(Note: We’re looking to re-feature three of our spotlighted authors! Our “Correct the Record” contest runs through Sunday, April 23. Weigh in with your votes and nominations on our FIMFiction thread.)
Today’s story will oh-so-politely take over your funny bone.
An Orderly Transfer of Power
[Comedy] [Random] • 8,892 words
Straight from the Canterlot archives, this collection of documents retells the rise and fall of Princess Twilight Sparkle, Enlightened Despot of Equestria, Defender of the Peace, Lawgiver, and Commander of Fort Libris.
Twilight Sparkle is, of course, known to historians as the first usurper to seek to schedule a coup d’etat by appointment. But for other details- such as, “What is the longest recorded time a pony has gone without sleep?”, “Is it true what they say about swans?”, and, “Why is there an owlbear in the Equestrian Witness Protection Program?”- these documents provide the answers and much, much more.
This is ABSOLUTELY SERIOUS HISTORY from primary sources. If anything makes you think this is silly, ludicrous, or unbelievable, blame Discord.
FROM THE CURATORS: It’s a testament to the quality of the entries in FanOfMostEverything’s recent “Imposing Sovereigns” contest that a story as consistently excellent as this one could walk away without a medal. “This is start-to-finish hilarious,” Horizon said. “It would have been good just with the core joke of Twilight Sparkle wanting to schedule a coup, but it takes that premise, starts sprinting with it, and doesn’t slow down for 9,000 words.” In his nomination, AugieDog said much the same: “This hits every humorous note of its premise spot-on, from Official Historian Moondancer’s side note to Discord at the beginning to Twilight’s final two-word message.” Present Perfect’s praise was even more glowing: “This is marvelous right from the get-go, a masterpiece of in-universe writing and bureaucratic comedy rivalling the originator of the genre.”
What was even more remarkable, we agreed, was that this story “maintains its tight comedic pace while sticking strictly to the epistolary style,” as Horizon put it. “The letters that tell the tale are well-chosen, and the story it tells is rich and robust.” Present Perfect appreciated the story’s diversity: “The breadth of document types keeps things both fresh and realistic.” And Chris approved of the story’s careful balancing act. “The choice of which documents to show strikes a great balance between overly specific and too unfocused, giving the reader plenty to chortle over without bogging down under the weight of its own epistolism,” he said.
That this could entertain us so greatly despite the ways in which it distorted canon was the cherry on top. “You do have to accept a certain amount of Trollestia as the price of entry … but the author then uses that premise in a variety of wonderfully funny ways,” Chris said. That was ultimately what won Present Perfect over: “Though I’m usually a stickler for Twilight and Celestia’s relationship,” he said, “the ridiculous way Twilight goes about staging a coup helps ground her actions in her character, and it’s certainly not as hard to swallow Twilight getting fed up with taking Celestia’s crap.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Kris Overstreet discusses thermonuclear cherries, token rednecks, and discovering empathy for Rarity.
Give us the standard biography.
Born in 1974. Grew up and live in rural Texas. My day job consists of traveling the country selling stuff at conventions (mostly anime conventions). I write a webcomic (Peter is the Wolf) and have written various other fanfics of dubious provenance. Haven’t died yet.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
On FimFiction I use my actual name; after some of the other things I’ve written over the years, I’m not inclined to try hiding from silly pony stories. My other internet handle, RedneckGaijin, came from the time when I was working for the indie comic publisher Antarctic Press, where one of the artists commented on the cosmopolitan makeup of the company by pointing out the office’s token woman, token black, token Japanese (himself), token Filipino… “… and there’s Kris, he’s the token redneck.” It amused me at the time (less so now), and I’ve not overcome the inertia to change it since.
Who’s your favorite pony?
That’s a difficult decision. I like Derpy best, but a large part of that is because Derpy is all things to all fans; even given her speaking roles she can still be almost anything the viewer wants. Of the recurring cast my favorite pony is Scootaloo; my favorite villain is Queen Chrysalis, who fits neatly between classic scenery-chewing toon baddies and a believably evil (selfish, narcissistic, non-empathic) personality. Of the Mane Six, my favorite used to be Twilight Sparkle (for her geekiness, her social awkwardness, and her ability to go off the deep end faster than anyone except Pinkie Pie). Season Six showed a trend of backgrounding Twilight in favor of Starlight Glimmer, and I’m not fond of that development.
At one point Rarity was my least favorite pony — she’s as close as a recurring cast member comes to the girly-twee crud which constituted old My Little Pony. I changed my mind after Rob Balder (creator of Erfworld and Partially Clips, among other creative endeavors) pointed out she was his favorite because “she’s the only one who creates anything.” After that, I’ve looked at her in a new light, and I no longer have a least-favorite pony.
What’s your favorite episode?
If I had time I’d go back and rewatch them all, rate them according to what I like and don’t like, and give a scientifically accurate answer. I tend to distrust gut feelings. But since I haven’t got the time for that just now, I’ll go with my knee-jerk top three: Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000, Twilight’s Kingdom, and Slice of Life.
What do you get from the show?
My favorite episodes are those with a hefty leavening of comedy, especially anarchic form of comedy — something to distract or even disrupt the Aesop of the day. Inherently absurd moments are what make the series for me, and when the show lacks those — or, worse yet, relies too heavily on the Idiot Ball, Schmuck Bait, or re-hashing frequently reused kid-show plots — I lose interest.
What brought me into MLP:FiM in the beginning, in fact, was a series of gags shared around during the first season — gags which would have been right at home in a Bob Clampett or Tex Avery classic cartoon. There is a combination of anarchy and internal logic which the classic Warner Brothers cartoon shorts had (as does Rocky and Bullwinkle, Monty Python, the 1970s Muppet Show, and all too few other works). In its best moments, MLP:FiM shares that quality as most kid shows don’t. Those moments of the unexpected are why I watch the show.
