To finish off the first week without me (has it been so long already? Hopefully all hasn't descended into anarchy and chaos without my steady hand ever-present at the helm), we have a bit of writing insight from Cloud Wander, who's written far too many wonderful stories to name (seriously, go read of the stories on his FimFic page--you can't go wrong). Specifically, he talks about what his personal ground rules and points of emphasis are when he sits down to start writing--important things for any author to consider. Whether these rules match yours or not, I think you'll find something behind the break worth considering.
Cloud Wander’s Rules for MLP Fan Fiction
Let me emphasize this point immediately: these are my rules for My Little Pony fanfics. They are the guidelines I’ve developed through my own writing and apply only to my own work. Other writers follow other rules, and this is a good thing, as it encourages the diversity and vitality of MLP fan stories.
Rule 1: Respect the series.
I came to My Little Pony via Lauren Faust’s rebuttal to an earlier MS. magazine article that was highly critical of the show, the criticisms based solely on advance promotional materials for the series. (Faust’s rebuttal is here). I was very impressed by Faust’s goals for the show, which led me to to seek out episodes of the series on YouTube. I quickly became a fan.
So, when I came to write my own MLP fanfics, I tried to keep Faust’s goals in mind. Don’t write anything you’d be embarrassed to show Lauren, I told myself. And I think I’ve kept this rule. My stories may be good, bad or indifferent, according to my powers as a writer, but none of them shame me as a human being.
The obvious corollaries to this are 1A: No gore. 1B: No clopfics. How would you justify this to Lauren, should you meet her? (Okay, embarrassing admission: I made the characters in my first story, “Joshing,” teamsters because I, with my limited knowledge of fan fiction, understood that “shipping” was popular, for some reason.) [I literally doubled over with laughter when I read that. -Chris]
Rule 2: Respect the characters.
“Suited for Success” was the real breakout episode for me. From the preceding episodes, I had formulated a prejudice against Rarity as the “conceited bad-girl character” (exactly the sort of stereotypical character that Lauren Faust wanted to fight against). But “Suited for Success” showed me that I was completely wrong. Rarity is actually like me! In real life, I’m a programmer and a bit of a perfectionist; like Rarity, I struggle with users who don’t know what they really need and who demand impossible deadlines. Time and again, Rarity has shown her quality and with every act of generosity, I just nod my head and think, yes, that’s Rarity.
So, when I imagine the Mane Six and all of the amazing cast of My Little Pony, I remember to treat them as complex characters, each with their own hopes, fears and inner conflicts. Rainbow Dash may be Loyalty, but she can be Sneaky, too. Pinkie Pie loves Fun! Fun! Fun!, but she loves her friends more. Rarity may collapse onto her fainting couch, but she’ll always leave room for another to join her.
Rule 3: As much as possible, hew to the canon.
One reason that My Little Pony attracts so much creative attention is that the show leaves so much “white space” in its development of the world, which naturally attracts fans, and fan writers, to fill in the blank spaces with their own ideas and stories.
My first story, “Joshing,” was an attempt to figure out the relationship between Earth Ponies, Unicorns and Pegasi. I thought it funny, at the time, that Earth Ponies (who seemed to dominate the population of Ponyville) would harbor their own odd ideas about the other “tribes.” The episode, “Baby Cakes,” pretty much blew up this idea, but that’s okay; it was fun to write and, I hope, fun to read at the time.
I’ve had a little success, as well, in trying to anticipate where the series was going. Based on nothing more than the few seconds of Princess Luna we saw in Season One, I extrapolated a time-lost stranger in a strange land, uncomfortable in her new role and unfamiliar with “fun.” (“Tonight I Shall Be Laughter.”) The Luna we finally saw in “Luna Eclipsed” chimes well with my earlier vision of her.
Looking back on my stories, I see that I have tended to avoid the Mane Six and concentrated on minor characters, simply because they are safer to develop. Fans tend to have strong opinions about Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie and will be offended if you write them “wrong.” I’m more comfortable with Madam Mayor, Gummy, the Cake Family, or even Stephen Magnet, simply because I feel I have more room to work with them, while remaining comfortably inside the canon.
