Today’s story puts over-the-top action on the menu.
Twilight Sparkle Gets A Free Salad
[Comedy] [Random] • 9,142 words
One beautiful morning, Twilight Sparkle decides she wants a free salad. After a small amount of theft, assault, battery, and arson, she sits down to enjoy what is sure to be the best tasting salad ever.
…Or she would have, if it weren’t for the Equestrian Intelligence Service locking her up as a potential threat to national security. Now, Twilight must escape a maximum security holding facility hidden deep underneath Canterlot. And to do it, she’ll need a paperclip, a spymare catsuit, an escape plan, and an alliance with the dastardly Drakbog, King of Frogs.
FROM THE CURATORS: While some stories achieve greatness because they invite the reader to explore hidden depths, there’s also something to be said for tales that make bold promises up front and then deliver. Twilight Sparkle Gets A Free Salad — and its protagonist’s destruction of a fast-food restaurant — is firmly in that second camp. “It’s a perfect exercise in over-the-top ridiculousness,” Present Perfect said. “It’s one of those few random comedies that really avails itself well of both tags.” For his part, Chris praised the balance it brought to that extreme approach: “Free Salad is a comedy of hyper-exaggeration, in terms of both characters and overall plot,” he said. “But while this might be an exaggerated setting, it’s a consistently exaggerated one, which lets the reader feel moored in the story even as they’re able to appreciate the absurdities on which it’s founded.”
What makes this story shine is that that exaggeration works. “It’s about Twilight freaking out in a way that’s actually funny,” Present Perfect said, while Chris praised the range of its silliness: “Even outside of its core humor, there’s a nice blend of other comedy, from cheap shots at academia to visual gags rendered (often surprisingly well) into a written medium.” Horizon appreciated that too: “Just because a comedy is random doesn’t mean it has to be dumb. This cracks some remarkably sharp jokes, like The Manager’s academic background and Twilight’s explanation for her martial arts skills.”
And while not everything reinforced that humor, even the parts which didn’t had some pleasant surprises. “For the most part, the fight scenes don’t contribute to the comedy — though gags like the salad left behind the blast door sneak in around the edges — but they are vivid and clever, especially the gravity manipulation,” Horizon said. What that added up to, as AugieDog said, was a welcome bit of whimsy: “I did end up skimming the fight scenes, but this sort of smartly-delivered silliness always has a place in my cheese-like brain.”
Read on for our author interview, in which AestheticB discusses pony-filled singularities, justified justification, and melodramatically vomiting sisters.
Give us the standard biography.
I’m a fairly young adult male who likes to read, lives in Canada, and has a fondness for cheap Irish whiskey. I learned to read when I was six, read The Hobbit, and fantasy has sort of been my “home” genre since. I love talking about genre tropes, reading books filled with genre tropes, and writing stuff filled with genre tropes.
I got into the show real early — like, days of yore, EqD didn’t exist early — but I wasn’t a fan until much later. I wound up going through an extremely bad breakup and sort of tried to fill the emotional black hole inside me with magical pastel ponies, and it kind of worked. I made some great friends, got to read some amazing stories, and even got to try writing my own.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I like the sound of the word aesthetic, so I stole it from a character I was writing and named them something else. The ‘B’ just felt like the proper thing to add on — it has the benefit of giving my penname a short-form that doesn’t sound like ass.
Who’s your favorite pony?
It used to be Twilight, and maybe it still is, but this isn’t an opinion I hold with a lot of conviction any more. I like her because she likes to read, and is sometimes lacking in social skills, and has totally sweet magical powers.
What’s your favorite episode?
The season one finale. There was plenty of build-up to it, and I think from start to finish it really delivered. The jokes are hilarious, the plot is clean, the musical number is fantastic, and it ends on a note that’s true to the show. Friendship saves the day not because it’s a powerful super-laser that can kill the bad guy, but because it’s friendship.
What do you get from the show?
As you may have guessed, I don’t watch it anymore! I sort of retired when I finished my monstrous serial fanfiction. Even when I did watch, I got much more out of the fandom itself than I did out of the show. Though it should be said that I really like cartoons, and MLP was (and hopefully still is) a very well-made cartoon.
What do you want from life?
Comfort and security. I don’t like pets, and I’m too solitary to date. I love reading good books, watching good cartoons, having good conversations, and writing. I want to do those things most of the time, instead of scraping them in when I can because I’m too worried about money or a job or other people. And I’d like to find work to do that’s useful, and fulfilling — something I can work hard and be good at.
