didn't redraft shit. He wrote a piece, read it for obvious things in need of fixing, sent it to his pre-reader, made suggested edits, and posted it. He had a lot of pieces that he wasn't happy with, even pieces that he couldn't stand—pieces that I loved, and so did half of FIMfiction!—but instead of trying to stir it over for years and years until he liked it, he posted the damn thing and moved on to his next piece.

And it worked, and he frequently produced masterpieces. If I type a letter into my address bar on firefox, there's about a 40% chance it'll come up with one or more of his fics in 'suggestions'.

It worked because your critical voice is not a good judge of your actual writing ability. Your actual writing side is a good author (speaking of you, archonix, specifically), but the part of your brain that says 'hey that's gonna be shit if you do that' can't be trusted. Leave the thinking side of editing to a trusted beta-reader, and work on improving between pieces.

2391588 Funny, I keep telling the wife something very similar. Crazy how we can pass out advice we don't even follow, isn't it?

Mein gott... WE are the parasitic brain worms! It's all one of those old Doctor Who episodes that were like half-hour dystopian sci-fi novels! :twistnerd:

I don't write, or read, shipping or erotica, but this post is still quite useful; the principle can be applied to most pony interactions.

Heck, I tend to overplan everything, hunting for motivations for everything I can, and still somehow[1] a few of those still slip through, so it was a good wake up call for me.

[1] laziness, usually.

I hope you know that you've ruined me now... I can't help but notice this now, when previously I'd just pass over this in a story that I'm not really reading for the story IYKWIM :raritywink:

Now I see this in a story and all I can think is "Argh, the worms are in my brain!" which totally brings into focus when I'm reading a terrible fic.

So I hope you're happy now. You've taken away my ignorance and destroyed my ability to blissfully read through terrible clop.:facehoof:

2411010

It's insidious, isn't it? It's one of those flaws where you see it and then you see the dozen other flaws of craft and failures of work-ethic in a piece.

In fact, it's part of a greater problem that someone smarter than me called 'trappings' (might have been Limyaael). Instead of creating a scene or an image or evoking an emotion, the badwriter just uses writerly shorthand for that sort of scene or image or emotion.

A horror writer adds skeletons and dribbly candles and old men in dark hoods to her story not because they create a scary atmosphere together, but because she's seen them in other scary stories and assumes adding them means adding horror. A romance writer adds a forbidden love plot and giggling over a shared meal and kisses that feel like fireworks taste because he's seen those features all over the genre, and feels they make a successful story. High-Fantasy authors write dying, etheral elves and squat, cheerful dwarves and aloof rangers because hey, that's what you do, right?

A lot of prose is like this, and it's less noticeable when the prose is just a vehicle to push the plot and characters along. You'd barely notice stale prose in a Phillip K Dick book (not that there's much stale prose in his work) because you've got whiplash from the plot twists.

But in comedy, erotica and romance, prose is important. It doesn't need to be complex—for every AppleoosanPsychiatrist and Seanbaby, there's a RagingSemi and a P.G. Wodehouse—but it can't be stale. You can't have the same old overdone and untrue images playing over and over on loop. Your prose, plotting and characterisation must work towards a common purpose, not a hash of any old elements thrown in until it blocks your story up like dishwater detritus clogging up a sink.

Symptoms of Alien Shipping Syndrome include sentences like ‘Rainbow Dash couldn’t understand why she was so hot from thinking about Rarity,’ and ‘Applejack didn’t know why she’d never thought this way about Spike before,’ and ‘Twilight was confused. Why couldn’t she stop thinking about Pinkie Pie all of a sudden? She’d never felt like this before.’

Heh, it's especially bad when Lampshaded like this, because these are the questions the reader is asking himself. And what's worse, they won't get any answer more profound then "because you love him/her," which is not an answer because the real question is why the character loves him or her.

At this point there is usually some cop-out about love being mysterious and strange and irrational. While it is true that the reasons why someone loves someone else may not be immediately obvious, normal or wholly-rational, there always are reasons, discernible either by the one who loves or by others who observe that person's behavior over time.

When the two characters have never in canon been shown to love one another, or even very strongly or specially like one another, there needs to be an explanation. In fact, I'll go beyond that -- there needs to be an explanation even if the characters are in canon lovers, as this is the writer's story and he is lying down on the job if he just assumes character motivations based on the TV show.

To take a totally canon example, Shining Armor and Cadance love one another. It is not at issue that they are lovers: they are in fact married. However, if I were to write a story centering on them, I'd at least make some stray indication of what they love about one another. Or don't love about one another (even the truest love is never perfect).

Does Shining love Cadance more for her beauty? Her kindness? Her intelligence? Her sense of humor? Or for some other qualities which he notices and finds important, even if we might not see them at a casual glance? (Possibly some private or secret qualities that they only reveal to each other -- and I'm not just talking about sex here).

Does Cadance love Shining for his courage? His intelligence? His moral integrity? His emotional strength? Again, we can't assume in either case that they rank each others' virtues exactly the way that we would -- they are different people either than the writer or the reader, and they have their own priorities.

