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Starman Ghost



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Mar
2nd
2016

My experience with the fantasy genre and how it influenced Body And Mind · 8:24am Mar 2nd, 2016

WARNING: Spoilers for Body And Mind below. Proceed with caution.

So, it's been a little over a year since I finished writing Body And Mind. Honestly, I'm still kind of amazed at how much positive reception it received. It's so strange to think that, by its view counter, my words have reached 14000 people from around the world. On a planet of 7 billion, it's a drop in the bucket, but 14000 is more than the population of my hometown and all the towns that neighbor it. (I hate living in the middle of nowhere.) Internet's a hell of a thing, isn't it? Thanks to all you guys who helped me reach that figure, by the way!

Anyway, I thought I'd take the time to talk about something I've wanted to talk about for a while. See, I was actually a bit out of my element writing a fantasy story. I've never really been a big fantasy buff to be honest. That's not to say I dislike fantasy - I absolutely loved the Harry Potter series growing up, and I still look back on it fondly. I was just always more at home among the cold, quiet asteroid rigs of science fiction, or the gloomy New England towns of horror.

I think now's as good a time as any to talk about how this influenced Body And Mind, and I think it's safe to say that it has. Even if I told the same basic story with the same basic intent, it would've turned out differently if I'd grown up on hobbits. I'm going to explain the best I can how I think my story preferences influenced me. More specifically, themes and tropes typical of the fantasy genre that I didn't particularly want to use, or at least not use in the conventional way. The ones that don't usually appeal to me, which might explain why I never really got into fantasy much.

Prophecy and predestination

I honestly never really got the appeal of this trope. As in, I literally do not know why people like to read and write it (though it's not a deal-killer - I greatly enjoyed the Amtrak Wars series despite its extensive use of prophecy, and in fact it was one of the inspirations for Body And Mind). Might just have to do with how I see the world. I look at life and see something driven largely by chance and coincidence, where everyone has to improvise when even tomorrow is full of uncertainties. No one's following a divine script, and those who think they are (see: fundamentalist Christians) end up being hilariously wrong. It just seems so much more meaningful to me, when a plot is driven by the desires and plans and goals of people, making their own best guesses for how things will turn out and doing what they can to compensate for the unexpected. Generally, it just feels more true to life this way.

This is reflected, I feel, in how I deal with Pincer's role in the story. Why did he become the bridge between ponies and changelings? It wasn't destiny or prophecy. He just happened to land in the right place at the right time, be found by the right people, and get the right treatment as a prisoner of Equestria.

Granted, real life doesn't have talking, love-eating horse-bugs either. But I like talking, love-eating horse-bugs, damnit.

Returning to a golden age

I feel like a lot of fantasy doesn't really emphasize the value of innovation. Sometimes, to make things better, you've got to try something that nobody's tried before. I feel that the trope of a decline from a "golden age" is often rooted in a nostalgia for the past and a resistance to change. It's not something that really appeals to me, as I tend to be more sympathetic to the Whig view of history, though I recognize that it in itself is a bit optimistic and lacking nuance.

Of course, "it often seems that way" doesn't translate to "this is an awful idea and you should never use it." Sometimes, yes, social changes do legitimately make things worse. You don't have to be a lunatic fringe far-right nutjob who wants women back in the kitchen and gays back in the closet to believe that. You don't have to be a conservative at all. You can ask any left-wing American who yearns for the days of a strong labor movement.

But, as I've stated, I was going about turning fantasy tropes on their head. That connects to a decision I made about the background of changelings in the story. There was never a time when they were peaceful with Equestria. They were always enemies from the very beginning. Pincer's capture, and the events that follow, are something that has never happened before and lead to a world that's both new and better than what came before it.

For an example of this in the real world, I point to our understanding of gay rights. Our conception of same-sex couples, with all the same rights and protections of straight couples, is both a product of the modern world and, I think everyone reading would agree, a good thing. People may bring up the ancient Greeks accepting homosexuality, but it's not really the same thing, nor was it as good as what we've got now. It'd be more accurate to say that the Greeks accepted pitchers. If you were a catcher, well, you wouldn't be jailed, but you'd be considered less of a man and worthy of scorn for it, and it would be considered unbecoming if you were of sufficient age and/or social status.

The farmboy becomes a great warrior

Optionally replace "farmboy" with any occupation that doesn't have to do with fighting. This actually isn't something I actually particularly dislike, nor is it unique to fantasy. In fact, some of my favorite characters follow this path: Ellen Ripley in Aliens and Macready in The Thing, to name a couple.

I thought it would be interesting and fitting, though, to try doing the opposite of this. Thus, we get Pincer, a lifelong warrior who finds his true calling by (figuratively speaking) putting down the sword and embracing the arts. He's intended to grow and develop as a protagonist when he learns to stop fighting. That's not to imply that fighting is never necessary or that there's nothing worth fighting for, of course. But there are times when it's not and things that aren't, and that was the message I hoped to convey.

(Another common fantasy archetype is guys like Conan, who spend their whole lives wandering and fighting and don't really want to do anything else. I hopefully don't have to explain why that wouldn't appeal more to me.)

Happily ever after

Nothing in real life ever ends decisively. Not in the bigger picture, anyway. The bigger the problem, the greater the struggle, the more loose ends any solution will have to leave, to be dealt with by the next generation. It's one of the basic lessons of history. You can take just about any issue we face today, and you can see how it arose from an attempt to solve some problems that ultimately replaced them with others.

This was why I hinted at the idea of rebels and deserters in the Hive after Papilio became the new queen. As so often unfortunately happened in real life, solving one problem has created another. That doesn't mean nothing was accomplished, but the work isn't done. Much like in real life, the work will never be done, but do things right and you can make things better on balance.

