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Georg


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Jan
9th
2015

Author notes on The Night Guard - Night Mares, the sequel to A War of Words - The Opening of the Guard · 11:37pm Jan 9th, 2015

I’ve had a number of questions about my story Night Mares, and I thought the best way to answer them would be a blog post. I promise not to whine or complain about comments, other than simply “Waa, you suck!” posts, which will simply be ignored. (One must describe just why said story sucks, or you’re trolling.)

With no more tl;dr, here we go.

Q: So when did you decide to write a sequel to The Opening of the Guard?

A: I almost always plan on writing a sequel for everything I write. This idea started with the names of the characters (which I’ll cover later) and really can be traced back to a comment in War of Words about 5 weeks after publication:

>> Tomi I have to admit, the thought did cross my mind. Most likely not done in the same style, except maybe an excerpt from a note as each chapter's head. It had occurred to me, that the Canterlot Police might not send their rejects on to the Palace, but might instead be sending their version of Dirty Harriet and Michelle Hammer. That first day at weapons training, might look a little like this:
Trainer: Now lady, I'm going to come at you with this knife, and I want you to--
*Crack*
*Snap*
*whine!*
Mrs. Banehammer: "You haff de right to remain silent, but if you haff any brains, you've going to tell me where you got dot knife, or I'll dislocate your odder shoulder."

As you can tell, this almost made it verbatim into the Petunia/Banehammer training section in Chapter Two. Now why it took two years for me to write it… I wasn’t idle, because I wrote twenty-one stories in the meantime (some around 100k words), but I blame the darned Real World combined with… well, see below.

Q: So why didn’t you write it in the same style as A War of Words?

A: Because I couldn’t do it justice in a collection of notes format. I tried. Those notes have been burned. It just didn’t hold together at all, there was no coherent narrative, the plot thread was horribly tangled, etc…

Q: So why do you have the Royal Guard as an all-male organization? Seems awfully sexist for the show.

A: Because there have not been any Royal Guards shown in the show that are female (ed note: except the Wonderbolts, who aren’t RG). It’s that simple.

I can only state my personal headcanon as to why that might have happened, so bear with me. A thousand years ago, put yourself in the Captain of the Guard's position right after Celestia banished her sister and see the psychological reaction of the despondent alicorn to any dark-hued armored female guard who reminds her of Nightmare Moon. Celestia would not have ordered it, but there would have been a shift in the way the guard was deployed, with more male officers and fewer female ones around Her Highness, because after all, Celestia is the *only* alicorn on Equestria at this time, and if anything psychological happens to her (like her sister), the sun will not come up. The tradition of bleaching the colorful guards to a uniform snow-white could easily be explained this way, as well as a general reduction in the compliment of mares until they go from a minority to an exception to 'We had female Royal Guards?' Tradition being the repetition of behavior long after the triggering stimuli, the monoculture of the male Royal Guard could easily remain in place until Luna's return and this subsequent reaction.

Q: Characters: Why did you make a third Commander? You already had the Day and Night ones. Why not just use them?

A: Because I didn’t want to have to write between two different primary POV characters, so I introduced the Academy Commandant as a ‘merged’ link. Canon has never covered what happens between joining and becoming a Royal Guard. It just seems that the collection of strong young stallions around the castle spring out of the ground where Celestia has strewn her dragon’s teeth. (Actually, that’s a neat fic idea. “Twilight, I have some bad news about your big brother. He’s actually a tooth.”)

Q: So how did you come up with the personalities for the characters?

A: Well, Commandant Snowy Peaks was fairly easy, although I’ve gotten some pointed criticism. I needed him to be as opposed to the idea of integrating the Royal Guard as possible, while still being able to carry out his orders. This is also why I made the Commandant position as somewhat subordinate to the Day and Night Commander positions, instead of making it a semi-retirement spot for old warhorses.

Kudzu is Spike. Seriously. Spike exists because otherwise Twilight would be talking to herself. Kudzu exists because otherwise Snowy will be talking to himself. The more droll and straight I played him, the better he seemed to work. Pairing him up with Grace was an accident.

