Ezn’S Guide to Writing (Fan)Fiction



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In December 2011, I sat down to write a general guide for people looking to write My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fanfiction. My reasons for this were twofold: One, after doing a number of author-centric reviews in the Writer Training Grounds on Ponychan’s /fic/, I found myself repeating the same advice over and over. Two, I found resources like the EqD Editors Omnibus and Cereal Velocity’s Pony Writing Guides – while useful and comprehensive in many ways – lacking in a number of areas. I wanted to refer to a central resource for everything a beginning writer might need (and a more experienced writer might occasionally need to be reminded of), and it soon became clear I’d have to put one together myself.

I released the first version of Ezn’s Guide to Writing (Fan)fiction in January 2012, and the response was positive. Over the year that followed, the guide was continuously revised and extended with the help of too many people to name here. It also accompanied numerous reviews on /fic/ and was spread around FIMFiction. I received many comments and emails with suggestions and thanks, and many referrals from all around the ponynet, and in the end my head grew so big I was able to shave it and print the entirety of the guide on my scalp in columns of 10pt Arial. In retrospect, that was a mistake, because I later rewrote most of it.

The massive amount of text that follows is a collection of things I’ve learnt about writing through the tutelage of others and my own stupid trial and error. Most of it is written by me, but a fellow named RogerDodger provided the useful parts of the Grammar section.1 It is not meant to be the ur-text on writing fiction, but it details my experiences and the practices and techniques I’ve found useful in writing my own stuff. You may disagree with me about plots or Lavender Unicorn Syndrome or even dialogue punctuation, but all I ask is that you disagree intelligently. If this guide inspires you to think carefully about the words you put down on the page and about the art of writing, then I’ve done my job.

And maybe you’ll get a chuckle out of some of it as well.

Welcome to my guide. I hope it proves useful.

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Colour key

I’m going to be brightening this document with some coloured text, because I really like colours.

Also, I am not American, so I call “periods” full stops and I spell words the right way. I’ve tried to avoid discussing things Americans and other people disagree on in this guide (and specifically mention it when it does come up), but one or two little things may have crept in, for which I apologise (with an “s”) in advance.

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A lot of what makes a work of fiction (or any piece of writing) good is subjective. This section is not. Learn these rules, and live by them. Only break them when you fully understand them, and absolutely have to.

As for the evolution of language… well, I can see the merit and importance of that, but there’s a difference between language evolving and you being too lazy to express yourself in a clear and readable manner. Again, learn the rules before breaking them.

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New writers often have a bad habit of clumping all of their text into one or two paragraphs, likely because they don’t entirely understand the purpose of paragraphing, and they think it makes their writing look really long and impressive or something.

I will be the first to admit that I probably use too many paragraphs, but it’s better to do that than to use too few. Paragraphs enhance readability, and if your work’s not readable, no-one’s going to read it!

Paragraphs don’t have to be a certain minimum or maximum length. A single sentence can be its own paragraph. A paragraph can also, technically, be as many sentences long as you want, but you’ll usually find that it’s time to start a new one when you get past seven or eight.

The general idea is this:

One idea per paragraph.

The first paragraph of this section was about the paragraphing habits of new writers. The second was about my own possible shortcomings in regards to paragraphing. The third one was about paragraph length. This one is a summary of all the paragraphs that have come before.

Ice-cream is very tasty. My favourite flavour is vanilla, and I never put anything on it, because you should never put anything on good ice-cream.

Now that I’m done talking about ice-cream, I’ve started a new paragraph to talk about something else. There are no hard and fast rules about where to begin or end a paragraph, but you should get the hang of it with enough practice and enough reading.

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The most important rule of dialogue is this:

New speaker, new paragraph.

For example:

“MAKING CUPCAKES!” Pinkie happily announced.

“Baking?” Dash was disappointed. “Pinkie, you know I’m not good at baking. Remember last time?”

“Oh that’s not a problem at all. I only need your help making them. I’ll be doing most of the work,” Pinkie explained.

Or even:

“MAKING CUPCAKES!” Pinkie happily announced.

“Baking?” Dash was disappointed. “Pinkie, you know I’m not good at baking. Remember last time?”

“Oh that’s not a problem at all. I only need your help making them. I’ll be doing most of the work,” Pinkie explained.

But not:

“MAKING CUPCAKES!” Pinkie happily announced. “Baking?” Dash was disappointed. “Pinkie, you know I’m not good at baking. Remember last time?” “Oh that’s not a problem at all. I only need your help making them. I’ll be doing most of the work,” Pinkie explained.

It’s also wrong to just put new dialogue on a new line, because it’s bad practice to separate any kind of paragraph without using indentation or vertical space (these kinds of breaks are completely invisible if the last line of your first paragraph happens to be the same width as the page it’s on).

“MAKING CUPCAKES!” Pinkie happily announced.

“Baking?” Dash was disappointed. “Pinkie, you know I’m not good at baking. Remember last time?”

“Oh that’s not a problem at all. I only need your help making them. I’ll be doing most of the work,” Pinkie explained.

I believe that a lot of people don’t understand this rule because of the difference in paragraph formatting between printed books and electronic media. As is detailed below, books usually indent the first line of each new paragraph, whereas electronic texts (like this guide) usually leave vertical space between their paragraphs. So, for a new writer, it might look more “booklike” to have everything in a great big wall of text, because it’s likely that they haven’t noticed the indentation in the books they’ve read.

New speaker, new paragraph.

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Said tags

The second most important rule of dialogue is actually a whole lot of rules: the nuances of dialogue punctuation. New writers are always getting this wrong in some way or another, because it’s kind of complicated and finicky. While dialogue punctuation does have a lot of rules, ninety-nine percent of the time, you’ll only need to keep these few in mind:

  1. Dialogue which precedes a said tag (some variation of “said Character”) can end in a comma, or an exclamation point, or a question mark, or an ellipsis, but never a full stop (or “period”).

    • “I hope I get around to doing some reading today,” said Twilight Sparkle.
    • “I really want to do some reading today!” shouted Twilight Sparkle.
    • “Will I get any reading done today?” asked Twilight Sparkle.
    • “I hope I get around to doing some reading today.” said Twilight Sparkle.
  2. Said tags are never capitalised. They are not complete sentences, and they should not ever follow full stops (as stated above). Think of them as the subject and verb of a sentence that has the dialogue you’re applying them to as its object. You don’t write “The boy kicked. The ball.” so you shouldn’t write “ ‘Hello.’ He said.” either.

    • “I hope I get around to doing some reading today.” Said Twilight Sparkle.
    • “I hope I get around to doing some reading today,” Said Twilight Sparkle.
  3. Dialogue which is split in half by a said tag will either form a single sentence or two separate sentences. It should be formatted to reflect that.

    • A single sentence: “I love bunnies, and also ducks.”
    • Two sentences: “I do so enjoy coming up with ideas for dresses. Not all of them get made, though.”
    • “I love bunnies,” said Fluttershy, “and also ducks.”
    • “I do so enjoy coming up with ideas for dresses,” said Rarity. “Not all of them get made, though.”
    • “I love bunnies.” said Fluttershy, “and also ducks.”
    • “I do so enjoy coming up with ideas for dresses,” said Rarity, “Not all of them get made, though.”

    As you can see, the two wrong examples give you these badly punctuated messes:

    • “I love bunnies. and also ducks.”
    • “I do so enjoy coming up with ideas for dresses, Not all of them get made, though.”
  4. If a said tag precedes dialogue, you introduce the dialogue with a comma:

    • Applejack said, “Don’t you muddy the issue with your fancy mathematics!”

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Action tags

If you really want to end your dialogue with full stop instead of a comma, consider using an action tag instead of a traditional said tag. For example:

Action tags are a fun way to get out of writing said/asked/exclaimed/shouted/etc over and over again. The really great thing about them is they’re not so much “dialogue tags” as they are regular bits of narration that, when put next to a piece of dialogue, show that the character doing the action was the one speaking. They also don’t require finicky dialogue punctuation!

The sun was low in the sky and all the ponies of Ponyville were heading inside to get ready for bed. Owlocious stood vigil on one of the branches of Twilight’s tree library. “Hoo.”

But wait! These action tags only work if you insert them between complete sentences of dialogue, and sometimes you need to have some action interrupt a piece of dialogue right in the middle of a sentence. Obviously, you can’t do that with commas, because then you’d have icky comma splices:

“Derpy, muffins don’t,” Carrot Top put a hoof to her forehead, “grow into muffin trees when you bury them in the ground.”

However, there’s no reason not to use dashes instead!

“Derpy, muffins don’t” – Carrot Top put a hoof to her forehead – “grow into muffin trees when you bury them in the ground.”

A quick note: there’s a difference between putting the dashes outside of the quotation marks and putting them inside the quotation marks.

“Derpy, muffins don’t –” Carrot Top put a hoof to her forehead “– grow into muffin trees when you bury them in the ground.”

In the first example, the action is performed concurrently with the dialogue, and in the second example, the action interrupts the dialogue, which then continues once the action is complete.

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When writing multi-paragraph dialogue, each new paragraph should start with an open quotation mark, like so:

“New writers often have a bad habit of clumping all of their text into one or two paragraphs, likely because they don’t entirely understand the purpose of paragraphing, and they think it makes their writing look really long and impressive or something.

“I will be the first to admit that I probably use too many paragraphs, but it’s better to do that than to use too few. Paragraphs enhance readability, and if your work’s not readable, no-one’s going to read it!

“Paragraphs don’t have to be a certain minimum or maximum length. A single sentence can be its own paragraph. A paragraph can also, technically, be as many sentences long as you want, but you’ll usually find that it’s time to start a new one when you get past seven or eight.”

It makes my “programmer’s incomplete parenthesis” sense tingle, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be done. I guess the open quotations serve as a reminder to the reader that the dialogue from the previous paragraph is still going on.

Before I defer to better sources, one last thing:

If someone is being addressed in dialogue, a comma should appear before their name.

This article on The Editor’s Blog, and this article on Be A Better Writer explain the more obscure rules of dialogue punctuation better than I could hope to.

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Full stops, exclamation points, and question marks

A full stop is used to end an ordinary sentence. It can end sentences that aren’t exciting and don’t have questions. Reaching the end of a paragraph is no excuse to leave off a full stop.

