(RCL NOTE: We’re attempting the hopeless task of choosing the fandom’s Single Best Story™ at a special panel at Bronycon. Help us pick the competitors! Details here. Voting is open until July 13.)
Do not skip today’s story.
Do Not Serve These Ponies
[Comedy] • 21,083 words
Lyra knows the truth. Lyra knows that a shadowy conspiracy dating back to the very dawn of Equestria is responsible for manipulating every major event for the past two thousand years. And Lyra does not care how many museums she has to destroy or how many transdimensional rifts she has to open in her quest to inform the public.
FROM THE CURATORS: Today’s feature is a bit unusual — it’s the first which has gone through two separate rounds of RCL consideration. “I laugh more when reading Thanqol’s stories than almost any other author’s,” Chris said in his original nomination in 2013. “Thanqol has a real knack for understatement, and for finding a straight pony for every situation. This is my favorite of his that isn’t ineligible.” At the time, Do Not Serve failed to get through our voting process — but after several years and near-total RCL turnover, it was one of the stories which inspired a debate over how to fairly revisit decisions which new curators disagreed with. Ultimately, once everyone had weighed in, we added up both old and new scores, and discovered that it had won majority approval.
Primarily, that was because — with the benefit of hindsight — the story’s hilarity survived the test of time. “I still look back on this story fondly as a mile-a-minute comedy that never wears out its welcome,” Present Perfect said. FanOfMostEverything agreed: “Like Lyra, it throws itself into every insane moment of escalation and has a wonderful time while doing so. It’s just pure fun.” But, importantly, it also didn’t lack in depth. “It is centered on a very real core of the friendship between Lyra and Bon-Bon, which leaves it grounded just enough to not let the random aspect of the fics simply take over,” Soge said. It also played with early-season fanon in ways that now seem fascinating. “There’s a section where Bon-Bon wonders whether Lyra is a secret agent, which is an interesting foreshadowing of Season 5,” Horizon noted, “and some clever extrapolation is made from Lyra’s background in Canterlot.”
No matter how wide-ranging our praise got, however, the story never stopped being funny and quotable. “It’s peppered with laugh-out-loud lines, imagery, and running gags — the Cone of Shame deserves special mention,” Horizon said. RBDash47 agreed, while also comparing the prose to one of the great comedic masters: “It seems like every other line has me cracking up (‘Hello,’ said Rainbow Dash. / ‘Ah. And the oppressor shows her true colours. And it’s all of them’). The humor and style strikes me as being Adamsian without actually being a straight lift from Douglas Adams’ work — it’s got that same sense of wry wordplay and expectation subversion.” Ultimately, as Present Perfect said, that made it stand out despite competition from tales both old and new: “This story proves that well-worn fandom tropes like ‘Lyra’s obsessed with humans’ can still be used in original and highly entertaining ways.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Thanqol discusses Shakespeare horror, collateral happiness, and Closing Statement.
Give us the standard biography.
- Follow these methods:
- Introduce Yourself. Begin the bio by introducing yourself, and always write in the third person. …
- Education and Credentials. List your education after the introduction sentence, including the name of any degrees you have earned and the institution you attended. …
- Notable Achievements. …
- Closing Statement.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I looked at Grey Seer Thanquol, a loathsome rat-man who failed at everything he did in life and then blamed everyone else for mistakes caused by his own greed and stupidity and thought: ‘yeah, this guy gets it’.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Princess Celestia is best pony.
What’s your favorite episode?
“Fall Weather Friends”.
What do you get from the show?
Well, it got me off 4chan, for which I will be eternally grateful.
I think the main thing it taught me is that people are dying to be creative if they’re just given a space where it’s okay to do that. There was never anything on the internet as welcoming to the creative impulse as the pony fandom. The show was good but there was also a certain vulnerability that came with admitting you liked it — once you’d crossed that line, then what the hell, right? Why not show everyone that fanfiction you wrote? Are the fellow fans of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic going to make fun of you?
