Secrets lie beneath the surface of today’s story — though they might not be the ones you’re expecting.
Every Mare Needs Her Stallion
[Drama] [Slice of Life] • 7,967 words
After Fluttershy threw a tantrum in Ponyville’s marketplace, Rarity invited her over for some good old girly gossip. The Fluttershy that turns up on her doorstep, however, is absolutely not the one she was expecting. Somefilly has a secret and Rarity isn’t above using a few tricks to find out what it is.
FROM THE CURATORS: This story also isn’t above using a few tricks to keep you distracted until the reveal hits — serving some shipteasing from unexpected quarters — but we were too engrossed by the prose quality to mind. “This is a super-showy piece, dense not just with character drama, but with scenes and looks and touches that weave the tapestry of the central friendship,” Horizon said, and Chris added: “Inquisitor M keeps the focus here tightly on his characters’ emotional reactions and impetuses, sometimes to the exclusion of all else.”
That narrow focus gave this story a chance to dive deeply into the depths of its protagonists. “It’s about the best use I’ve ever seen Inquisitor M make of his ’emotions tightly-clamped’ style,” AugieDog said. “The events of the story, if told any other way, wouldn’t be nearly as powerful.” Several of us cautioned that that reliance on showing made this story a dense one — “readers with a taste for implication-heavy literature will definitely be impressed, but make no mistake; this isn’t light reading,” Chris said — but for all that, Every Mare Needs Her Stallion was a clean read. “All the buildup to this story was ‘pay close attention,’ but I didn’t feel at the end as if I’d missed anything,” Present Perfect said. “I really feel like this story has itself wrapped up, even if there’s room for interpretation.”
In the end, it was that combination of comfortable density and depth which impressed us. “It’s the kind of story that rewards readers for investing in it. Isn’t that exactly the sort of thing the RCL should be featuring?” Chris said, and AugieDog summed it up succinctly: “One of those rare stories where I find just about every word to be vital.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Inquisitor M discusses half-questions, unshipping, and the great war against chaos and despair.
Give us the standard biography.
Scott ‘Inquisitor’ Mence, 1976–1988. Born in Southampton, England.
School killed my soul, but my mind is still trying to make sense of a world that cares nothing for it. In 2003, I finally fell into all-consuming depression and gave up on life. It wasn’t until 2007 that I found a small measure of actual help and started the long climb towards feeling human again. Eight years of counselling later, that climb is far from over.
I have no formal skills, I have developed few practical skills since school, and I haven’t had a real job in forever, but I love to be engaged creatively and sweating my fat ass off playing badminton is absolutely the highlight of my week.
I am a pattern-seeker, and the patterns I see all around me drive me to despair. In such chaos, my only succor is truth: philosophy.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I used to be a big Games Workshop fan. Later, I became a big fan of CCGs. In 2001, Sabertooth Games started working on a Warhammer 40,000 card game and some friends who ran a shop got us in on the playtesting team for the primary release. We did some damn fine work, and of course, the company had forums that we were encouraged to sign up to. Taking up the mantle of an Inquisitor of the Imperium seemed almost mandatory: I had a penchant for asking ‘why’ and not accepting facetious or superficial answers. In essence, I was a pain in the ass that thrived on being outside the system.
I used the moniker all through my time working with Sabertooth Games, but it was only after I discovered philosophy that I came to realise how apt it was, so the title stayed after that period of my life had ended. I discovered that there is far more mileage in analysing question than analysing answers. So few people know how to ask a good question — one that will lead to a meaningful answer.
Speaking of which…
Who’s your favorite pony?
I detest oversimplifications like ‘favourite pony’; it’s like asking which is better out of honeysuckle yellow and Ladislaus Bortkiewicz’s criticism of Karl Marx. It’s only half a question, requiring speculation in order to even guess at an answer, and I do not do well with half-questions — like, bordering on pathologically incapable of answering them.
Since this is an open forum, however, I can oblige with some form of answer.
I can identify most closely with Fluttershy’s duality of kindness and anger, while I find Rarity to be the most emotionally complex, most realistic, and most useful pre-existing character to use when writing stories.
Lastly, I think Luna constitutes the best concept, thought that is somewhat spoiled by the knowledge that everything about her that worked was pretty much a fluke. While she constantly inspires me to do interesting things with her (minds out of the gutter, people), I’d have to say it’s in spite of canon, not because of it, so she doesn’t count.
