On the heels of an episode bringing everyone’s favorite draconequus into Season 4, today’s story is a reminder of what we all love about fanfic — how it can embrace and extend the show, and explore the depths of the characters we enjoy.
Diary of a Pliant Tyrant
[Comedy] [Slice-of-Life] • 16,437 words
It’s funny what an idle slip of the tongue can lead to. When Discord makes an off-hand comment to Fluttershy about the mental diary he kept when encased in stone, she begs him to continue it. She says it will be “therapeutic”, but he’s sure it’ll be a real bore. But who can resist those puppy-dog eyes and a bribe of fresh cookies? Grudgingly, he takes up a pencil to document his thoughts and experiences in his new life. A life among his old enemies. A life he never wanted.
FROM THE CURATORS: Like Pinkie Pie, Discord is one of MLP’s most difficult characters to write well — all too often he’s inserted as a soulless source of randomness or an excuse to break the fourth wall. This fic (which is the sequel to Diary Of A Silent Tyrant, but works beautifully as a standalone story) earned its feature based on one of the strongest characterizations we’ve collectively seen anywhere in the fandom.
“I heard pretty much the whole story in John de Lancie’s voice as I read it,” Vimbert said. “Discord’s voice is pitch-perfect,” Present Perfect added. “The characterization of Discord is remarkable,” Horizon agreed.
That magnificent voice is wrapped in a solid plot arc about redemption and friendship, with plenty of hilarious and poignant moments along the way. It’s lengthier than the average short story, but “it was never not interesting,” Present Perfect said. “The story has a lot of unexpected heart at the end,” Vimbert added.
Read on for our interview, in which xjuggernaughtx discusses Pinkie Pie protectiveness, MLP’s life-changing effects, and how to get into Discord’s head.
Give us the standard biography.
My name is Shawn. I’m a 37 year old male from Lexington, Kentucky. I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989, and I never looked back. Now I work for a large shipping company doing a job that has a large amount of free time. That’s where ponies come in.
Before I started writing My Little Pony fanfics, I really had never done any writing at all. Well, that’s not exactly true. My degree is in Cinema Production, so I’ve written several scripts for school assignments. Also, I’d tried to get two comic books off the ground. But those two things were really my only attempts at creative writing.
Then I realized one day that I had all of these ideas just hammering away in my brain, and that the hammering was getting progressively louder. I’d be watching an episode and wonder what would happen if the characters did this or said that. It occurred to me that other people might be interested in that, and so I started putting some of those ideas down on paper. It’s been an interesting process, but it took me a little while to learn and accept that I was really far behind the curve in both grammar and story-telling ability. Everything that I’ve done since then has been an effort to catch up.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
The idea of a juggernaut captivates me. The unstoppable machine that is always driving forward. It’s really what I want to be, and I continually struggle to make that a reality. I’m usually oscillating between almost absurd levels of self-confidence and weird bouts of doubt. Away from the keyboard, I’m very straightforward and confident, but writing has a way of making me unsure of my own ability. It helps to keep the juggernaut image in my head. It helps me move forward when I’m doubting.
As for the spelling, way back in the wild, wild internet days of 1995, we hooked up with AOL. Yes, they were dark times. Anyway, I wanted to have some reference to The Juggernaut (the X-Men foe) as my handle, but of course that was taken. So I thought maybe spelling it like a dreadnaught would be cool, but that was taken, too. So I ended up with XxjuggernaughtxX. Once again, 1995 web chic and all. Then some major account that I had got corrupted and I had to switch usernames. I just chopped off each end and left xjuggernaughtx. I’ve been using it ever since for just about anything I have on the internet.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Tough call these days. It’s really a toss up between Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie. We will leave Sweetie Belle off to the side for this conversation. She’s firmly Second Best Pony. Twilight and Pinkie trade for first and third.
Twilight is me. She nerdy and socially awkward, but also outgoing and popular. She’s capable, yet nervous. She tends to screw things up when she’s trying too hard. And she attaches WAY too much importance to minor details. I am all of that. I completely relate to almost everything Twilight does.