Are question marks used to end questions? Yes, yes they are. Can they be used for anything else? No, no they can’t. I wonder why. The preceding sentence should not end in a question mark, because it doesn’t ask a question. It merely states that I wonder why something is the way it is.

Exclamation marks are exciting and energetic! They’re appropriate for shouty or enthusiastic dialogue! They can also be used in narration, but only very, very sparingly, or else it gets annoying!

One exclamation mark after a sentence is fine, as is one question mark. An exclamation mark followed by a question mark (“!?”) or vice versa (“?!”) is slightly less fine (called an interrobang2) but has some support in certain circles. What is not fine, however, is ending a sentence in any more than one of these marks. Multiple exclamation marks don’t make your sentence more urgent or exciting; they just make you look like a tool.

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Commas, semicolons, colons, dashes, and ellipses

Okay, this is a complicated topic, but it’s one that I think is vital knowledge for any writer. English is graced with so much wonderful punctuation, and yet most people barely move past using commas.

Commas are short pauses, used to break up sentences into logical chunks, but not used to conjoin separate sentences. You would think that this would be obvious, but one of the most common misuses of the comma is the dreaded comma splice.

Semicolons are sophisticated punctuation marks that make it okay to have comma splices; stick a dot on top of that comma and splice no more! Keep in mind, though, that writing needs variety; a variety of comma splices should be fixed in a variety of ways. The semicolon is the easiest way to fix them; it is not always the best.

Colons are a more directed form of semicolon. While two sentences conjoined by semicolons must be related in some way, the bit that comes after a colon must follow the logical flow started by the bit that precedes it. Chances are you won’t use too many colons: they usually get replaced by conjunctions.

Dash is best punctuation mark. It can be used in place of commas, semicolons, and colons! The dash is a great way to inject – or intersperse – exciting, abrupt little phrases into your sentences. But with great power comes great responsibility, and one must be careful not to overuse the versatile dash. Dashes are also useful in dialogue to show that a speaker has been cut o–

Ellipses should not be overused in fiction… their use in narration is often frowned on… because they are distracting… and also a cheap way to build suspense. They work better in dialogue, usually to signify the speaker trailing off… In addition, an ellipsis has exactly three (3) dots.

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Dashes, hyphens and ellipses – a technical note

This is a hyphen: “-”. It’s used to join compound words (“eye-colour”) and compound modifiers (“over-propelled” pegasus).

This is an en dash: “–”. It’s a little-used punctuation mark employed to indicate ranges of values (“pages 40–45”), relationships (“Doctor–patient relationship”), and a number of other things.

This is an em dash: “—”. It’s used—without spaces—as the “dash” punctuation mark.

“But, Ezn,” you ask, “why haven’t you been using unspaced em dashes? What’s with your spaced en dashes? Why are you lying to me?!”

The simple answer is that I prefer the way spaced en dashes look, and am not alone in this preference. The Chicago Manual of Style recommends unspaced em dashes, but “style guides outside of the US tend to diverge from this guidance”.

Some folk (such as The New York Times and Wired) even like to use — get this — a spaced em dash. Isn’t typography something?

This is fanfiction, so use whichever one you like most, or use an unspaced em dash if you’re American and a spaced en dash if you’re not. Just be consistent.3

The ellipsis is still more confusing. Depending on the style guide you follow, you could end up using it any of these ways:

The standard way of representing the ellipsis in electronic media, where we generally have to do without fancy typography and its associated array of different-sized spaces (and non-breaking ones), is the last option. Still, opinions are very divided on the ellipsis, so you can probably get away with whichever style you like best.

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There are three types of parentheticals: the type surrounded by commas, the type surrounded by dashes, and the type surrounded by parentheses. The first type is the most common; the second type is best used for abrupt, very quick asides – like this one here – and the third type is less common in fiction than the other two (with good reason: the type of asides usually put in brackets can break the reader’s immersion).

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Miscellaneous errors

  1. Apostrophes signify possession (among other things). “Ezn’s guide”, “Twilight’s library”, “farmers’ market”.4 Do not use them to make plurals. One “trolley”, multiple “trollies”, but not multiple “trolly’s”. Check out the Wikipedia article on English plurals for more help.

  2. On that note, the word “its” is the possessive form of it (“it rubs the lotion on its skin), and the word “it’s” is a contraction of “it is” or “it has”. That’s because “its” is the possessive form of a pronoun (“it”), so like “your” or “his”, it doesn’t get an apostrophe.

  3. Could have, should have, and would have – or if you want to get contraction-y, could’ve, should’ve, and would’ve. It’s “·ve”, not “·of”.

  4. Something is either unique or not unique. Something cannot be “very unique” or “sorta unique”, because “unique” means “one-of-a-kind”, and how can anything ever be “very one-of-a-kind”?

  5. Proper nouns (names) get capitalised (Princess Celestia, Canterlot, Grand Galloping Gala). Random other words do not, unless used at the beginning of a sentence. If you really need to emphasise something, use italics (true and honest vs True and Honest).

  6. There, they’re, and their. Your and you’re. Where, were, and wear. To, two, and too. If you don’t know the differences between these sets of words, look them up.

  7. In fiction, numbers that are not dates should be written out in words (“she had 2 eyes” vs “she had two eyes”).5

  8. Rainbow-maned pegasus. Dirt-covered carpet. Obstacle-ridden forest. When two words are working together to describe a noun (“pegasus”, “carpet”, or “forest”), they should be joined together with a hyphen. Don’t use a hyphen if the first word is an adverb, though, because the adverb is describing the adjective, not forming a compound with it. “It was a smoothly run election.

  9. Don’t use two single quotation marks ('') in place of a double quotation mark (").

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There are five tenses you need to worry about:

  1. Present
    I run.

  2. Present perfect
    I am running.

  3. Past
    I ran.

  4. Past perfect
    I had run.

  5. Future
    I will run.

99% of stories are written in the past tense. You get the occasional present tense story (Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash is the only published one I can think of off-hand6), but new writers are encouraged not to fiddle with that sort of thing until they’ve spent some quality time with traditional, past-tense writing. I don’t know of any notable stories (fanfiction or otherwise) written in future tense.

A mistake most new writers make quite a bit is tense inconsistency. Their stories will contain a ridiculous assortment of past tense and present tense verbs, and generally not because they’re daring metafictional pieces about time-travel. Tense mess ups like this are usually easy fixes, so just read through your story a few times to make sure no unintended time travelling occurs.

A more subtle and also harder-to-explain error is the mixing of the past and past perfect tenses. In my experience, mistakes of this sort are usually made by non-native English speakers.

[Editor’s note: The following is not really correct]

For example, “She knew the place well because she grew up there” should be “She knew the place well because she had grown up there”.

The word “grew”, while a past tense word, is one that is used in present tense sentences. For example, the sentence “He likes maple syrup because he grew up in Canada” is a present tense sentence in which a past event is referenced. If you said, “I like maple syrup because I grow up in Canada”, you’d get some strange looks.

When you convert a present tense sentence to the past tense, you need to convert all of its verbs and verb phrases to past tense versions of themselves, including “grew”, which becomes “had grown”. “He liked maple syrup because he had grown up in Canada.”

An often-overlooked part of getting tenses right is the proper use of words that refer to time. Words like “now”, “currently” and “today” should technically be avoided in past tense, because they are present tense words used to describe present tense happenings. So it’s often prudent to substitute “today” for “that day”. Substitute “now” and “currently” for “then”, or “at that moment”.

However, it is sometimes appropriate to use some of these words in a past tense narrative, and it has been done in published books. My recommendation is to be careful about using them, but not cut them out entirely. A well-placed “now” brings the reader closer to that point in the story, but mess it up and your story will be flip-flopping all over the timeline. The use of a “yesterday” or a “today” in the context of character thoughts has also been done, even in published fiction.

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And now we get into the subjective part of my little guide – the part where I’m going to tell you a bit about how I write, what I like to read in the writing of others, and what little affectations I absolutely hate to see in any writing ever. It’s all opinions from here on in, but I like to think that I’ve substantiated most of them.

See how I started that first sentence with an “and”? While your schoolteachers may have drummed the incorrectness of doing so into your little heads, there is actually no language rule that says you aren’t allowed to start a sentence with the word “and” (or the word “but”, for that matter). However, this doesn’t mean that your teachers were completely insane, or that they made up rules to torment you with.

But I don’t think that they should have been quite so harsh on you. And anyway, doesn’t English already have enough rules? And starting sentences with “and” works nicely sometimes; there are cases – mostly in dialogue – where it feels natural. But it only works if it isn’t overused.

This little debate highlights the difference between grammar and style. Being a good little writer and following the rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling doesn’t get you a gold star – it should be something writers do automatically, before even considering letting others look at their work. And even if your work is entirely grammatically correct, it may still be confusing or irritating to read.

Developing a good style is about learning how to manipulate the way you write to convey the ideas, feelings and worlds that you want to in a way that is clear and makes the reader want to read more. Unlike with grammar, there are no specific rules and systems that will guarantee you do things right every time, but there are a number of hints that can get you started.

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Being laconic

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”
—William Shakespeare

When I began to write this guide, it seemed to be rather difficult to know what to put into it, due to the fact that there’s just so very much to say about language usage and story writing, and most of it is subjective and open to interpretation. In the end, I decided to just write my opinions on writing, and explain them as best I could.

My first set of opinions has to do with a few words and phrases I used in the above paragraph.

  1. “began to verb” — This is something that I see a lot of in amateur writing, and it really irritates me. Wounds begin to bleed, opponents begin to fight, and barrels start rolling down hills. It’s stilted and usually meaningless – why not just say that the wound bled, or the opponents fought, or the barrel rolled down the hill? Saying “started to” or “began” doesn’t add any depth to your description of the event, so you may as well leave it out. There are, however, some cases where this is appropriate.

  2. “seemed to be rather” — Spineless language use. This is your story – you’re telling us that something happened; you’re MAKING this HAPPEN, bro. Don’t be so wish-washy about it – say that something was something else, not that it was “rather something else”. Dispense with “seemed to”, “appeared to”, “managed to”, and all other wobbly constructs if they add nothing to your sentences. Use metaphors instead of similes.