The alien monoculture

This one is, granted, something you see as much in science fiction as in fantasy. I still feel it's something to be addressed though, more because of comments I received after the fact. Some people criticized how, in the story, Pincer feels guilty and upset over the actions of his people once he found out what ponies were like. After all, they're built different, why should they feel guilty about getting food?

What I think this criticism ignores is that morality can be quite malleable on an individual and even societal level. The dominant morals of a society are not the only morals of that society. There are always disagreements and different views, subcultural and countercultural movements that don't align with the status quo. Hell, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who's held all of the same moral views over the course of their life.

Some people compared changelings eating love to people eating meat, for why it would never occur to any of them to want to change their ways or see ponies as anything but walking meals. Anyone who thinks that "cows are nothing but food for us" is a universal human sentiment is perfectly welcome to try to explain the existence of Jainism. Or the Animal Liberation Front.

And on a related note...

Hive-minded bugs

Yeah, more of a sci-fi thing. Point is, Orson Scott Card did it better than I could. Lots of authors did it better than I could. Honestly, by this point, it feels a little cliche to me. Not all arthropods exhibit the behavior of ants and bees. Some, such as dragonflies, are actually quite solitary. That said, I'm certainly not saying this is a bad trope. If you're writing about bug aliens, the behavior of the real-life bugs we're most familiar with is an obvious inspiration. I just don't like when it starts to come off as mandatory.

While I wanted to contribute my original flavor, though, I did also get some ideas from insect colony behavior. Among these are a queen who bears all the children and is the basis of the entire hive, a distinct lack of personal space, and a highly utilitarian society.

A final note

I didn't know about this until after I'd finished writing Body And Mind, but there's actually a genre called romantic fantasy that seems closely aligned with what I might like to see in fantasy stories. In fact, it's probably the best fantasy subgenre fit for Body And Mind.

Quite a few aspects of romantic fantasy map well to MLP, if you read a description of the genre. Check it out (from Wikipedia):

Attitudes toward magic in Romantic Fantasy are usually very different from that expressed in most high fantasy or sword and sorcery. Rather than representing an alien and corrupting force that destroys its practitioners, or a complex, secretive body of folklore that isolates magicians from normal society via long study and seclusion, magic typically takes the form of innate abilities that are natural and simple to use.

Earth pony strength and farming abilities, anyone? Pegasus cloud manipulation? The simpler unicorn spells such as horn lighting and levitation? Not to mention friendship literally being magic.

In a time of troubles, a group of adolescents or adults are drawn together through circumstance and destiny to form a group or organization that is larger than the sum of its parts. Generally, these young people are outcasts, orphans, or people on the fringes of society. Most or all of these people also possess some form of special powers. The groups' special powers sometimes form a complementary set, such as a group comprising four people each of whom has the ability to command one of the four classical elements. These characters eventually find friendship, community, and sometimes love with the others in their newly formed group. This group frequently ends up either overthrowing the current social order (often to restore it to the realm's previous idyllic state) or overcoming some threat that no one else is aware of or able to face.

Characters may start as solitary wanderers in romantic fantasy, but they never remain that way for long. One of the key features of romantic fantasy involves the focus on social, and to a lesser extent, political relationships. The characters all find close friends, lovers, and other companions with whom they either live or travel, as well as a larger social circle where they all belong. In addition, many character have significant ties with the larger world. Many of these characters have noble titles, or a sworn duty to their kingdom. The rootless travelers of sword and sorcery novels are rarely found in romantic fantasy.

Being part of a supportive social group is considered far superior to being even the most independent and competent loner. [...] While it often remains necessary for enemies to be defeated by direct violent confrontation, diplomatic resolution of conflict is considered superior to raw force; many stories contain, in addition to the primary (and usually most explicitly "evil" antagonist) a subsidiary or secondary antagonist with more sympathetic motivations, and who is eventually converted to an ally through negotiation and diplomacy.

Might be worth checking out. It's mostly considered a thing for girls and women, but you're on a site for My Little Pony fanfiction.

Goddamn that was a lot of words. Funny thing about writing, sometimes it's like passing a kidney stone: a long and unpleasant process, but you'll never really feel right until you do.

Report Starman Ghost · 359 views · Story: Body And Mind ·
Comments ( 3 )

It's always a joy to see something that you write; even a blog.

There isn't really anything here that I take issue with, but I did want to weigh in on the alien monoculture point, or at least why we tend to even see monocultures at all. As you indicated, morality is complex. And just like anything else, there is a level of complexity that, once reached, makes things very difficult to understand, and when things are difficult to understand, they can get in the way of the story.

An exception, of course, is when the complexity of morality is the story, as is the case with Body And Mind. Not for nothing, you did an excellent job dealing with the complexity of this issue without it getting in the way of the story, and I don't especially think that's easy to do.

3787469 Thanks for the response! I'm glad to have pulled it off well :twilightsmile:

There's a name for this simple "relationships in a fantastic setting" genre? Neat.

This quote amuses me from the Wiki article:

Others say that "the borderline between fantasy romance and romantic fantasy has essentially ceased to exist, or if it's still there, it's moving back and forth constantly".

Since MLP, a show pretty unassociated romance, is around... and the fanfiction created from it is only romantic uh... according to stats, less than a third of the time, I'm pretty sure that the line between "fantasy romance" and "romantic fantasy" hasn't ceased to exist.

Buuut we're talking about a subculture of a subculture here where it's still only disproven 2/3 of the time. That's hardly comprehensive evidence. :derpytongue2:

Still, it's cool to read about your inspiration for this story.

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