The quality of today’s story is hard to escape.
[Dark] [Comedy] • 9,961 words
Lyra thinks Discord is an idiot for not thinking to dodge when the Elements of Harmony were about to strike him. Discord thinks this is the perfect opportunity for a game.
FROM THE CURATORS: As a new year starts, the same old curators return with a new every-other-Friday schedule and a six-year-old story that’s proven its staying power. “It went from 21k views to 22k while I was reading it,” Present Perfect noted.
We all praised the character writing. “Discord is a touch toned down from his appearances in the show,” RBDash47 said in his nomination post, “(which I don’t mind; translating his visual wackiness to prose can be more annoying than funny), but I can hear every line in de Lancie’s voice.” And AugieDog added, “the version of Lyra here reminded me of the character we meet in the ‘Slice of Life’ episode: essentially good-natured but a little cranky when faced with the unexpected.”
Still, it’s the challenge Discord presents to a skeptical Lyra that makes this story sing. “What’s most impressive,” Horizon said, “is that it’s written well enough and thoughtfully enough to provoke the sort of discussion it received.” “Hundreds have commented,” Present Perfect pointed out, “trying to come up with ways that Discord actually could have avoided the Elements.” “This leads,” RBDash47 said, “to a fun exploration of the limits, or lack thereof, of the Elements’ power.”
Present Perfect neatly summed it up: “On the whole, the quality of the writing, the approach to the what-if scenario and the inspiration of hundreds of imaginations is what sets this apart.”
So read on for our author interview, in which DannyJ discusses dark edges, skewed perceptions, and self-defeats.
Give us the standard biography.
Not sure what to say. I’m from London and I’m in my mid-twenties, I guess. I discovered the show through 4chan in 2011, and… here I am.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
It’s my name. Or an abbreviation thereof. Not something I was really thinking much about at the time, though I probably should’ve. Fortunately it’s not caused me any problems so far.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Favourite pony? Probably Sunset Shimmer, or maybe Celestia, depending on the day (and when in canon we’re talking about). Though, anyone who knows me could tell you my favourite overall character is Discord, as he’s the one that most interests me, and the one I write about the most. Return of Harmony was the first episode I watched live with the rest of the fandom as it came out, and it made me a lifelong fan of John de Lancie and many of his characters.
What’s your favorite episode?
That’s a tough question. There are a lot of episodes I could point to as being good, but none that really jump out as my absolute favourite.
Going through a list and thinking it over, I guess Make New Friends But Keep Discord would be my pick. It’s from my favourite season, it’s about my favourite character (the first episode with him as the protagonist, in fact), and it played with a lot of interesting ideas and concepts. It was the episode that gave us Discord’s home dimension, G4 Smooze, and Tree Hugger, and it used them all to explore Discord’s relationships with other characters, as well as believably progress his reformation arc while still holding onto that darker edge he had that attracted me to him in the first place. Plus, it had a lot of good comedy. Natasha Levinger sadly wasn’t with the show for very long, but of the four episodes she wrote, two of them were comedic stand-outs, so the woman clearly knew what she was doing.
What do you get from the show?
In the show’s heyday, what I most got out of it was the characterisation and world-building. Like most franchises with lots of fanfic, it provided a strong framework to build around, but it also left plenty of gaps to fill in with original stories, both for myself, and for other writers. And for the first five or six seasons it was all mostly consistent as well. I made a big point of following not just the show and movies, but also the books, comics, and any other expanded universe material I could obtain as well. If it fit together as part of a coherent and internally consistent world, great. If it didn’t, then that was an excuse to be creative. Yes, sometimes new canon would invalidate something I’d previously written, but what replaced it was generally more interesting anyway.
Sadly, I did not find this to be the case with the last few seasons, so by the time the show ended, I was mostly just watching in hopes of being entertained for 20 minutes. And to keep up with the regular fandom discussions, of course. Fortunately, there were still a few good episodes along the way, so I got that often enough, though I do still miss the earlier stuff.
What do you want from life?
A lot of things, I guess. It’s hard to pin down anything specific.
Why do you write?
Aside from just being an outlet, I write the kind of things that I’d like to read. I like Discord, so I write a lot of Discord stories. I enjoy dark comedy, so I write stories like Dragonfall. I like world-building and inter-connected universes, so my stories all share continuity and I write a lot of world-building essays for them. And I like comedic yet critically analytical reviews (Red Letter Media and the like), so I write those sometimes as well. Usually, whatever I’m currently writing will be heavily influenced by whatever’s most caught my interest lately, so I guess it’s a good thing I’m only a fanfic writer, not a professional author.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Read reviews. I don’t just mean listen to comments on your stories — I mean read reviews for other stories in general, both positive and negative.
