• NaPoWriMo Interview - Bookish Delight on Character Chemistry and Interaction

    Hope your writing's been going well so far! You look like you deserve a treat. 

    Lucky for you, I have one right here. Hit the break to join the always lovely Bookish Delight for a talk about character chemistry and interaction. We'd also like to hear from you! What characters do you think have the best chemistry? How do you go about writing character dynamics? 

    You know what to do.

    MARVEL: So, Bookish, when it comes to characters, how do you know when they have chemistry? Or is chemistry something you could write for any set of characters?

    BOOKISH DELIGHT: Your mileage may vary depending on how your personal mind and heart work, but a very generalized definition from my experience and research boils down to: characters who, when they interact with each other, are more compelling together than apart. And in MLP and EQG, where everything runs on friendship (literally in some cases), good chemistry causes interpersonal relationships tend to be extra-close and extra-intense.

    For example, let's take the Great and Powerful Trixie. I'm sure I don't need to explain why she's compelling all on her own and a joy to watch, especially given the last couple of years when she (on both sides of the mirror!) was finally allowed to have actual character substance. Now, let's take Starlight Glimmer, from, again, the last couple of years—same evaluation applies, so long as you possess sanity as opposed to salt. 

    So you have these two characters who, on their own, are masters of stealing whatever scene they're in—Trixie usually by way of her adorable narcissism, Starlight by her "screw the rules of social interaction, I have magic" way of looking at life, which allows her to be the voice of reason just as often as a neurotic soft antagonist (and in Season 8, both at the same time).

    But then you put them together, and somehow everything just goes... turbo. Starlight and Trixie are great at both bringing out the absolutely best of themselves and the absolute worst in themselves. The banter is amazing. The insults are razor-sharp. When they're in sync, it's uplifting; when they're at odds, your heart twists. You get to see these characters bond and/or have conflicts, you get to see them be unexpectedly vulnerable, and pull each other out of that vulnerability, and before you know it, 22 minutes have passed in the blink of an eye. 

    That's chemistry. Or cringe—sometimes our beloved show has trouble telling the two apart. If you can reproduce that with any two (or three, or sometimes, more, but the more you add, the tougher it gets) characters, you're pure platinum.

    As for writing chemistry for any set of characters: absolutely! While it does require practice, it's also worlds easier than you might think. Though in the world of MLP fic, you can make it a lot easier simply by picking your scenarios and doing even some side homework first. If you're up for a Twilight-style lecture, I can go into specifics on how. I'll even bring visual aids!

    MARVEL: A Twilight style lecture sounds fascinating! Please, tell us more about picking the right scenarios and how doing your homework can help you writing good chemistry.


    So within MLP/EQG, or really, any series worth its salt, there are four main scenarios when it comes to gauging character chemistry, how you can work with what's there, and how much legwork you'll have to do on your own. They don't have official names, so I'll have fun with them:

    The "Buffet"

    This is the easy route, and if you're just learning how to replicate the sparks that fly when certain characters get together, this is a good place to start. MLP has pairs (sometimes trios, sometimes ensembles) where there's a lot of canon on-screen chemistry (or a little that goes a long way) that's super-easy and super-fun to replicate, or to tweak and make your own. 

    I covered Trixie and Starlight, but there are a ton of others! Discord and Fluttershy have been given entire episodes to showing how interesting their dynamic is. 

    Celestia and Luna shine like diamonds in the rare moments those two are allowed screen time to interact with each other, with bickering that's just as epic as their sisterly closeness. 

    When Smolder and Spike are in the same room, it's always an event worth paying attention to—in fact, all of Season 8's Young Six have had great interplay amongst each other. 

    Rarijack shippers (and, let's face it, fans of Applejack in general) recently received a gift eight years in the making with Rollercoaster of Friendship, where Humans Rarity and AJ went through a movie-long dual character arc that brought them all sorts of closer in the end, after a lot of rocky bumps. 

    If Buffets are your thing, don't be afraid to go all-out and embrace what you love about them! With those established relationships, the sky's the limit with regards to how you can play with them. 

    I personally can't get enough of Sci-Twi and Sunset Shimmer, and any EQG watcher knows there's plenty of material to work with there (at this point, almost too much!). 

    The best part is that well-done Buffets take less convincing with the general audience who have been watching the same show as you have, and odds are several of them have been inspired by the same dynamic you have. In other words, you've got an instant audience who's been starving for more of what they already love. Be the one to give it to them!

    The "Solid Meal"

    MLP is also chock full of characters who have met in canon, and may even have clicked in some way, but haven't had a ton of time together or a deep connection otherwise. Still, what they have was enough to make an impression. These are the dynamics that make you say "there's totally something here I really wish there were more why isn't there more already Hasbro you're playing with my emotions." 

    Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon fans know what I'm talking about. So do any folks still waving the Shadowbolts flag (I'm with you completely!), be it before or after their Dance Magic-fueled face turn. Ember and Thorax, same deal, though what little screen-time they do get darn near counts as a Buffet in itself!

