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Twilight floated a second fritter up to her mouth when she realized the first was gone. “What is in these things?” “Mostly love. Love ‘n about three sticks of butter.”

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Aug
13th
2015

BronyCon Wrap Up Part 3: Shipping... What Can I Say? · 4:32am Aug 13th, 2015

Ugh, I have so much to get done this week, and I’ve been doing nothing but getting stuff done since my prep for BronyCon last week, and so by now I’m feeling sooo lazy about everything. But I’m going to try to get this Roamnce Panel blog done tonight. Here goes:


“Love is in Bloom: Shipping and Romance Writing in Fandom” was kind of important to me, since I threw it together. And I think it worked! My fellow panelists were awesome. Sunchaser, Aquaman, Scoots2, and our last minute addition, Skywriter were funny and smart and it was the most comfortable I’ve ever felt talking in front of a crowd. (No offense to other people I’ve shared panels with in the past; there’s a good chance that really being in my wheelhouse on subject matter helped that a lot.)

I want to give a special mention to Aquaman, who kept an eye on the outline and helped keep things on track, so not only did we get through everything but we had time to take a few questions at the end. I really appreciated that.

And the questions were good! I usually dread Q&As, and maybe it had to do with us only having five minutes, but this one was actually good; people were on topic and kept their questions general. I’m tempted to plan more time for it next time, though that might be expecting lightning to strike twice.

The panel started off with some discussion of general shipping in fandom subjects: why people ship, what’s different about shipping in MLP fandom from other fandoms and some possible reasons for it, and the difference between shipping and writing romance. I felt like this part was a little… light? But then, this is stuff I’ve been thinking and talking about for years, so I don’t know how it came across to people who don’t analyze fandom behavior that deeply.

The second part was problems that pop up a lot in romance fics. I think we could have tried to offer more useable tips and advice here; I heard that we got kind of repetitive drilling home the “the characters have to have an in character reason to be together and you have to show it in the fic!” message. That is an important message and probably the biggest problem in ship fics, but I think some more specific ways of doing that might have given people more ideas and maybe broken things up a little more.

My biggest regret about the panel was that I had to race off afterwards so quickly. I apologize sincerely if you were looking for me. If you haven’t read Bradel’s blog detailing that day, basically Trixie started crying sometime while I was watching the Fanfic Dos and Don’t panel (she was with James somewhere else.) Bradel swept them up to his hotel room, but she didn’t stop crying until 4:00, when I got there (with more help from Bradel) and put her to sleep. Then I left to get ready, and got a call at 5:00 that she woke up screaming. My panel was at 5:30, so we raced up to his room, he got her set up with ponies, and then I raced back to my panel right as they were letting people in. So after the panel I had no idea how things were working out for her and James, and I kind of hurried off to check. (They were fine, because ponies fix everything.) If you were waiting to talk to me, I’m really, really sorry, it just wasn’t a good day.

Anyway, not really regrets, but there were a few things I could have expanded on-- it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I had more to say about shipping topics. So here are some of the things we covered with extra commentary:

Shipping vs. Romance Writing: So, the whole point of this section was to give Sunchaser a chance to be condescending to explain that generally shipping and romance writing are related, but not the same thing.

Shipping usually describes a preference for a pairing: if you like AppleDash, you like the idea of AJ and Dash as a couple, not some particular way they become a couple. This can lead to a lot of sloppy things in actually writing a romance, which is the specific story of how they became a couple in this instance. The largest problem being that shippers often forget to show non-shippers why these two should be a couple, because it’s so obvious to them and other shippers.

However, after the panel I realized something very important that shippers specifically contribute to fandom romance writing, and it would have been too long to explain on the panel anyway, but I’ll drop it here:

Without shipping as a background, stories like Wet Feathers or even The AppleDash Project wouldn’t be considered romances.

I touched on this a long time ago, when I was publishing The Homesteading, but in traditional publishing “Romance” stories end when the couple gets together. There are some stories scattered in literary fiction of couples in relationships and marriages having problems, but they’re written differently, and considered a different thing. Not romantic.

