Today’s story puts stories in your story, so that you can story while you … ahem. Tune in for mythology, wit, and a public battle of oneupmareship with Pinkie Pie.
[Comedy] [Adventure] • 21,723 words
Tall Tales didn’t intend to be in Ponyville for long. It was supposed to be a brief stop on the way to the storytellers’ gathering in Connemara, and nothing more. How was he to know he’d be offered the opportunity to show southerners real storytelling? More to the point, how was he supposed to refuse? And just what does this pink pony want with him, anyway?
Now he’s shanghaied himself into performing, and must use all his skill to stay on stage, on target, and within the bounds of sanity. So gather round, pull up a bollard, and listen to some proper Equestrian folk tales.
Or watch one stallion go slowly mad in public. Either way, you’re in for a treat.
FROM THE CURATORS: Art as a statement on art: as previously mentioned, a tricky balancing act. But Telling Tales pulls it off with flair, giving us a remarkable look at the interplay between storyteller and audience. “What sets this apart is the narrative voice — and I mean voice,” Benman said. “It perfectly captures the style of someone telling a tale aloud.” Horizon agreed: “The narrator’s voice was indeed remarkable.”
Telling Tales is also exemplary because it works on multiple levels — which was reinforced for us when we started discussing its strengths. Chris dug in deeply: “The setup is an irate traveling storyteller getting harassed by Pinkie, but what’s really great here are the stories themselves, which show an incredible range and reflect multiple storytelling traditions.” But Benman disagreed: “I liked … the really cool metanarrative of the storyteller using the tales to flail at his own problems … which utterly gets the main cast even though they’re mostly in supporting roles.”
Read on for our interview, in which James Washburn discusses nuclear friendship detente, petty victories, and the historical accuracy of a war waged over a bull.
Give us the standard biography.
I’m just your average android from the secret government lab underneath the Derbyshire Moors, created to defend constitutional monarchy and country.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Well, I wanted a pseudonym that also had my initials so I didn’t have to change any of the monogrammed shirts I don’t own. I chose Washburn because I was listening to a lot of Tom Waits at the time. James was just the first J name I thought of.
Who’s your favorite pony?
It changes. For the longest time it was Rarity because of the usual reasons, i.e., although she complains and whines, she knows when to buckle down and work and works crazy hard, in addition to being witty, cunning and generally an all-around good egg. Then I thought Twilight Sparkle was pretty cool, but I couldn’t have told you why. Finally, I realised I had much more in common with Pinkie Pie, because I too deflect attention from my many character failings with humour, but also have a need to be the centre of attention. Like I say, it’s hard to have a favourite.
What’s your favorite episode?
Again, hard to say. Season one and two as a whole for me are worth a re-watch, and season three has some pretty neat moments. I can probably pin down my two favourite moments, though. First is in The Ticket Master when Rainbow Dash has a little moment of “Yes, I got the ticket” while receiving five of the dirtiest looks possible. It made the mane six look like individuals, not a weird hive-mind that comes to its conclusions as one freakish, trite entity.
The other moment that stands out is in the second episode, the bit when Twilight Sparkle is reeling off all the elements and how they relate to her friends. Then she goes on about the sixth element, and I was so certain she was going to say “The sixth element… Friendship!” and I’d be finished with this whole show, because that was just too trite, even for me. But no, she said Magic and blew up Nightmare Moon with a rainbow. In the context of the world, that’s like one of the elements of harmony being Nuclear Fusion. I was sort of committed by that point. Mind you, I haven’t watched any of season four yet, so that might blow my mind. It’s just finding the time and effort nowadays.
What do you get from the show?
A sense of wonder, of far-off places and untapped history and mythology waiting to happen.
What do you want from life?
See above. It’s why I’m doing a history degree, despite it being not good for much but a place in the dole queue. Although I’m aware life wants more from me than fanfiction and an extended adolescence.
Why do you write?
