This is going to take a lot of explaining. I’ve grouped some case examples of issues I’ve been seeing into categories, and have distinguished them with ✸. You have a story here that needs to be made less bland and have more originality in it, but you also have a Mary Sue of sorts here. This is the last I really care to read of this story unless you can deliver, so in this review I hope to give you as many criticisms and helping suggestions as I can as a sort of send-off.
✸ Technical fluff that has no bearing on the plot, or serves no purpose other than to show off the protagonist’s knowledge or otherwise draw attention to her:
I get the impression that she knows a lot. Okay. She knows a lot in multiple fields of material sciences and construction/design. Okay. Ever think this might be too much? I think you’ve got a bit of a Mary Sue going here. She’s going into this story with so very much preexisting knowledge. Isn’t part of the adventure towards a great discovery/invention the whole learning of it?
> The lantern she carried in her teeth, and used a combination of her own magic and a backpack contraption to light the way. While the lantern looked normal on the outside, inside it contained a small glass sphere attached to a cable that ran to the backpack. With a bit of concentration, Whirlie manipulated the energies in the machinery on her back to cause the small orb to glow white-hot. Path thus illuminated, Whirlie made her way into the town square.
That’s a really long way of saying she lit a lantern and began making her way off to town to buy groceries.
> That pony, a curly maned pink earth pony, spotted her quickly and charged toward her. Whirlie froze in her tracks and went wide-eyed, dropping the lantern and losing her concentration, then braced herself for the inevitable, she assumed, collision. “Force is mass times acceleration,” she began muttering to herself. She opened one eye in an attempt to judge the onrushing force, “or is it momentum here?” She screwed up her face in thought, forgetting the bracing, and flopped on the ground, grabbed a stick, and began scratching the equations into the dirt at her feet.
Apart from the obvious, I’ll first call your attention to something rather strange here. Think for a moment about how far away you can spot something in the dark, or at least in an area that is illuminated by urban lighting. Now think of how far away, in these conditions, you can spot something and recognize it as being pink, with a curly hair, and recognize it as a plain pony and not a pony with wings or a horn. Now take that distance and divide it by the velocity that this object is traveling towards the protagonist. Is that enough time to drop the lantern, “brace” (which means pause and tense up for an indefinite period of time), start muttering to herself about Newton’s second law of motion, second-guess herself, and then flop to the ground and begin to scratch equations in the dirt?
This brings me to an important point, boys and girls: don’t smoke crack.
> “What do the gears mean?” Pinkie commented, indicating Whirlie’s cutie mark. This caused Whirlie to pause and examine her flank for a moment. She had always thought the intricate clockwork was a little strange herself, considering she’d never tried her hoof at building a clock and spent most of her time hammering metal.
All of a sudden, Pinkie Pie pointing to her rear causes to her look back at it, despite it’s something she’s lived with most of her adult life (which I assume means that she knows what it looks like). Also, it seems I’ve identified another telltale sign of OC-comes-to-town story: everyone look at my mysterious cutie mark so we can find out what it means.
Exactly how often are cutie marks brought into the spotlight in the actual show? Three times in the first season as I recall, since I too have indulged in ponies. When ponies are introduced to each other, do they ask each other about what’s on their haunch? Did they do that to Miss Sparkle when she first landed in Ponyville? Exactly how important is it to know what a cutie mark means to understand a pony? In the show, it is a sort of artistic means of quickly tossing in subtleties or information by hinting at a background character’s vocation or lifestyle without needing them to say a word. Here, in fanfiction, we have them as a storytelling crutch. In all such formulaic fics, the cutie mark is the all-important contrived opportunity to blab about a character and where he/she comes from and what their destiny is — and if that isn’t clear, and the cutie mark’s meaning isn’t totally obvious, then ooh boy, we’ve got a show-stopper here. It’s gotta be really big and amazing, because the character has a mysterious cutie mark that doesn’t mean anything obvious, so the story is probably about said character finding a great destiny. YAWN.
> “I’m not a train engineer. I build things,” she explained.
> “Ohh! Like clocks! I get it!”
> “Not clocks, exactly. I’m usually more of a blacksmith or tinker. I build tools, reinforce parts with metal fittings, that sort of thing. I’ve cultivated a talent for channeling unicorn magic to power devices.”
> “Like that lantern?” Pinkie indicated the small backpack on the floor attached to the lantern.
