Monday, November 28, 2011

Saddlesoap Opera's Pony Psychology Series

Perhaps one of the best-known fanfiction sagas in the fandom, today's Vault entry examines the psyches of the main characters and some fan-favorite characters... and the weaknesses that can be found therein.

[Adventure][Shipping][Tragedy] • 61,800 words
One by one, Twilight and her friends must come to terms with the consequences of being the Elements of Harmony.

As usual, hit the break for a discussion with Saddlesoap about his work and links to the story on your favorite pony sites, and check out the Downloads page for a copy in your preferred eBook format!

Where do you live?

I’m a proud Canadian from Ontario.

What kind of work do you do? (i.e. are you a student, do you have a career/day job, etc)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have a job working with language - I work in the journalism industry.

How did you discover My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic? When did you realize you were a fan of the show?

I first heard about the show via the YouTube video mashing up the audio from the Starcraft 2 trailer with MLP footage. Intrigued, I watched a few episodes. By the end of the pilot I knew this was not the cartoon my little sister watched way back when. Four or five episodes in, I was hooked.

Do you have a favorite episode? [Editor's note: at the time of this interview, the most recent aired episode was Sisterhooves Social.]

That is definitely a tough question. I think the episode I have re-watched the most so far though is Green Isn’t Your Color. It has a wonderful blend of humour and emotional tension, and Photo Finish played hilariously off of Fluttershy’s meekness. Rarity’s jealously and Twilight’s secret-stress were great too.

Who is your favorite character based purely on the canon of the show itself? Would your answer change if you considered the fandom in its entirety (i.e. art, fanfiction, memes, etc)?

Another tough one! But as a survivor of a LONG academic career I am very fond of Twilight - I sympathize with her grad-student-style behaviour. Honestly though, ALL of the primary cast members have their enjoyable aspects - that’s one of the show’s strong points.

With fanon aspects included, I am also a big fan of Ditzy Doo / Derpy Hooves / Whoever in her fan interpretation as a hard-working and dedicated single mother to Dinky Doo / Hooves / Whatever. It’s just such a touching relationship as it is presented in a wide range of images and fics.

How did you come up with your handle/pen name?

I wanted to have an equine pun as my handle, so I brainstormed for a while and came up with it off the top of my head. Obviously, it plays off the product “Saddle Soap” and the genre “Soap Opera” - which seems fitting, considering the high levels of drama in the fic series for which I am most well-known.

Have you written in other capacities (other fandoms, professionally, etc)? When did you first start writing?

I have been writing stories since grade school. I have never been published, but I have written large amounts of fiction on my own time - a few hundred thousand words’ worth, if a quick mental inventory is fairly accurate. I have successfully participated in NaNoWriMo twice, and I enjoy writing as a hobby. MLP:FIM was the first fandom for which I wrote fan-fiction, however.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?

I’m fairly sure this will come as no surprise, but I read voraciously. I also enjoy watching movies and TV, playing video games, and otherwise enjoying the consumption of fictional creations.

Who is your favorite author (published or fanfiction)? Do you have a favorite story or novel?

Ah. Now THIS is REALLY a tough one. I just don’t think I could point out a single story or novel as my favourite, since my tastes in fiction evolve and change with great speed. As for authors, though, I am a big fan of Chuck Palahniuk, Clive Barker, Stephen King, William Gibson and Jon Courtenay Grimwood.

Stephen King believes that every author has an "ideal reader" - the one person who they write for, the one person whose reactions they care about. Do you have one, and if so, who is it?

I do indeed. A dear friend and fellow Brony, she acts as critic and sounding board for my fiction - both Pony and otherwise. She is unafraid to offer both criticism and praise, and our conversations always prove highly inspiring.

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers, or writers who are struggling with their own stories?

I could probably waffle on for ages on this topic, but I’ll see if I can boil things down to a few suggestions that have proven useful for my own writing.

First, when writing dialogue, read it out loud. If you find it awkward or confusing to speak your characters’ lines, so would they - rewrite them.