  3. “the fact that” — This phrase is the common man’s “like”. It adds nothing, and should you find yourself using it, get to reordering your sentence. It’s not the only perpetrator either – consider the meaning of every word you use, and strike meaningless words from your sentences.

”…prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of meaning , and more and more of phrasaes tacked together like the sections of a pre-fabricated henhouse.” –George Orwell

There are many, many more meaningless phrases and writing ticks than just these, but I hope they gave you some idea of what to look out for. Think carefully about the meaning of the words you’re using and avoid words that don’t have any meaning.

Omitting needless words doesn’t mean saying less, it means speaking more clearly.

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Ending sentences with a preposition

“Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”
—Winston Churchill

Much like starting a sentence with “and” or “but”, ending a sentence with a preposition is not technically wrong, despite what your English teacher may have told you. It is sometimes bad form, yes, but only when there are more elegant alternatives. When there are none, as is the case with Mr Churchill’s quote, it’s okay to end with a preposition.

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Lavender Unicorn Syndrome

The syndrome

When writing, it’s important to keep things interesting and avoid word repetition. However, some writers, being a little overeager to do the latter, like to substitute the names of their characters with little descriptive phrases whenever they feel like they’re repeating character names too much.

It’s not a good idea. Here’s an example of what to avoid:

Walking along the road one day, Twilight came across her friend Pinkie Pie. The lavender unicorn smiled and complimented Ponyville’s premiere party pony on the success of her most recent party.

“Thanks, Twilight!” said the pink earth pony. “I’m just glad everypony enjoyed themselves!”

“We sure did!” exclaimed Princess Celestia’s personal protégé.

That may strike you as a little exaggerated, but it’s been done. I’ve seen cases where writers have referred to a single character by a different narratively-irrelevant descriptive phrase in her every mention. It gets a little disorientating7 and is very annoying.

If a character has a name, call them by it as often as possible.

By referring to characters with descriptors, you take the reader away from them. There’s a leap of logic that needs to be made from “Princess Celestia’s personal protégé” to “Twilight Sparkle”, and although it’s a very small, almost unnoticeable leap for most readers, it’s still big enough to distract them from the character interaction taking place. Therefore, the worst place to succumb to LUS is in dialogue.

Here’s that passage again, this time just with names and pronouns:

Walking along the road one day, Twilight came across her friend Pinkie Pie. Twilight smiled and complimented her on the success of her most recent party.

“Thanks, Twilight!” said Pinkie. “I’m just glad everypony enjoyed themselves!”

“We sure did!” exclaimed Twilight.

Much clearer, and much less annoying.

Names are pretty invisible in prose, but you can overuse them.

Pinkie Pie bounced down the street on her carefree way. The ponies of Ponyville smiled and waved at Pinkie, and Pinkie smiled back at them.

“Hello, Pinkie Pie!” said Twilight Sparkle.

“Hi, Twilight!” Pinkie replied. “Isn’t today just the most wonderifical, splendidtastic day ever?”

“Well, it’s certainly… um… sunny, Pinkie,” Twilight replied.

If you find yourself doing that, the answer is not to start replacing names with descriptions. Instead, try to replace as many names as possible with pronouns.

Pinkie Pie bounced down the street on her carefree way. The ponies of Ponyville smiled and waved at her, and she smiled back at them.

“Hello, Pinkie Pie!” said Twilight Sparkle.

“Hi, Twilight!” Pinkie replied. “Isn’t today just the most wonderifical, splendidtastic day ever?”

“Well, it’s certainly… um… sunny, Pinkie,” Twilight replied.

If the problem persists, rearrange and reword your sentences until it goes away. You can often deal name repetition a killing blow by removing obvious speaker attributions and addresses.

Pinkie Pie bounced down the street on her carefree way. The ponies of Ponyville smiled and waved at her, and she smiled back at them.

“Hello, Pinkie Pie!” said Twilight Sparkle.

“Hi, Twilight!” Pinkie replied. “Isn’t today just the most wonderifical, splendidtastic day ever?”

“Well, it’s certainly… um… sunny.”

A lot of the time, a problem that appears to be one of name overuse actually ends up being one of repetitive sentence structure, and the practice of slapping descriptors into your writing in place of names only addresses a symptom of that. It’s a lot like cleaning your bedroom by chucking all the junk on your floor into your closet and locking it.

Not the syndrome

Not every word or phrase that isn’t a “Twilight” or a “she” is an example of LUS – it’s all about context. In some circumstances, little things like “her friend” or “the other mare” can be an appropriate way to refer to a character, but again, context. The big problem with calling Twilight a lavender unicorn every time you get tired of using her name is that her being lavender or a unicorn is usually quite irrelevant to the passage in which you’re reminding us of that, so the descriptor comes off as flowery, distracting and completely unnecessary.

You’ll recall that earlier on I mentioned that “by referring to characters with descriptors, you take the reader away from them”. Sometimes, this can be what you want to do. Substituting names from descriptors is a good way to zoom the reader out from their more intimate engagement with the story, and have them look at the big picture for a moment.

And then there’s the case where a character isn’t named (yet). So if, say, you have a story from Trixie’s viewpoint and she runs into Fluttershy, it would make sense to call Fluttershy “a yellow pegasus” when she first appears, and then just “a pegasus” until she introduces herself. Or if you have a nameless background character, it makes sense to call her “the grey pegasus” or “the green unicorn” the sole time you refer to her. As the rule above states, named characters should be referred to by names.

LUS can have specific applications in writing (where it stops being a syndrome and becomes… something nice?), but I feel that a lot of the time authors just slap arbitrary descriptors on their prose when they feel like they’re overusing names… and should actually take that opportunity to improve their skills with pronouns and/or sentence structure.

Further reading

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Active and passive voice

“The boy kicked the ball” is an example of active voice: the subject of the sentence (the boy) verb-ed (kicking) the object (the ball).

“The ball was kicked by the boy” is an example of passive voice: the object of the sentence (the ball) was verb-ed by (was kicked by) the subject of the sentence (the boy).8

Both styles of sentence have their places in writing, but a really dull way to write fiction is to use passive voice too much. What it does is that it makes everything overlong and makes it so that all urgency or immediacy is stripped from the story. All of these extra words cause the reader to become bored and also the pacing is killed by them (the extra words).

What I am saying is not that you should always avoid passive voice, but that you should say as much as you can in as few words as you can.

Case in point, the above paragraphs: hideous passive voice. Newbie authors often make the mistake of writing too much of their work in passive voice out of a misguided desire to make their sentences sound more sophisticated.

But here’s the thing: “The ball was kicked by the boy” is longer than “The boy kicked the ball”, without necessarily imparting more meaning (although it could do that in some contexts). There’s little use in writing complicated sentences when you can say the same stuff with simple ones.

As with Lavender Unicorn Syndrome, passive voice has its specific uses, and the important thing is to think about how you’re going to write something because presentation is as important as content. Sometimes, passive voice can help to create a specific atmosphere, but usually, as with LUS, it’s just something that creates unwanted distance between the reader and the story.

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Purple prose

Florid prose is very difficult to pull off. Any writer who wishes to write beautiful descriptive paragraphs and clever metaphors needs to have a large, nuanced vocabulary and the ability to visualise things very clearly. If you find yourself reaching for a thesaurus more than once, using words like “limpid” or “gossamer” for the way they sound alone, or wondering if your passage just broke the laws of physics, stay well away.

And here’s why. Yeah, just try to read that whole thing. I promise you won’t be able to. It’s far too painful for any mortal to stand.

Being a good writer isn’t about using big words or writing long-winded descriptions of scenery. If you’ve read some Charles Dickens or Jane Austen, good for you, but remember, the former got paid per word. That style of writing is just that: a specific style, not the Holy Grail of wordsmithery that all authors should seek to emulate.

Personally speaking, my eyes tend to skim long descriptive passages anyway. In most circumstances, it’s best to give the reader just enough description to help them visualise the important stuff, and/or to evoke a specific atmosphere. Excessive description is just boring.

Start out by writing like you speak – it’s what I do. Writing like you speak is the best way to avoid using unfamiliar words you may not fully understand, or making complex sentences with more clauses than you can handle. Obviously, that doesn’t mean you should use obscure slang or um and ah in text as you might in conversation, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that big words and flowery sentences are necessary for writing.

Don’t dismiss florid prose, though. Being able to put a vivid picture in your reader’s mind is an amazing skill that you can use to create all kinds of atmospheric effects, and leave a lasting impression. The key thing is just to visualise what you’re describing clearly, make sure there’s a good reason for the reader to care, and use words you’re familiar with.

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A note on thesaurus use

Thesauruses group words together by similarity of meaning, so it’s not a good idea to just pick a random alternative for whatever word you feel you’re overusing. If you’re going to use an unfamiliar word from a thesaurus, chances are you’re not going to use it right – the beauty of the English language is the very subtle differences between many of its words.

That isn’t to say you shouldn’t use thesauruses, though – you just shouldn’t use unfamiliar words. You might like to consider using a dictionary program with a thesaurus feature such as the excellent WordWeb (or a physical dictionary and a thesaurus, if you like dead trees). This will allow you to familiarise yourself with whatever words catch your fancy before using them. Pay close attention to the “use in a sentence” examples, and do a bit of Google research on the word if it sounds particularly strange to you.

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Show versus tell

As a new writer in search of criticism, I’ll wager you’ve already heard the old adage “show; don’t tell” many, many times. It’s a vitally important concept for anyone who wants to write well, but it’s not the easiest concept to actually understand. The best way to describe it is with examples.

Tell: Princess Celestia looked down at Twilight Sparkle’s dead form, lying in the bed. She remembered doing the same with her previous students.

Show: Princess Celestia looked down at Twilight Sparkle, an age-worn face on a pillow. Her eyes were wet with tears. Twilight’s face appeared to change before her eyes – to green, to brown, to yellow. All old, all smiling… all with permanently closed eyelids.

Tell: Pinkie turned on her chainsaw and menacingly walked over to Rainbow Dash, preparing to cut her in half. Dash was horrified.

Show: Pinkie revved her chainsaw and skulked across the room. Dash started crying.

And finally, a few examples of when an author both shows and tells (errors easily fixable with the backspace key):

The squirrel twitched for the last time. Fluttershy sniffled as she pulled a cloth over it, heartbroken by the passing of one of her animal friends.