“Exactly. I learned it from my father, but I think most unicorns could learn to do it; it’s not that hard.” Whirlie walked over and pulled the device out of the pack: a metal canister with the cable coming out of one end. Popping open a hatch on the side, Whirlie showed Pinky a coil of glass that was faintly glowing. “This thing is a phase coil; my magic can superheat matter inside of it to convert it to plasma; that goes out the cable and into the glass sphere in the lantern. See?” Whirlie concentrated and the material in the glass began to glow brighter, followed shortly by the lantern illuminating. Pinkie watched, mesmerized.
I thought we were done with the lantern by this point! Why must you inflict the reader with the lantern yet again?!
> Whirlie found the library, which she found to be curiously built into a tree. Neither arbormancy nor archimancy were among her abilities, but she paused to admire the structure.
Does the reader need to know this? Does the reader need to hear these these words “archimancy” and “arbomancy”? It seems you began a chapter with this unnecessary bit here just to say those words, and have it sound all epic.
> “You must be the new pony in town...the blacksmith?” she asked.
> “Well I’m a blacksmith by trade,” she began explaining, “but I’m really more of an engineer, or a tinkerer. I’m actually interested in magic theory, or rather putting magic theory into practice...”
This is a redundant introduction to what her life’s passion is all about. Does the reader really need to read it a second time?
> “What is your idea, anyway? And what are you good at? I would have assumed you were a clockmaker, judging by your cutie mark.” Twilight interjected.
> “Well...I design things, and work with metal. I’m...pretty good at math, but you kind of have to be to build anything worthwhile. The idea is pretty simple, really,” Whirlie explained, pulling a notebook out of her pack and opening it in front of Twilight. The pages were coated in of diagrams, formulae, and notes. “You see, we siphon off our unicorn magic...” she pointed to a diagram of a ring with some sort of cable attached, looped over a unicorn horn. “That’s the real hard part, I think.”
This again? AGAIN??? By this point, you’ve already used the cutie mark as a crutch for introducing her and her hobby/vocation, TWICE. Once is bad enough. Three times is certainly bad, and certainly in itself sufficient motivation for not wanting to post it on a high-traffic blog (Equestria Daily).
> “Rainbow!” Twilight responded in a harsh tone. “There’s nothing wrong with her idea, it’s theoretically sound...assuming it doesn’t blow up,” she amended.
Miss Sparkle barely knows her, immediately defends her from mean old Rainbow Dash’s taunting, despite how utterly and completely obtuse one would have to be to spend the time, money, blood, sweat and tears to build a massive tower out of stones, when the goal in mind and life’s passion is to find a way to fly and one’s talent (again) is engineering (which type of engineering, I can only guess).
> “I’ve played with rockets since I was a foal, and I think that part will be easy,” she explained, pages of notes fluttering by. “And I’ve even done some work on transferring the plasma out of the phase coil array,” she went on, pulling more notebooks out of her pack. “But, I haven’t figured out how to efficiently transfer magic power in such a way that I can drive the coil. You don’t happen to have any ideas that might help with that, do you?”
More of what I’m talking about here. Also, she’s been playing with rockets since she was a foal? Wow, she’s really, really gifted. Also, ponies know how to build rockets in the first place?
> Today was a big day. Twilight had uncovered and had been studying a method for siphoning energy from a unicorn’s horn. The text from which she derived it was an old one and had been under lock-and-key deep in the Canterlot special collections. The reason for the high security was that the text in question was the journal of a unicorn sorcerer named Darkmane, and the purpose of the device was not to power machinery, but rather to render powerless a captive unicorn. Twilight had been working on adapting it, because the device drew out magic efficiently, precisely what they needed. She had been poring over the text for weeks, being an avid academician, and collected notes on the parts relevant to their work.
For the most part, to me this just appears as fluff and nothing more than a very non-subtle attempt to give prestige and a high-profile air to the whole venture. If you want to convey that it’s important and whatnot, wouldn’t there be outsiders spying on her? Characters trying to interfere?
Furthermore, I’ll call your attention to this: she did all this for a stranger. Where were her existing friends during these weeks of study?
