“There never was a good war, or a bad peace,” Benjamin Franklin once said. Well, today’s story is a good piece about something that never was quite a war.
A War of Words – The Opening of the Guard
[Comedy] [Slice-of-Life] • 3,691 words
The history of war may be written by the winner, but the Royal Historian is the one who provides the notes and background to the writer. The recent events that some have called ‘Mare Wars’ or ‘The Invasion of the Barracks’ are no exception. The Royal Historian has painstakingly compiled this folder of notes and background material on what should more accurately be called, ‘The Opening of the Guard.’
Please remember to return the folder back to the Royal Historian when you have completed reading, in the event we gather more material that needs to be included.
– Musty Pages, Royal Historian
FROM THE CURATORS: “A War Of Words” is exactly that — a tale about a conflict in the freewheeling battleground of documentation — and we were all impressed by the life that was breathed into its letters. “The epistolary format is done well … Georg has a fine touch for jumping between just the necessary details,” Horizon said. Present Perfect added, “What’s really great about this is the grandeur built up around bits of paper retrieved from trash cans.”
But it is, first and foremost, a comedy — and despite the gravitas of its core plot, it juggles that expertly with its lighthearted tone. “Even the serious plot [about the guards’ gender gap] … produces some unexpected laugh-out-loud moments,” Horizon said. Mix that with an escalating royal prank war, and you’ve got an exemplary fanfic: “I found myself laughing pretty much the whole way through,” Bradel said. “I’ve seen this concept pop up in the fandom a number of times, but I think this is the first time I’ve seen it executed in a way I thoroughly enjoyed.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Georg discusses the naming of cats, the massacre of words, and the breeding of typoes.
Give us the standard biography.
I was born in a small log cabin, that I built with my own two hands. My only companion as I was growing up was a block of wood, called Log. One very cold winter, we were forced to… Oh, wait. You want something close to the truth? That’s nowhere near as funny. Oh, well.
I’m one of the rare ‘Old Fogey’ bronies who was lured into the world of pastel ponies by my son, who was watching an episode one day when I walked by the computer. The progression from that point on went somewhat like this:
That looks interesting. It doesn’t look like the ponies I remember on TV years ago.
Hey, there’s more episodes online.
Well, I’ve watched all the episodes. I wonder what happened to Luna after the first episode.
Hey, there’s a website with pony stories on it. And some of them are pretty interesting.
I could write something like that. It would be a good break from my Swords and Sorcery novel that I have been working on for two decades (and still am).
Well, it’s done. Wow, that went fast. Fifty times faster than my novel.
I wonder if I should put it up on the site. What’s the worst that could happen? Better use an alias.
Wow, that was easy. And it was good practice for writing. I think I’ll keep going.
Hey, how did I wind up with so many pony stories? Why are so many people watching me?
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Well. It’s our cat. His name is Georg. I kind-of stole it from him. I hope he’s not mad.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Luna, hooves-down. She has the most interesting backstory, the most potential for tragedy, the best reasons for restraining her power, and, of course, the mystery of the night.
What’s your favorite episode?
‘Luna Eclipsed’ (of course). In a world of colorful pastel ponies who thrive on friendship, it’s an episode that ‘lifts the hood,’ so to speak, and shows a small glimpse of the pain she has to live through for the rest of her very long life. Thank the stars she has friends now.
What do you get from the show?
I think the one word that describes it best is ‘Distraction.’ There’s a lot of bad things out in the world that we can’t do a darned thing about, and sometimes the best way to deal with them is to ignore them and watch ponies.
What do you want from life?
That’s a good question for which there is no good answer. It changes.
Before college, it was anything that would get me off the farm and away from cow poo.
In college, it was enough money to play video games and enough homework to pass my classes.
After college, it was a stable job and home life for my wife and I to raise our kids.
Now? I think just surviving my children will suffice.
In the future, I think I shall hide behind Terry Pratchett’s words as given to Cohen the Barbarian.
Why do you write?
What, how many pages do you want me to go on here? :)
Bad Horse asked me to summarize that once for One Man’s Pony Rambling’s, which I did. Not much has changed.
I write to get the ideas out of my head and down on paper.
I write because it makes me happy to make others happy. (much like Pinkie Pie)
I write because I’m an egotistical narcissist who adores seeing others tell me how great I am. (well, maybe a little)
I write because a well-constructed story is a joy to look at, much like people who make ships in those little bottles.
I write because some things that I would like to have happen in the show are too good not to share.
I write because otherwise the wife is going to hand me a hoe and make me work in the garden.
I write because you can only play World of Warcraft for so long before you have to take a break. (that’s about 15 hours a day)
I write to embarrass my children.