What’s your favorite episode?
Luckily, this one only has one answer anyway: “Filli Vanilli”. It’s the one Fluttershy episode they got right, and seeing her bursting with joy and vitality is just a shoe-in for any and all values of ‘favourite’ (yes, with a ‘u’).
What do you get from the show?
As of now? Zip. I was in one hell of a dark place when a friend cajoled me into giving the show a fair shake, and the world Lauren created was just what I needed at the time: bright, fluffy, and with emotionally rich conflicts actually had value to them (aside from the opener — the less said about that the better). After season two …
Let’s just say it’s now about what I can make from the good ideas that were once there.
What do you want from life?
I want to know what it’s like to want to be alive — I mean actually want it. That seems a necessary cog in the machine, and it’s one that I don’t seem to have access to.
Why do you write?
Expression. Sometimes it’s about taking something I need to process and making it into a thing; sometimes it’s about just creating something so that people can see as a proxy for merely existing. The former was definitely where I started. I’ve never been backwards about saying that there’s a lot of me in Shades of Grey; the conflicts there are ones that I have very intimate knowledge of. The better I got at writing, the more it became about the latter, and that’s been a much harder thing to cope with emotionally: it becomes about being good at something rather than just doing it for kicks.
There is something both ironic and infuriating about writing getting harder the better I get at it.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Learn the difference between feedback, complaints, and critiques. If someone says there is something wrong with a story, ask them why. If they can’t explain it, don’t give it too much credence.
Which is not to say that feedback and complaints aren’t great. If you write a story and 50 people downvote it without explanation, you can be sure there is a lesson to be learned there, but you can’t just go assuming the problems are valid. Take rational discourse over subjective opinion every time.
Mare has definitely been the most controversial of my stories in this regard, and there have been a few times when I dropped any pretence at neutrality and ripped on some idiot who thinks that his personal assumptions make or break a story. They don’t. They never will. Not mine, and not yours. Obviously you don’t have to take a swipe at anyone, but you don’t have to take it seriously, either.
Of course, for a reasonable person, that comes with an unwritten caveat: you should be doing the same in return. Don’t stop at ‘I didn’t like it’ or ‘it doesn’t work’ when you read someone else’s story. You don’t have to say a word — critiquing isn’t for everyone and can be very stressful — but if you want to be the best writer you can be, you owe it to yourself to not just take the next step but the next five steps.
Was something contradictory? Was something impossible? If you didn’t feel the conflict in the story, try to work out what the author intended the conflict to be and figure out why it didn’t reach you. Did the dialogue put you off? Why? Was it the mechanics? The language itself? Was it the characterisation? How could you have done it better?
The questions are infinite. If you can make your critique to another person who can, in turn, critique your critique, all the better. Rules can be broken; make sure you know why one thing works and another thing doesn’t. Have an opinion — have it loud — and be willing to change if proven wrong.
Do not accept superficial answers that fail to expand your knowledge.
What inspired “Every Mare Needs Her Stallion”?
Like so many things, it required several things to be in place for the magic to happen.
Firstly, I’d read AugieDog’s Biology: A Romance some time beforehand and, upon disliking it, a conversation ensued with its author. With both of us being reasonable people, that conversation was both rewarding and productive, and one of the ideas that came out of it was the idea of ‘unshipping’ ponies — a light but poignant jab at the generally rabid nature of this fandom’s shipping enthusiasts that involves de-escalation into a meaningful friendship.
Secondly, part of my mental health recovery involves a lot of psychology and philosophy. I’ve always held to the idea that all of the main six’s character traits are best explained by failings during their respective childhoods, but Fluttershy and Rarity both strike me as being mostly about paternal neglect, characterised by impaired emotional control and anger issues. The number of children being raised without fathers in the western world today is reaching epidemic levels, so it’s something I’ve looked into a lot.
Lastly, the spark was just that one day in counselling where the right thoughts collided and I realised that I’d been glossing over some of the ways that my own Dad had contributed to some of the scars I’ve been left with simply through compliance with the norm. I wasn’t mad at him or anything; I was angry at the kind of world where those things were normal. The fire was well and truly stoked; the counselling was on a Thursday, the story was up on Tuesday — no pre-reading, no editor, no cool-down (though it’s had its fair share of tweaks since, mostly thanks to The Royal Guard).
