Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Who Doesn't Love a Top-Five List?

There are lots of ways to write a bad fanfic, most of which are self-evident.  If you can't construct a comprehensible sentence, that puts a pretty low ceiling on your writing quality, to go with an obvious example.  But what are some of the more minor yet insidious pitfalls to which a writer can fall prey?  More than that, what are some pitfalls specific to MLP?

Head below the break for my thoughts on what semi-inobvious mistakes can ensnare an unsuspecting ponyfic author.  These aren't major plot decisions or basic construction questions; rather, they're the "little things" that can take a reader right out of a story.  They're self-inflicted wounds which are frustrating to see precisely because avoiding them wouldn't involve a complete re-write.  Now, without further adieu, my top five.

5.  Gratuitous Real-World Swearing

It's certainly possible to write a story set in the MLP universe which involves swearing from one or more characters; this isn't about that.  This is about main-six slice-of-life fics where Rarity pricks herself with a needle and shouts "Son of a b****!"  Likewise, it's about show-tone stories that inexplicably drop f-bombs.  The only thing more stunning than how obviously poor a decision this is is the frequency with which it happens.  Remember: word choice in dialogue is an important part of characterization.  Unless you're doing enough groundwork to justify harsh expletives being added to a canon character's vocabulary, this is just another form of characterization failure.

4.  Using Inappropriate Regionalisms

This is when a character who is obviously not Australian (or who obviously doesn't have an Australian accent, rather) talks about grilling on his "barbie," or when a character who doesn't have a Southerner's voicing gets a drink from a "bubbler."  It's when any character uses vocabulary from outside of their region ("General American" for most of the canon cast, with the exceptions largely being obvious).  This can actually be a difficult thing to avoid in some cases, where authors simply don't realize that a common-to-them word or phrase is in fact highly localized, but there are few things more distracting than having Applejack say "I shan't."

3.  Forgetting Pony Anatomy

As humans, we're awfully used to talking about holding things in our hands; ponies don't have those.  Leaving aside the question of how dexterous pony hooves "should" be, let's at least agree to call them hooves, eh?  Ditto "feet," "arms," and so on.

2.  Pointless Modern Tech

In the show, the tech level varies as is required by any given joke; computers and video games can exist for the sake of a sight gag, and so it's hard to say they can't be in a story.  But if you're going to use, to pick the obvious example, cell phones in your story, at least do something with them.  Notice that all the show examples of modern tech exist for very specific storytelling purpose; we've never seen a character use electronics "out of focus," so to speak.  In other words, if you absolutely must have cell phones in your story, at least make sure that you absolutely must have cell phones in your story!

1.  Ponies Not Knowing What Hands Are

This is painfully common--to this very day!--in HiE/PoE (Human in Equestria/Pony on Earth) stories, for no reason I can readily comprehend.  Ponies know what hands are.  Counting handlike claws, we've seen griffons, dragons, and more come wandering through Ponyville.  Ahuizotl has hands literally out the wazoo, and he's a major character in Equestria's most popular book series!  So when a pony sees a human's hands, and describes them as "soft-looking hooves with more little hooves coming off the ends," or "fleshy lumps with five short tentacles" (both of which I'm pretty sure I've seen used unironically, but am admittedly writing from memory), it's just silly.  It's the sort of description a pony would never make, and even if a pony had somehow never seen nor heard of "hands," those are some frankly ridiculous descriptions; they'd probably just call them "claws."  After all, imagine you didn't know what a squid's appendages were called; you wouldn't call them "ten long boneless hands," would you?

...Note that this list is by no means exhaustive; I'm sure I could easily come up with five more minor-but-easily-avoidable, pony-specific things not to do in your story.  Still, if we could all agree to quit doing these, that would be a wonderful start.


  1. "Ahuizotl has hands literally out the wazoo, and he's a major character in Equestria's most popular book series!"

    I nearly projected my morning tea. Win.