I write to get better at writing.
I write because I like ponies.
I write because it’s fun.
And I want to share.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Well, I probably should elaborate on that.
Write a lot.
Ok, I should elaborate a teensy bit more than that.
Write what your heart tells you, but for the love of God, if you expect others to read it, punctuate and get your grammar straight after you have written the whole thing down. Writing is the process of taking an idea in your head and transferring it to somebody else’s head. If you thought of a flower and the reader is thinking of a moose, you’ve got some problems here. Quite often it can take me ten times as long to proof a story up to my (admittedly low) standards as it did to write it in the first place. As a writer at the ponyfic level, you must hold two completely different ideas in mind at the same time and obey them both.
1) Don’t be afraid to show the world what you’re writing.
2) Clean it up as much as possible before you inflict it on others.
After the story was written, ‘War of Words’ took something on the order of three months of time snatched in bits and scraps in order to clean it up for submission to Equestria Daily, and then at least a month of picky work with an editor to fix the errors that I could have just *sworn* were not in there before. I think typos breed in the margins and only come out when you close the document.
With that in mind, if I had not pushed it out there *and* accepted all of the feedback on what needed to be changed in order to make it a better story, it never would have become as good as it is now. There is no perfection. I can read all the way through any story I wrote and *still* find typos, although they are normally singles now, where before they roamed my works like herds of buffalo.
For prospective ponyfic writers, you really should be reading advice from your peer groups.
Follow writers who write about writing like Bad Horse, Bradel and Horizon (there are many others, but those are the three that I can remember)
Follow groups like the The Writer’s Group.
Find other writers who need help with their stories in exchange for their help on yours.
And, of course, read stories on the Royal Canterlot Library. :)
When a story is this short, does that make it easier or harder to write?
To paraphrase Mark Twain: If you want me to write a hundred thousand words on something, I can start now. If you want a short story, it could take me weeks to get everything set up. If you want under a thousand words, it will take me a year.
Short stories are hard. Shorter stories even harder. Writers tend to think of paragraphs as their own children, and hitting the delete button a rough equivalent to slaughter. A good short story writer is red to the shoulders, producing a small cutlet or perhaps even a perfect hamburger.
Focus is the key. Every sentence should be held up on its own and questioned vigorously, preferably under intense lighting by somebody who is not the writer. Who are you? What are you doing here? Do you contribute to the plot? Why did you use this word here? (or the most painful) Are you trying to be funny here?
What role does each of the main plotlines serve?
To answer this question, you have to roll time back to a comment I got on another story (I think it was The Traveling Tutor and the Librarian, but I can’t find it now) that triggered this story.
Paraphrased, the trail of inspiration went like this: What if Luna wanted to have some female guards? Well, naturally if the Royal Guard is all male now, there would be some resistance. Luna might not take that rejection well and go for a more direct confrontation, whereas Celestia has always been portrayed as the indirect delicate touch. Between the two of them, the resistance would not last long.
Now add in a tendency for most Celestia/Luna stories to include a certain amount of well-mannered pranking between two powerful alicorns who just happen to be sisters, and escalate as the story progresses.
And end in a pillow fight that makes their tower shake. Win. :)
How did you choose which side characters to include in the story?
By their fit, much the same way as an artist picks brushes and colors from their collection as they are working on certain sections of their painting.
I needed two Guard Commanders (Day and Night) to balance the story and gave them opposite personalities so their writing can be distinguished. Then I picked individuals at random to go with the other events as I thought them up. Events drove the character selection (or creation), because the events are the core of the story.
Why does the narration switch away from the historical record at the climax?
It was very difficult to carry the tone of the final confrontation as a note. A better writer might have been able to pull it off, but it was just so much easier to have Shining Armor as the One Sane Stallion in Third Person (limited). Besides, it let me make the pillow fight feel real instead of trying to portray it as a note.
The hard part was keeping from tripping the suspension of disbelief necessary in a good story. After reading that many notes, the reader must not be given an abrupt translation into an ongoing activity or they will ‘wake up,’ so I used a brief discussion between Shining Armor and an unnamed guard to smooth the way into the pillow fight, and then a wind-down in the conversation to cover the closing notes.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
There is a sequel in the works, ‘The Night Guard – Night Mares’ which is in loose draft form now and which will cover the first female Night Guard associates in their first few weeks of their new assignment. It will be a more conventional story in which Mrs. Thermal, Banehammer, Rose Petal and Grace will be competing against the entirety of a thousand years of Royal Guard male tradition. Hope to see you all there.
P.S. I also have a descriptive listing of my current stories here in case you are interested in reading anything else that I have written.
You can read A War of Words: The Opening of the Guard at FIMFiction.net.