When I started out writing fanfic, I made a lot of beginner’s mistakes, but experience alone wouldn’t have helped me overcome that. The people who hated my first fanfic stopped reading a few chapters in before I made my biggest missteps, and the people who liked it in spite of everything I was doing wrong generally didn’t critique it a lot. So after a while, I was only getting positive reinforcement, which I think is a trap a lot of new writers of long fanfics fall into.
It was reading review blogs that showed me where I was going wrong. I learned a lot from following One Man’s Pony Ramblings by Chris (who some of you might know from this series or Seattle’s Angels, and who incidentally also edited Just Dodge!). He reviewed well-known or popular stories from the fandom on his blog, some of which he liked, and some of which he didn’t, and I always thought he was very good at articulating why. Seeing a review of his pointing out another story’s mistakes, with examples of where it went wrong and why, was a good way to learn. It made me ask myself, “Am I doing that?” or “How can I avoid this?”
So my advice to other new writers would be to do the same. Follow reviewers who look at a variety of content, and study where other authors have gone wrong (or right). Learn by example. At least, that’s what worked for me.
What inspired “Just Dodge!”?
Before I wrote the story, I remember it being kind of a common joke that the Elements of Harmony were an ineffective weapon because they were so slow-moving, and that Discord was dumb because he could’ve easily just dodged to the side and avoided them. Hell, I think it wasn’t even a joke to some people. I vaguely recall seeing at least a few arguments on group forums here and there which expressed that sentiment seriously. And sure, I found it funny too, but I also like my fictional universes to make sense and be internally consistent, so while I don’t fault Return of Harmony for it, it did still bother me from a character and world-building perspective.
For me, any serious interpretation of Discord and the Elements of Harmony needed to address that complaint before it could actually make sense, since it was obviously something that a lot of people took issue with. So I thought it through, and came up with my solutions, and the story I eventually wrote was a showcase of that. The time-loop was a way to show as many different problems and solutions as possible, and ironically, my more serious examination of Return of Harmony became a comedy, since it just fit the characters and scenario better.
Why choose Lyra to play the lead?
There wasn’t any special reason. I just wanted to give myself a little wiggle room. When I wrote Just Dodge! I had relatively little experience with writing canon characters, especially the mane six, who would have otherwise been the obvious choices. I still haven’t written much with the mane six even today. So I didn’t want to deal with pre-established characterisation, especially if it came to a weird scenario like one of the Elements of Harmony trying to defeat themselves, but I also didn’t particularly want to invent a new OC for the story either. Using a background pony who I could characterise however I wanted seemed a good compromise.
Of course, had I known then what the show would do with Lyra in Slice of Life one year later, I may have done things a little differently.
Would you call this a “fix fic”?
I… hmm… I suppose it is one, but I’ve never really thought of it as such. Like I said, I don’t fault Return of Harmony for how it depicted Discord and the Elements. It may be a valid critique of the episode, but I personally never had a problem with it, because even if it took me until I wrote Just Dodge! to really work out and codify all the rules, I always kind of interpreted them this way. Like, for example, I always assumed there was some kind of protection on the mane six during the charge-up. To me, addressing and explaining this in the way that I did was just outside the scope of the episode, because the writers probably never anticipated at the time that FiM would one day have a fandom that would ask those kinds of questions.
So Just Dodge! was more inspired by the fandom’s interpretation of the show than anything I considered to be wrong with the show itself. Technically, I suppose it still fulfills the function of a fixfic, but that wasn’t my intention at the time. Though, I have written deliberate fixfics before for other canon stories.
Did all the audience participation in the comments afterwards take you by surprise?
To a degree. My first ever story on the site was similarly successful and had just as much audience participation, if not more, so that’s always kind of skewed my perspective of what a normal level of attention for a fic looks like. Certainly, Just Dodge! (and later Rest in Chaos) have been the only ones I’ve written since then that matched or exceeded it, but what was more surprising was that they both achieved this despite only being oneshots, whereas my first story was a 400K word longfic with forty chapters. So with Just Dodge! it was a lot more sudden and came all at once, which was definitely somewhat daunting, especially the first time I logged in and found 50 notifications waiting for me.
It was a lot of fun, though! As I said, I enjoy world-building, and it was nice to see people also be interested in the world I’d written and engaging with it. I don’t really get that a lot with any of my newer stuff.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Not much. I guess thanks again to Chris for all his help, and to all the readers who gave me their time. And of course, thanks to the RCL for having me today. It’s been an experience.