The rest of the passage wherein the quote I just made was found is more technical fluff. It’s okay if it’s there, there just needs to be less of it. More meaningful things happening, less of the following things:
- Whirlie Gears just listing off items from a scavenger hunt that will serve as the components
- Whirlie Gears just doing stuff to stuff and making it all come together
- Materials, materials, materials. While I do like shiny things, and a tinge of purple prose is okay here and there, you’re lingering too long on the construction of the thing and and less about what it represents.
Now, regarding the remainder of chapter 4 up to the point. Here’s the issue: it all just comes together, and the tiniest inkling of a setback or something interesting happening is all at the very end of it all (the passage, not the construction) due to some unforseen factoid about magical theory, which makes it seem just a bit contrived.
✸ The protagonist emoting about past mistakes or spelling out her needs so that characters from the show can then assuage her fears and welcome her, even offer her help:
This one I believe deserves some explanation. You want your readers to avoid thinking you wrote it as wish-fulfillment. Thus, if you lavish your character with hospitality from the main characters, you run the risk of just that.
> “I guess you’re supposed to evict me? Word travels fast. I haven’t even moved in yet,” she replied.
> “Evict you? Nononononono! Welcome you! To Ponyville! Your new home, silly!” Pinkie announced, as she stood up on her hind legs and tossed confetti into the air, the smile on her face not once flinching.
Pinkie Pie must always be the welcome machine in Ponyville. That’s the way it is in every fanfiction about some new original fan-made character coming to town. If it doesn’t involve this, it’s not a fanfiction about some OC coming to town.
In all seriousness, however, this is a prime example of what the pre-readers meant in terms of the story following the same old tired clichés.
> “Did they forget to bring your forge?” Pinkie asked after glancing out front.
> “No, I’m going to have to have one built. You can’t really move them,” Whirlie explained. “I’m also going to need to make a number of modifications to the house if I’m going to get any work done,” she said, holding open one of her notebooks. Pinkie eyed it intently.
> “Well, I know where we can get plenty of rocks!” Pinkie explained. “Tomorrow we can go to my family rock farm and get what you need.”
This one here is a bit different: it’s a very, very plain set-up for the events of retrieving the rocks for her forge. Thank goodness that whole lot of boring labor is totally skipped over in the time-jump that happens soon afterwards. At any rate, it seems almost like a contrivance that was stuck there merely to answer the question of where her new forge comes from. Now, granted, we actually do need that question answered, but considering how few things happen in this story, it stands out as a contrivance all the more strongly.
> Whirlie was getting nervous now, and started to back slowly toward the door. She thought to herself, “Darnit, Whirlie! Why did you have to let that slip!” Out loud she replied, “Umm...I just failed to account for the amount of wind up there is all and I didn’t realize that clouds didn’t support any un-flightbound weight. The whole thing just kind of got out of control.” She sped up with, “Please don’t kick me out of town and throw me in a dungeon!”
> Twilight looked at her with one eyebrow arched. “I don’t think I could do that. And besides, what somepony did before she came to town is no reason to judge her now,” Twilight explained, nearly growling at Rainbow Dash. “The news said you built the whole thing by yourself. You did the design work and the construction?” She looked shocked.
> “I always do everything myself,” Whirlie explained, blinking. “I mean...I don’t think anypony else is really interested in getting into the clouds; except the pegasi, but that’s like their whole thing,” she glanced at Rainbow. “Besides, most ponies avoid me once they know who I am. I guess they’d rather be injured as bystanders than in the line of research. I was the only one in the hospital for four weeks after the...err...incident...so I guess the math is on their side.”
> “You know, Whirlie, I’d help you out. Have you ever asked anypony if they wanted to help?”
> Whirlie responded by staring at her blankly.
> Twilight went on, “With some help, the work probably won’t be so dangerous...”
> Whirlie continued staring, her head slowly tilting to one side before she regained her senses. “Umm...I guess no pony ever offered and I never thought to ask,” she responded, blushing. “Working together would be...an honor. And probably considerably less dangerous,” she said, looking up.
Prime example of what this category is all about. I initially thought of quoting just the first three lines here, but the entire thing is relevant. Twilight immediately admires her for her skill, and then two lines of dialogue later offers her help. To top it all off, unnecessary blushing. Again. It’s like flying moves in an old kung fu flick. To kick someone’s ass, flying moves are totally not necessary, but still the wires are there. However, the distinction to make between Jet Li and this story is that blushes don’t make the story more awesome, they make it seem more contrived and forceful.