Because I’ve always had ideas, and writing them is the best way I know to make them actually exist. You could have the idea for the coolest book or film or game on the planet, but if you don’t actually make the thing, the best you can get is a “huh, neat” from anyone you tell.
That and the miniscule yet intoxicating quantities of fame. The petty victories are the best.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Oh man, I am not the person to ask. It took me somewhere close to a year to actually write Telling Tales and get it on the site. So, probably, if I had to give some scrap of advice, I’d say always find time to write. It doesn’t have to be at a computer, just scribble it down on whatever you have to hand. That way, you at least have something to go on. And get someone else to read through it sooner rather than later and get some suggestions for improvement, otherwise you’ll have 800,000 words that are very meaningful to you but utterly impenetrable to anyone else, not to mention the fact it’s a mother of a job to edit that much. This much I know from experience.
From your perspective as a writer, how did you go about conveying the tone and style of a verbal tale in a text medium?
I used to do storytelling, so I knew how to tell a story on stage (at least, I understood how I did it, part of the point is that everyone does it differently), so it was just a case of transcribing that kind of pattern of speech on to paper. Repetition is important, as is addressing the audience, gauging reactions and modifying your story on the fly. A lot of the time it was basically dialogue writ large, especially making sure it sounded like whoever it was telling the story. Mostly, it was pretty intuitive, if I’m honest.
A lot of fanfic authors and readers consider Pinkie the most difficult of the canon characters to write well in a fanfic, and she plays a major role in this story. How did you handle her as a character?
I just tacitly assumed that, underneath the guise of the mad ball of excitement and joy was a person. Maybe not the most well-adjusted person on the planet, but definitely someone capable of coherent thought, reasoning, surprisingly good organisation, etc etc. It’s just that that reasoning comes out through her being excited by absolutely everything, so it’s a bit… well you know how it is. She knows what’s going on, and has her own plans, she just doesn’t tell ponies in ways that are considered “sane” or “normal”.
Which came first: the desire to ponify some classic folk tales, or a story concept about a traveling tale-teller?
The whole thing was pretty much an excuse to write ponified folk tales. At the time I wrote it, the two big things in my life were traditional storytelling and My Little Pony, so think of it as me trying to combine my two favourite things. I mean, at a basic level, the narrative of Tales’ tellings is just the old trope of “New pony turns up in town and meets Mane Six” that’s been doing the rounds for years, and I didn’t think of the business with Pinkie Pie until I got to it. If I was a wanker, I’d say that Tales’ bits need to be there, because what’s a story without someone to tell it, but I am not a wanker, so I won’t say that.
Where do you personally draw the line between a “story” and a “lie,” and what do you think a storyteller’s responsibilities — if any — are on that front?
That’s… not a nice question to ask. If manipulating the truth for the sake of a story is lying, I guess traditional storytellers have a lot to answer for, I mean, it’s been done for centuries with less quality control than the internet has now. But it’s senseless to worry now about what we didn’t get because of that. Storytelling was always a kind of entertainment mixed with history (just like Thucydidean history really wonk wonk), so you can’t say what they were doing was wrong because the world was, historically, mostly illiterate. Spoken word was all they had.
I suppose… I would say for traditional stories, the point is almost moot, whether a storyteller should be responsible for the truth of their story. I mean, it would be nice if the Táin Bó Cúailnge was historically accurate to a fault, giving us a perfect view of Irish political culture in the 3rd century, but as it is, it is not. Instead, we have the tale of how Cuchulainn was overcome by his warp-spasm and slaughtered the Connacht army single-handedly, and how he defeated his foster-brother Ferdiad in single combat. I can’t say it would be definitively better to have one or the other. Maybe you can, you clever, clever people.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
For the love of all that is holy, if your ponies need… absolutely unequivocally need handguns, at least design them in a way that looks congruent with having been designed for hooves, or at least four-legged beasts, don’t just give them big, silly looking trigger guards. Just… think about it. And don’t mention those goddamn hammers to me. Handles and handgrips are different things entirely.
You can read Telling Tales at FIMFiction.net.