HOWEVER, I was asked to write Pinkie Pie for Bookplayer’s group, The Mailbox over the summer. I did my best to make that pink pony entertaining for those that read her letters, but a curious thing happened while that group was active: I got attached. Really attached.
I’m protective toward Pinkie Pie in a way that I’m not for the other ponies because I really feel like she’s dismissed and misunderstood by the fandom at large. If Twilight is me, Pinkie is my child, and I want her to have the best. I want to see her thrive. It kills me to see her reduced to a walking punchline.
What’s your favorite episode?
Lesson Zero, hands down. Watching Twilight slowly unravel just cracks me up.
An argument can be made that the plot Flanderizes the cast badly, and I’d have to grudgingly agree, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t hilarious. Rarity’s lost ribbon breakdown kills me, and I love Mrs. Cake’s subtle expression changes as Twilight is obsessing about that frosting.
By the time we got to the scene with the CMC, I was rolling around on the ground, and that NEVER happens to me. I can both feel for and laugh at Twilight in that episode and I think that is quite an achievement.
What do you get from the show?
I know that it’s vomit-inducing for a lot of people, but I’m that guy who’s life was actually altered by MLP. I’m combative. I was raised to never back down, and to fight not just when necessary, but at the drop of a hat. I took various martial arts for twelve years. I fought recreationally. Fighting was my hobby for a while. Then I started losing. A lot. Fighting is a lot less fun when you’re the guy taking the beating.
This unfortunately translated into social life, both in person and online. I was that guy who argued well past the point of being wrong, but kept at it just to wear the other person down. The idiotic line of thought being that if they gave up, I’d won by default. I was the message board flamer and the loud-mouth in the bar.
I think that it was probably a convergence of life events, but MLP just came along at the right moment with its message of sincerity and relentless good cheer. The show was everything that I wasn’t, but it helped me realize that I HATED who I was. I was so tired of snark and strife. I was so tired of cynical. I wanted something better, and the community surrounding MLP helped me realize that it wasn’t necessary. I could be wrong and that it would be okay. I could take risks and that there would be support.
What do you want from life?
Simplicity. The older I get. The less I want. I’ve turned off my TV. I’ve stopped buying video game consoles. I don’t want to upgrade things very often. I just want things to be calm and orderly, and for time to pursue my hobbies. I have a good (if ridiculous) job and a very happy marriage. I’m not the richest guy, but I have enough, and we were far less happy when my wife was working (she’s retired now). Dual income does not always double the happiness.
Why do you write?
I think that I’m still working on that. The root of it is that my brain goes a million miles an hour at all times. I used to dull the roar through media, but I seem to have reached a point in my life where I’m fed up with the system. Corporate behavior drives me into fits of rage, and I can’t support things like commercials and DRM and the like. I just want to be left alone. This forced me from the radio, television, and movie theaters. Now, it’s forcing me from video games.
In the wake of that, I turned inward. My mind constantly demands sustenance, so I took up hobbies. I taught myself to DJ and how to draw. But most importantly, I taught myself how to write. Well, let’s say that I’m teaching myself how to do all that stuff, because I’ve got an awfully long way to go before I feel proficient in any of it. I’m proud of each step that I take creatively, but I’m also very aware that a lot of other people are doing it better. I want to be seen at the top, but I’ve still got a ways to go.
So it’s really the intersection of those two things. My mind is always working on ideas, and I’m competitive. The first makes me sit down and hammer out a story. The second makes me spend the time to try and make it the best story I can manage at the time.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Oh, man. I still feel like I’m fumbling around in the dark a lot of the times when I’m writing, but I have several piece of advice that seem to have worked for me:
1) Be prepared to be wounded. Being creative is hard sometimes, but fear of a negative reaction can stop you from doing anything creative. It’s better to attempt and fail than to never attempt at all. That doesn’t stop the failure from still hurting, and I’ve been hurt several times while writing. I just try and take a deep breath and soldier on. When I’m waiting for reactions, I always remind myself to be in an accepting frame of mind.
2) Read your story over and over and over. Seriously, if you aren’t sick of your story by the time that it comes to publish it, I don’t think you’ve read it enough. Not only will this help you weed out mistakes (though I seem to still have plenty for the pre-readers to catch), but if you are being objective, it should help you root out the problems in your story.