Second, always carry a means to jot down ideas, whether a smartphone, laptop, or (my favourite) a notepad and pens. You never know when inspiration will strike, and you WILL forget an awesome idea if you don’t write it down.

Third, read. Read books. Read other fics. Read the newspaper. Read your earlier works. Read, read, read. Reading is exercise for the mental muscles you use when you write. The more you soak yourself in good writing, the more you’ll recognize it when you start producing some of your own.

What is your typical writing process? (Do you work through multiple drafts, do you have any prereaders/editors, etc?)

All of my stories tend to start as small piles of notes jotted down on the aforementioned notepads. Once the basic concept is hashed out, I tend to write a single draft and then tinker with it when writing shorter pieces, and sometimes write a couple of drafts when dealing with longer works. Ditzy Doo: Muffins, for example, went through something like SIX drafts before I posted it. That was a bit of an anomaly, though.

If a particular scene stands out especially vividly in my mind, I will sometimes write it down first, and then craft the story around it or insert it in an appropriate spot.

I often end up tweaking my fiction in small ways over and over (sometimes after it is posted!) - I am my own harshest critic sometimes.

What inspired you to write The Pony Psychology Series?

The series really began as a standalone, Fluttershy: Origins. I was shocked and entertained by the “Flutterrage” moment in The Best Night Ever, and after watching that finale I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of life experiences could have led FS to present such a strange blend of caregiver and shrinking violet, with occasional outbursts of pent-up fury.

My musing led to the fic, which led to more musing about the other characters, which led to more fic ideas, and by the end of Pinkie Pie: Schism I knew I wanted to shape them into a connected series. But it all started with imagining Fluttershy as carrying a hefty case of Caregiver Burden. As I said above, I had never written fanfic before, but once I started... well, here we are.

Did you run into any tough spots or challenges when writing The Pony Psychology Series?

I have noticed that I tend to rush endings - I suppose it’s like seeing the finish line at the end of a long race; you get a burst of energy and push extra hard. It’s something I watch out for now.

(Spoilers ahead.) I would say the hardest chapter to write was Muffins - it was essentially a self-contained narrative, and balancing the VAST range of moods in the story was very difficult. Also, while the amnesia concept came to me very early, I went through a TON of different pasts for Ditzy. In an early draft, she was actually a serial killer who had almost killed Nurse Redheart years back in Manehattan before being “shot” in the head by a unicorn cop’s magic and losing her memories! It was Dinky who put that notion to bed - I couldn’t bring myself to have that little foal’s mother be that evil, even if she was different in the present.

Conversely, the easiest chapter to write was Alicorns: Blame. The Royal Sisters’ argument, fight and reconciliation just flowed forth, and I found it extremely satisfying to write.

When you set out to write The Pony Psychology Series, did you have any specific messages or themes in mind?

Psychology, identity and emotion were obviously central elements from the beginning, but on that note I think what I really wanted to do was dig beneath the surface of the Mane Cast as they are seen in the show, without disturbing said surface. I looked into those huge, shiny eyes and wondered: what’s going on in there?

With Pony Psychology, I wanted to lend some depth to the cast’s characterization with the minimum possible disturbance to the canon seen in the episodes. Examining the possible effects of the Elements of Harmony on their bearers provided a chance to do that.

Where can readers drop you a line?

I can be reached via private messages through any of the fiction sites where I maintain a profile (handle Saddlesoap Opera in all cases), or directly at I am always interested to hear from readers, and I love discussing the process of fiction writing. Feel free to contact me!

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I’d like to thank everypony who took the time to read my work, all those who gave a “TV show for little girls” a chance to demolish their expectations, and most of all, the creators of said series.

Friendship is Magic makes me smile. Truly, reflexively, widely, smile. It wasn’t until I felt it happening while watching the show that I thought about just how little in this big bad world does that to me anymore. I laugh all the time, and hoo-boy does the world offer plenty to cry about, but smile? Sincerely smile? Smile like a happy child? Rarely. So thank you, Lauren Faust et al.

Thank you for making me smile.

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