For the ladies, I went with their names and titles directly from A War of Words (WW):
Mrs. Thermal, Lieutenant, Vice Squad <- Seriously considering a retcon to Corporal
Mrs. Banehammer, Sergeant, Equicide
Mrs. Rose Petal, Sergeant, Domestic Violence
Miss Grace, Lieutenant Commander, Office of Special Investigation

At the point I wrote WW, I had no clear plans for personalities to go with the names other than Banehammer (who practically wrote herself) and Grace, who I had pegged as one of the brilliant-loner types. So I sat down with some rough guidelines and wrote their physical descriptions first, because I’m shallow.


-One of each pony type (well, two unicorns, because it’s Canterlot)
-One of each age category: Young Twenties, Late Twenties, Late Forties, Sixties
-Each of them has children except Grace, the hyperachieving loner.
-All of their children are grown, except Thermal’s (because Standing Water was a blast to write).
-All of them have a major Flaw: Banehammer is a widow with a relatively violent nature which is getting stronger as she is getting older, Grace is not a ponies-pony and has to deal with photographic memory and killing a suspect, Rose has been through a recent mental shock that I kept undescribed, and Thermal attracts the wrong kind of pony (I based her off a person I knew in college).
-All of them know each other from the night shift at the Canterlot PD, although none of them were under another’s direct command. Banehammer and Rose seemed the closest because they’re nearly mirrors of each other.
-All of them are seriously bright, Grace to a painful extreme. Thermal hides it well.
(Note that the ranks are a little goofy, because Thermal is one of the youngest Lieutenants in the force, which I excuse from her time as a teenager working with the Vice squad already, and look, it’s a squirrel!)


Q: You’ve gotten flack over Chapter Two, where the four mares get a combat training scene. Why did you set things up the way you did?

A: There were three points that I needed to hit on this chapter to set things up the way I wanted. In order for the mares to be taken seriously, they all had to succeed in the combat training scenes. In order to show they were police officers, they all needed to treat the scene in accordance with their training. And in order to show the flaws in their personality style (set above), they all needed to handle the situation with a certain degree of wrong.

Thermal: Her first reaction to the attack is to get out of range and blow her whistle, which is exactly the way her police training would dictate. Her reaction to the second attack is to catch the attacker flat-hoofed and attack first. Note this is not police procedure, but is a practiced maneuver from her self-defense classes (shown later), which mixes with her troubled history to make a reaction which would have been… unfortunate, had she been facing a real attacker.

Grace: Note that she checks with Peaks to determine the boundaries of the scene, and that one of her fellow officers has just been treated rather roughly, psychologically if not physically. One might think that frigid exterior hides a little fire, maybe. Quite certainly this is not the way the CPD would have trained her to react to a threat, and if her opponent in the real world had been willing to ‘take the shot’ and continue despite being stabbed with a little knife, she would then be stabbed with a big knife.

Rose: Her experience in Domestic Violence shows here. It’s one of the most dangerous police specialties, because a fighting couple can both turn on the officer in a heartbeat. She stalls, calms down the opponent (with unicorn cheating), and that’s it, much as she has probably done dozens of times on Domestic Disturbance calls. However, she doesn’t have a partner here. If she had gotten unlucky and Petunia had shrugged off the spell, she had no fallback position.

Banehammer: Older, experienced, and brutally strong. From the taunting she did in order to make Petunia attack, one suspects she has filled out more than one report that starts ‘…The suspect then attacked myself with a knife and was disarmed…’ and ends with ‘…suspect is currently housed in the Canterlot hospital under security until they are released for trial…’ Perhaps she has a rubber stamp for the form. She’s actually the best one to spar with Petunia and the closest match to his skill set, but dislocating somebody’s shoulder during sparring is a sign of poor discipline. (In college, we had a married couple unintentionally break his arm when they were sparring in the dojo. They said the hardest thing was getting the emergency room to understand that yes, she broke her husband’s arm, but no, the police did not need to be notified. Even though they did call, and the couple had to explain it all over again.)