One of the best piece of advice I ever received was from my time in film school. My teacher said that you should always show your edit to a stranger without filling them in on any of it. Just get someone to sit down and watch the movie. If you know of any problems with your film, you’ll get uncomfortable when those scenes occur, and you will want to stop the film and explain. This reaction means that you still have editing to do.
I translate that to writing, but I cut out the middle man. If I feel the slightest bit uneasy about a scene, it gets reworked, and of course, I take the feedback that I get and rework stuff that I feel people have a valid point on. But reading my own work to the point of hating it is totally necessary in my process. It helps me find the parts that make me uneasy.
I actually violated that with this story, and was rightly smacked around for it. I had a scene that I just loved too much to cut, but I was never comfortable with. I kept trying to justify it, but Chris actually called me on it, and I knew he was right. It really hurt to get rid of, but I chopped it and turned it into another story. Diary of a Pliant Tyrant is a much better story for having lost those 4,000 words, but I was lying to myself that everyone NEEDED to read them.
3) Believe in your work. If I took every piece of advice that people gave me, my stories would be a mess. It’s really, really necessary to have outside people give you opinions, and to listen to those opinions, but sometimes those people are just wrong. I work like this:
If I feel one way and the editor/pre-reader feels another, it stays my way unless they have a really good argument.
If I feel one way and several people feel another, I will consider changing it, but maybe not. Sometimes you have to take risks and try and work your vision. People tend to think in terms of what they know, rather than what could be.
If I feel one way and the majority of people disagree, I will usually change it. Usually, but not always. Believing in your work is detrimental when you are wrong. My goal is to entertain people, not to create art in a vacuum. If the majority of readers want something different, and it doesn’t seriously change what I’m trying to accomplish, I’ll usually try to work with them. However, there are times when I know damn well I’m right and I’m just not expressing it well. I’ll do a re-work to express the idea better at those times, but I won’t do significant changes.
4) Be Patient. I really, really struggle with this one. When I’m done with something, I want to release it right away, even though I know that I need to set it aside and read it a whole of times. I struggle with waiting for my pre-readers and editors to have their say. I really, really struggle with re-writing things that my team tells me isn’t up to scratch.
However, all of my stuff has been better with outside input, and the stories that drove me insane to re-work are the ones I’m the most proud of. I get really pissy and antsy while I’m in that waiting mode, but the mature part of my brain makes me deal with it. It’s hard, but it’s really for the best.
5) Find a role-playing group and join it. I’m dead serious here. Acting groups. Table-top D&D. Renaissance Faires. Whatever. Find something that requires you to remain in character for extended amounts of time and do it.
And I don’t mean the kind of role-playing group where you’re jerkin’ around, rolling dice willy-nilly and walking from combat to combat. I mean the kind of group where you might spend five hours in a political/diplomatic game of cat and mouse as you try to get the Baron to release your thief from his dungeon even though he was caught red-handed trying to break into the treasury. The kind of game where it’s about interaction and character, not about killing dragons. Like I said, it doesn’t need to be a table-top RPG like I play, but something that requires you to act for extended periods of time, and the more roles, the better.
People occasionally ask me how I get my characters to match the show’s so well. Well, that’s how. I’ve been playing table-top RPGs for almost thirty years now, and I can assume a character pretty easily at this point. Writing is really about getting into the skin of the characters and understanding what they would say and do. When you’ve spent fourteen hours a week as your 9th level Barbarian instead of as yourself, it gets to be second nature to slip into a different mindset. More than anything else, that history of playing characters has helped me with my writing.
We had an easy time imagining John DeLancie reading us this story, but not only did you capture Discord’s voice, you captured his mindset as well. Tell us more about how you got into his head.
I think that Discord and I just think a lot alike. Discord is the voice of opposition, and that’s what I’ve been my whole life. He has a totally different way of viewing the world because of his nature. This makes him sympathetic to me.
I mean, I’m an American with American values. I don’t agree with everything my country does, or even a lot of it these days, but I support our founding principles. Now, transport me back in time to, say, feudal France (with, um, a translator chip embedded in my brain). All of a sudden, I’m in a place where no one thinks, acts, or talks like I do. Everything I want is totally at odds with what they want and while we could probably understand each other, we’d each think that the other guy was frustratingly obtuse.