“The sky is purple.” Applejack winced, having told a lie.

Rarity hummed a tune as she passed a long strip of red cloth through her sewing machine, revelling in the joy of creation.

Now, showing is often a good deal harder than telling. Instead of just saying that Rainbow Dash was happier than she’d ever been before in her life, you need to put some thought into how she would act if she were happier than she’d ever been before in her life, and then write about her acting in that way.

The enormous benefit to that extra thought is that is much, much more engaging for the reader. Instead of just passively accepting that Rainbow Dash was really happy, the reader has to imagine her zipping around the room, or hugging her friends, or just smiling really wide, and then use their understanding of body language to interpret those actions as meaning “Rainbow Dash was really happy”. And if your reader is actively imagining and interpreting your story (even in cases where the interpretations are instantaneous), that means they’re under your spell.

So don’t just tell us, in dull, Wikipedia summary–esque that Spike was crushed when Rarity rejected him. Imagine what Spike would do in that situation, and tell us that.

That said, you mustn’t feel the need to abandon telling entirely. Every story will have content better told than shown, such as periods of travel between story-relevant locations, characters’ routines, and characters’ tedious exchanges of pleasantries upon meeting each other. Showing is a powerful tool for engaging your readers, but if you show the wrong things you’ll just end up with a story full of boring filler.

You can also make a case for telling here and there if you’re writing in an engaging, interesting voice, like Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams. The “show; don’t tell” adage is popular because for most people showing is easier to make interesting than telling, and it’s the best way to write most stories, but in the end the most important thing your story needs to do is not be boring.

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Colours, styles, and fonts

I love colours, and bold and italic text are both great ways to emphasise things. And who doesn’t love fonts (apart from that “love” one, at least)? Non-linked underlines, on the other hand, belong in the 20th century.

As fun as these little flourishes are, fiction-writing has some specific conventions regarding which ones can be used, and what they should be used for. Keep in mind that most people read fiction as a form of escapism, and that strangely-formatted text can be a real immersion-killer.

In fiction, using italics for thoughts (formatted in the same way as speech, but without the quotation marks: I really like her mane, thought Sweetie Belle) and emphasised words is generally accepted, although some say that even this is bad practice.9 Caps lock is sometimes used for shouting and onomatopoeia (which should also receive italics: Snap! Crash! Bang!)

A trend I’ve seen in ponyfic is the use of bold text for loud dialogue. It’s not technically a correct use of boldface, but it’s probably easier to read than long passages of cruise control for cool. Of course, both all caps and bold can become crutches for weak writing, and they’re best avoided in more serious works.

Colours don’t have any conventional uses in fiction because hey, coloured ink’s expensive. Seeing as we’re not constrained by that kind of physical limitation on the internet, it’s something an experimental author can play around with.10

I’ve seen coloured text used for character dialogue. (Screw said tags and their complicated punctuation, amirite?)

“Don’t you muddy the issue with your fancy mathematics!”

“and then I said ‘Oatmeal, are you crazy?’ ”

It can also differentiate between narrators.

As a young filly growing up in Canterlot…

The only thing I liked more than going fast… was WINNING!

And then there’s all the bizarre stuff that House of Leaves did with it.

My advice for using colours in narrative is this: most of you won’t need to do it. For those who do, use non-saturated colours, and either make them as unobtrusive as possible, or go completely insane.

As for fonts, well, the Internet has largely saved us from suffering through fanfiction written in elaborate, impossible-to-read cursive text, because there just aren’t that many fonts you’re generally allowed to use on most websites. Thank heaven for small mercies.

Using different fonts in the same story for effect can work nicely when handled with care. The most common use I’ve seen is the occasional shift into a fixed-width font to show in-universe text.

This sort of thing is optionally accompanied by a shift into center-align, something I personally like to use (coupled with italics) instead of a font change.

I’ve also seen different fonts used to visually represent different ways of speaking.

”For example, a robot may speak like this.”

Lastly, I’ve seen people use smaller font sizes to indicate whispering and bigger font sizes to indicate shouting.

I can give the same general advice for messing around with fonts and font sizes: it’s a game best left for more comedic pieces, as it can be very distracting and will almost always ruin the mood of anything meant to be taken seriously. Even in comedy stories, the author should take care not to make whisper text too tiny to read because, well, I just showed you why, didn’t I?

Strikethroughs are basically amazing and will make every fic 20% cooler. Strikethoughs should only be used in comedy trollfics.11

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Footnotes and links

I daresay I love footnotes even more12 than I love colours. I’ve even tried using them in fiction before. Spoiler: it didn’t work. Using a footnote to do an exposition dump isn’t a clever way of doing an exposition dump – it’s taking the reader out of the story to bombard them with boring facts. They’re especially bad in online fiction because of the scrolling one generally has to do to reach them.

Links are even more troublesome than footnotes, and sadly more widely used. Don’t link to music in your story – many readers listen to their own music while reading, and have no interest in pausing it. Also, using music to make up for the emotional shortcomings of your writing is a cheap tactic that probably won’t even work most of the time, because different people read at different speeds.

As for explanatory wiki or other website links, well, I don’t think we’re quite ready for those just yet. Keep those for when human minds have become so accustomed to soaking in tonnes of information every second that wiki links become mandatory features of stories. Right now, most readers don’t appreciate breaking their immersion to check out some webpage.

If you’re really set on putting links in your work, and I absolutely cannot convince you otherwise, then go completely overboard. Use multiple documents, have as many links as possible, make weird mazes, and tell some kind of weird interactive avant-garde hypertext story or something. I’m sure someone will appreciate it.

Same with footnotes, actually. The occasional link or footnote is the death of immersion, but barrages of them create a new kind of immersion.

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Overused expressions

If I read about another character “going bright red” or “going beet red”, I swear I am going to pop a blood vessel and go bright red myself.13 If your character must blush, say that they blushed, or find another way of saying it figuratively. Better yet, find your character another nervous/embarrassed affectation.

“Scootaloo’s cheeks flamed from within.”
—shortskirtsandexplosions, showing us how it’s done14

Ponyfic-specific example: Celestia’s sun and Luna’s moon. I’m sure both of those expressions were delightfully clever ways to remind the reader what property your fic was based on the first time they were ever used. Between then and now, they became hoary old clichés that will only ever elicit groans. Do not use these expressions as replacements of “the sun” and “the moon”.

Eyes are eyes. They are not “orbs”. No one who has read the Orb Eye of Aragon will be able to take you seriously if you use this expression. Even people who haven’t will likely laugh at you behind your back (more than they usually do).

I don’t know what it is about the phrase, but far too many authors have a love affair with “going about [their/her/his/its] daily routine”. It’s cliche and empty. Try saying what the character(s) in question are/is actually doing instead.

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Your personal style and creative voice

Developing a unique voice is essential to good writing, and all the rules of grammar and style in the world can take a backseat when they become a hindrance to creativity (or even to readability). However, it takes a lot longer to develop a real creative voice than you may think, and I cannot overstress the importance of learning the rules before you break them.

Picasso knew how to paint realistically, but he chose not to because of the nature of what he was trying to convey with his art. Without having mastered all the techniques he required for traditional painting, he would never have been able to break out of that mold and create a meaningful new style.

The rules of grammar, spelling, typography, and all the rest of that sort of thing were invented by smart, knowledgeable people, and they generally have good reasons for being the way they are. Endeavour to learn these reasons so that you can make more informed decisions about when to go against them.

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Proper formatting is literally the difference between having an indecipherable mishmash of symbols and having something that looks like a readable piece of writing.

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Sentence spacing

Generally speaking, the modern convention is to use a single, standard space between sentences. The use of double spaces is preferred by some others, and it’s really a touchy issue in some circles. Personally, I’m a one-spacer, but the more I learn about this issue, the less I want to come down on saying that one side is wrong and the other is right. So take a look at how the different options make text look and make up your own mind.

Yet another choice, if you’re unsatisfied with both double and single spacing, is typing with double spaces and then replacing them with single en spaces (“ ”). I personally consider this the best of both worlds, as it avoids the rare occasions where having two spaces in a row will ruin your margin.

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Paragraph spacing

Paragraph spacing is necessary to allow readers to unambiguously identify where one paragraph ends and another begins. There are two primary methods for spacing paragraphs:

Indentation is used most commonly in media where space is limited. Almost all books, magazines, newspapers – anything intended to be viewed on print – use indents, as they separate paragraphs without wasting space space. Since the purpose of indenting is to separate paragraphs, the first paragraph of any section need not be indented.15

The sun hovered a short distance above the lonely dirt road, making the trees that rose up on its eastern side cast long shadows over its surface. The morning atmosphere was fuzzy with the light mist that arose from the grass beneath the trees.

Birds sang, leaves rustled in the gentle breeze, and the world was otherwise silent. Then came the soft padding of hooves – not so much a disruption of the silence as a carefully-measured, respectful step around it.

The two ponies and zebra had not been walking for very long, but they felt that they were already quite far removed from the hustle and bustle of their city lives. Fillydelphia was no Manehattan, but the contrast between it and their current surroundings was jarring nonetheless.

It’s good practice (and ultimately requires less effort) to make use of Google Docs’s ruler or your word processor’s paragraph formatting features to indent, rather than just pressing tab at the start of each paragraph – even the Fimfiction text editor has an auto-indentation button. Your tabing finger will thank you!

Double spacing between paragraphs is more common in electronic media where the amount of space is much less finite. In a typical typesetting environment, double spacing is achieved by telling the typesetting software the amount of desired space between paragraphs. However, since most people will be submitting works through Fimfiction, the alternative is to insert a blank line between each paragraph.16

The sun hovered a short distance above the lonely dirt road, making the trees that rose up on its eastern side cast long shadows over its surface. The morning atmosphere was fuzzy with the light mist that arose from the grass beneath the trees.

Birds sang, leaves rustled in the gentle breeze, and the world was otherwise silent. Then came the soft padding of hooves – not so much a disruption of the silence as a carefully-measured, respectful step around it.

The two ponies and zebra had not been walking for very long, but they felt that they were already quite far removed from the hustle and bustle of their city lives. Fillydelphia was no Manehattan, but the contrast between it and their current surroundings was jarring nonetheless.