How does Rarity love Spike? (It's obvious in-show that she does love him in some fashion: she likes having him around her, she leaps to his defense when he is criticized, and in the last few eps of Season Four she starts becoming very physically-affectionate toward him). Does she love him as a pet? A friend? A child? A potential mate? An actual mate? (My guess is that she's gone through all of these stages save "actual mate" by the end of Season Four -- in other words, she's gotten to the point of thinking "If only you were a bit older ...")

Why does Rarity love Spike? Remember, she's an attractive and sophisticated mare with easy access to the Canterlot elite, and an explicit plan to marry a high-status stallion. So how did her emotions get sidetracked to the point that she's doting over a young Dragon? I'm pretty sure that if you outlined the situation Rarity is in emotionally by the end of Season Four to the Rarity we meet at the start of the show, she would flat-out deny that she could ever feel this way. What does Spike offer Rarity, emotionally, that she finds so irresistible? And why?

The need to explain the situation is even greater when presenting a love which the show does not in any way hint as existing. For instance, there is no reason in-show to assume that Twilight and Rarity are in love. They say and do nothing romantic to one another; they are clearly good friends, but there is no reason to assume that either of them is attracted to mares in general or each other in particular.

If you don't show them feeling love for one another -- and I mean feeling the emotion, with thoughts or declarations of what they love about one another -- then the love is unbelievable. (This is true even if you explicitly describe them having sex, and if you show them having sex without showing them feeling love for one another, you do violence to their character concepts ... since when have Twilight or Rarity shown themselves the sort of mares who would be just peachy-keen with loveless sex?)

And showing love doesn't mean showing romantic rituals, like going to expensive restaurants or buying each other presents. They might well do this -- it's actually part of Rarity's canon character that she likes rituals of this sort -- but their doing this shows nothing about how they feel, and still less does it explain why they feel. Showing such rituals is far less important than depicting a single meaningful conversation or describing one person's admiration for another in terms of the reasons.

If you want to make love believable, you have to show how and why the characters are in love. And if you've never shown it, the audience may well not believe it.

It's actually easier in fanfic, you know, because the audience has a good concept of the characters. In more general fiction, all] characters are Original Characters, so you have to start from scratch.

But fanfic does mean that you have to take into account canon portrayals. Either to confirm them, or to defy them. (Maybe your Twilight Sparkle is a nymphomaniac who has sex with everypony in town. If so, though, you'll have to portray that character convincingly -- and probably explain why she's so different from the one we see on the show).

The point is that the audience has to believe in what you're showing.

Let’s face it: early relationships are rarely about love. They’re not entirely about sex either. When virgins are mocked in popular culture, it’s not because they’re unable to physically perform sex, or because they’re voluntarily celibate, it’s because nobody wants them.

The other reason, of course, for virginity is that one has very high standards, hasn't yet met someone who meets them, and is confident enough in one's own worth that one won't settle for less. The existence of this other reason is responsible for what I find one of the most annoying clichés regarding Twilight Sparkle -- that she's desperate to be loved.

I have read (or stopped reading, halfway) numerous shipfics in which the plot basically amounts to "Twilight is sad cause she doesn't think anypony will ever love her cuz she's nerdy. Hero comes onto scene and sweeps her off her hooves. See, somepony can love her."

The reason for these stories is in part that Twilight is almost certainly a virgin in canon, and there's a bleedover from the pop-culture idiots who assume that this means that she lacks attractiveness. Actually, the reasons for Twilight's virginity are obvious:

(1) Until recently, she wasn't much interested even in friendship, let alone love, so she didn't fall in love with anypony,
(2) Twilight is an extremely honorable scion of the gentry, and casual sex is outside her behavior space, and
(3) Given her immensely high intelligence and social status, very few Ponies would be fit matches for her.

For that matter, given that Twilight and her friends are aged around 17-22 based on the evidence when we first meet them, if some of them are virgins this doesn't require much explanation -- they're young. They haven't yet met anyponies they consider their Mr. Rights. The same would be true if you took a sample of young women in the modern West, and Equestria is more sexually-conservative than is the modern West.

The members of the Mane Six are not undesirable. They are extremely desirable, by the standards of their own culture. Twilight Sparkle is an Alicorn Princess (and even before then was the close friend of Princess Celestia). Three of them (Rarity, Applejack and Fluttershy) are canonically considered exceptionally beautiful. All are of above-average intelligence and virtue (in fact they are Embodiments of Virtue). What stallion wouldn't want them?

For them, the question is more along the lines of "What stallion would be worthy of me?" than "Will anypony ever love me?" Also, since most of the Mane Six are kind of weird, "What stallion would be compatible with me?" But if they just wanted sex, it would be rather easy for them to get it. In abundance.

The reason writers imagine them as unloved or unlovable is simple. They want to write fantasies in which self-insertion characters fall in love with them, and this works better if the mares don't realize their own desirability. Which is a despicable motive IMO, since it degrades the glory of the characters.

