Monday, 28 November 2016

Another One Bites the Dust: The Royal Guard calls it a day

As announced over on Fimfiction, one of the most prominent sources of high-quality ponyfic – The Royal Guard – is ceasing operations with immediate effect. The group's members have found it too much of a struggle to keep going in the face of that blasted Real Life thing, and they're just plain tired.

If anything, I'm impressed that TRG lasted as long as it did: accepting free submissions is, even with today's gently declining numbers, a recipe for being snowed under with stories to consider. Twilight's Library, which admittedly had much lower acceptance standards, ended up being beaten by that problem, and recently there have been suggestions from the EQD guys that they too may be considering moving away from the traditional pre-reader model.

On a personal note, it does take away one of my (slight) ambitions: to write a fic good enough to get into TRG. I submitted two stories – It Doesn't Matter Now and We Who with Songs Beguile – and both were rejected. I will confess to being very slightly irritated about the latter, since I was actually prompted to submit it by the pre-reader who rejected IDMN! Ah well, at least with WWwSB I got to add to my collection of coveted Titanium Dragon NRs.

This means that the Royal Canterlot Library is the most prominent group left standing, and of course they go about things in a very different way. Indeed, I think it's very unlikely indeed that we'll ever again see a free-submissions group rise to anything like the prominence that TRG had, or even that TL had. The ponyfic world is shrinking, albeit remarkably slowly, and fewer people have the time and inclination to work on such a thing now.

The Seattle's Angels group is also still in operation, but aside from them and the RCL, all we're really left with now are a bunch of individual reviewers. Down in the lower reaches of that department is little old me, and while I certainly don't consider stories with the rigour that TRG did, I like to think that what I write is at least of some use to people looking for an enjoyable read. Ponyfic Roundup is going nowhere any time soon.

But farewell, The Royal Guard. You played your part in making My Little Pony a place where at least some writers aspired to standards higher – in some cases, far, far higher – than might be expected of a fandom centred on silly talking horses. Be proud of that, TRG members – and when you remember that you were there, do so with a smile. Pinkie Pie would expect nothing less.


  1. In retrospect, I think the problem with the RG was... I never remembered they were there. c.c Maybe it's just me. But they list a couple of my fics in that final post, which I was pleased to see, only to go back to them and see they had been featured rather a while ago. Like, I knew about it and forgot! Sad. :C

    1. I noticed Treehouse was in that list, which was nice to see. :) As for TRG themselves, I paid vague attention to their features because they were always very well written fics, but in all honesty the RCL was a better source of stories I enjoyed.

  2. I feel really bad for The Royal Guard, but I did have a protracted argument with them at the beginning of their run basically stating why what they were doing was unworkable. They set things up to be this review group that was based on quality rather than mechanics, as many felt that Equestria Daily at the time was more beholden to. Then they went and created a system that was even more stringent than EQD, requiring you to get through TWO gatekeepers rather than one.

    This is great for quality control, but when you have two or more people evaluating quality, people tend to want to protect their own reputation. In order to do that, they often come down on the more conservative side of things. For a group like that, it generally leads to people being much more nitpicky than they would be on an individual basis. You don't want to be seen as the guy who can't spot the problems.

    Now, I'm not say that it happened in that group. I have no idea. I'm just saying that the structure leads to that sort of thing happening. Given that I considered The Royal Guard to be the hardest of all groups to get into, I feel like it lends a little weight to my theory, but I don't really know that they like that.

    What I do know is that poor Prak tried very hard to keep it up and running. He asked me a couple of times if I might read for them. If I had more time, I'd love to have helped out, but I'm super busy in real life. It just doesn't fit into what I'm doing.

    But I thought that The Royal Guard was great. I didn't always agree with their choices or the messages back to me on some of my stories, but I did get a lot of good feedback and it was nice to be featured there several times. It was nice that I could see a lot of authors using it as incentive to keep honing their skills the way that I used The Pony Fiction Vault way back in the day. I never made it into that select group, but I wanted to, so I kept trying to get better. I'll miss The Royal Guard, and I'll miss its effects on the pony fiction community.

    1. An interesting read. I think most people I came across also felt that TRG was top of the heap in terms of the writing standards required. I have absolutely no idea whether what you suggest was actually the case, but it doesn't seem unreasonable.

      I did have one small quibble about TRG, which I mentioned a while back -- that occasionally they seemed to put great prose above great storytelling. I don't want to make a big thing of that, though, since it may just have been me and in any case I think their plus points considerably outweighed any minuses.

      As far as the future of the ponyfic community goes, I think perhaps the most pressing question is how to encourage new writers to persevere and improve. Despite the obvious shrinkage of the subfandom over the last couple of years, I'd like to think the movie next year might bring in a few new faces. For all the likes of CiG are wonderful writers, I don't want to see only established names writing great stories.

  3. Great prose above great storytelling was my exact concern, or more properly, great grammar. We all like stories with all three of these things, but it's great stories that really bring people to the table.

    I asked the group when they were forming if they were going to focus on storytelling and be more lenient about the mechanics. They were setting themselves up to be an alternative to EQD at the time, and the response in their official thread was that they were going to be more focused on story.

    Then I received my first rejection notice from the group, and it didn't have one single thing in it about story. It was all mechanical, grammar-related things or items that I considered to be more like personal preference. Things like Twilight freaking out about neatness or if Rainbow is actually lazy or just likes naps.

    I argued back and forth with their PR rep for quite a while that they were just setting themselves up to be a SUPER EQD instead of an alternative, but to no avail. There was a backlash against what they were doing shortly after, and the group's creator left. At some point, Prak took over. Things got better then.

    When it comes to new writers, I hope people keep it up, but there is a lot going against them. Well, against what I want to see, anyway. Clop/Mature is slowly taking over the site, and there is a general waning interest in ponies overall. The old guard of high quality authors will probably slip away one by one, and it's going to be harder and harder to replace them. It's the same in all fandoms, I'm sure, but it does make me sad. I wish I could contribute more, but my current job is very demanding. I just no longer have the time or energy. I never really did get to that top level, but I do feel like I have more that I could contribute if I could find the time. I'd like to be thought of as one of the top authors, but I'm not really sure that I deserve that. Hopefully someone whose stuff really grabs me will take my place. That would be almost as good to me.

    1. I need to write an actual post about the future of ponyfic, and of Fimfiction in particular. I'll probably get round to it... eventually.

      The slipping away is already happening, of course, and has been for some time. I don't know why The Descendant, for example, hasn't been around for months but that's the kind of author who did a lot for both the subfandom and for the site. Quite a few of the big names are still active, such as Cold in Gardez and Cynewulf and iisaw and you (well, I certainly count you), but there's not much new blood and that's never good for a community.

      I think part of it is also that some of the top-notch authors are turning their attention increasingly to original fiction. An obvious symptom of that was when the Writeoffs ceased to be entirely Pony. I understand why that change happened, but it does halve the opportunities for any new talents really wanting a challenge in Pony fiction.

      Still, I remain stubbornly (stupidly?) optimistic that those people are out there. Back when I was active in the Watership Down fandom, I wrote what turned out to be a very popular story (by the standards of that small community) at a time when there'd been no addition to canon itself for six or seven years. But this is getting much too long for a comment. I really will have to write that post!