Since the purpose of paragraph spacing is to identify paragraph separation, simultaneous use of both formats is redundant.17

Which format you choose is a matter of taste, but you must choose one and stick with it. If readers can’t distinguish between paragraphs, they won’t be able to distinguish whether or not your story is any good, and they will banish it from their sight.

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Section spacing

It’s often necessary to switch character perspective, skip ahead in time, or otherwise change the scene being focused on. In some cases this can be worked into the prose, but it’s often better to do with little dohickeys called scene breaks. Scene breaks come in all shapes and sizes:

As always, be consistent.

For changes in scene not drastic enough to require a full-on scene break, you can use a weak scene break:

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Quotation marks

There are two kinds of quotation marks:

They are used mainly for dialogue (“Oh, um, hello,” said Fluttershy) and direct quotations (Sources describe the phenomenon as “totally rad”), but can also be used to indicate irony or sarcasm (You’re my “best friend”!).

Opinions are divided as to when single and double quotation marks should be used. In America, it’s common practice to only use single quotation marks when the text you’re enclosing them with is already inside double quotation marks (“You’re my ‘best friend’!” I said). Other authorities in Britain and Australia like to do the exact opposite (‘You’re my “best friend”!’ I said).

Still, others prefer to reserve double quotes for dialogue and quotations and use single quotes for everything else.18 And then there’s the fanfiction convention of using single quotation marks for direct thoughts (which I’ve found is a great way to confuse your reader horribly and personally discourage).

Choose a style, and use it consistently. The use of quotation marks is not as region-specific as “colour/color” or “spaced en dash/unspaced en dash”, so feel free to use the American style if, like me, you think that single quotes look too much like apostrophes.

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Plainly put, pacing is how long things take to happen in your story. The term can be applied to individual scenes, or to the story as a whole.

Most stories will not move at the same pace all the way through. You wouldn’t spend the same number of words on your main character uneventfully walking from one place to another between scenes as you would on your main character declaring their undying love for their love interest at the climax of the story. Pacing your story well is at its most basic an exercise in knowing what to show and what to tell, but beyond that, it’s knowing how to show different scenes.

Pacing is also about knowing where and when to dip into exposition (straight-up explanations of things readers should know in order to understand the story going forward). At the beginning of your story, slow-paced expository paragraphs or conversations that read like history lessons can kill the reader’s interest in getting any further, but, when placed more strategically, they can be a useful tool for deepening the reader’s engagement in a story they already care about – for example, you might follow a fast-paced action scene with a slow-paced breather with expository dialogue answering some questions the reader (and usually the characters) have been burning with curiosity about.

At the level of individual words and sentences, pacing is often called “flow”. The flow of a passage is about how its sentences and paragraphs lead on from each other, and how thus the reader is made to feel by reading them.

In most of this guide, I’ve used fairly long, multi-claused sentences in paragraphs that generally go on from three or more sentences. My paragraphs have been of relatively uniform lengths, and the effect that creates is a slow-paced, relaxing sort of one-sided conversation between myself and you the reader. If you imagine a voice speaking this guide out loud, I’ll wager it’s laid-back one.

And now it’s not so laid back. Something’s changed. There’s this stop-start pacing now. I’m not using any commas. Just full stops and very short sentences. It’s like I’m sprinting and then coming to abrupt halts. The pacing’s gone all jerky. And that’s making you anxious.

There’s a sense of tension.

Some uneasiness.

It’s worse now that I’m using short paragraphs as well.

You just know some awful revelation’s coming.

I was phone.

As you can see, the simple act of making one’s sentences and paragraphs shorter can create an urgency not present in more long-winded writing, and more long-winded writing can be relaxing in a way that tiny sentences just can’t. You can use these simple techniques to great effect in pacing different scenes in your writing appropriately – choppy writing with few transitions is good for an action scene or a tense situation, whereas slower sentences full of clauses and commas are great for description, introspection, exposition and downtime between high-intensity scenes.

Further reference

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Characters are the fiction-writer’s most important tools. Characters are (usually) sentient beings that the reader (who is also (usually) a sentient being) can relate to. They have wants, fears and aspirations. It is the actions, reactions and interactions of characters that drive stories forward.

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Canon characters

A challenge unique to fanfiction writing is the characterisation of canon characters. Getting characterisation right is absolutely essential to fanfic writing, because if you give everypony new personalities, you may as well give them all new names as well, and label your story as original fiction instead.

Any fanfiction writer who really cares about what he’s writing must be very well-versed in whatever it is that his work is based on. In Friendship is Magic’s case, this means that you, the fic writer, must at least have watched every episode of the show multiple times. Doing this is the most effective way to learn what a character is like, how they talk, and how they react in different situations.

What I like to do while writing character dialogue is imagine it being said in that character’s voice. Then, if the dialogue is worded in a way that’s out of character, it’ll become clear to me because it just won’t sound right. I am able to do this because I have watched every episode of the show at least twice.

In short, familiarity with the source material is absolutely essential for good fanfiction writing.

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Original characters

Mary Sues (and how to avoid writing them) are discussed in the next section, so I’m just going to make the assumption that the character(s) you’ve created are realistically flawed and relatable. If you’re not confident about that, skip ahead a little and come back to this later.

A character should be created for a purpose. That purpose should be a specific, in-story purpose. It should not be “this is such a cool character omg” or “I’m going to write about myself because I wish I could be a pony and go live in Equestria”.19

Any character you intend to write about a lot should be a rounded character. They should have multiple good points, multiple flaws and weaknesses, and a clearly-defined personality. Why? Because rounded characters are easier to write – you can just let them react to events as they would react, rather than biting your nails and trying to figure out what they should do next.

Of course, not all characters are going to be fleshed out and rounded. Minor characters you intend to use as plot devices don’t need complex backstories or intimate descriptions. Oftentimes, they don’t even need names.

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Mary Sues

A Mary Sue (or Gary Stu) is a character who’s likeable and perfect to the point where they’re unrealistic and everything in the story they’re in bends to their will and goes their way. Good characters fall in love with them or become their best friends, bad characters hate them obsessively, and everyone who opposes them is eventually proven to be wrong or bad.

Mary Sues are probably the most misunderstood thing in amateur writing (fanfiction and otherwise). Pretty much every character will be called a Mary Sue if you ask the right person about it, while others will defend obvious Sues to the death (usually ones of their own creation). I’ve seen everything from “Twilight Sparkle is a Mary-Sue because she’s Princess Celestia’s personal student and has super magic” to “her name is eggoggy not mary su shes not perfect shes depressed nd she cuts herself!!!”

A Mary Sue is defined by how the world reacts to her. You can have a weak, flawed character without any conventional Mary Sue markings20 still be a Mary Sue if you mishandle how she is treated by the world she lives in.

Do all the characters you like like your character? Do all the characters you dislike hate her? Does every character talk about your character and obsess over her at the expense of everything else going on in their lives? Are there any characters that don’t really care about your character? If she’s a Sue, the answers will be yes, yes, yes, and no.

The most important thing you can do to avoid making your character a Mary Sue is have other characters act realistically around her. They’re not going to just become her best friend or fall in love with her if they’ve only just met her. They’re not going to hate her with every fibre of their being and dedicate their lives to enacting vengeance on her either. That’s not how people work.

If your character is a real character, she will have a specific personality. And the thing about personalities is that sometimes they clash. Not everyone gets along just like that.

Considering the different personalities of the mane six, it’s unlikely that every single one of them will take an instant liking to the character you’ve created. Rarity might find her uncouth, or Applejack may find her too pretentious, or Rainbow Dash may think she’s a spy. Explore these reactions and relationships, and your stories and characters can only benefit.

All that said, it’s still a good idea to avoid common Mary Sue tropes like the ones listed in the footnote from earlier on. The problem with exotic names and special powers is one of justification. A realistic character can do the things she can do and is the way she is because of things that she’s done and choices that she’s made, not just because “it would be cool”.

Finally, a note about characters that are better than canon characters: tread carefully. If you’re going to write about a pegasus who’s faster than Rainbow Dash or a unicorn who’s more magical than Twilight Sparkle, stop and ask yourself why you can’t just write about Rainbow Dash or Twilight Sparkle instead. If you don’t come up with a good answer, scrap the character. (This sort of thing is probably why it’s easier to write a Mary Sue in fanfiction than it is to do so in original fiction.)

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Yeah, I know, dat flank. Get that out of your system, and then we can talk about what the word “plot” used to mean, and have a gay old time doing so.

Without a plot, you have no story. You can still write without a plot, and a lot of people do, but you will not be writing a story, in the strictest terms. Still, there’s at least a small audience for in vignettes and anecdotes, at least if your writing and characterisation is vivid enough. But most people want to write stories.

In the simplest terms, a plot is a problem. A problem is introduced, conflict occurs, and then the situation is resolved. For example: Twilight Sparkle falls ill and needs a flower from the top of a mountain to get better. Applejack, Rainbow Dash and Rarity travel to that mountain to procure that flower, and then the world ends and none of what came before matters anymore. That is a story (albeit one with an irritating resolution).

When you first start planning a story you’re going to write, the most important thing to consider is how it will end. Think of your problem, and then immediately think of its solution. I cannot overemphasis starting with the end firmly in mind, because stories do not resolve themselves, and just trying to “wing it” will lead you into an inescapable corner.21

As long as you keep the end in mind, you can do as much or as little planning as you want. It’s a very good idea to keep a set of notes and possibly a timeline when writing longer and more complicated stories, but there’s no real need to plan out every scene in detail before you start writing the first one. In fact, I’d discourage that practice simply because I find I often get my best ideas while writing (if I worked according to a rigid plan, I’d have to discard those, and that wouldn’t be much fun at all).

Know how your story’s going to end, start it as close to that ending as you can22, and fill in the details as you go. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most common genres of pony fanfiction.

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A straightforward adventure story starring the mane six will likely invite comparison to the two-parter episodes in the show itself, or single episodes like “Dragonshy” and “Magic Duel”. Adventure stories are all about massive disruptions to the status quo and generally follow groups of heroes in their crusades to defeat villains (like Trixie or Discord), or find some MacGuffin (like the Elements of Harmony), or even just return to their homes. Longer ones often involve travel and exploration of the lands beyond Equestria (such as It’s a Dangerous Business, Going Out Your Door and Off the Edge of the Map).