What do you want from life?
To paint tiny spacemen.
Honestly I’ve got everything I want from life right now, things are so absurdly perfect for me that it feels almost mean to discuss it.
Why do you write?
It’s a basic bodily function. I describe painting toy soldiers as my hobby even though I do way, way more writing in any given day. Writing is something I have done so constantly for so long that it doesn’t register as something I choose to do. Eat, drink, write stories on the internet.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Everyone’s going to give you vague advice like “just practice”. They’re all correct, but listen — I’m going to give you something real.
One: Your character’s likeability is due to three factors. How competent they are, how funny they are, and how motivated they are. The motivation is the key one that people miss! A character who’s just sort of drifting along is unlikeable, even if they’re extremely highly skilled or funny. If you’ve got a character who’s just sort of into something, consider making them OBSESSED with that thing instead.
Two: Pacing is all. Forward momentum is key. The worst thing that can happen to a story is it getting bogged down and no progress being made. You need a way to communicate a sense of forwards momentum even if not much is technically happening. If your story calls for someone to have a huge intense crisis of faith and then spend like 8 chapters brooding internally that’s cool — just put them on a boat or something so there’s a sense of forwards movement while they’re doing that.
What inspired “Do Not Serve These Ponies”?
All of my stories I write for specific people. I think it’s a good habit — if you write a story to please everyone you’ll never know if you’ve succeeded or not, and every person who doesn’t like it strikes you as a failure on your part. If you’re writing a story for a specific person then you know for a fact if you have succeeded or failed and everyone else who likes it is just collateral happiness.
This is incidentally why all of my stories are of radically different genres. I wrote them all for different friends and shaped myself to the specific tastes of those friends.
Do Not Serve These Ponies was written for a guy I know as AotRS Commander. I’d just finished Yours Truly, my big emotional shipping drama which was very much not his speed, so I committed to make it up to him by changing course entirely and going into hard comedy. I didn’t have much of a plan going in; I just wanted to make it be the kind of story that he would like. My friends are my inspiration!
Did you find it difficult making each successive plot point nuttier than the last?
I wrote DNSTP in like three sittings; it was one of those stories that just flowed from my fingers like water. It’s a comedy with a very strong internal logic, which meant that I was never in doubt about what needed to happen next. A lot of new directors in the film industry cut their teeth on horror movies for their first movie — a custom going all the way back to Bill Shakespeare. This is because while horror is formulaic, the power is all in the execution.
Comedy is the same. The actual plot of a good comedy is usually extremely straightforwards. The trick is always in the execution. It’s about rhythm, pacing, and steady escalation — the kind of practical writing techniques that nobody talks about but I’m obsessed with. Thinking of comedy as the same narrative style as horror helps a lot for figuring how you should approach it.
Are you working on any stories these days?
I am not working any solo pieces but, at the same time, my writing output has never been higher. My centre of gravity is and always has been play-by-post games on the internet. That’s what writing is to me! I churn out thousands of words in a dozen games; I’ve gotten so good at it, and everyone I game with just gets better and better. We’re all former ponyfic writers who have been gaming together for nearly a decade now and we’re constantly inspiring each other to greater heights.
I’ll return to solo writing one day when I’ve got something I really need to say. Same for my friends. Until then I’m keeping my mind sharp on wonderful games with wonderful friends. When any of us drop a story it’ll knock your socks off.
What is it that keeps bringing you back to FimFiction?
I’ve got hella backlog.
I finally got around to reading Austraeoh. Oh man, that was an intimidating entry on the Read Later list. But after I read the first chapter and instantly fell in love with it I was delighted because I knew that story was going to keep me going for ages. It took me seven months to get through and I loved every moment of it. I don’t think there’s ever been a story quite like it in the English language and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Good stories don’t age. FimFiction has a lot of them.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
With the end of the show in sight, I hope the one thing everyone takes away from this… singular, bizarre, fascinating miracle of a fandom… is that the real ponies were the friends we made along the way.