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To be fair I can actually see Fluttershy wondering "Will anypony ever love me?" (or more precisely, "Who could possibly ever love me?"), because her demonstrated behavior in the series can be interpreted as low self esteem and severe social anxiety, occasionally shading into depression. Though even then I think Fluttershy also holds "What stallion would be worthy of me?", though without quite phrasing it that way in her head... she wouldn't give up who she is for love, and she wouldn't fall in love with a pony who loved her just because he loved her. I couldn't see her, under any circumstances, falling in love with the average bland HiE hero, because those guys are usually very flat, one-dimensional people, though I could see her falling in love with a human who was written with dimension and complexity.

But yes, I think that if you're going to establish that a pony is suddenly in love with their best friend that they've known for multiple seasons without being in love with them, you have to be really good at establishing why their feelings have suddenly changed. I know from personal experience that it is possible to fall in love with a platonic friend, but you don't wake up one day and say "Why does my heart suddenly beat faster when I see so-and-so?" it may take time to figure out that what you're feeling is love, but by the time you figure it out, it is likely that you've actually been feeling it for quite some time, and the feelings themselves aren't the surprise, it's the recognition that they are romantic rather than platonic love.

Also never do this to Celestia or Luna. Seriously, adult women who've been around the block romantically know what it feels like, and I cannot accept any interpretation of beautiful, powerful mares who are much more than a thousand years old that says they've never had romantic feelings for anyone, unless they're asexual, in which case they are not going to suddenly start. I could see interpretations of Discord where he's clueless that what he's feeling is love because Discord canonically has very little experience with even having friends, but if Celestia or Luna fall in love, they're gonna know it.

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(*nods*) If you've been following my versions of the Mane Six, you'll notice that Fluttershy and Rarity are the two who lose their virginities to unworthy lovers, and for opposite reasons. Fluttershy is so insecure about whether she's loveable that she is willing to give herself to Nosey, whom she's just met, and he was never interested in her beyond a one-night stand. Rarity is so sure she's irresistible that she assumes that Rush Rocks must love her -- and he was just looking for a lower-status chippie to amuse him through his school days. (The third non-virgin at the time of Luna's Return, Applejack, consummated her love for Landscape at 20 just before he went off to seek his fortune and fell into the hands of Hive Evergloom).

Fluttershy's lack of self-esteem, especially at the start of the series, is quite canonical.

Though even then I think Fluttershy also holds "What stallion would be worthy of me?", though without quite phrasing it that way in her head... she wouldn't give up who she is for love, and she wouldn't fall in love with a pony who loved her just because he loved her.

Oh yes. Even in Fluttershy's Night Out, Bad Horse's story from which I borrowed the central incident in the backstory of A Robust Solution, Nosey has to court her. And Fluttershy, at that point in her life, was desperately lonely -- she had no friends, so she was much more vulnerable than she is in the actual series.

I couldn't see her, under any circumstances, falling in love with the average bland HiE hero, because those guys are usually very flat, one-dimensional people, though I could see her falling in love with a human who was written with dimension and complexity.

Most of the HiE's are just generic teenagers or early 20-somethings who are personally either just immature and not very romantically-loveable (the guy who goes on and on about TV shows and video games and popular music and has no intellectual or emotional depth) or outright monstrous (the same guy, but going on about how much jolly fun it is to kill things for real). It's really hard to imagine national heroines who are embodiments of specific Virtues being enamored of persons matching these descriptions.

Also never do this to Celestia or Luna. Seriously, adult women who've been around the block romantically know what it feels like, and I cannot accept any interpretation of beautiful, powerful mares who are much more than a thousand years old that says they've never had romantic feelings for anyone, unless they're asexual, in which case they are not going to suddenly start.

I could see one of them suddenly realizing that she loved somepony because that other character had changed, though even there it would not necessarily come as a surprise to a being who has seen many, many generations of stallions grow and mature. My Luna actually goes out of her way to befriend brave, smart and likeable Ponies as colts or young stallions, in the hope that they may fall in love with her later on, and she thus be able to remain with a lover for many decades -- her main problem, romantically, is that those she loves inevitably die. She's mostly monogamous -- but there aren't exactly a lot of fellow immortals for her to love.

Have you ever played the game "Legend of Heroes: Trails in the sky"? While a really good game, I've noticed they fall into ASS a bit, when they try shipping the two main characters. While they get along really great, and have an incredible raport...the game fails a good bit at moving from that, to a romance.

LOOOTS of "Why am I thinking this..."

Noc

I don’t have much to say about your post in general – you make great points and I have nothing to add to it – but I still wanted to thank you for mentioning RagingSemi’s I Wish I Might. I never would’ve discovered it (and fallen in love with it) if not for your plug, so thanks again for that.

(Also, I really like your stories, hope you’re still writing! Button Slash in particular is one of my fave smut pieces – so much concentrated unf.)

Do you think that romance fics that have only one of the parties suffering from A.S.S usually end up having the author "mold" the other through the actions of that character to better attend to the goal of them being a relationship together?

Rather than having the other think for themselves and act on their own accord if they want to recipocrate to those feelings?

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