    The "Candy Store"

    A Candy Store is where you can pick two separate characters in the show who haven't met yet in canon, but you just know that if they ever did, it would be the best thing ever. Cheese Sandwich and Party Favor. Harshwhinny and Principal Cinch. Timber Spruce and Maud! Lightning Dust and Tempestpop Shadowtwist! 

    Apart, they're different morsels that work great, but you're looking in the window of that shop just dying to see that perfect sweet treat that you just know would happen if those characters ever got together. 

    And I'm here to tell you that you should absolutely walk inside and buy that candy. Heck, smash and grab if you gotta. Just... don't do that in real life.

    The "Banging Rocks"

    At this point I've completely lost the food analogy, but it's fine. This is where you have two characters that have just never met and don't instantly slot together after five seconds of thought. 

    This happens a lot when an author has two characters they really like, but they barely have anything in common, or worse, may be constantly in conflict with each other due to disparate values (though this can also be a Meal/Buffet if you know how to play your cards right—the intensity of their rivalry is where a lot of AppleDash comes from, for instance!). You can still definitely write good stuff in this domain, but you'll have to do a lot of work on your end since the show's done almost none for you.

    However, the fun of Banging Rocks together mainly comes from the joy of experimentation, and if you enjoy that, then you're likely the next person to give us Mistmane+Coco Pommel friendship fic wait no that's totally a Candy Store hang on I'll be right back— 

    Anyway, one you know what scenario you're working with, it's finally time to get down to brass tacks.

    Homework Time!

    So, you've got your eyes on some characters and want to write them kicking all the emotional butt together, huh? This is how you do it: you have fun, and you do you. 

    But... also them, in the process. It can't entirely be personal wish fulfillment, but chemistry involves enjoying seeing others having a great (or awful) time in ways where you can tell that those exact specific people, with those exact specific traits and mannerisms, are having a great (or awful) time.. I won't lie, it can be teensiest bit voyeuristic, but you're a writer, it comes with the territory. 

    This process works for all the above listed scenarios. The more canon chemistry that already exists, the less Homework you'll have to do overall, unless you're really trying to pivot these characters in a totally different direction (trying to bring out a more somber side to more bubbly characters, for instance).

    First up is research. The fun kind:
    • Make mental or physical lists of the personality traits, likes, dislikes, and occasional quirks about each of the characters you're working with. Start with the things that have always leapt out at your or that have always stayed in the back of your mind, because that's what will drive you when it's time to write. What inspires you to write about what they enjoy? What inspires you about what drives them crazy?
    • If need be, rewatch some episodes or specials involving the characters. This can help if you want to refresh yourself on the characters in general, or check against the notes you've just made. Is there anything contradictory? Is there anything new you didn't see before? Is there anything you're not fond of in canon that you'd like to change?

    Now that you've done your research, the development can begin:
    • Bring back those individual character aspects you love. Is there anything you want to explore about one character, that having the other around could bring to the forefront?
    • Dream up some killer connections! Are there any cute little moments you've always wanted to see between your characters? Are there agreements and alliances you'd love to see? What situations, what subjects, what personal values? Are there conflicts, arguments, fights, or just mild disagreements that you always felt these characters would have, in an interesting way that also allows those characters, or the reader, to see them in a previously unexplored light? 
    It doesn't have to be previously unexplored to the fandom or universe, mind. If it's interesting to you, that's good enough.
    • Finally, once you know what you want (what you really, really want), brainstorm any circumstances or plot points that could bring them together. Feel free to go total Occam's Razor with this: simple is best. You want those characters to shine—if the plot does, too, then great. But take it from someone who's been watching Power Rangers for 25+ years: enjoyable characters, and enjoyable interplay between them, will always get people coming back, even through a... less than airtight plot.
    Some things to keep in mind: the process outlined above can take anywhere from five minutes to five weeks, and these don't have to be high-stakes affairs unless you want them to be. 

    You can have the Dazzlings teaming up to save the world from an ultimate evil while bickering at each other and snubbing the Rainbooms the whole time. 

    You can have Spike and Starlight having an enjoyable snark-session in the kitchen which slowly morphs into a heart-to-heart about their complicated feelings involving family. 

    Or you can just write about Rarity and Fluttershy having a spa day. In other words, don't get too hung up about the dynamic "meaning something". As said earlier, meaning something to you is enough. 

    Extra Credit: great writers steal, and even good writers borrow. Don't be afraid to toss in some of your personal outside-of-MLP inspirations, and experiment by fusing those inspirations with the characters you're writing! For example, a lot of my material is inspired by tokusatsu and magical girl shows, Western toons, old-school sitcoms, and the Kevin Smith Askewniverse, and it all bleeds into my fics like nothing else. 

