Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Writing Beyond "The Usual"

Our next guest columnest wrote his own introduction, so I'll let him take it away:

Vimbert (self-depreciatingly labeled “the Unimpressive”) is a fanfic author who has done review/editing work in the fandom for almost two years and is currently an Equestria Daily pre-reader. He likes adorable kittens and explosions but hates when the two things interact.

Today, he brings us a reminder that comfort and complacency can all too easily go hand-in-hand.  Click down below the break to see what he has to say about trying something outside of your comfort zone.

Talents. Knowing what one’s good at. One of the core concepts of the show—cutie marks—is all about this. In the community as well, this is driven home even in the OC ponies fans make; what a person puts as the cutie mark of his or her pony can say an awful lot about that person’s self-concept and suggest at least one proficiency the person has or believes he or she has. Still, much as a few of us would no doubt like to believe otherwise, we are not ponies. We’re humans, and by design, we’re as general purpose as an animal comes (to the best of my slept-through-every-science-class-I-was-forced-to-take knowledge). In that spirit, then, I would like to encourage everyone here who writes to do one thing: step outside your writing comfort zone.

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with having a consistent style and genre that fans expect and often appreciate seeing more of. However, I believe that anyone who challenges him or herself to write something other than “the usual” will find it a challenging and rewarding experience. I, for one, found it helped me in my writing.

For some background, I often write stories that are comedic shipping in first person viewpoint and past tense. These stories often play on reader expectations, are comparatively short, and often eschew grand world-building or flowery description for the sake of character building and interaction. Some people tell me I’m good at it. Others would probably just as soon burn my fanfics in some voodoo sacrifice. My point is, there is such a thing as “a typical story” for me. This never particularly bothered me until one day roughly a year ago.

On that day, an idea entered my head for a twisted, sadistic, long story that would both muddy viewpoint like a deranged chimpanzee flinging its own feces into a river and basically aim to kick readers in the genitals repeatedly, only to make them beg for more. Needless to say, I was pensive: what if my followers didn’t like it? What if I couldn’t do the idea justice? What if the story sucked? I told some good friends in the community about this idea, and they encouraged me to pursue it, just like they do for most of my terrible ideas.

None of those doubts I was having went away. The style I found myself adopting was a purpler one than what I was accustomed to, and the content was a good six shades darker than any other story I’d written about magical talking horses before. Yet, despite my doubts, I finished this story, which I dubbed Twilight, Revised, and unleashed it on the world bit by bit. It was, by any measure, at least a modest success.

In the aftermath, I found myself thinking about story ideas (pony and non) in entirely new ways. I approached obstacles from weird new angles, thought about characters in totally new lights, and generally emerged from the ordeal of writing the tale (for I can honestly call it so) a better rounded author, and perhaps person to boot.

The point of this little anecdote is this: every now and then, fellow writers, you might feel a weird little story itch in the back of your head. A comedy writer might get an idea for a gorefest, a tragedy writer might suddenly feel a little of Pinkie Pie coming on, or somesuch. I’d encourage you: do not ignore those ideas. Tackling something outside the norm can be (and probably will be) a tortuous, painful experience. However, doing things that we’re not accustomed to doing is literally how our brains keep growing, developing, and learning. There is a comfort to the familiar, but the unknown and untested holds many bounties, perils, and rewards for the brave soul who ventures into it.

And, should your courage fail, ask someone to be your guide. I am eternally surprised by how many people in this community devote themselves to helping others with their writing by reviewing and editing others’ work. Failing that, look up writers you respect who have written similar stories; there’s no harm in sending a PM to ask for advice! From experience, I can say that particularly in an amateur-driven environment such as our own, a teacher often learns almost as much as they teach ["If you want to learn something, study it.  If you want to master something, teach it." -Chris (well, not really, but it's been variously phrased, and variously attributed.  Wisdom, regardless)], so there’s no reason to fear the rejection of another. My writing senses kick me for not coming up with something less clichéd, but the worst he or she can do is say no, eh?

I wish you all the best of luck and hope to see the results of your own experiments soon.


Unwillingness to try something new (or just something different) can stymie creativity as surely as anything else.  Remember: one of the great things about fanfiction is that it gives authors a venue to explore their creative side; don't be afraid to indulge it, wherever it takes you!


  1. I second this advice. I've always enjoyed writing sad stories, but the times I've branched out (a few comedies, a mystery, a dark story, a couple of slice-of-life things, among others) have been very illustrative. And mostly successful. Mostly. Sometimes, they've been spectacular failures, but I've still learned something from the process, even if the lesson is that I should never try that particular thing again. It's not a fun thing to take a story I put a lot of work into, actually thought I had something good, then find out it just plain didn't achieve what I wanted. To be sure, that'll happen even with stories in my comfort zone from time to time. It's a risk I take with every one of them, but that's how you grow. My highest-rated story (far from the most popular, however) is one that began as an experiment in demonstrating how to do something wrong, and it got me thinking about how to do it right instead, which I used to revise it into a real story. Sometimes, the best ideas come from the most unexpected places.

  2. I've often had random ideas outside of my normal ideas crop up, though I've only followed through on two of them (one was a roaring success and the other not so much). I just find that 80% of the time, when I sit down to try writing them, I don't get very far.

    It is very good advice to try following those leads though, since you never know what will come of them.

  3. Writing about ponies in the first place kind of was this for me, because I wrote stuff before. Admittedly not good stuff, but I did.

  4. Funny thing, I was pretty much introduced to your work by "Twilight, Revised" and I suspect it coloured my expectations quite a bit. What it revealed was an author who was quite willing to do whatever it took to tell the story (even if that involved killing off best pony) and equally unwilling to flinch in the face of potential backlash. That's art: so there, I said it. Twilight, Revised is art in the truest sense.

    Also I'm a sucker for anything involving mindfuck...

    But yes, this is the sort of advice that writers need to hear all the time. It's easy to land on a formula and think that's what makes you a good writer - and it appears to work for a very long time in some cases. Look at Stephen King for example. He writes formula like it's never going to be back in fashion.

    But then look at M Knight Shyamalan for the counterpoint.

    Formula is great, except when it isn't.

    I hope I'm following this advice already, but in the possibility that I'm not I shall try and double my efforts.

  5. I'd just like to know what "self-depreciating" means. Are there tax consequences? Tee-hee.