Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Cormac's Corner: Writing About Writing 1

Cormac's Corner
Writing About Writing part one: How Little We Know

First and foremost, happy first anniversary to Discord’s Domain. Woo!  I haven’t posted anything of note, but I’ve known everyone here for quite a while now and they’re all awesome.

But I can’t ramble on about that.  There is a post to be written!

This will be the first in an intermittent series of posts I’m going to call Writing about Writing. It’s a chance for me to talk about something I love to talk about and for everyone to either learn a little something or call me an idiot, so fun times all around.

Late one night, I was playing Magic Shards,a fantastic MLP side scrolling platformer by the same team who are currently working on Rise of the Clockwork Stallions, when I unexpectedly had to rage quit.

 I say unexpectedly because this was not a result of the difficulty curve catching up with me, but a bonus trivia level counting an answer as wrong that I knew to be right.


 The question should be easy enough to answer, right? I mean everybody knows she lives in Ponyville with the rest of her friends.

If you answered Ponyville like me, guess what? You’re wrong.

According to them, it was Cloudsdale.

So I was sitting in front of my computer, muttering about how bullshit it was that a group of game developers with much more talent than me and who ostensibly loved the same show I did could arrive at such a different answer to what should be a simple, easy question. It was so obvious that she lives in Ponyville just like the rest of her friends. And then, a strange thought occurred to me:

How did I know that? Why did I think I did?

Well, it just makes sense. Doesn’t it?  It would be dreadfully inconvenient for her to commute every day to manage weather when Cloudsdale would likely need skilled weather managers just as much as any other place.  It would also make her frequent naps in and around Ponyville all the more suspect (though sleeping anywhere other than your own bed strikes me as a bit odd.)

And yet, aside from very cursory mentions, there’s not much definitively proving that she lives in Ponyville itself.  Her home is not shown in relation to any other buildings directly.  I checked the map of Equestria, and it depicts Cloudsdale as about as far away from Ponyville as Appleoosa (“Apple Loosa” according to the map, though it never seems to look right when spelled out regardless of how you choose to do so).

 Before I get too involved in this one example and lose sight of the original point I wanted to make, the moral of this strange tale is this: always carefully evaluate what you think you “know” when you are writing anything.  This lesson applies as well in real life, but if I were to get into all that stuff about the fallibility of knowledge and our brains’ subjectivity, we’d be here all day and I’d be hopelessly out of my depth.

But for another quick non-MLP example, if I were to ask you what Eve ate and thereby screwed the rest of humanity over forever, what would you say it was?

You said apple, right?

Don’t lie to me.  You said apple.

Unfortunately, that’s not correct.

Not to mention the common misconception that we all have five senses, as we’re taught from Barney onwards.  One of the many other senses we possess other than sight, touch, taste, sound, and smell is call proprioception: the sense that tells you where all your body parts are when you can’t see them.  It’s really cool stuff.  The way it works is-
So, in any MLP story you are writing, you must be very careful with what you think you know, because it may be much less simple than you think.

When we fail to account for our own biases in what we’re seeing or the “educated guesses” we tend to make based on facts that seem to mesh together, the results can be disastrous, as in the now infamous Ms. Magazine article wherein the author automatically assumed that differently colored ponies were supposed to represent different races just as they do with humans, because as a writer for Ms. Magazine, she was extremely predisposed to read gender and racial issues into anything she came across.

Friendship is magic has no obvious races other than Earth Ponies, Pegasi, and Unicorns, and they have no real world correlations*.  If you think you see any, make sure you’re not just reading in your own biases and experiences.

*Of course, this statement excludes Zecora, whose blackness is about as subtle as Lance Bass’ sexual preference was before he came out.

The immaculately-groomed singing, dancing, tweenpop starlet fancies men?
Color me SHOCKED!

The next time you’re working on a story and you start writing about how Derpy loves muffins so much or Rarity’s last name is Belle because, well, that’s what you’re supposed to do, think about how and why you know what you think you know.
Friendship is Magic has a wonderful, expansive universe that is full of too many possibilities for you to place any limits on your creativity that you don’t have to.  Perhaps you only know these things in the same way that until a few minutes ago you knew that Eve ate an apple or we only have five senses.

Tomorrow, you can look forward to a spotlight on an under-appreciated story, which I hope will become a weekly thing, and on Thursday I’ll have a special treat. Safe journeys to you all. And to quote from Jerry Springer, who strangely had one of the best concise summations of morality, “Be good to yourselves and each other.”