Saturday, 5 December 2015

A Worthy Attribute?

Although I didn't mention it at the time of publication, I tried an experiment with my most recent published story. I took a deliberate stylistic decision with The Unbearable Lightness of Bucking that I hadn't taken with any of my other ponyfics. Nobody has remarked on it, so I'll discuss it briefly in today's post. Here's an example:
“You sound just like Twilight,” Applejack muttered.
Notice anything? Maybe not – but this is actually the first story I've written where I've deliberately consistently used that particular format of dialogue attributions. If you read the fic, you'll see that I put the character's name before the verb every time. You won't find a "muttered Applejack" or similar anywhere in the text. (Well, unless I've overlooked one!)

My story has been well received, in truth better than I thought it would be (+32/-0 as I type), and though I don't think my stylistic choice is a particularly significant reason for that, I do wonder whether it was a factor in my readers finding that the story read reasonably smoothly. What follows is, of course, pure speculation, but pure speculation is fun.

Let's look at some highly regarded ponyfics. First up, Cold in Gardez's Naked Singularity. Aha! This is consistent on "Twilight said". Let's try The Descendant's A Cup of Joe. This one's different: it's "said Joe" all the way. What about Skywriter's Derplicity? Again, "said Chrysalis". And Integration by Raugos? That one is nearly consistent on "said Caramel".

Okay. Now, let's try some professionally written stuff. Examining a few novels on my shelves: in Watership Down, Richard Adams is very consistent on "said Hazel". Terry Pratchett's The Truth follows the same course. Grant Naylor's Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers doesn't use tags that much anyway, but is inconsistent when it does, as is Lindsey Davis in Two for the Lions.

So, from this small and statistically enormously dodgy sample, the only writer of the eight who consistently uses the "Applejack muttered" format is Cold in Gardez. I therefore conclude that a contributory factor to The Unbearable Lightness of Bucking's success is that people reading it are subconsciously reminded of CiG, and thus a tiny bit of that far better writer's lustre rubs off on what I've written. QED. :P

The moral of the story seems clear: if you want your ponyfic to get a good reception, you should write like Cold in Gardez. Of course, if you can write that well, you probably don't need any advice from me!


  1. That's horrible advice. I'm working on something much more realistic. Building a time machine to go back and replace Shakespeare so the acclaimed greatest author has the exact same style as I do.

    Write like Cold in Gardez. Ha.

    1. Of course it's horrible advice! Do you think I want everyone other than me to be able to write brilliantly? No: much better to have everyone else appearing as a poor imitation of CiG while I forge fearlessly ahead with my own unique brand of mediocrity. :D