This is how I see Discord. He’s the embodiment of chaos and therefore thinks about things in those terms. However, he’s been thrust into this world of order and harmony, and he isn’t suited for it at all. I don’t really see him as strictly malevolent. He’s just shaping the world in ways that make sense. To him, anyway.
So here’s Discord, now living in a world that is everything he hates. He’s got to get along somehow. That’s me. I’m living in a consumer driven, corporately controlled world where everyone else seems to be all smile and gumdrops about the fact that we are relentlessly stripped of our dignity and freedom so that rich people can become even more rich. It drives me up the wall and I scream and scream for people to stop supporting this stuff, but they just look at me and shrug. I think Discord does this every day of his new life.
Getting into Discord’s frame of mind also requires that you think of the unconscious mannerisms, as well. He has a well-rounded vocabulary, and can be quite verbose. He loves to work in puns and passes up no opportunity to get a dig in on someone. Whenever possible, Discord should be condescending in a jovial sort of way. This is generally an off-hand kind of a thing. It’s really second nature to him to be irritating. Getting under people’s skin is what he does by default.
And above all, Discord is childish. He’s incredibly self-centered, and everything that he does goes back to the idea that he is the center of all things. He wounds without thinking, yet is offended by the slightest hint of retaliation. I don’t really believe that the current Discord operates out of evil. He’s more like a spoiled child. But I think that’s because he hasn’t yet found his opening or lacks proper motivation. I think the being that Luna and Celestia defeated was quite another matter. That Discord is a dangerous schemer. He’s still in there, waiting to see if this friendship thing that keeps derailing his thought process works out or not.
Do you keep a diary? Do you consider diaries useful?
You know, I thought diaries were stupid my whole life until I got my first Livejournal blog. Now I actually love to chronicle these things. Part of it is the interaction with people, but I do find myself going back to read old entries and re-experiencing what I was feeling on that day. I’ve worked out several issues by putting it down on paper and examining the way that it looks to me, so yes, I’d say that I’ve found it to be a useful tool.
Are friendship and community really enough to reform a creature like Discord?
Discord is at an interesting time in his life. I find it fascinating that the gang turned on him almost immediately during Princess Twilight. Even Fluttershy only reluctantly spoke up for him. They aren’t exactly over-taxing themselves by extending the hoof of friendship, it seems.
Discord’s reformation only works if they are going out of their way to accommodate him. He’s completely self-absorbed, so to win him over, you either need to do it gently over time or to shock him out of it via some big event. Those kinds of events are tough to come by with a being that can alter reality, so I think the slow grind of friendship is the best option.
However, that’s not what the show has done. They’ve shown us that Discord still isn’t trusted by the ponies, and that he’s treated as an outcast. We are left with the impression that they really haven’t even seen him since Keep Calm and Flutter On (which annoys me), and so they aren’t doing anything to endear the Equestrian way of life to possibly the most dangerous being in existence.
Are friendship and community enough? Yes, if properly applied. Discord has already taken a single step in their direction, solely based on Fluttershy’s offer of friendship. It’s not hard to imagine that Discord wants these things, just like all living, thinking beings seem to want them. However, Discord is fairly immature, and it takes time and effort to show people how to act. It doesn’t appear that the gang is really willing to put in that effort. This is something that Celestia should be on top of, but it doesn’t look like that is happening. If this continues, I would say that all the friendship and community in the world aren’t going to make up for the coldness and insults that Discord is perceiving from every interaction. Discord holds grudges, and he is surely tallying all of this up.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’d like to personally thank everyone who has helped me along the way. A lot of people have believed in me and supported me while I worked on improving both my technical skills and storytelling. It is that sense of community that keeps me coming back, even when I have disappointments. I still have a long way to go, but it’s a big encouragement when I know that there are people are on the other side of this computer screen that are rooting for me.
You can read Diary of a Pliant Tyrant at FIMFiction.net.
(Note: Due to Chris’ editing involvement with this story, he recused himself from nomination, discussion and voting.)