• NaPoWriMo Interview: Timaeus on Romance

    "I know you are excited for my first shipfic, Twilight, but perhaps images for the entire book isn't the best idea..."

    Just like comedy, romance is a huge area of both the fanfic and original writing world. In the end, it really boils down to characters. Even better, the lessons one learns from romance, comedy or drama can be used in almost any kind of writing. It’s about understanding who you’re writing about.

    Timaeus is definitely someone who understands his characters: mane, background and even historical. The author of legendarily adorable shipfics, Timaeus showed us the secret story of Amethyst Star’s post-Winter Wrap Up issues in The Perfect Setup, how adorable Princess Platinum and Commander Hurricane really are in To Warm a Mare’s Heart in Two Hours and just how much fun you can have with light and glass in Lights of Love. 

    Keep reading for more of Timaeus’s secrets on the art of the adorable, including how to do the cute little moments, the potential of background ponies and the difference between a perfect story and a finished story.

    You’ve written some crazy adorable shipfics in your time. How did you manage to pull this off?

    That's a really good and really complicated question. I think my answer is two-pronged.

    The first prong is characters, figuring out how to write them and how to speak as them. Monochromatic did an excellent job providing advice in an earlier interview, so I'll defer to her expertise and recommend everyone check that out. I would like to touch on it briefly here, though. 

    One of the most important parts of writing anything cute, romantic, or warm and fuzzy is being able to have the characters play off of each other. It's easy to write a short, 1,000-word story and write that "Twilight snuggled up to Rarity and murmured into her coat." Don't get me wrong, that sort of stuff is cute and can be adorable, but for me that doesn't stand out. A lot of it comes from those characters interacting with each other. 

    So often I see romance stories where the two lovers are hardly in the same scene. Those kinds of things can work sometimes, but in my experience, you need to have that rapport. Together, they can be playful, flirting, loving, doting, etc., and that's where a lot of the "adorableness" comes from and it makes small moments like Twilight snuggling up to Rarity more impactful because, at least as the author, I'm invested in the characters, their relationship, and know how they fit together to create those pockets of romance and happies.

    How do you best pick out those details, slice-of-life and otherwise, for the individual characters?

    I'd say it's context specific. That doesn't sound like a clear-cut answer, but let me explain.

    What characters are you writing? How well do they know each other? Are they close by the time the story starts? What's their relationship like? These kinds of questions guide picking out those moments. How Twilight and Rarity might connect and what might be a sweet build up for them will be different from how you might have Starlight and Maud come together. 

    Again, it boils down to the characters, how they play off each other, and what makes sense for them. My experience has told me that there's not much in the way of a "concrete" answer for these kinds of set ups. More often than not, they come about almost naturally as you play with the characters. One thing I might recommend is running through a scene of dialogue with them (if not multiple). Some of it you might be able to use for the story. Sometimes you might be able to get away with using a lot of it. 

    I'm sure some of my friends are sick of me pestering them and bouncing these kinds of scenarios off of them, but it's one of the best ways I'm able to identify those slice of life moments. It sounds a lot like trial and error (which it kind of is), but I find it a pretty solid method for getting into the characters' heads and working out the kinks of their dynamic.

    You've also written stories involving background ponies like Lyra and Amethyst Star, not to mention historical ponies like Commander Hurricane and Princess Platinum. How do you handle characters that haven't been established as concretely as others?

    I'm really glad you asked that question. To be honest, oftentimes I prefer writing more background ponies like Lyra and Amethyst because they don't have as much established. It gives me more freedom to hone their personalities, backgrounds, likes and dislikes, etc., but there's usually enough given in the show to give me some grounding features of the character.

    Let's look at Nurse Redheart, for example. In the show, we see very little of Ponyville's resident nurse. The only episodes I can recall where she has speaking lines are when the Cake Twins were born and in this last season when Twilight went to go read to the sick foals with Flurry (even then, it's minimal). There's still enough there for me to work with, though. Redheart is firm with Pinkie Pie when she thinks she's disturbing the newborn foals. She taps her hoof expectantly when the foal room has been made into a mess by Flurry and cows Twilight into cleaning it up. Heck, until the aforementioned Flurry episode aired, her picture on the MLP wiki was of her glaring daggers at somepony's (Pinkie's, I believe) head. Yet, despite that, we know from the show that she's nurturing and caring with her patients. This tells me all I need to know about her to create her character as somepony who genuinely cares about her patients but is filled with fire and will bite if provoked. I get to play around with hobbies, likes, dislikes, and all those sorts of things while giving me a grounding prompt to build off of. 

    Writing characters like that is one of my favourite creative exercise, and probably why I've been doing more of that of late.

    What are the pros and cons of stories featuring ponies already together vs. get-together fics?

    Get-together stories introduce the characters and the readers to the romance. It's new for everyone, and that makes it exciting. We get to see how these two ponies (or gryphons or donkeys or what have you) create that relationship, whether it starts from a blind date or starts as a friendship that moves to something deeper. 