That answer is sort of boring, so now I’ll get greedy and say that I’d like a good Superman movie with Henry Cavill, because I think he could be great. I’d like a small lake in northern Ontario, a live-action Powerpuff Girls movie with fight scenes by Zack Snyder, for Trigger Studios to have infinite resources, a beautiful grove of sugar maples, for Trent Reznor to score a Batman film, the car from Redline …
Why do you write?
Because it’s something I can do forever. I can just keep sinking time into writing. It’s difficult, and extremely rewarding, and I’m never going to be “done.” It’s nice to receive compliments and adoration for it, and I imagine it’s nice to be paid for it, but I think that most of us writers would still be doing it even if you took away all possibility of either of those things.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Use justified alignment instead of left alignment. Left alignment always looks worse than justified alignment, with no upsides.
Scrutinize all writing advice that you see. I’ve noticed this strange tendency in some writers to deal out advice in absolutes — NO passive voice, NO adverbs, NO speech tags other than “said,” or “asked,” NO semicolons — and I think that this style of advice is bad. Cutting a part of the language out of your toolkit won’t make you a better writer. Deleting all of your adverbs because somebody made a reasonable argument against their use over a page or two is probably a bad idea. But thinking hard about how you use adverbs, then taking a close look at them is much wiser — and is usually the spirit in which the advice was originally created, anyway.
I personally fall into the camp of people who think that writing has to be almost completely self-taught, and encouragement and non-prescriptive feedback is the only real help that others can give you.
What inspired “Twilight Sparkle Gets A Free Salad”?
Way way back in the before-time, like three years ago, I did a fic swap with the excellent Arcainum. I remember that it was pretty cool, because we’d both been thinking of some of the ideas you can see in the story — Twilight Sparkle reading a book that turns her into an action hero, for example—separately. So we got together and we talked back and forth for awhile about things that we would find hilarious, and that conversation pretty inspired most of Free Salad.
So I wrote a story which sort of speaks the language of action hero tropes, with a lot of added silliness. And I wanted to play with a trend that I’d seen in fanfiction, and even in the show itself, where certain aspects of a character’s personality get turned up or down depending on the story we’re telling. Twilight is oddly zany and half-crazy in an episode like Lesson Zero, but in other episodes, or in more serious fanfictions, she’s much better adjusted and less anal retentive. I wanted to turn Twilight up so much she acted completely absurd, all for the sake of comedy.
How would you compare the process of writing something “light” like this to something “dark” like The Immortal Game?
Salad was much easier. Much, much easier. Not just because it’s shorter, but because it’s doing something a lot simpler — it just wants to make you laugh. So if I’m laughing to myself when I’m writing it, I’m not just having fun but I know I’m on the right track. I think I had all the ideas for the story in about a week, then wrote it in a couple days, and that was that. If it’s making the reader smile throughout, it’s doing its job. TIG is 300,000 words of grimdark epic fantasy, so its job is a bit more complicated, because it’s making much different promises to the reader.
Even if we were comparing Salad to, say, a short horror story, I think the process would be very different, because the target emotions are different. A horror story wants to horrify the reader, and so the writer is going to be thinking of the things which horrify them. Writing those things isn’t much fun. It’s fascinating, absolutely, but it’s more draining, and it’s not something you do with a stupid grin on your face the whole time.
How do you walk the fine line between “too random” and “not random enough” in a [Random] story?
I’m not sure. “Too random” probably comes at a different point for everyone, which is fine, but you probably at least want to have an actual story going happening on the page. If all you want is non sequiturs, then my sister vomits melodramatically, and don’t you hate those people? All your silliness, all your zaniness, should probably be serving some end. Drakbog shows up about halfway through my story, and sure, he’s a psychic frog deity who helps Twilight to escape, and that’s kind of ridiculous — but he’d had some setup. He didn’t just come out of nowhere, and he cracked a couple jokes before he left.
As to “not random enough”, that’s tough. If your story is following its own rules, and if it’s doing the things you want it to do, then you can probably throw whatever you like in there. Be silly. Be stupid. We work best when we’re at play, as they say.
Do you prefer outlining a story ahead of time or just letting it go where it will?
I am an outliner. Nowadays I outline multiple different plots, then pick the one I like best, then usually go off the rails at about the 30% mark, then re-outline what I’m going to do now that everything is different…
Outlining does more than just help me stay organized. It helps me get excited about writing a project, and it keeps me from having to make up small details in the middle of writing, something I sort of hate and am rather bad at.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?