ChibiRenamon’s “Conquering is Easy, Being Conquered is Hard”

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It wasn’t hard to let today’s story conquer our hearts.

Conquering is Easy, Being Conquered is Hard
[Romance] [Comedy] [Drama] [Alternate Universe] • 26,653 words

Rarity’s quest for love led her from Tartarus to Canterlot. Now, wielding powers beyond comprehension, she rules over Equestria.

Now, if only she could understand how Fluttershy’s little cult had gained thousands of members virtually overnight, or why the cult’s second-in-command, Twilight Sparkle, always seems to be one step ahead of her…

FROM THE CURATORS: Writing a story that solidly paints a single theme or tone is difficult enough — and when you’re trying to mix such disparate elements as humor, romance, character drama, and the epic clash of a tyrant with an apocalyptic doom cult, it takes a steadier than usual hand.  “This story’s simultaneously dark and high-spirited wackiness is very much a Big Thing Right in my mind,” AugieDog said in his nomination, and the fic quickly earned a feature amid comments like Horizon’s: “I’ve got a special place in my heart for stories which sell an audacious premise, and this squarely scratches that itch.”

One thing on which we all agreed was how elegantly the story’s depiction of its familiar-yet-altered ponies grounded that audacity.  “It transcends its crackfic-competition origins for me through the characters and through the comedy,” AugieDog said.  “Shining Armor is a high point, still Captain of the Royal Guard, as is Kibitz, Celestia’s old secretary, who Rarity has kept on since he actually knows how the government works.”  Horizon added: “A lot of thought clearly went into not only how the circumstances of the unusual AU would have changed all the characters, but also how they would go about pursing their interests.”  And RBDash47 chimed in: “I have to second my appreciation for the character work here. Every single one is on point, with a unique, developed voice that fits them perfectly. I don’t think I’d need any dialogue tags at any given time to know who was speaking, and I enjoyed every interaction.”

We found that sharp character work augmented by on-point humor.  “The first chapter, especially, is a triumph of absurdity, aware of this fact, and delights in nothing more than reveling in its own whimsy,” Present Perfect said.  And exemplary exposition work rounded the story out: “I was delighted by how effortlessly and subtly the author wove the explanations of the AU’s differences into the story,” RBDash47 said.  “I never felt confused or like I didn’t know what was going on, even with some fairly big changes to the timeline.”  It all added up to a truly head-turning package.  “It helped that the comedy was smart and endlessly quotable, but more importantly, the story kept surprising and delighting me at every turn with its central battle(s) of wits,” Horizon said.  “I don’t often follow an author on the strength of a single story, but here, that decision was a no-brainer.”

Read on for our author interview, in which ChibiRenamon discusses elliptical planning, regular flossing, and clawing … couches.
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Coyote de La Mancha’s “Twilight Sparkle Was Shot”

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Today’s story starts with a bang.

Twilight Sparkle Was Shot
[Adventure] [Equestria Girls] [Alternate Universe] • 9,173 words

After the reformation of Sunset Shimmer, the Mane Six united their powers against all manner of threats. Then, Twilight Sparkle joined their number, and over time the bonds between the Mane Seven have become stronger than ever.

They have called upon their power to aid their friends, to protect the innocent, and even to defend their world.

Never have they called upon their power out of anger, or to seek revenge.

Until now.

FROM THE CURATORS: Vengeance isn’t a goal typically associated with a hero, especially a hero in the My Little Pony franchise. And yet in this week’s feature, the drive for vengeance that binds together our protagonist and antagonist in a yin and yang of pain feels almost breathtakingly real.

FanOfMostEverything saw this immediately: “It tackles serious issues with the severity they deserve,” he said in his nomination. “For all this story is about violence and vengeance, it handles them in a very pony way, even if most of the cast isn’t technically equine.” AugieDog applauded “how the author neither shies away from that darkness nor takes it all the way off the edge into grim territory. The world, the characters, the themes, they’ve all been shoved way over to the far end of the scale, but they’re still on the scale, are still recognizably Pony.” PresentPerfect was drawn in immediately: “This is a gritty, hard-hitting drama that utilizes tension like a master chef utilizes spice. I was not prepared to be gripped by the shoulders from word one, but I loved every moment of it.”

The story uses this powerful self-assurance to explore something canon has chosen to ignore, in perfect fanfiction fashion. “Its inventive solution to the Two-Sunsets Problem is so simple, I’m shocked I’ve never seen it before,” PresentPerfect said, and AugieDog also praised “the way the story deals the basic question of what happened to the EQG-world’s Sunset Shimmer.” “What I really love is the attempt to address where exactly Sunset’s human-born counterpart has been,” said RBDash47, “and the completely believable character work that went into both her backstory and her reaction to discovering this interloper in her world.”

The deft characterization on display was a highlight for everyone. “The perspective work is also done very well, placing the reader firmly behind a given character’s eyes and letting us appreciate everything they’re going through,” FanOfMostEverything said. RBDash47 “really felt for everyone involved,” and found that “all the characters’ behaviors in this painful situation are completely believable.” AugieDog pointed out “the author is even able to take Fluttershy into this darker world and still have her be one hundred percent Fluttershy—nothing short of impressive.”