    We get to see them overcome whatever challenge is preventing them from getting together, and we get to share in their first kiss. The reader gets to follow along as those first sparks ignite into passion and romance and watch with glee as they first hold hooves or entwine their tails together. There's a rush of flustered emotions and a sweet payoff, so it's no wonder that they're so popular and more commonplace.

    However, because it's a get-together story, there runs the risk of it becoming formulaic in a way. We know that, by the end of the story, these two characters are going to be making kissy-faces and will be together. Any good romance will overcome that by making the journey to get their special or more important than the destination. But, even then, we know a get-together fic is a get-together fic.

    This is where stories featuring ponies already together have their strength. As readers, we can still be introduced to the ponies, their relationship, and how they play off of each other in the first few scenes, but we also get the opportunity to see so much more. 

    Oftentimes, getting together is the first "hurdle" of a romance. The first date, the first kiss, and so on. After that, they're together, and the writer can explore so many other firsts throughout the rest of their relationship. 

    Their first anniversary, their first vacation together, their first "I love you" (provided that didn't happen in the get-together fic, which it can. I'll defer to Crystal Wishes' earlier interview for more on this touchy subject). You could explore their first fight, and their first make-up. If you wanted to, you could write about how they end up moving in together or how they got engaged. Just because two ponies got together doesn't mean that it's smooth sailing. 

    The longer that they're together, the more they find out about each other. There's so much awkwardness to be overcome, and so many more opportunities for romance and fuzzies and all those things that I adore about this genre. This is largely unexplored territory, though, and I hope to see more of it coming out.

    In terms of cons, however, if you start us off in the middle of a relationship, you take on the tricky challenge of making readers buy into their relationship from the get-go. You have to make us believe that these are two ponies involved in a romance, and oftentimes that needs to happen within the first few scenes or chapters. It might take a little more nuanced detail and effort here and there, but, like with everything, it ultimately comes down to practice and trial and error

    I would like to say though that there is nothing wrong with doing either one of these kinds of stories. I love both, and so do many others who read romance stories. If you want to write get-together stories, then get those ponies together! If you find yourself becoming a little formulaic or predictable, try something new and explore a relationship already ongoing. Either way, we get our adorable kissy ponies.

    Any general tips and tricks you'd like to share?

    This might sound a bit contrary, but bear with me. First, take your time. I've been burned by rushing to get something done. It usually ends up with leaving something out or underdeveloping some aspect of the character that ends up hurting the story. Deadlines can be super useful for lighting a fire under your butt, whether it's a contest deadline, an upcoming holiday for that holiday romance fic you really want to get out in time (I'm SO guilty of this one), or trying to get your daily minimum down, but don't post anything before it's ready. Breathe, and let the story flow. Go back and review. Share with someone and get another perspective, paying attention to the characters, their development, and pacing in their change from not-romance to romance.

    At the same time, don't sit on a story forever. My favourite undergraduate professor told me one that there are two kinds of papers: perfect papers, and finished papers. I believe this carries over into storywriting. The only way to improve is to write, put what you write out there, and then reflect on what you learned from that whole process (comments, own reflections, and so on). I'm still learning as I go, and I still make mistakes when I publish things. Make your story the best that you can make it for that moment in your life, and then put it out there. That's how you grow.

    As for general romance tips? Everything I can think of basically boils down to characterization, attention to detail through that character's eyes, and playing with how those two characters relate naturally. Please see some of the previous interviews for more details, because they do so exquisitely. I've learned a lot from these other writers (specifically Monochromatic and Crystal Wishes, because romance and characterization), and they're definitely worth reading.

    Do you have any suggestions on a practical exercise someone could try in their writing to help expand their repertoire? (Especially if it involves adorableness)

    Usually, stories for me (especially of that kind) start off with a single concept or scene that sticks with me. It might be inspired by a piece of fan art, or by a random thought, but what I do is I flesh that little spark of a scene out. If you're wanting to get into the slice of adorable life, then play with it. I'd challenge you to take that little concept or single scene and work with it. Make it a scene. Write it out. Get the feel for the characters and how they play off of each other. It doesn't matter if it's something that'll be in the beginning, middle, or end of a larger story, but it gets you thinking.

    Got it down? Good. Having fun with it? Even better. Now, once you have that single scene down, even if it's not fully detailed with all of the description, you have part of a story. It may be over 1,000 words long, but it's not done. It's part of it. Now, what do you do? Fill in the gaps. What happened before this? What happens after? What sort of conflicts or challenges might the ponies have to overcome to get here? Ask yourself these questions, and as you start to answer them, you'll have a really solid outline in the works.

    Any parting thoughts?

    At the end of it all, writing is about having fun, especially here and especially in this community. If you're not having fun with something, put it down and walk away and work on something else. For me, and for many others, writing is a hobby, and if hobbies aren't fun then why are we doing them? So, if you choose to write romance, slice of life, adventure, mystery, science fiction, or whatever tickles your fancy, just remember that no matter what, you're supposed to be having a good time.

    Improving your writing and getting better with practice just makes it all the more fun.