Rule 4: No crossovers. No video games. No humans in Equestria.
While it might seem only natural to team up Daring Do, Indiana Jones, Lara Croft, Nate Drake and Brigid O’Shaughnessy in Uncharted Equestria: Tomb Raiders of the Maltese Falcon, I said, no, for two reasons. First, what, no Mummy reference? Second, this pretty much is a flagrant violation of Rule 3.
While homages to other properties appear in My Little Pony (who else cheered at the Batman TAS references in “Mysterious Mare-Do-Well”? Or the “Throne Room Scene” in “Return of Harmony 2”?), full-throated crossovers to other properties have, as yet, to appear in the series. (Okay, the first Transformers film did include a little girl with a Pinkie Pie doll, but that’s it. And that’s the Transformers canon, not MLP.)
Here we have to address the fact that MLP:FIM is owned by Hasbro and Hasbro has… ideas. I think the writers of My Little Pony have dealt admirably with the marketing arm of Hasbro. Trains? No problem! Crystal Ponies? Hey, we can make them interesting. Battleship? Are you bucking kidding me? Yet, in slightly-modified form, it is Rainbow’s favorite game (“Read It and Weep”).
I can offer no more defense of this rule than: this isn’t the My Little Pony I fell in love with. It’s not really about marketing but about the dilution of Equestria in the wealth of other “properties” out there. I don’t want to limit MLP just to fans, no. But I’d like everyone to respect Ponyville as much the Shire, Hogwarts and, forgive me, Ankh-Morpork. It is a place deserving of those fortunate enough to come there, trot around and drink a cider at the Inn of the Dancing Pony.
And I say this as someone who would fight you for possession of a Ponyville Lego set. And as someone who has stood in awe of khat’s astounding feat of imagination, Fallout: Equestria.
For my part, I have offered homages to Lovecraft (“The Shadow Over Ponyville”, the second chapter to “Joshing”) and Wodehouse (“The Rummy Business of Old Blooey”). I think these are both okay, in the spirit of the series, because they operate entirely within the canon and only borrow tropes from these other sources.
(I've seen Equestria Girls. Still not sure what to think about it. It’s like when Cerberus appeared in Ponyville. “My worldview! What have you done to it?” I cried. I’ll need to work on this.)
Rule 5: Be kind.
For the life of me, I can’t create a villain. I tried, I really tried, to turn Carver in my story, “The Boneyard,” into a monster, but in the end I couldn’t do it. As I wrote her part, I felt her pain, her anger, her despair, even as she killed one character and chased another to his death.
When I wrote about Discord, in “Hearth’s Warming Eve: A Princess Promenade,” I just couldn’t avoid getting into his head and wondering what he would be thinking down there in the audience.
You may have realized, by now, that my rules limit me as a writer. And yet, the rules themselves suggest possibilities.
Rule 6: Original characters are okay; self-inserts are not.
Gilda the Griffon, the Diamond Dogs, Trixie the Great and Powerful. Remember, they all began as OCs for their episodes. This is the nature of fiction. None of them are Mary Sues. They are former friends, hilarious antagonists and future friends. They are the basic stuff of fiction. Embrace them!
One of my OCs, Captain Bucephalus (“Tonight I Shall Be Laughter”), is just this clueless fellow, caught up in events he doesn’t understand. What I find most endearing about him is that he is completely faithful to Princess Luna and never realizes that she is angry with him.
My Teamsters (“Joshing,” “The Boneyard”) are just guys. Josh, Bill and Blue are the background ponies that go about their business, scratching their heads and hauling freight, while the Mane story plays out around them.
I think original characters are fine, as long as you avoid the temptation to compete with the Mane Six in their own show.
More likely as not, you have shaken your head at this essay and said, “No! Cloud Wander, that’s not for me! That’s not my vision!”
Good for you. Go on, then! Tell me your story!
I know I shook my head once or twice ("be kind" isn't something I hew too strongly to), but then, that's not the point. The point is to have some sort of vision for what you do or don't want to create when you sit down at your keyboard, and I think a glimpse into another author's thought processes can definitely help on that count.