Great writing takes wing as today’s story flies through an episode-like misadventure.
Like a Pegasus in a Pottery Shop
[Slice of Life] • 16,548 words
The Wonderbolts may be the greatest fliers in Equestria, but overseas in the griffin lands, aviation has become all but synonymous with the name of Gerard Goldenwings. Word gets out that the living legend is vacationing in Equestria, and rumor has it he’s looking to take on an apprentice. Rainbow Dash is eager to meet him and prove herself worthy of his tutelage, but she must first perform one simple task: catching a certain special bird.
FROM THE CURATORS: We read lots of stories that go in very different directions from Friendship is Magic, which makes it all the more pleasure to stumble across one that goes so effectively back to the show’s roots. “Like a Pegasus in a Pottery Shop was a light but deceptively satisfying read,” Chris said. “It shows how to write a story that feels like an episode, while staying true to the strengths and limitations of the written medium.” That sentiment got broad agreement as this story soared to unanimous approval. “It’s just straight-up fun, with that mixture of goofiness and earnestness that the show does so well,” AugieDog said. “Even the little asides — Gerard falling into conversation with the waiter at the restaurant, for instance — just shine.”
Great character work and strong structure rounded out the story’s strengths. “Gerard is likeable to a fault, and this does a marvelous job of bringing its secondary characters to life, too — such as with the argument by the lakeside and with Harry’s reaction to pulling Dash from the window,” Horizon said. “I also appreciate that it didn’t try to force all of the Mane Six in, instead giving us an effective Rule of Three structure whose progression reinforces the message of the piece.” And the mythology was the cherry on top: “Most of this story is low-key, show-style comedic action, but it’s the legend of Hashala that really brings everything together at the end,” Present Perfect said.
What our praise coming back to, though, was the way this fundamentally understood what we love about MLP. “This could not only be an episode, but an amazing episode,” Soge said. “What truly makes the great episodes of pony great is well-defined characters taking active decisions, and ultimately learning through the consequences. It is not at all uncommon for cartoons to have characters learning lessons, but what has always set pony apart in my mind is how earned those feel. A lot of times this seems to be forgotten, both by fanfic writers and by the show staff, and this fic gets it right.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Fifths discusses tonal circles, Mesopotamian OTPs, and linguistic fungal infections.
Give us the standard biography.
Well, I’m a pretty typical brony. I got onboard with the show back in college between the first and second season, just another grown man secretly watching a girl’s TV show in his dorm with the volume turned down. Right now I’m living in Australia just working as a bike courier and trying to get my writing career together. I’ve been writing since I was a kid, and MLP fanfic played a pretty big role in my development. I used to think I was a brilliant writer. Trying to submit to EQD back in 2011 kicked that delusion right out of me. I retreated from writing for a few years, but then when I got back into it, it was with a new humility and a real willingness to work to improve.
Now I think I’m a halfway decent writer. Maybe one day I’ll reach pretty okay.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I’m a musician as well as a writer, and I was taking a music theory class when I started getting into MLP. The most important tonal interval in music is called a perfect fifth, and once you learn about it, you start noticing it everywhere in all kinds of songs. There’s even a chart that maps out every single key and how they relate to each other, and that chart is called the “circle of fifths.” Was kind of obsessed with it for a while, and I thought that word sounded like a cool name.
Who’s your favorite pony?
I’m partial to the moon horse.
What’s your favorite episode?
Luna Eclipsed =P
What do you get from the show?
A 22-minute break from my usual occupation of worrying about everything ever.
What do you want from life?
Not to miss the happy moments when they come floating by.
Why do you write?
I stumble over my words a lot when I’m talking. I’m always afraid that I didn’t get my ideas out properly, that what I said was taken the wrong way, and I find myself constantly worrying over what people say to me, trying to puzzle out those intricate webs of nuance, implication, and irony. It’s honestly kind of nightmarish, how much words go their own way and how much they torture us with the stupid, ambiguous force they command. Sometimes I feel like language is kind of an autonomous, sentient force, and not a friendly one. I’m with William Burroughs that language is like a virus, or like one of those horrible funguses that infect the brains of ants in the rainforest and forces the ant to kill itself in an excruciating manner so the fungus can propagate.
This might sound silly for someone who’s just a fanfic writer to say, but I write in order to try to take control of the language and make it do what I want as opposed to the other way around. Sometimes I succeed, often I don’t. For me, writing is war.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
- Read everything.
- Edit, edit, edit. A lot of people get discouraged from writing because they sit down to pen the first draft and they only produce manure. That’s normal — first drafts are always manure. You need to just get down the first draft as quick as you can so you can start the editing process, which is where the real writing happens. Slowly ideas start to develop as you play with the words, and eventually time and persistence will transform your bed of manure into a beautiful field of cabbages. Or corn. Or strawberries. Or, quite possibly, weeds. The point is you don’t really know what you’re gonna get until you start that editing process, and you can’t start editing until you have SOMETHING down.
