Today’s story offers us some vivid characterization straight from the horse’s mouth.
Fluttershy’s Secret Kissing Story
[Romance] [Slice of Life] • 11,064 words
Fluttershy remembers the kisses she’d shared over her lifetime, reflecting on the different circumstances and how she’d grown as a pony.
FROM THE CURATORS: “This is an experience,” Present Perfect warned us along with his nomination. And, indeed, this was one of those rare features where our fellow curators’ reactions were nearly as engrossing as the story itself. Horizon flailed for adjectives: “Visceral, tactile, disquieting, and memorable as all get out.” Chris tempered his dislike with respect for the story’s effectiveness: “In many places, it’s disgusting, and occasionally deeply disturbing … and yet, I can’t argue with either those things’ effectiveness, nor their appropriateness in context.” AugieDog, meanwhile, assigned it his first-ever top score: “This story hit me right between the eyes, drilled through my head, and popped out the other side like a perfect, dew-bedecked daisy.”
What made the story so effective? “It takes all the tropes and trappings of a romance story and uses them powerfully to create something very different,” Horizon said. “It does supremely awkward things and then doesn’t shrink from the consequences.” But it’s not just a shock story, as Present Perfect noted: “It exists in this weird Schrödingerian realm of not making sense and making perfect sense all at once. The writing is that weird, awkwardly discordant style you get from trollfics, but it’s all straightforward and serious.” And if you take the story seriously, it will reward you with unexpected depth, he added: “The strangeness of the kissing ties together not only Fluttershy’s character, but some major elements from the show.”
It was ultimately that depth that most impressed us. “The prose — such as the passage from Chapter 1 about the way kissing changed as she grew into adolescence — shows a level of insight that I find deeply appealing,” Chris said. “There are a lot of powerful moments in this story.” And underneath it all, as AugieDog noted, was a core earnestness that was most powerful of all: “I support wholeheartedly any story that shows how even the most damaged of us can maybe turn out all right.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Ara discusses spurious inspirations, soonish horses, and self-imposed sticky conceits.
Give us the standard biography.
My name is Ara and my day job is Attorney.
Roughly once a year I have enough time to write a horse story.
I live in the woods of the American south and am probably not actually a horse.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
It’s me, the name I call myself.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Princess Celestia is my absolute favorite pony, but out of the mane six either Rarity or Fluttershy.
What’s your favorite episode?
My favorite recent episode is definitely Amending Fences. It’s the absolute right kind of callback and I loved it. Generally, I tend to enjoy Rarity-centered episodes the most. I’m not sure I have an absolute favorite episode of all times, but I definitely think Season 5 has been a high point, generally.
What do you get from the show?
I especially enjoy the clippyclop hoof noises and horse sounds.
I have been enjoying MLP since G1 (although I stopped enjoying it during subsequent generations). I actually watched G4 when it first aired because I was pretty sure it was going to be a trainwreck, but a MLP trainwreck is often a special, entertaining kind of disaster. I had a secret hope that it would actually be good, but it wasn’t a very large secret hope.
I was really ambivalent toward the first two episodes because, seeing as how I love G1, I wanted dumb ponies getting into trouble. The main characters seemed way too competent and got along with one another way too well. I was also not very enthusiastic about what looked like MLP crossed with super sentai, not that that wouldn’t be awesome, it’s just not what I want from a MLP show. I don’t know how much G1 you’ve watched, but it’s not about badass ponies kicking butt.
I was not similarly disappointed by subsequent episodes. G4 is definitely much more strongly informed by the aesthetic of G1 than any other generation of MLP.
I really enjoy how G4 went out of its way to incorporate (a simplification of) actual horse anatomy and retain horselike movements in their character designs. I love horses in real life, and a cute show where cute horses run around and have adventures is the kind of thing that I am inevitably going to enjoy.
What do you want from life?
Some horses of my own.
I like to keep my life goals very achievable. Horses should be a “soonish” sort of thing, then I will be perfectly content until I think of something else.
Why do you write?
My last published story was on the 20th of January 2015, and the last unpublished story was April 2, 2015, so I’d say on the whole, I don’t.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
If you actually want to get good (I am not good) then write every day, and when you read, read critically. Was that Harlan Ellison who said that writing is work, it’s hammering the nail? He was really good. You should probably listen to Harlan Ellison, not me.
What inspired “Fluttershy’s Secret Kissing Story”?
Maybe if you’d asked me this question in 2014, I’d have some kind of insightful answer for you. In 2016, you get the following answer that I will make up instead. Wait, let me re-read the story first. Maybe something will come back to me.
Just a sec.
Ok, this is my made-up answer, after having re-read the story:
I’d always had certain ideas about Fluttershy, and she is my fav, but I hadn’t seen any/many other stories exploring what I thought were some interesting details about her character. She’d been important enough to be an integral part of the Summer Sun Celebration, but couldn’t even speak to Twilight. Pinkie knew about her (not surprising, given what we’d learn about Pinkie later) but RD didn’t really seem to know her at all in the early episodes (like Griffon the Brush Off) even though they’d been to Flight Camp together. Fluttershy wasn’t seen to work or have any kind of regular job, and clearly wasn’t a vet. (I won’t lie, I thought the idea about her basically leveraging the Flight Camp incident into a job or some kind of settlement she lived off of as pretty funny.) She was obviously very attractive (Green Isn’t Your Color) so how had that played out when she was younger? What about Celestia engineering all of Twilight’s friendships?