  2. I hate the "What are hands?" joke, too, but I know where it came from -- Equestria Girls, man. The first movie has Twilight coming back to Equestria after the whole adventure, and she says that "she left [Sunset Shimmer] in good hands".

    Then Dash says "What are hands?"

    It's a stupid joke that contradicts jokes -- a one-off to show that Twilight is used to humans now, while the rest of the M6 aren't -- but sadly, some people thought it was HILARIOUS so it stuck.

    Yeah. Shame. EQG has some great things, and some really bad ones, man.

    As per the others -- I actually agree a lot on the modern tech thing, and hilariously enough, I've sorta made similar stuff (use of computers, ponies swearing A LOT, a character randomly using English lingo when she gets angry) in a story you actually liked.

    Then again, it was with background ponies and Carrot Top was there, so I guess I got a pass. Still, yeah -- this is an easy way to see if a story has a minimum quality, at least editing-wise. Not the end of the world, but certainly a good start.

    1. It's just further proof that Rainbow Dash has a mental block on hands. As in, she's physically incapable of knowing what they are. It's just her, though. :B

    2. I could've sworn I'd seen it before EqG came out (usually in fanworks involving Lyra), along with others pointing out why the ponies should know what hands are. In fact, back when I first saw that film, I recall being disappointed that it gave those people canon ammo

    3. Yup. Anthropology, for one, dates from 2011, way before EQG. And I'm sure that isn't where this meme originated.

  3. Agreed on the regionalisms to the point where I'll sometimes even advise authors to lose British spellings, even where they're pronounced the same, for dialogue or limited narration. It just seems incongruous for Applejack to use "colour," for instance, and "Shining Armour" is just wrong because it's not his name.

    On the anatomy... well, that's very subjective. I don't mind the use of "feet" and have employed it myself, because they are feet. Webster's definition of "hoof" explicitly calls it a foot. "Arm" as well -- it's actually an acceptable term for the foreleg of a horse, if not any quadruped, and going without altogether calls into question how you'd refer to something like the arm of a chair.

  4. I'm seeing less of a "five ways to make a story bad" and more "five ways to make a story hilarious". :V

  5. No. 4, or rather the whole "how American do I write?" thing, is the bane of the non-American ponyfic writer's life. It's not so bad when writing for major canon characters -- we've heard enough of Applejack to know how she talks -- but even so. In British English, "gotten" is incorrect, so if I'm writing the narrative in BrEng I shouldn't use it -- but the ponies should use it. I therefore have the choice of Briticising the whole thing (silly dialogue), Americanising the whole thing (mistake-prone) or using BrEng in narration and AmEng in dialogue (inconsistent). I can get out of some of them -- "anymore" as one word isn't strictly correct BrEng, but it's so widely used that I can get away with it. But I've recast whole sentences to avoid "gotten" more than once.

    Mind you, as a British reader I may miss some of these niggles entirely. A story I recently read (Frickadilly's Lissome Light) apparently contains quite a few Briticisms, but I -- being British -- didn't really notice.

    1. Don't worry, someday Hasbro will offer a British translation of the DVDs. (snerk)

      (Darnit, now I want to hear Applejack in a Cockney accent.)

  6. Honestly, I'd almost rather have gratuitous real-world swearing than see a fic unironically have ponies use "buck" as a swear. Even for a FiM horse pun, it's just so asinine. It's like a toddler who can't properly talk yet trying to imitate their alcoholic father.

    1. Oh god yes. That's like a convergence of three annoying thing that turn into the more-irritating version of Voltron The Annoyer.

    2. I don't mind ponies saying it, though I guess that could depend on how it's being used. Far worse is when other fans use ponified cursing even when they're angry with someone. Some guy was super pissed at me once and actually used the term "flying feather"

  7. Ponies have both feet and arms, though. Hooves are a kind of foot, and arms are what the front legs of a pony are called.

    I mean, you can generally throw in hooves instead of feet, but it isn't actually wrong.