What do you want from life?
A comfortable living, freedom to create as I feel like it, and the opportunity to create something that will keep going and growing after me. I’m still working on that last part. Justice and equality for all would also be great, but I’ll settle for reduction of injustice.
Why do you write?
The ideas pop into my head whether or not I share them. Unfortunately, actually turning those ideas into something worth sharing is usually an excruciatingly painful process. I mainly do it out of compulsion — because I have a profound need to do so — except for those short periods when the material flows on its own, the bits which are a pleasure to write instead of a pleasure to have written.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
The single most important rule: there is no road that leads to Good that doesn’t wend many long, twisty miles through the Land of Suck. Write. Write. Keep writing. Yes, it’s going to be a lot of crap. Keep writing, take one look to see what did and didn’t work, and then move on to something else.
The best way to learn how to write is to read. Read a lot. Read as much different stuff as you can stand to read. The more examples you’re exposed to, the more you’ll be able to see differences in style, and the more you’ll be able to tell what works and what doesn’t.
The one basic, pat and repeated writing rule I’d add (besides learn the damn language) is: if you can find a way of getting rid of is, was, were, etc., do it. Sometimes there’s just no way to avoid a form of the verb to be without sounding stilted, but about two-thirds of the time using was wastes the chance to use some other word or phrase that gives the reader a much more brilliant visual. And visual writing is one way to keep a reader involved in the story — make it easier to imagine, and you make it easier to keep reading.
Example: “The sun was red in the evening sky.” vs. “The sun glowed the dull red of a tired ember, exhausted from the long day’s work and ready for a good night’s rest.” (Or, alternately, “The sun sank in the west like an immense thermonuclear cherry being placed on a horizon-wide vanilla sundae.” But only if I’m doing broad slapstick.)
What inspired “An Orderly Transfer of Power”?
Orderly Transfer was an entry for FanOfMostEverything’s Imposing Sovereigns contest. When I read a post extending the deadline for the contest, I noted that no one had taken what I thought was the most obvious option — Usurper Twilight. It’s been strongly hinted throughout the series that Twilight Sparkle is Celestia’s protege if not future replacement, so that sequence seemed logical …
… and, because it’s Twilight, having her take power early seemed rife with the potential for humor. Twilight being Twilight, she’d want to do everything properly. And once she gained power, she would obsessively work to be the best ruling princess and protector possible … in much the same fashion she exhibited in It’s About Time.
I’d originally planned just the one chapter, but initial overnight response to that chapter triggered inspiration in the shower, and I ripped through a quick epilogue that, to judge the reaction, is even more popular than the main story. My only regret about that is the epilogue undermined the original ending line (FORT LIBRIS WILL RISE AGAIN), but it didn’t kill it entirely, so I’m satisfied.
Because analyzing humor only makes it funnier, talk a little about the art of stretching the MLP canon characters when writing comedy about them.
To a certain extent, writing comedy about the characters doesn’t require stretching the characters so much as stretching the world they live in. Yes, for the purposes of Orderly Transfer I used fan-favorite Trollestia with her scheme knob turned to 11 — that was necessary to give a reason for Twilight to overthrow her. But the story’s Twilight is more or less canon Twilight. The main reason Orderly Transfer isn’t a drama or a tragedy is that the rest of the world reacts to Celestia’s and Twilight’s actions in a way that restrains the worst possible consequences in favor of harmless but embarrassing ones.
It also helps that MLP:FiM is an inherently comedic setting. You don’t need to stretch the characters that much for broad comedy. This is a setting which gives us Flutterguy, Performance Anxiety Rainbow Dash, Rarity’s Hyperspatial Fainting Couch, OCD Applejack and her hog-slopping ritual, and Pinkamena Diane Pie. With a setting like that there’s plenty of elbow room for nonsensical comedy.
How challenging did you find it telling a story using only notes, letters, and other sorts of documents?
To be honest, I found it dirt easy. Description is hard. Making a character’s internal monologue interesting is hard. But dialogue is easy to make interesting, as characters bounce off one another … and letters are basically dialogue frozen in time.
It’s made easier by the fact that I sometimes read primary sources when researching history (one of my hobbies), and this gave me ideas for things I could use to advance the plot in Orderly Transfer. It’s not a trick I’d want to use too often, but for this story it was perfect — in fact, the only way to go. Writing it as a regular story would have explained too much to the readers; the dribs and drabs allowed them to put it together in a more dramatic and comedic fashion.
Do you find that you approach a story differently when writing comics than when writing plain prose?
Only in one sense: writing for comics requires that the writer pace things out on a per-page basis, so that the artist isn’t forced to cram too much or stretch too little across the comic page. Ideally, each page should end on a hook to pull the reader into the next page. In other respects it’s the same: establish characters, setting and basic conflict; rising action; climax; denouement.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks to everyone who reads and favorites/upvotes Orderly Transfer of Power! I’m still amazed that something I tossed off as a quick entry for a writing contest became so popular so fast, and I’m glad that so many people liked it.
I’d also like to direct readers to my major pony writing project, Changeling Space Program, which though not quite as Monty Python comedic is still funny and adventurous, and which I put substantially more effort into writing (which is one reason why chapters come out months apart).
And, of course, Patreon. I have one, and the less worried I am about the bank balance, the more relaxed and likely to write things I become! Or if that’s not an option for you, check wlpshirts.com for the T-shirts I sell at conventions, which include several pony-inspired designs.
(Shame? If you’re poor or a writer (but I repeat myself), shame is a luxury.)