    But it results in Shadowbolts who are fantastic wisecrackers (writing Sour Sweet is an absolute JOY), and emotional moments that are genuine, sincere and sometimes heartbreaking from characters who you'd never expect it from, like Silver Spoon, even though she's barely gotten any lines despite being a name character for eight years. Get your own flavor in there! It might be just what you need to spice up a character who needs that extra push to gel with someone else.

    Chemistry in Action!

    Finally, here's a quick example of the process that just came to me. For this one, so as to not step on any headcanon toes, I'll use my Equestria Girls adopted bae, Juniper Montage, aka I'm Pretty Sure There's Another Memory Stone Out There No One Knows About:

    "One, two, three, four... sweet, I'm up to five whole fans now! You really do love me!"
    One of the things I really like about Juniper is that she's an over-the-top media-industry persona with a pop-culture fangirl mindset and a constant urge to bite off more than she can chew I might find such a character deeply and personally relatable shut up. 

    Anyway, when she first meets Rainbow Dash and Sci-Twi on the Daring Do movie set, she makes one heck of an impression—one of the very few she gets to make over the course of her two lone episodes. It's complicated. 

    Still, Juniper gets redeemed at the end of her specials, which means she's free to become friends with any of the main characters one wants, and especially Starlight, since Starlight was the one who finally snapped her out of her funk at the end of Mirror Magic.

    Now, I've since friendshipped Junie with Sci-Twi and taken their shared nerdery to the max. But what if I were asked to go the Rainbow track instead?

    Well, Juniper loves movies, loves Daring Do, and has a ton of drive and ambition— sometimes to a fault. (You don't dress up as the Phantom of the Movie Studio and sabotage an entire production near to the point of pushing it back half a year if you don't have something in the way of #goals.)

    These are easily things that can slot alongside Rainbow, and it'd be easy to write up a scenario where Juniper proposes creating a classic-formula sports movie with Rainbow as the star, for a school project.

    Think Friday Night Lights or Remember the Titans. Juniper has spent literal years in a movie studio, absorbing the movie-production process, and clearly loves it, so if she wanted to, she could easily be an indie director if she wanted. That's your simple setup, that's how you get them to spend time together.

    With Rainbow comes the possibility of other sporty characters she likely knows, like Cloudy, or Indigo Zap, or really anyone you want who might know Rainbow even tangentially. You can even make some human counterparts from Equestria if you wanted.

    But what this means is that suddenly you have Juniper filming examples of over-the-top friendship and team spirit all over the place—and canonically, these things have always eluded Juniper (okay, she has one line in Mirror Magic about that, but with Juniper you really have to work with what you've got).

    Cue character growth moments, and conflicts both internal and external. Rainbow, being the world's greatest pep rallyist, would be all about welcoming Juniper with open arms so long as Juniper shows ample willingness to learn about friendship and learn from her past mistakes, and the two can bond over their shared ambitious spirits, love of Daring, and love of pleasing a crowd, for days to come, leading into a solid friendship and deeper conflicts/heart-to-hearts when all's said and done.

    There's of course room for expansion and improvement of the above, but the main thrust is that this all comes from knowing and loving the characters you want to work with as a writer. So long as that love shines through, only the most pedantic of readers (and yes, I've met my share) will care that the dynamic you've written isn't a perfect Rube Goldberg Logic Machine.

    ...I'm so sorry for writing a 2000 word article to answer a single question.

    MARVEL: Don't be! That was fantastic, Twilight would be truly proud of your lecture skills. What would your advice be to authors who have OCs interacting with canon characters? BOOKISH DELIGHT: Based on my Fimfic travels... More mares and girls, less vaguely-disguised self-insert shipping. I kid. I really don't tho. In all seriousness, the biggest advice I can give here is to concentrate on solidifying the original character first, and make them the best they can be. Create someone who feels like they belong in the magical land of Equestria or the modern world of Canterlot High, with all of the strengths, flaws, and depth afforded by living in those worlds. It's simpler than you'd think, but tougher than you'd hope. But once you do, your greatest tools are self-awareness, and the ability to detach. Ask yourself while writing: if this were a character you didn't dream up, if they were canon already, if you didn't have a deeply personal attachment to them... would you still enjoy watching them interact with canon personalities?

    It seems like an easy question, but it's a skill that one develops over time. If you can impress yourself first, and really get into the heart of your own character as well as anyone Hasbro's given you, then that'll show in your work.
    Once you're sure of your OC, they can be handled in much the same way one handles Banging Rocks together. The best thing you can do is to know your OC well enough that you can easily have fun finding out how they can both meld and conflict with your canon character(s) of choice, and allow both to feel like real people. (Just... if you can help it, try not to make yet another 20-something-year-old brony proxy? Straight up, My Little Dashie was seven years ago. If you absolutely must... I don't know. Use Moondancer instead. She's nerdy enough, and needs more love anyway. :D)

    MARVEL: Thanks, Bookish! That's some great advice.

    That about wraps it up for us here, but let us know what you think in the comments.