Reactions: Remember that Peaks is supposed to be approving these mares to be the supposed inner wall, the last line of defense against an attacker. Bodyguards are supposed to be unexpectedly lethal, so they don’t frighten the associates of the client. Guards are supposed to be obviously dangerous, with external symbols such as armor and weapons to promote a presence. Compare this for example with the real-world DC police force and the Secret Service. (Note how quick everything happens, from the shooting to the limo leaving is about 10 seconds, during which the attacker has been dogpiled, and every agent has their hands on a gun, some of which are fully automatic)

Peaks gave Grace permission to go as far as she wanted during the training exercise, and obviously recognized the restraint she showed in not giving him back a gelding as a trainer. No harm, no foul, and chalk it down to experience. This also points out that Peaks’ first priority is actually guarding the princesses, not defending the male status quo. If he was just wanting to find some excuse to kick the mares out of the program, he could have warped any of the mare’s reactions in combat training into that excuse. Thermal actually had the worst performance in the exercise, but after having the parameters of the exercise correctly explained, the innocent-looking young mare provided a very vivid reminder of just how dangerous she could be.

As a real-life aside, I once got between a calf and her rather middle-aged and somewhat tame nursing mother. My ribs healed.

Q: So why did you make Standing Water’s vanishing a major point of the plot?

A: I needed an ‘event’ to bring the two sides of the conflict together. It had to be something natural, not contrived by the Princesses, and yet still a dramatic emotional occurrence. Having once seen a Code Adam and been amazed at how quickly an entire store can transform from both staff and customers, I decided on that. It’s more ‘Police’ style than a ‘Military’ search, and had the advantage of giving Standing Water more screen time. He’s so cute. I’ll cover the criticism of Thermal’s actions in the hangar later.

———————— Addressing Criticism —————————

Q: Your male characters seems awfully boorish and sexist, considering their female bosses raise the sun and moon. Why?

A: Well, the simple answer is if the Royal Guard were all wonderfully multicultural rounded individuals, the story would have been much shorter. It may not have made the 1k word cutoff. Fortunately, males of whatever species do not take well to having females poke their noses into areas they have ‘owned’ for long periods of time, be it golf courses or military institutions. Take a real-world (or fairly close) example: the first female cadet to attend the Citadel. She sued to get in, spent four hours in training, the rest of the first week in the infirmary with stress issues, and resigned. This was not some World War I event. It happened in 1995. Even outside the military in the wonderful world of sports (golf to be specific), Augusta National just let the first females in two years ago.

I tried to show that there is a degree of conflict between tribes even in the Royal Guard after this many years. Peaks talks about how he was uncomfortable with ‘the bats’ when he first went to the Academy. The Commanders of the Royal Guard are all pegasi (admittedly one is a batpony). Even Thermal chooses to go on the night flight instead of the march. Celestia muses about how difficult it was to get the Nocturne accepted. Even the Save the Princess exercise splits the cadets into flying/nonflying roles, and showcases how the three different races of ponies function at a higher level when unified. Note that the pegasi in the second part of the exercise had a 100% simulated fatality rate during one assault. It seems the pegasi motto is Live Fast, Fly High and Leave a Good-Looking Corpse. (No wonder Fluttershy is such a recluse from her own kind: she’s an anti-pegasus.)

In short, even in the land of rainbows and unicorns, there are still differences that can cause divisions, although during periods of stress, the ponies draw together into a herd, and are stronger for it.

Q: Your female characters all seem to be overpowered twinks that the males just let walk all over them. What gives?

A: Yes, this is the bit that seems to have rubbed most of the men’s rutabagas in the wrong direction, and I’m going to try to get through my notes without whining or getting defensive.

Honest.

I’m not going to dwell on their obvious flaws, from Banehammer’s resistance to widowhood and approaching old age, Grace’s cold-hearted isolation, and Thermal’s struggle to raise a newborn colt while holding down a physical job. Instead, I’m going to point out their points, both strong and weak. All of them put aside a quiet and safe career as a stay-at-home mare (or researcher, in Grace’s case) for the rather dangerous job of law enforcement. All of them could have quit their police officer positions after their ‘event’ but instead returned to the force, and all of them volunteered to go into the adjunct position in the Night Guard.

Also, if you look at the timing, there’s a rather convenient work gap right before they go to the Night Guard. Banehammer’s retirement, Grace’s suspension during the investigation, Thermal’s pregnancy, and the unmentioned event of Rose. A suspicious mind might wonder if perhaps these mares had been intentionally prepared for this opportunity, with one who had tutored young cadets for their exams, one with photographic memory, and one who has pinpoint concentration. But Celestia would not do anything like that. Right?