Perhaps non-obviously, there is seldom anything less adventurous than an adventure story that follows the structure “heroes embark on quest, heroes complete quest exactly as expected, heroes go home”. That’s an errand, not an adventure. The pilot episodes of the show, for example, would have been a lot weaker if Twilight and company had reached the old castle, found all six stone Elements of Harmony, and then banished Nightmare Moon with them, like they were expecting too. That would just have been terrible, and made all the challenges they went through pointless filler.

There should always be added wrinkles to the stories – either the objective the hero(es) had at the beginning of the story should change as they or the characters should grow and change during the adventure, to the point that they may have a completely different outlook on the goal they’ve been seeking once they finally reach it.

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As with most of the genres in these genre-specific sections, I have little experience writing comedy. To my credit, I do have a bit more experience enjoying good comedy, cringing at bad comedy and attempting to analyse the difference between the two (which is more than I could say about shipping). My conclusions thus far follow.

“Randomness” is not comedy. Spouting inanities about cheese monkeys and flying monster trucks doesn’t make you funny so much as it makes you desperate to be funny. In a similar vein, arbitrary violence is not a punchline and gratuitous swearing doesn’t equal funny. Nothing equals funny. Try as you might, you will never find a formula for always-hilarious humour, because that’s not how humour works.

Making a reference to an Internet meme or film that is (or was at one stage) actually funny is also not funny. You do not deserve any chuckles for simply mentioning a funny thing that some external party was responsible for.

So what is funny? I can’t tell you; it’s something everyone has to figure out for themselves. I will, however, provide a couple of basic pointers:

Uncyclopedia has a fairly good page on how to be funny (and not just stupid).

Also, remember this: unless your story is packed to the brim with jokes and intended to keep the reader laughing all (or most) of the way through, it’s not comedy. Having little bits of humour sprinkled around your slice-of-life or adventure story is a good idea (if it fits the mood) and I encourage it, but a few jokes here and there are no reason to call your work a comedy.

And another thing: unless your joke-packed extravaganza that keeps the reader laughing all the way through is a story, you’d be better off giving it a Random tag. Stories, even comedic ones, need plots and characters.

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There are two main types of crossovers: regular crossovers and fusion fics. In the former, elements (usually characters) of the two or more universes involved will interact with each other. In the latter, the two or more universes involved will be combined to form a new, fusion universe.

So, in a regular crossover, Twilight and her friends might meet up with Mal Reynolds and the crew of Serenity – perhaps Serenity lands in Equestria, or perhaps Twilight botches a spell and teleports her and her friends into the ‘verse. In a fusion fic, Twilight and her friends will become the crew of the Serenity (or you might rename it Harmony) and fly around having adventures in a world that combines elements of both Equestria and Firefly’s setting.

Writing a good crossover requires a deep understanding of the properties being crossed, and an ability to see their differences and similarities and meld them together in an interesting way. Don‘t just write an MLP/Halo crossover because you like both of those things – write one because you see interesting ways the elements of the properties could interact.

Regular crossovers can easily fall flat for a number of reasons:

A pitfall commonly associated with fusion fics is cut-and-paste storytelling. This is where you retell the story from one property as closely as possible, with only a few name-changes showing that it’s supposed to be a crossover story. It’s a heavily frowned-on practice because it’s incredibly uncreative and an utterly boring and pointless read for anyone already familiar with the story in question (those people are likely to be your main audience). Someone unfamiliar with the story might enjoy reading it, but if they go on to become familiar with it in the future, they’ll probably not look back on your fic kindly. So don’t do this: it’s boring and pointless for everyone involved. Your time is far too valuable to waste blatantly copying others’ work.

Lastly, it is incredibly easy to make a crossover inaccessible to readers who aren’t familiar with both (or all) the source materials. While it is perfectly within your rights to limit your audience to people who’ve watched Friendship is Magic and played Iji24, a little effort to introduce readers to concepts they may not be familiar with goes a long way. You may even inspire a reader or two to check out what you’re crossing ponies with.

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Dark (Grimdark)

Equestria: while it’s not a utopia where nothing bad ever happens to anypony, most people will agree that it’s a few shades brighter, happier, and more optimistic than real life. Everypony has a job that they’re good at, and the kingdom is ruled over by a pair of immortal benevolent dictators. The world presented in the show is not a crapsack or even a crapsaccharine one.

So it’s only natural that many fanfiction writers go in the complete opposite direction, and paint a picture of a blood-soaked Equestria ruled by an oppressive sun tyrant, where casual racism is a part of daily life and a good segment of the population have weapons on their flanks. And, in principle, that’s okay – one of the main points of fanfiction is to go to places and tell stories that would never happen in canon, and to subvert the world and see how familiar characters act in situations their creators never intended.

The problem comes in when a fic author doesn’t show where the darkness in their story is coming from, or portrays characters as dark, hardened versions of themselves without providing any reasonable explanation of how they got to be that way. When there’s no obvious progression from how things are in canon to how things are in your story, you’re going to have trouble getting readers to suspend their disbelief.

A reader who knows and likes ponies probably isn’t going to take it as a given that Pinkie Pie murders ponies in her basement, or that Cloudsdale is run by Nazis who turn flightless pegasi into rainbows. Adding those sorts of elements in willy-nilly is far more likely to cause your readers to laugh at your story than be captivated by it.

Show where the grimdark is coming from. Have a believable progression from the status quo in canon to how things are in your fic.

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For better or for worse, “Human in Equestria” is a massively popular genre of ponyfiction. Like all fanfiction, it has some good works and a lot of bad ones. Some people absolutely loathe it and wouldn’t touch a story with humans in it even if doing so made money come out of their computer screens, and others read it almost exclusively

The best advice I’ve heard about writing humans into your pony stories is that you need to really be sure that you actually need humans for the story you’re telling. Would the roles you want your human characters to play be fillable with pony, or dragon, or griffon characters? Is there any compelling reason not to use one of those character types instead? Is there any compelling reason to use humans?

If there is, by all means go for it. If not, you’re probably doing your story a disservice by complicating it with humans and all the dimension hopping they usually bring with them. Plus, you’ll be alienating those readers who don’t want humans in their pony stories, probably unnecessarily.

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Romance (Shipping)

Before I get into this one, have a disclaimer: I am an emotionless robot and I do not generally read25 or write26 romance/shipping stories. The following two paragraphs are what I’ve gleaned from consulting a few sources (mostly EustatianWings) with far more knowledge on this subject than what I have.

When you write a shipping story, you’re working a kind of magic. Love is a great, unexplained mystery, so no amount of analytic thinking and no number of logical arguments about characters being compatible with each other will help you if you can’t make the reader feel for the characters and want them to be together. Romance is food for the heart, not the mind.

As I said above, a story is a problem. Stories are about conflict, and shipping is no exception. “Two characters fall in love, get together and live happily ever after” is not much of a story at all. Make bad things happen; make the characters suffer a little, whether because of outside forces keeping them apart, or because of their own insecurities and internal conflicts, or because of something else entirely. A smooth, painless romance is not a story, nor is it very realistic.

From my side, please tag your work appropriately and avoid making offhand references to relationships your canon-minded readers will find hard to swallow. Having a line like “Oh, by the way, Rarity and Pinkie Pie are going out” in a story unrelated to either of those characters or their relationship is a great way to weird out a portion of your reader-base for no payoff. Every part of your story should have a purpose – don’t succumb to the temptation of offhandedly establishing something just because it appeals to you.

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A good sad fic, as well as stirring up emotions, can make you think about the things we usually don’t think about – regrets after the death of a loved one, as in For Those We Left Behind or parenthood and letting go, as in The Proper Care and Feeding of Monsters. However, many sadfics forget the second part, and just try to make the reader cry at any cost.

This is shallow emotional manipulation, and fics of this nature are often called “sadness porn”, as they do not seek to do anything more than make readers sad, which is really quite a pointless and shallow goal in the overall scheme of things.

There are stories that need to be sad because they deal with sad subjects – death, sickness, heartbreak, etc… With this kind of subject matter, there’s no substitute for experience, and story about heavy subject matter by someone who’s actually experienced what they’re writing about will almost always be better regarded than one by someone who hasn’t.

So the best advice I can give you about writing a sadfic is not to build your story around being sad, but to build it around something real and sincere that can’t avoid being sad.

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If you’re going to consider fanfiction as a genre that’s got just as much potential to be worth reading as original fiction, then it’s very important to do just that: look at fanfiction as just another genre, akin to romance, thrillers, murder mysteries and science fiction. It’s important to do this because not all stories should be fanfiction.

A trend that’s quite popular in the FiM fanficcing community is the elsewhere fic. These generally involve all-OC casts in different parts of Equestria, possibly in the distant future or the distant past27, and can have tones ranging from slightly more mature than the show itself to grimy grimdark grimdarkness where there is only war friendship. I don’t have any trouble with those kinds of stories – hell, Long Distance qualifies as one of them! However, I do think that it’s especially important for authors of stories which don’t use canon characters in main roles to think pretty deeply about whether their fic needs to be based on MLP.

When I wrote Long Distance, I decided that it was going to be about dragonfire message sending and zebra and dragon worldbuilding. I decided to put my own characters in most of the story’s roles, but the story was largely about exploring the world around Equestria as I extrapolated it to be, and about looking at some of the mechanics of dragon magic (as I extrapolated them to be). It simply would not have worked as original fiction.

However, if you’re making your own characters and telling their story in, let’s say, far-distant future Equestria where everything’s war-torn and unrecognisable, and the princesses are dead, then you really need to think deeply about whether your story would actually benefit from being tied to the canon of a little girl’s show about ponies.

Sadly, amateur original fiction does not have as large and easily-accessible an audience as pony fanfiction, and I suspect that’s why some people choose to write these kinds of stories. I can understand that, to some degree.

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Now we come to the most superfluous part of my little guide, where I’ll be discussing what little I know about throwing your story out into the world and having people read it.

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FiM fanfiction has the great advantage of having at least three different showcase sites (well, I’ve used three) specifically made for it, all of which are fairly nice places with different advantages. If you want a lot of people to read your work, cross-posting is a good idea.