Shippers, people who like the idea of the specific romantic couple rather than the story of their romance, are the ones who insist that the romance doesn’t stop when they become a couple. Personally, I feel like that’s a gift to the romance readers and writers, because it opens up a whole lifetime of stories and a different way to write them.

So, that’s something cool about shippers we didn’t think to mention.

Predictability: We noted that for many readers, the predictible nature of romance story endings isn’t really a flaw as long as the journey is interesting. I suggested two ideas for making that journey interesting, and I wanted to expand on them a bit here:

Novel approaches: A lot of romances stories about the same pairing can start to feel pretty much the same. Even pairings that aren’t done a lot have a kind of most obvious path. If you don’t want the journey to feel predictable, you one thing you can do is to find something to toss in that pulls the story off of that path.

When I originally outlined Best Young Flyer, it was the only serious aged-up ScootaDash romance on the site, and it still ended up feeling cliche. I ended up throwing out the second and third acts and going in a completely different direction, and that’s where the Skylark subplot and Scoot losing faith in Dash came in.

Subplots are an obvious way to do this, but you can also change the location. While it’s not my best work, Sleepless in St. Maretinique gave me a bunch of new scenarios to write AppleDash into. That one was doubly predictable, being based off an episode of the show as well, but as far as I’m aware it’s the only AppleDash fic out there where you can read about AJ and Dash jetskiing.

The “impossible” romance: This is an oldie but a goodie. Basically, yes, it’s hard to tell someone you like them. But this is a drama we’ve read about the same characters dealing with a hundred times by now. The impossible romance is where you take that drama, and you magnify it by having something happen between the characters before they admit their love that makes it almost impossible that their crush will return their affections. Maybe in a TwiJack fic, before Twilight can tell AJ how she feels, AJ insists that she’d never want to date royality. Maybe before Rarity can work up the nerve to tell Fluttershy she accidentally insults Fluttershy’s animals.

This isn’t usually quite a subplot, because it’s usually something that wouldn’t really be a problem except that it give the character trying to profess their love a concrete reason they should expect to be turned down. Then the author has to figure out how to neutralize the “impossible” aspect at the climax, clearing the way.

It is absolutely, vitally necessary that the “impossible” aspect is dealt with in story, and not hand waved away. Otherwise it becomes melodrama, which is a different romance story problem.

Alien Shipping Syndrome: I feel like we covered this pretty well, but I wanted to link to Chuckfinley’s original Alien Shipping Syndrome blog post that we quoted, which covers it even better. It’s totally worth a read. (Fair warning: If you’re squeamish about mature-rated stuff, don’t go poking around his other blog posts or stories. But this one is SFW, and he does occasionally have interesting and insightful blogs on romance writing and stories if you don't mind the occasional talk about clop.)

OC and HiE romances: First, I need to paraphrase something Aquaman said about HiE romances. He pointed out that Equestria is full of different sapient species, and he doesn’t see why, after initial contact, a human would be considered any different from a griffon or a minotaur (or a dragon or a draconequus.) I think that’s a pretty genius way of looking at it. It's likely that ponies wouldn't consider a human any more special than a chimera.

In thinking about it myself, I’m pretty sure most of the problems in OC and HiE romances go back to Alien Shipping Syndrome. The problem is that the characters are usually not developed enough, or are purposely bland self-inserts, so that there can’t be any sort of real connection between them and the canon character. And if there’s no connection between two characters based on interests or values or personalities (because one of them doesn’t have those things) you’re left with generic tittering and blushing and out-of-nowhere realizations that they are “for some reason” attracted to each other because of the alien brainworms.

So the biggest thing OC or HiE x canon character shippers need to do is make sure that they show their character’s personality, and show why the canon character is attracted to that specific being. What does the new character bring into Rainbow Dash’s life other than “living being who’s attracted to her?” And what does the new character like about her other than “available, cool, attractive female?” To be a good romance story, your story has to answer those questions.


So, there we go. Despite having to rush off after the panel, I'm totally open to questions and discussions here, if you had something you really wanted to say (whether you were there or not!) I'd also love to know what anyone who was there thought about it, and anything I could improve next time.