Now as to the ‘walking all over’ concept. Watch Peaks very carefully. He hates the idea of mares in the RG, but he goes ahead with his orders because he is loyal to the Crown. That does not mean he plans on making their lives easy by any stretch of the imagination, but he never thinks about out-and-out cheating to get his way, just leaning on the scale as much as he thinks is practical. Nearly the entire guard acts the same way, in a We’ll-Do-It-But-We-Won’t-Like-It-Mommy mindset that Celestia worries about.becoming permanent. There is one notable exception on each end of the spectrum who show up in the story (Ecks/Linseed) and the mention of several others, but mostly they’re shutting up and soldiering because they are loyal and they were ordered to, not because they think it was a good idea. It’s that ‘acceptance’ meme that takes the longest to soak in, and that every female cadet will have to face during their training too. (Planned for an upcoming ficThe Night Guard - First in Flight. For the artwork, picture a pair of golden slit eyes peering out from the darkness… with a little pink bow on top)

Notice how Peaks is the first one to go over to the Dark side, and how he twists the wings of the Night and Day commanders to actually observe what is going on instead of just reacting according to their preconceived notions. He’s not an idiot. Princess Celestia put him in that position. He’s been subjected to her teaching technique before.

Q: Why didn’t the policemares use their police skills during the Save the Princess exercise or when the foal was discovered missing?

A: For starters, the StP exercise has a set of rules designed to show how certain aspects of the cadets’ Royal Guard training has soaked into the students, and how the cadets use elements of the terrain and ingenuity during the assault and defense. Time is of the essence, and a police hostage response (Note recent real-world examples) can take days, or even weeks to complete with a large enough hostage-taking group. (Note that Grace could not help but comment on how reality would clash with their exercise)

For Standing Water’s escape, note that both of the officers including the distraught mother were involved in coordinating the search, with Grace taking liaison with the Canterlot PD, and having forensically examined the scene of the crime (or what was left of it after Thermals’ frantic search) for any magical methods of kidnapping. In short, it looked like SW just vanished without a trace until Luna finds the clue that leads the search in the right direction.


Q: I found the ending weak.

A: Yet another reason why the story took forever to write. In the end, I decided to take the weakness of the ending and try to turn it into a strength. Not all opponents are Tirek, some of them are Sgt. Ecks. Even the mightiest building is built one brick at a time, and Celestia is right there, on the job, every day with another brick. Just like writing, we take it one letter at a time, and eventually we wind up with an end product.


I’m pretty happy with what I built with the assistance of my picky pre-readers and editors, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it too.

Feel free to leave your comments and criticisms below. This blog posting will be linked to the first comment on the story to be available for later. Try to break your comments up into single-topic and reasonably brief bits, so I’m not trying to respond to a multi-page, multi-topic thesis where it’s hard to keep track of what question I’m responding to.

Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!

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Comments ( 10 )

Cool. Looking forward to the sequel when you put it up. At first I was pretty opposed to the premise but I kept up with it anyway and your writing still won me over in the end.

A: Because there have not been any Royal Guards shown in the show that are female (ed note: except the Wonderbolts, who aren’t RG). It’s that simple.

I am not sure if you want to count it or not, but during the Season 3 finale the standard bearers for Princess Twilight are all mares.

2713074 Season 3 Finale is Magical Mystery Cure (photo gallery) I think you're looking at this photo:
img2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20130217153830/mlp/images/0/03/Standard-Bearers_and_Guards_S3E13.png

They sure look like standard bearers to me, without any armor.

Actually, that’s a neat fic idea. “Twilight, I have some bad news about your big brother. He’s actually a tooth.”

And then Apple Bloom tells Spike about an earth pony tradition of burying a baby tooth for luck or something, and Twilight becomes an aunt/grandmother/what-is-this-she-doesn't-even.

Good insights into the characters here. Thank you for it.