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Equestria Daily

As I’m sure you’re well aware, EqD is the central internet hub for all things brony. They’ve got news, music, videos, fics, art, and tonnes of other pony-related miscellany. They also have a large team of pre-readers who separate the chaff from the wheat fic-wise, ensuring that fics only get posted if they meet a certain standard. Unlike the other sites on this list, EqD doesn’t host fics, it just links to them (mostly on FIMFiction, but in the past Google Documents was also popular).

In the past, EqD was the main hub of FIM fanfiction, but these days that role has largely been taken over by FIMFiction. However, it’s still considered a badge of honour to get a story passed the pre-readers, and post on EqD usually ensures a decent signal boost. Keep in mind, though, that not every story is going to be suitable for the EqD audience, and the place is not a repository of the best of the best in fanfiction so much as it’s a service that highlights specific fics that meet certain content and quality standards.

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A very slick, very web 2.0 site, Fimfiction is the main hub of fanfiction in the FIM fandom. It is constantly being worked on and improved, and has a lot of very useful features both for reading and writing (tracking systems, comments, ePub downloads, a Google Documents importer, and so on). Most stories get at least a few comments, and with watching and group systems you can build up a decent following with a bit of hard work and good storytelling.

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Pony Fiction Archive

This site has a very clean layout and a lot of sophisticated features both for searching and posting fics, as well one or useful informational pages and a forum. However, it has been largely overshadowed by FimFiction and is a bit of a ghost town. As FimFiction has become more and more feature-rich, the advantages of using PFA (formatting and ePub downloads, for example) have been greatly lessened. I wouldn’t recommend using it as your primary host if you’re interested in getting attention for your work, but posting it there might net you a few views you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

You can also post fics on deviantART and Fanfiction.net, but our pony sites are far superior, and it’s recommended that you at least use FimFiction in addition to wherever else you want to have your fic hosted.

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Websites like Equestria Daily and Fimfiction ask you to tag your stories based on their content, using a set of generally-understood categories. There are actually a fair number of them, and you can even invent your own, if you really want, but the most common ones are as follows:

Opinions differ about how these tags should be used, and how many should be applied to a single fic, but here are my thoughts:

With tags, less is more. It’s a Dangerous Business, Going Out Your Door and Fallout: Equestria both contained a romantic subplot or two, but neither had a shipping tag. Most films these days also have romantic subplots, but that doesn’t make them romantic movies.

My personal recommendation is that you choose one or two tags (at most three) that are most relevant and use them. Any more than that and things start to look a little messy.

Ask yourself what the main plot of your story is. If it’s romance, use Shipping. If it’s adventure, use Adventure. If it’s day-to-day life (like the show proper) use Slice of Life (or Normal, I guess, but Slice of Life is a more descriptive tag). If it’s an examination on the effect of some technology or discovery on Equestrian society (or if it’s set in space / the world of tomorrow), use Sci-Fi (not that anyone really writes much pony science fiction).

Only use Comedy if your fic is joke-heavy. Only use Sad if your main goal is making the reader cry. Only use Shipping if your main plot is the development of a romantic relationship.

Grimdark and Crossover are basically warning labels about the content. They’ll drive some folk away, but others seek them out. Use Grimdark if your story’s got teeth, and Crossover if you’re crossing over with something.

Some notes on Slice of Life and Normal: A story cannot be both Adventure and Slice of Life – they imply completely different structures. Also, because Friendship is Magic is very much a Slice of Life show, Sad, Comedy, and Shipping stories all have implicit Slice of Life tags – fics are assumed to be Normal in tone until evidence to the contrary is given. These tag are best used for stories for which no other tags apply, as they look either redundant or contradictory next to anything else. And please don’t tag anything with both Slice of Life and Normal.

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Update schedules

Most works of fanfiction which go on for multiple chapters/parts/episodes are published serially, with new parts coming out more-or-less as they get written. Some authors hold themselves to schedules, and others do not.

I kept myself to a rigorous, one-update-a-week schedule during the first seven chapters of Long Distance, and even managed to release enough early updates to give my readers seven chapters in the space of little over a month. It was a terrible idea.

I had to revise the fourth chapter (after release!) because I’d released it before I was actually satisfied with it, and Chapter Seven remains something I’m rather unhappy with. On the other hand, when I eventually let go of my ridiculous schedule and let my poor reviewer actually look over Chapter Eight before I tossed it to the wolves, I was able to tighten it up very nicely, and release something I was more satisfied with than any previous chapter since about number three.

My favourite chapter of that fic will likely always be the first, because I laboured over that thing for months. It was first posted to Fimfiction on Saturday, 24 September 2011, and then to EqD the following Monday, but work actually began on it in mid-June. Taking your time pays off in the long run, folks.

So, what I’m trying to say is that forcing yourself to release new chapters on a specific schedule isn’t a good idea. Writing fanfiction is not a job, and your fic’s overall quality is more important than keeping to some ridiculous self-imposed schedule.

However, if you can write a whole lot of chapters in advance and put together a decent buffer, updating on a schedule may work nicely for you.

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Author’s notes

A common practice in fanfiction, especially on sites like Fanfiction.net, is to preface stories and chapters with little blurbs telling the reader a few things about how the story was written, and perhaps encouraging them to leave a comment or to give the story a chance even though it’s their first fic.

Don’t do it. Fanfiction readers are notoriously impatient and fickle, and forcing them to read through a bunch of stuff they likely don’t care about before they can get to the story they’re trying to read is a bad idea. What’s more, announcing a story as the first one you’ve ever written or saying that it’s “probably not very good” is an even better way to have your tab closed. Why would anyone want to read something terrible?28

“Okay, no author’s notes at the top of a chapter, got it,” you say. “Does that mean I should put them at the bottom instead?”

While it’s somewhat preferable to have these types of notes at the bottom of a chapter instead of the top, it’s still not ideal. Having things like “phew, this was a tough chapter to write” or “sorry for the late update” as endnotes may feel like a courtesy to your serial readers, but consider the effect they’ll have on someone reading through your story after its finished. Real published books don’t have notes from the author at the bottom of each chapter because that would break the reader’s immersion.

Sites like deviantART and Fimfiction have journal/blog systems that are far better for this sort of thing than the text of your story. Readers who want to get the extra, behind-the-scenes information will probably take the initiative to look at your journal or blog (or you can link to relevant blog entries at the ends of chapters), and anyone else is free to read your fic without having their immersion broken at the end of every chapter.

“What about things like acknowledgements and dedications?” you ask. “Or what if I want to include a glossary of terms or show readers a list of other fics I’ve written that they might enjoy?”

Those kinds of things are significantly different from “fanfiction author’s notes”. You can find dedications, acknowledgements pages and even lists of the author’s other works in most published books, so strive to emulate those. Just keep that stuff concise and put it somewhere it can be ignored or scrolled past quickly.

Note that things like glossaries of terms aren’t going to be read by everyone, so they don’t absolve you of the need to introduce the reader to important concepts in the narrative. They should be bonus material for enthusiastic fans, not required reading.

Some stories need disclaimers. Put them at the top and keep them short – one sentence is ideal. Also note that little blurbs in the style of “I do not own My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” are a nice gesture, but not useful from a legal perspective, and may even put you in more legal trouble.

My personal answer to author’s notes is usually to put anything I want to say into a separate document and link to it at the bottom of a fic.

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Closing Statements

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This guide is a thrown-together bunch of opinions and grammar rules I have made and learnt respectively in my short time as a guy who sometimes writes things for fun. The grammar section is probably the only place where some parts of this guide are unequivocally right.

Did I make a mistake somewhere? Would you like to call me out on one of my opinions? Please do so. You can reach me at eznpony@gmail.com, so feel free to toss some corrections and/or arguments my way. I am but a beginner, and am open to the wisdom of people who’ve had different experiences from what I have.

If you’re particularly interested in what I’ve written, you can check out my fics page.

Oh, and I should also mention that I occasionally review stories in Ponychan’s and MLPchan’s /fic/’s Training Grounds. I’ve got a reviewer statement, and if you’d like me to take a look at your story, just specify that in your story-for-reviewing post. I don’t promise that I’ll have time to look at it, but I will try.

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Recommended Reading

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The best way to start writing better is to start reading better, and reading more. Like pre-series Twilight Sparkle, I read books at breaktime instead of making friends in early primary school, and it’s helped my writing immeasurably. (Don’t worry, I made some friends eventually.)

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Grammar and style guides

The Elements of Style by Will Strunk Jnr and EB White

One of the world’s most widely-known and used style (not grammar) guides. Don’t take everything these guys say as gospel truth, but do give this guide a look-through. Appraise their arguments and decide where you stand for yourself. (Note: may be more applicable to fat American people.)

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss

A very funny book that clears up a lot of doubt you probably have over the appropriate use of commas, semicolons, colons, dashes, and hyphens. (Note: may be more applicable to tea-obsessed British people.)

On Writing by Stephen King

Prolific horror author Stephen King’s approaching to writing and being a writer – it’s like an autobiography sprinkled with writing tips. Thought-provoking and well worth a read (or two). King’s passion for writing really comes through the text and gets my fingers itching to hammer away at a keyboard.

Recommended by Cassius (I haven’t read these but have it on good authority that they are worth a look):

Recommended by Vanner (I haven’t read these but have it on good authority that they are worth a look):

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Novels and short stories

Anything you can get your grubby little paws on. Hit up Project Gutenburg and get some classic literature. Read a lot of different, well-written stuff, and your writing can only improve.

Here are some of my favourites to get you started:

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

My favourite Sherlock Holmes story, and also the first one; read the unabridged version and marvel at how use of the English language has changed in the last hundred years.

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

It is a modern classic that everyone should read. Same goes for Animal Farm (which is a similar beast, but with animals on a farm and a fewer words).

The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis

This one’s actually a series of seven books, in which a number of children from Earth visit the magical fantasy land of Narnia. I highly recommend it to any fanfiction writer looking to write about humans or other extra-dimensional things being zapped into Equestria.

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

Like The Chronicles of Narnia, these books are fantasy classics – must-reads for any budding fantasy author (and Equestria’s a fantasy setting, so that includes you). Just watching the movies is cheating.

