This Friday brings us a story which is both light and lighthearted, but don’t mistake its whimsy for ephemerality — there’s more here than meets the eye.
An Imaginative Performance
[Comedy] • 24,578 words
It’s once again time for Ponyville’s annual school performance. This year, it’s a musical retelling of a story about what it means to be a hero. With curtains only minutes away from rising, each student is finding their own way to deal with the pressures of being on stage. Some have no fear at all, while others are just hoping to get the night over with. A few even distract themselves by pretending the audience is doing something silly. Then, there’s Apple Bloom, who imagines everything happening on stage is real, regardless if it makes sense or not.
FROM THE CURATORS: All of us noted how funny the story was; no surprise, considering it’s a comedy. “It’s solid humor,” observed Vimbert; “this one has great comic balance… it might be his most consistent [story],” added Chris.
But what really set this apart for us was the way that it meshed that comedy with an unerring sense of its characters. As Horizon put it: “This is exactly the sort of misadventure the CMCs would get into, in exactly the way they would do it, and the humor is in service of a moral ripped straight from the show.”
Continue down to see our interview, where Bob delves into his somnambulent inspiration, his use of lyrics, and the origin of his name.
Give us the standard biography.
I currently live in Texas, working as a network administrator.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I used to work at a grocery store as a service clerk. I usually bagged groceries, but I would also often be assigned to clean the bottle room (basically a mini recycling center for glass, plastic, and aluminum bottles/cans). One day, a manager summoned me up front over the loudspeaker, and rather than just use my name, they called me Bob from bottles. My friends thought it was funny since the way the manager spoke made the bottle room sound like a prestigious position instead of the grunt work it really was. Later on, I jokingly wrote a series of short stories about a group of service clerks dealing with unlikely scenarios while trying to do their daily jobs. I used Bob from Bottles as my penname for those stories and kept using it ever since.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Pinkie Pie. She’s wacky, she sings, she bakes, and she wants to make everyone around her smile. What more can you want in the best pony?
What’s your favorite episode?
There are so many great episodes that I could call my favorite, but if I had to pick one above the others, it would be Bridle Gossip. I enjoyed that episode for its mix of humor and world-building. It also introduced Zecora, who’s the best non-pony.
What do you get from the show?
A sense of tranquility. There’s such a light-hearted nature to the show that I can’t help but momentarily forget about any problems I might be having and just take some time to smile.
What do you want from life?
Mostly just to enjoy the journey.
Why do you write?
To have an outlet for all the ideas bouncing around in my head. I’ve always liked to tell stories, whether they be fiction or actual things I’ve experienced, and I find a satisfaction in looking at a completed story and saying, “I created this.” I share my stories in the hope that others will enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
If you ever hit a wall and start to think that maybe your writing isn’t good enough or that you’re never going to improve, you have to take a step back and realize that this is normal. Everyone reaches that wall sooner or later. For some people, it may be no more than a small hurdle that they quickly overcome, and for others, it may seem like an impassable mountain range. The important thing is to never stop trying to get over that wall. Keep writing. Maybe this means putting a story that isn’t working out on hold and moving on to something new, or maybe this means filling page after page with random nonsense until you stumble upon something that works. But the only way you’ll ever get over that wall is if you keep trying.
What inspired you to write “An Imaginative Performance?”
It started as a dream I had one morning. It was about a group of kids putting on a play for their school, but all the kids were trying overly hard to pretend that what they were acting out was actually happening. This led to humorous situations where they’d try to explain away how someone could accidentally knock over a tree or why a master swordsman would drop their sword when unsheathing it. I eventually woke up laughing and had to quickly write down my dream before I forgot it. I then started jotting down ways my dream could be used in a story, and before I knew it, the sun was coming up and I had a mostly complete outline with enough ideas to finish fleshing it out.
All of your currently-published fanfiction is comedic in nature. What is it about writing comedies that you find easier or more appealing than writing in other genres?
Two of my favorite authors are Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. They both have a way of telling an entertaining story that also mixes in comedy. I’ve always felt that it’s a good idea to write stories that you, yourself, would also like to read, so I make my stories have a comedic aspect to them.
I’ve tried writing in other genres before, and it’s always led to issues with tone and confused readers that aren’t sure whether they should be finding a part of the story funny or not.
Did you plan from the start to include original lyrics for the play’s musical numbers, or was that decision made later in the writing process? What differences did you encounter as an author between writing the lyrics and writing the rest of the story?
It was always the plan to include original lyrics. I wanted to make each song unique and not copy anything from the show. However, this then led to the problem of nobody besides myself knowing how the songs were supposed to be sung. It was sort of a lose/lose scenario. I toyed around with having no songs, but I liked the charm of the play being a musical, so I kept the original lyrics.
The main difference between writing the lyrics versus the story was that I wrote them apart from each other. I finished the lyrics first so that I had an idea of how the scene would have to play out and how the characters would need to act to logically fit the musical number. I would copy in the lyrics once the story needed them and then make adjustments as needed.
Although this story gives plenty of face time to each of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, Apple Bloom is the only pony you’ve tagged as a main character in it. Would you describe this as an Apple Bloom story, or a CMC story which happens to focus more on Apple Bloom? Did you find that the focus of the story changed at all in that regard when you were writing or editing?
From the start, I’ve imagined this to be an Apple Bloom story in which the rest of the CMC were also present. The rough draft of the story focused much more heavily on Apple Bloom, since I was more concerned on getting the play to work out right. It wasn’t until later that I expanded the activities outside the play and gave the other characters more face time. Even with their increased involvement, I still consider Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo to have more of a supporting role and that Apple Bloom is the only main character.
Did you find that having two “stories” intertwined–the play itself, and the drama surrounding the actors–presented any writing challenges? Any pacing challenges? Any challenges at all?
Yes. Very much so. Early on, I focused too much on the play, and it wasn’t until I was nearly complete that I realized I had been neglecting the other parts of the story. I had to make many edits to try and get both stories to mesh together. After my story was accepted to EQD, I received several comments that the play portion story was good but that the story outside the play seemed incomplete. I knew the comments were right, but it wasn’t until much later (after I felt my writing had improved enough) that I went back and rewrote the story to give both sides the attention they deserved.
(You can read or download An Imaginative Performance at FIMFiction.net.)