The story was a character study of the various complexities that one could easily write off as the product of a show written by a stable to writers who may or may not be aware of what other writers have done already.
This is pony fandom though. We’d much rather overthink things…
Edit: I was reminded that the actual inspiration was a comment on one of my older stories. It was a silly comment referencing a lack of Fluttershy and “passionate kissing,” so I told the commenter my next story would be “Fluttershy’s Passionate Hors Kisses.” followed by a Fluttershy ‘yay’ emoji. This was that story.
Why give Fluttershy, the show’s ultimate introvert, such an extroverted and unique way of interacting with and affecting the world?
I didn’t want to write a Fluttershy story that was basically “blah blah this is my headcanon.” I thought about how Fluttershy has had continuous character development in moving away from the totally-socially-crippled initial Fluttershy. I didn’t want to write a boring story. How had Fluttershy navigated before? What would be fun to write? How could I subtly say all these things I’d been thinking in regards to the setting?
It was depressing to think Fluttershy always been totally socially crippled, but she clearly had a ton of trouble speaking to people. She is really good with animals, who communicate entirely nonverbally. What is a kind of nonverbal interaction that could carry meaning and string together the interesting elements of her life before (and during) the show? That could also be a source of conflict and misunderstanding? She was also just so nonfunctional in S1. Something odd had to be going on with her.
The idea of telling a story entirely through the kisses that Fluttershy eidetically remembered was appealing as a fun challenge for me as a writer: I could only tell the story in connection with kisses. Every scene/memory had to revolve around a kiss. The kisses had to be viscerally described, because they’re the main thing she remembers and everything else is just secondary contextual detail.
So the idea of Fluttershy having powerful, kind, moving kisses worked as a vehicle to just sort of talk about these things I’d thought about Fluttershy that I hadn’t really seen anybody else talking about, as well as telling a story with conflict and development, and working with a fun conceit that would be interesting from my perspective as a writer.
The imagery throughout the story is both lovely and disturbing. To what extent did you intend Fluttershy to be a sympathetic character, and to what extent did you want us to find her behavior creepy?
Oh I mean, I’d think it’s pretty clear that at least some of the behavior is definitely intended to be creepy. Fluttershy reflects on how creepy she thinks it is, and her fixation on kissing and what other ponies will think about her is the major source of conflict in the story.
Obviously she’s intended to be a sympathetic character. I think a character can be both creepy and sympathetic, and I’d like to think that the thought of her catching all kinds of diseases from recklessly kissing animals didn’t ruin her for anybody. I’d actually spent time researching all of these diseases you could catch from kissing animals and had listed them in that chapter, but then I realized that Fluttershy would not remember the names of the diseases. I had to stick to my core conceit! There was a lot I trimmed from the story strictly because it diverged too much from the relevant kiss. I had more detail in Flight Camp, for instance.
But yeah, I mean, the idea is that she becomes a much more functioning, “normal” pony by the end of the story. She starts off in a dark, weird place.
The story is tagged “Romance.” Do you see it as more of a deconstruction of romance (it’s a romance itself) or as a subversion of romance (challenging it from the outside)?
I can’t say it’s a deconstruction of romance, because the concept of romance doesn’t play a significant front-and-center role in the story, and ideas about what romance is aren’t really explored in any substantial detail. It’s a deconstruction of kissing, I’d say, but not romance.
I think there are some subversive elements in the story with regards to romance. More in the fact that shipping within the mane six is a huge part of the fandom, so it’s subversive in that it’s a story about kissing and the mane six, but it doesn’t end with any definitive mane six ship. It’s also the opposite of the very common RD/Fluttershy ship. I don’t have a problem with anybody who writes mane six ships or RD/Fluttershy ships, by the way! I just wanted to do something different.
Honestly, I almost definitely tagged it “Romance” to mess with the reader’s expectations, but, I mean, I don’t think it’s an inaccurate tag. Romance is an important element of the story.
Why doesn’t Applejack visit Fluttershy?
I actually kind of agonized over this when I was writing the story. Out of all the mane six, Fluttershy and AJ really seem to get along the most poorly. I couldn’t see AJ being receptive to being kissed, and I couldn’t see a benefit from including what I saw as something very similar to a retread of the RD/Fluttershy arc.
I also couldn’t see Fluttershy, especially not as I’d developed her character post-hospital, kissing somebody who didn’t want to be kissed or who wouldn’t be receptive. After Ponyville and pre-hospital, she was completely introverted, didn’t interact with anybody, and had given up on ponies, so I really just couldn’t find a place for AJ working with the conceit that the only memories explored were ones where she’d kissed somebody.
I actually really like AJ, I just couldn’t see including her as anything other than shoehorning her in for the sake of including her and for no other reason. Gotta stick to my conceit!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’m honestly thankful that literally anybody has read, much less enjoyed, my story! It is the least stupid/cracky story I’ve written as of February 7, 2016, so please don’t go to my gallery and expect more thoughtful character studies. I think my other stories are enjoyable, in a very stupid kind of way, but I’ve gotten a “mixed reaction” to put it mildly. Who knows what the future holds, though?
Can I advertise my NSFW art tumblr? I draw a lot more than I write, although it’s sometimes not safe for work. smallhorsefan dot tumblr dot com if anybody’s interested. There is a high-res version of the Fluttershy’s Slobbery Mouth I drew for the cover image for the story, for instance.
Thanks for taking the time out to interview me and for including my story in the Royal Canterlot Library!