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

I have a soft spot for the works of John Wyndham, and this one was probably his best (the short story Consider Her Ways is also worth a look). Excellent prose and an interesting take on a post-apocalyptic setting.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Card’s the guy I stole the term “musical names” from, and I really quite liked this story of his about aliens and kids and stuff. I’d recommend skipping the sequels, though – from what I’ve heard, they get a bit weird.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

I like a book that can make me laugh and cry, and this is one that can definitely do that. It’s written in the most ridiculous style I’ve ever seen. The events are totally out of order, and it has very few minor characters. Do not try to write like Heller; just marvel at his insanity.

House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski

If you want to screw around with footnotes, strike-outs, coloured text and other new-fangled ridiculousness in your writing, you’ll probably enjoy this.

The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams

If you’re a nerd, you’ve probably already read this. If you haven’t already read this, do so, it’s a fun series. You can stop after book three if you get tired of it (well, book three was my favourite, anyway).

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

It’s old post-cyberpunk, which is always good for a bit of a laugh. Beyond that, though, the book is set in a very interesting world and pioneered the modern use of the word “avatar”. It’s also narrated in present tense, which is interesting from a writer’s perspective.

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

The only book on this list that you’ll have to find an English translation of – or read in the original German, if that’s more your speed. The Neverending Story is about storytelling and creation, and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who writes or wants to write – even more so to someone writing in a children’s fantasy world like Equestria. Also of note is how the story uses the Marty Stu for good.

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Amateur works

As far as free fiction by amateur/previously-amateur writers on the internet goes, I’ve also got some things for you. Most of them are in the horror genre, because next to ponyfic, creepypasta is the best source of quality fiction I’ve found online.

The works of Josef K

A creepypasta author and /x/ poster, Mr K knows how to make florid prose work. His stories are as beautifully-written as they are unnerving.

The SCP Foundation

An excellent set of examples for a writer wishing to use dry, factual prose in the style of a scientific report. The large number of things that are REDACTED or blanked out show an important principle in horror writing: Nothing Is Scarier (warning: TVTropes).

Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi

The practice novel of a published author, released online for all to read. It’s a fun little story about Hollywood and talent agencies.

It’s Okay to Eat Fish by Adam Cadre

A present tense novella told in third-person limited. It’s a good example of how to inject an omniscient narrator with a small bit of personality without being overbearing or pretentious and a well-paced, interesting story.

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Can’t have a recommended reading section without these!

The End of Ponies by short skirts and explosions

This crazy bastard uses LUS and funky adverbs all over the place (not to mention emphasis), but somehow it works. I wouldn’t recommend trying to imitate him, but his story is an interesting example of how a good enough writer can break the rules.

Fallout: Equestria by Kkat

Probably the most popular MLP:FiM fanfic ever written, and deservingly so. It’s written in first-person, and as with all worthwhile first-person stories, would not work otherwise. Fo:E is also an excellent example of complex storytelling: Kkat’s ability to foreshadow events hundreds of thousands of words in advance is astounding and his/her blending of the seemingly incongruous worlds of Fallout and Friendship is Magic and deep understanding of both settings is exemplary.

Sunny Skies All Day Long by PhantomFox

If you’re a crazy author who actually wants to write fics in the style of the show, rather than dramatic romances or epic grimdark adventures, this is required reading. It’s also about a hundred times shorter than either of my last two recommendations. (The “sequel”, My Faithful Student, is also worth a look.)

The Purloined Pony by Chris

I’m really only recommending this because we need more Choose Your Own Adventure stories with ponies in them. Also, I guess this can be the one second-person narration, present tense story in this list.

The Old Stories by Thanqol

My favourite thing about MLP:FiM is the setting, and how a lot of it has been left unexplained, allowing nerdy bronies to worldbuild away. This bunch of stories provide excellent examples of how to write fairytale-esque things, how to write the mane six’s voices, and how to extrapolate Equestrian history in a way that feels true to the show’s style. This is the only fanfic I have ever wished was canon.

It’s A Dangerous Business, Going Out Your Door by Jetfire

Beautifully show-accurate characterisation of Rarity, Rainbow Dash, and Applejack (this trio needs an episode), and an interesting example of stylistic weirdness in the section of the story that takes place in “The Dreaming”.

Children of the Sun by Vanner

A terribly underrated story that deserves more attention. Vanner’s good at making OCs who actually function as characters, and this is one of the finest examples of an all-OC story that more-or-less keeps to the tone of the show (it’s more mature in places, but this ain’t grimdark, and there’s even a friendship lesson at the end). Also the story takes place near the beginning of Princess Celestia’s lonesome thousand year rule (a time period which I think deserves more attention).

Bubbles by Anonymous

A sad story told from the perspective of a mentally disabled foal. It provides a great examples of intentionally bad writing that is still understandable and aids characterisation, and the of the power of implication in fiction-writing.

White Box by Chromosome

A short read and a good example of coloured text used in a way that supports the story being told rather than as a needless gimmick.

The Star In Yellow by Blueshift

Blueshift is mainly known for his comedies and ridiculous Twixie shipping stories, but he can write serious fics as well. This one, in particular, is a good example of how to write something dark and horrifying that doesn’t break the show’s tone – a very difficult feat that I have not seen many writers accomplish.

Jack and the Ponies by Moabite

Not only is this an exemplary crossover fic, but it’s also got some very well put together action scenes. Give it a read if you’re interested in writing either of those.

Getting Lucky by Chicken Vortex

This is one of the funniest pony comedies I’ve come across (and blends a wide variety of humour styles), has an excellent background pony cast, and dips into non-comedic territory without completely ruining itself. It’s worth a read for all those reasons and more.

Twilight Sparkle’s awesome adventure by Yonasomun

An intentionally poorly written story that highlights and makes fun of many of the worst pitfalls in fanfiction writing.

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RogerDodger rescued this guide from a slow death by ridiculous loading time in its original Google Documents form, gave a lot of useful input on revising the text itself, and wrote the grammar section. He is a gentleman and a scholar.

I used some text from Sergeant Sprinkles’s Cupcakes for a few miscellaneous examples, so thanks to him for traumatising everypony with his story. On the subject of example text, most of it comes from my own story, Long Distance. Thanks are due to me (from me) for writing that.

So many people have helped (directly and indirectly) with initial inspiration, the writing and the proofing and revising of this guide that it’s impossible to name all of them, but I’ll try for most.

Also thanks to you, the reader, for reading my guide. I hope it was helpful.

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Appendix A: Ponyfic Reference Sheet

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Up to this point, I’ve strived to make this guide very general. Most of what I’ve said in these pages can be applied to fiction-writing in general, and not just ponies. I think that’s a great strength, because I encourage anyone with a love for writing to spread their wings beyond ponies (and beyond fanfiction) when their ideas call for it.

This section marks a narrowing of that scope. Below is a set of character and place names commonly used in ponyfic and their spellings, and below that is a collection of pony/horse-specific terminology, a few corrections to widespread mistakes I’ve seen, and general advice on terminology the MLP fanfic author is likely to deal with.

Mane six
Applejack Fluttershy Pinkie Pie (Pinkamena Diane Pie)
Rainbow Dash Rarity Twilight Sparkle
Cutie mark crusaders
Apple Bloom Scootaloo Sweetie Belle
Princess Cadance Princess Celestia Princess Luna
Apple family
Big Macintosh Braeburn Granny Smith
Minor and single-episode characters
Cheerilee Cheery Jubilee Doughnut Joe Fancy Pants
Gustav Hoity Toity Jet Set and Upper Crust Mulia Mild
Mysterious Mare-Do-Well Photo Finish Shining Armor Zecora
Diamond Tiara Featherweight Pipsqueak
Pound Cake Pumpkin Cake Silver Spoon
Snails Snips Twist
Angel29 Gummy Opalescence
Owlysius Tank Winona
Antagonists and semi-antagonists
Discord Flam Flim
Gilda Iron Will Nightmare Moon
Prince Blueblood Queen Chrysalis The Great and Powerful Trixie
Cities and towns
Appleloosa Baltimare Canterlot
Cloudsdale Dodge Junction Fillydelphia
Las Pegasus Manehattan Ponyville
Historical figures
Chancellor Puddinghead Clover the Clever Commander Hurricane
Princess Platinum Private Pansy Smart Cookie
Star Swirl the Bearded (or Starswirl the Bearded)

The MLP wiki is a good resource to check for the generally accepted names of background ponies and their spellings.

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An adult male pony is called a stallion, not a “buck”.30 A child male pony is called a colt.

An adult female pony is called a mare. A child female pony is called a filly.

A child pony of either gender is called a foal (this is occasionally muddled with “filly”).

In Friendship is Magic, the characters often use the words “boy” and “girl” – please feel free to use them as well, authors. For obvious reasons, nopony has ever said “man” or “woman”.

The use of “everypony”, “anypony”, and “nopony” are usually used as substitutes for ·body words irrespective of the species or range of species in the group being referred to. Exceptions to this rule include “somezebra” in “The Cutie Pox”.

The mark on a pony’s flank is called a cutie mark, irrespective of gender (poor male ponies).

Species names
alicorn changeling draconequus
earth pony griffon31 hydra
manticore minotaur parasprite
pegasus pony unicorn pony windigo

On the capitalisation of race names: either do it for all of them or don’t do it for any – both systems have been used in fiction by different authors. Be consistent, and ignore spellcheck’s insistence on “Pegasus” if you’re not capitalising.32 If you’re not sure which method to use, don’t capitalise – that’s more or less the fandom standard.

On the pluralisation of pegasus: technically speaking, you can say “pegasi”, “pegasuses”, “pegasai” or even “pegasudes”, depending on what tickles your fancy. (Here’s /fic/’s anonymous samurai on why.) That aside, “pegasi” is the most commonly used and accepted form in both the show and the fandom and would probably be the best choice.

Here’s a useful horse anatomy diagram applied to ponies (thanks to Catspaw on deviantART), and here are a few points to keep in mind:

When in doubt, look it up. Google or Wikipedia should be able to provide you with satisfactory answers to most terminology questions.

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Appendix B: Useful Links

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Let it never be said that my humble guide is the last word on writing. The internet is full of wonderful writer’s resources, some of which helped me write this guide, some of which I found later and many of which I’ve never seen. Some of what’s below has been linked to above, but not everything.

If you have any useful links you think I should add, shoot me an email.

Other pony writing guides

General plotting

Other general writing guides and writing websites

Useful grammar and style references

Showing and telling

Writing programs

Dictionaries and resource websites

MLP:FiM fanfiction resources

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