This story had to exist. It didn’t really matter whether the majority of people ‘got it’ or not. I knew a lot of people would be hard-pressed to follow some of the interactions, but that wasn’t important. This one was for me, and if anyone liked it, all the better.
I suppose if I could narrow it down to something simpler, I’d have to say that anger inspired this story — anger at a world where it was even necessary, and where countless children grow up without a full and complete childhood because so many of the adults can’t get their own $#!% together and act like decent human beings. And that’s before I even go off on a rant about the numbers of fathers incarcerated for victimless, non-violent crimes.
In fact, I’d go further. What inspired Every Mare Needs Her Stallion was rage.
The emotional content of your stories is often quite sprawling, but the writing itself is careful and tight. Do you gravitate naturally to such a controlled style, or did you arrive at it over time as fitting best with the stories you wanted to tell?
Like everyone else, my writing started looser than a politician’s morals. But since I learned to analyse it with the same pattern recognition skills I use for most everything else, I eventually simplified almost everything down to the point where every aspect of a story was a meaningful choice. Even when my words meander, you can bet that there is a considered reason for it.
Whether those reasons amount to anything useful is a whole different matter, of course, but the fact is that the approach is completely automatic now, and only half because I want it to be. Now that I understand the systems involved, it would be very hard for me to write intentionally loosely.
But the answer I think you’re hinting towards is that I love character interactions and personal drama, and I think these things are almost always optimised by massively prioritizing show over tell. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times that a single explanation I didn’t need has completely killed a scene for me. So, I write what I would want to read, but you could equally say that I write very much the same way that I experience the world around me. I am often confused and appalled by the number of physical and verbal cues that people are oblivious to. People just aren’t that hard to read. Hell, half the time I read people just by analysing text.
Sadly, I am still awful at poker.
Your work tends to reward the attentive reader. Are stories that take a little unraveling the sort that you yourself enjoy reading the most?
I remember Professor Oats asking me the same question after reading one of my stories. It’s not entirely accurate, but it’s pretty close. I don’t need a story that ‘unravels’ so much as leaves me lots of room to figure stuff out. Estee’s Five Hundred Little Murders is always the first to spring to mind for me; in the first scene alone I know who this character is, where she’s been, what makes her angry, and what she wants out of life, and Estee didn’t have to spend a single word telling me — it’s all there in her thoughts and behaviour.
All I really need is good characterisation. If your character is well constructed, I will enjoy figuring out who they are and what makes them tick. If you tell me this information, I will get bored very quickly. But a well-delivered mystery does me just as well — give my brain something to chew on.
You do a lot of editing and reviewing as well. Do you find that helping other authors with their writing helps you with your own?
Well, I used to. It’s a real shame that it’s fallen so far to the wayside in the last year, but yeah, editing and reviewing was critical to honing my skills. As I said above, it’s not enough to just like or dislike something if you really want to get good at writing. If I know why something works, I ought to be able to explain it in detail. I ought to be able to suggest alternatives for poor constructions or dodgy mechanics. Picking out typos and missing commas is one thing (irritatingly, the one thing I’m not so good at), but breaking a flawed piece of writing down so that every issue is explained and alternatives are provided — including explanations of all the choices I made coming up with that suggestion — is a top-notch way to examine your own skills for where you can improve.
As it happens, I wrote a whole guest article on it for Chris’s blog about it.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Yes. Since I’m unlikely to get a similar platform again, I’m going to leave people with my all-time favourite quote from anything, ever:
“All of life can be broken down into moments of transition, or moments of revelation. G’Quan wrote, ‘There is a greater darkness than the one we fight; it is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way.’ The war we fight is not against powers and principalities; it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope — the death of dreams. Against this peril, we can never surrender. The Future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition to be born in moments of revelation.
No-one knows the shape of that future or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.”
—G’Kar (Andreas Katsulas, Babylon 5)
Storytelling is conflict. Conflict is life. If you try to pretend that a conflict doesn’t exist, you’re only adding a conflict with reality to your life, and reality always wins.
Everyone has their own conflicts and their own pains, so be excellent to each other, always.
Scott ‘Inquisitor’ Mence