Guest post time! This one comes courtesy of Present Perfect, who has the heady honor of giving me a couple days respite from typing up new posts. Also, he's got some insight into the reasons for the existence of ponyfiction, and non-commercial derivative works in general. Hit it all up below the break!
So let's begin with a thinking exercise. Take a moment and think over this question:
Why do we write My Little Pony fanfiction?
Answers I came up with in short order include "Because we're writers involved in the My Little Pony fandom", "Because I'm inspired to do so", and "Because it's fun". No doubt, you've come up with something similar (though, I'm sure, entirely cleverer).
Now how about this one: What's the purpose of writing My Little Pony fanfiction?
Or making any sort of My Little Pony-based creative work?
Or making any creative work based on any intellectual property at all?
What is the purpose of "fandom" as a source of derivative creative works?
Let me tell you what I think the answer to that one is.
There are limitations to paid creative works. Television shows have to run episodically, either 22 or 45 minutes at a time. Movies tend to be one-to-three-shot affairs. Video games are a whole other bag of muffins, narrative-wise. And when dealing with an IP directed at children, those limitations are joined by more, and greater: don't offend, don't challenge, be educational, sell toys. Each is a restriction on what creators are able to do, and while some can blossom under such confines, eventually whoever is financing a creative endeavor is going to bring some sort of hammer down and say, "You do this now."
In those instances where creativity blooms under duress, hints emerge. We, the fans, become privy to a broader world. We notice characters developing despite efforts to keep them static. We catch the details put in just for us to see. And then we take these details, and we run with them.
Fandom, in short, is tasked with pushing a creative world beyond the boundaries put into place on its creators. To bring it back to brony fanfiction in specific, we have no onus to be family-friendly, for instance, and can thus write about all the horse kissing and horse wars our little hearts desire. We can take characters from the show, or from other shows, put them in a box together and see what happens. We can delve the dark depths of characters' psyches, asking questions like "What was this character feeling when...?" We can find out what happens when they're dropped into, say, a science fiction warzone. As none of these are situations we can count on the show's writers to explore, we therefore have free reign to do so ourselves.
The flip side of this is -- and here I would like to emphasize that this getting deeply into my own opinion -- we should not be trying to do what the writers could do. Stories about the mane characters' families, their friendships, their typical lives in Ponyville are what we're likely to get more of as the series continues. This isn't to say that we should avoid writing in an episodic style -- and I welcome anyone to try; it's way harder than you'd think -- but that when we do, we need do so while tackling issues beyond those that are presented regularly in FiM, and in directions that they wouldn't otherwise be considered. (This is why I tend to get so down on "slice of life" stories; I don't want to spend time reading about something too similar to an actual episode.)
This changes, of course, once the show goes off the air. Then is the best time to go back and say, "Well, they never answered this question, so let's do it ourselves." The X-Files is a great example of this, a show that's been off the air for over a decade*. While it was running, your average fanfic dealing with Mulder and Scully chasing down a monster had a high chance of being negated by the show itself going off in the same direction. The only purpose of writing such a thing was generally to introduce one's own characters into the world (and we all know how that goes). With the show off the air, though, fans are free to invent and explore, filling in the gaps where the characters never went, without worry of "canon screwing".
So what do I mean by all of this? Go write something crazy. Shipping, grimdark, crossovers, alternate universes, stories where the mane six are all sharks: this is what we're here to make happen. So take lines spoken by Rainbow Dash and turn them into innuendo-laden come-ons. Explore what ponies would do with guns, or why ponies having firearms is stupid. Shove them into Columbia. Make them human. Do it with abandon, for no one but us has that freedom to do so.
So, if and when the time comes that Hasbro calls it quits, hopefully before the show has had a chance to get bad, then we can go back and say, "Well, Luna never interacted much with Rarity; what if she went to Ponyville for a spa day?" and write a little slice of life like no one ever had. But until that moment comes, why not go wild? Be bold, be brash, and above all, explore this wonderful world and these wonderful characters that we've been given to play with.
*Trivia time for those inclined: The X-Files is also another great example of a property whose creators ended up really showing their appreciation for their fans by working them into the show. The episode openings in season 9 contain lists of fan handles, and minor character Layla Harrison was named for a fan who died during the show's run. That fan also inspired the character's hero-worship of Mulder and Scully.
Thanks for the article, PP! I actually disagree with most of what you said--I think that if a person is inspired to write a slice-of-life fanfic that maintains the show's aesthetic and uses its characters, then that can be just as amazing as anything else (and retroactive canon discrepancies don't bother me nearly as much as they do some people)--but the suggestion that it is the fandom's purpose to push past the limits which constrain the show is interesting. With a modicum of power comes a modicum of responsibility, I suppose.