I've read most if not all of the comments posted to your story. I have to disagree with the "Neigh Sayers". In the military of the 70's, the male dominated areas suddenly had an influx of females in all of the MOS or AFSC rated jobs. Some did well, others got by and some just did the hitch and got out. My wife was "in", exactly at that time. ( I met her after she already had 4 to 5 years of service...) The way males treated the new female recruits was barbaric. Men were showing their cave man image off for all to see. What most of your readers do not understand is just how stupid male behavior at that time truly was! They are young and see a military that now accepts gays! Your story is closer to the truth than they understand. Overpowered females? When our security forces allowed females in initially we got more of the former ARMY types into the USAF. As security they were pretty tough and Air Force gave them guns! (Unlike there previous posting in ARMY that gave them batons! Go figure......) Now you get a gal that has ARMY training into a sparing ring and she knows baton craft......the word is OUCH! Re-Training was phased out for security forces soon after. You were security trained by the ARMY, Navy, or Marines you were good to go. (and the base hospital was very pleased with this!) So to end this......What you have written is a problem for those who can't see into the past. Though you wrote this somewhat tongue in cheek, you were not to far off the mark. I was there and saw all the pain of the transition. So I give you high marks for what you have written because you got way to close to the real thing! (And made it FUNNY!)

Eager for the sequel, here! And thanks for this, it's intriguing to read another author's thought processes on their work!

I loved (and still love) A War of Words. The story framing device is clever and well used, the humor works, the main conflicts (Luna vs Celestia in pranks and Luna vs her guard in stubbornness) are interesting and fun to read. The story ended with Luna getting some police mares assigned to her unit and a promise that the guard would be more inclusive in the future. I was satisfied.

You announced a sequel, and I was excited. The subject matter raised a couple small warning flags given that gender dynamics rarely make for good reads regardless of which is the 'winning' side, but I silenced those voices. When it came out I read each new chapter with increasingly less enthusiasm. After the fifth or sixth (whichever was the 'save the hostage' chapter) I quit, because I wasn't enjoying the story.

Bad Horse and Cold in Gardez made some good points, but the biggest factor to be me isn't that the police mares are better than all of their male counterparts (which they demonstrably are) it's that they had no flaws. They felt like cardboard cutouts instead of real characters. The best example I can give you is Lt. Murphey from the Dresden Files.

She is a 5'2 woman who could be mistaken for a cheerleader (blond hair, blue eyes, button nose) who is also one of the most badass cops in Chicago. She is a good shot with a gun, an excellent martial artist, a strong leader, and a brave intelligent cop. She struggles with discrimination in a male dominated workforce, especially as one of the few women to raise into the upper ranks. She divorces her second husband over whether she should take a leave of absence from her job so they can start a family. She is even given command of Special Investigations (weird and/or unsolvable crime) in the hopes that she would quit. Instead she accepts the existence of the supernatural and turns her department into a decent crew of monster hunters.

But the most important part of her is this... she isn't perfect.

She can be rude to those who don't deserve it, harsh in her criticisms, she arrests the main character for a crime he doesn't commit while he is trying to save them from a demon. She can jump to conclusions, make a bad call, and be demanding. And all this on top of her determination, courage, intelligence and loyalty. She feels like a real person, with all the good and bad that that implies. Any point she makes about women serving in a male dominated field is second to who she is as a character, as a person.

In your story the guard mares felt like cardboard cutouts. They excelled at everything without any noticeable effort, whether was one-on-one combat, the written exam or strategy/team exercises. And all without any flaws aside from that one unicorn having a cold personality, which never seems to serve as a detriment in any way. They feel like they were made to prove a point and that's no way to make a character.


Now, you can argue that this bit here or there clearly reveals their flaws, or there are very good reasons that they excel at everything without even seeming to try, and you could even be right. But if somebody goes into a fic expecting to love it, wanting to love it and they are just so let down that they quit halfway through... then something somewhere has gone very wrong.

2761007 So what chapter did you stop at? Save the hostages?

The reason I'm asking is just about every story on the site has a 50% Reader Retention Ratio at best for long multi-chapter works.

2761124
Yes, that was the chapter.

Really? My first story on here 'Dresden Fillies: Strange Friends' has 15K total readers and the last chapter sits at 12K views. That's about 80% and it's thirteen chapters and 75K words.

In general I would agree, but those people tend to be ones for whom a story happens to catch their eye and they give it a few chapters. The key point I was making is that a fan, who expected and wanted to love this story, stopped. Not because I lost interest or forgot but because of the reasons I pointed out above.

I wonder how the Guard would respond to something like the Equestrian Imperial Guard (Warhammer 40K)?

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