Also, in the run up to this I finally got around to reading Swear on Camembert by Scoots2 and Far From the Tree by Aquaman. They're both wonderful and I highly recommend them.

Report bookplayer · 589 views · #BronyCon
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Comments ( 9 )

OC and HiE romances: First, I need to paraphrase something Aquaman said about HiE romances. He pointed out that Equestria is full of different sapient species, and he doesn’t see why, after initial contact, a human would be considered any different from a griffon or a minotaur (or a dragon or a draconequus.) I think that’s a pretty genius way of looking at it. It's likely that ponies wouldn't consider a human any more special than a chimera.

On the flip side of this, you see it in fiction involving humans all the time. Any book or tv show or whatever that involves some sort of human X other relationship is basically doing the same thing. Aragorn and Arwen, Kirk and the various alien women he got it on with, not to mention Spock of all characters. I couldn't begin to list the sci fi and fantasy I've read that has human crossbreeds of one variety or another.

I'd assume human X pony probably only feels weird because of the body type difference.

Shipping vs. Romance Writing

This part was incredibly pleasing, since I've had this discussion with several people (or, more typically, been forced to try and argue my point against brick walls) and this is absolutely the first time I've ever seen anyone else who understood there was a difference. I've often wondered if it was just because of the typical stubbornness of some shippers or if I was bad at explaining it, but this whole bit pretty much matched up.

Whole thing was good, went very well.

I kind of forget there's a difference between Shipping and Romance. Mainly because my stuff is only one foot into canon, so I don't tend to seriously ship anything, but rather the story kinda dictates the romance and history between the characters.

Which I tend to like better as it feels more organic to me and can help flesh out characters more than 30 minutes an episode could, but I know I tend to be in the minority there.

3316377
Bullshit you don't ship. There's a reason your fics usually "happen" to be about AJ and Rarity, even if you give them different histories. :ajsmug:

Edit: Just because we ship doesn't mean we can't write good romance stories. They're just two different things. But our ships will usually determine who we're writing our romance stories about.

3316385
Usually, though, not always like a lot of shippers on site. For the sake of stories, I can and have swapped it for different approaches and couples before. I just like writing Ms Piggy and Andy Griffith a lot. :ajsmug:

3317095
That doesn't really make a difference. The point is that a shipper likes a pairing. They can also write romance for other pairings, or not, but if there's two (or more) characters that you're willing to argue "go well together" without the context of a story, that's shipping.

I touched on this a long time ago, when I was publishing The Homesteading, but in traditional publishing “Romance” stories end when the couple gets together. There are some stories scattered in literary fiction of couples in relationships and marriages having problems, but they’re written differently, and considered a different thing. Not romantic.

This is so true, and so infuriating! Humans! Why are they that way? :raritydespair:

In thinking about it myself, I’m pretty sure most of the problems in OC and HiE romances go back to Alien Shipping Syndrome. The problem is that the characters are usually not developed enough, or are purposely bland self-inserts

That's not a bug; it's a feature. See Twilight. One pony's ceiling is another pony's floor (if ponies live in apartment complexes).

3317654

That's not a bug; it's a feature. See Twilight. One pony's ceiling is another pony's floor (if ponies live in apartment complexes).

I did have that thought, and there are some popular fanfics where that does seem to have worked, mostly because it was combined with something else that made other people interested (Xenophilia is famous for that, but also for world building and clop, for example.)

The thing is that most of the romance stories published are canon x OC, the site gets a couple new ones every day, and they're mostly ignored. People who like inserts for romance (clop being another matter) don't seem to be as common as one would think. And the readers who don't like inserts, which there seem to be more of on FiMfiction, don't enjoy those romances because... well, my answer is because it leads to Alien Shipping Syndrome. Other folks are welcome to offer a different guess.

Shipping & Romance & All That:

After reading this and rereading ChuckFinley's post, I'm being slowly overtaken by the desire to try writing something along these lines. And hey! It's summer! What better time to indulge in doomed literary experimentation? :pinkiehappy:

Mike

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