What inspired “Like a Pegasus in a Pottery Shop”?
My cat chasing a laser pointer.
Did you specifically set out to keep the tone of the story so similar to the tone of the show?
The similarity of tone was kind of an accident — what I was really setting out to ape was the show’s story structure. One thing I used to really admire about MLP was how simple and tight the writing was. Here’s how a typical episode of MLP is structured: This pony wants X. But uh oh, they can’t get X because Y. Here are a couple variations of them failing to get X, entertaining us and illustrating certain character flaws that we could learn from. Pony conquers their flaws and finally gets X. Cut, print, shoot a letter off to the princess, roll outro music.
Most episodes are a simple, clean execution of that basic story structure tightened to fit in 22 and a half minutes, and made to be comprehensible to an 8-year-old. I wrote my story as a deliberate exercise in learning how to mimic the show’s writing. I used to think that MLP showed how to perfectly execute a self-contained story, and that if I could master the structure of an MLP episode, I’d have mastered the basic foundation for all storytelling. That was a couple years ago though, and I’ve since come to think the idea of a tight, self-contained story is a bit of an illusion.
I thought a lot about stories and how they relate to each other in the course of working on this piece, and I think you’ll find that this formalistic obsession with narrative actually managed to bleed over into the theme in the final draft; there’s a reason why Gerard tells Dash a story at the end. I’ll say more about that in a bit.
How do you approach portraying physical, visual humor in this non-visual medium of ours?
I think the difficulty of writing visual humor is that visual humor traps you between two mutually exclusive demands: description and timing. In order to set up the joke, you need to make your reader ‘see’ the scene and to understand the basic physical coordinates, and typically the more vivid you can make the scene, the funnier it’ll be.
The problem is that description isn’t immediate in text the way it is in a visual medium. You buy your descriptions with the reader’s time, and as Shakespeare famously observed, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” You can have the funniest ideas in the world, and they probably won’t elicit so much as a chuckle if you bury them in paragraphs of pretty purple prose. What you really need to do is find a way to compromise between the two — find a way to put the scene in the reader’s head, and yet still have those lines unfold in a snappy way in the actual process of reading.
Is the legend of Hashala based on an actual folk tale?
Yup, I was thinking of The Epic of Gilgamesh when I wrote it. For those who don’t know, The Epic of Gilgamesh is a 4100-year-old epic poem from Mesopotamia, and still the greatest bromance ever written. The basic story is that Gilgamesh is a strong and arrogant warrior king who, after his BFF Enkidu dies, needs to learn to come to grips with his own mortality so that he can become a wiser, better ruler. That’s like Hashala except for the fact that there’s no equivalent of Enkidu or bromance in Hashala’s story, which is a shame because that’s easily the best part of the poem. Gilgamesh/Enkidu OTP 5ever <3
The Hashala story was actually a very late addition. In the original version of the story — the version I wrote when I was purely interested in learning how to copy MLP’s ‘perfect’ story structures — I had it end with Gerard telling Dash what she should have learned from her experience and Dash making a note to send off a letter to Princess Celestia when she got home.
I’ve come to think there’s something really dishonest about ending each episode with a friendship letter, though. The friendship letter epitomizes the idea I described earlier, that MLP episodes are these tight little self-contained, self-explanatory, and internally consistent slices of life. By sending off a letter summarizing the story to horse-God, we’re basically saying “Here’s what happened, here’s what it means, and that’s the end of that.” It implies that the story is a discrete object with a clean-cut beginning and end and that there’s a stable, unambiguous meaning that can be drawn out of it.
That’s just not the case. Stories are radically dependent on context for their meaning, and context always changes. Stories don’t really begin or end, but rather they snake in and out of each other in this ever-shifting matrix of culture and meanings.
In my final draft, Gerard doesn’t try to explain what Dash should be thinking about the course of events. Rather, right when we think we’ve reached the end and are ready to have unambiguous meaning made, Gerard denies Dash her friendship letter and instead throws her into another story. He doesn’t tell her what it means or what lessons should be drawn from it, he just wants to show her that there is this continuity between her story and this one from Equestria’s historical canon, and he leaves it to her to decide what that continuity means. Meanwhile, we the reader can take it a step further by realizing that Hashala’s story itself has a continuity with Gilgamesh, one of the oldest stories ever written down, and that Gilgamesh has a vast web of influences all its own, including Homer and the Bible … Stories in stories in stories.
I really don’t know how much of that I actually managed to get through in the writing. That’s what I was trying to show, though. It was also fun to rewrite Gilgamesh as a pony, lol.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Not particularly. Thanks for reading!