In the end, PresentPerfect summed things up neatly for the curators when he said, “This is what I look for in EQG stories.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Coyote discusses the draw of My Little Pony, the importance of research, and the joys of alternate realities. Continue reading

Jack of a Few Trades’ “Without Another Word”

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We’d like to give you a good word about today’s story.

Without Another Word
[Drama] [Sad] • 11,912 words

Seven years have passed since Grand Pear moved to Vanhoover, and time has dulled the pain of leaving Pear Butter behind. Though the scars remain, life for the Pear family has done its best to return to normal.

But one day, a letter from Ponyville comes in the mail.

FROM THE CURATORS: The Perfect Pear is one of the most moving and beloved episodes of MLP’s recent seasons, so stories based on it have a high bar to clear — a challenge which this fic exceeded with grace.  As Soge noted in his nomination, “Powerful stuff … Without Another Word does what fanfiction does best, by exploring the empty spaces left behind by canon.”  And Present Perfect summed up our assessment: “Grand Pear is perhaps the greatest tragic figure of MLP:FiM, beating out even Cranky Doodle Donkey’s decade-long search for love. This story gets how someone could do what he did, how they could live with it, and how none of it would be easy. Every last drop of possible emotion is wrung from a pure, natural understanding of his character.”

That was accomplished, Soge said, “thanks to some very well realized characterization work, and a tone which manages to feel heavy and yet avoid falling into melodrama.”  Several other curators also praised the treatment of the Pear family, such as AugieDog: “The character details elevate it right into the clouds — Grand Pear’s relationship with his wife and with the griffon bartender especially, but also with his other children and the folks who come into his shop,” he said.  “It displays a real understanding of the sort of person who would do this to himself and to his family.”  And FanOfMostEverything added, “The fleshing out of his wife when the episode gave us absolutely nothing to work with was fantastic.”

The character work was also enhanced by a finely crafted structure.  “I feel the strongest part of this story is its use of unreliable narration,” FanOfMostEverything said.  “At first, we see Grand Pear how he wants to be seen, as the strong central pillar of his family, the source of order in the chaos. It takes an emotional breakdown, other perspectives, and too much straight whiskey to peel back the layers and show what’s really been going on.”  And ultimately, what that added up to was something all of us commented on — the raw emotional power on display.  “This story hit me hard,” Soge said, and AugieDog concurred: “This doesn’t pull any of the punches Grand Pear’s got coming.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Jack of a Few Trades discusses starry-eyed phases, fruit glue, and hailstorm baptisms.
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Flutterpriest’s “Feathers”

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Fall into today’s story for some gripping drama.

Feathers
[Dark] [Drama] • 2,466 words

When the pegasi lose their feathers, they also lose the ability to walk on clouds. The answer to ‘why’ is lost to time. The real question is … what happens to Cloudsdale?

FROM THE CURATORS: Some stories are compelling because they’re driven by a premise which grabs you right from the start.  And when that happens, it’s doubly exciting to find execution which is just as exemplary.  “The central idea of Feathers is immediately powerful and uniquely pony (if you spot it the existence of TV),” Horizon said in his nomination, “and it keeps a tight focus, driving a claustrophobic mood which is jarred quite effectively by the few outside encounters we see.”  Feathers cruised to a feature amid a chorus of similar praise.  “I compared this story to The Twilight Zone, with its ability to build tension through a sense of dread, which all pays off in one of the best final lines in this fandom,” Present Perfect said, while FanOfMostEverything agreed: “I have to say that this is an incredibly impactful story that gets a lot of mileage out of its oppressive atmosphere.  This is far from my usual taste, but I’m happy to push this one over the edge … and given the subject matter, I apologize for the incidental puns.”

One element of the powerful mood was the story’s excellent framing, keeping the audience focused for maximum emotional punch.  “It very much feels like a small slice of a much larger crisis, and the small stakes of the protagonists just underline their terror and lack of agency,” Horizon said.  Soge noted that it did a remarkable job of drawing horror from the mundane: “The fic creates some wonderful atmosphere with a uniquely Equestrian plague, which turns a familiar environment into a hostile one, and the concept behind it is extremely interesting — being trapped in your own home, on your own furniture, no chance of escape.”  Or, as Present Perfect put it, “Who cares about lava when the floor is clouds?”

But the character work also made a strong contribution.  “Rainbow Dash’s parents feel distinctly true to their canon characters while having the over-the-top exuberance dialed back just a tad,” Present Perfect said. “They’re definitely about the last ponies you’d expect to star in a horror fic, but they work as the stars here.”  FanOfMostEverything commented on that as well: “I think the moment that stands out the most for me is when Bow argues against helping the mare all but begging for assistance,” he said.  “This is what this plague has done. This is how far this stallion has fallen. … I swear I’m not trying to make these puns. They just keep happening.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Flutterpriest discusses nice blankets, seen tomatoes, and Sparkledeath Metallidash.
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fourths’ “You and Her”

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Today’s story aches.

You and Her
[Romance] [Sad] • 7,335 words

[Note: This story contains sexual themes.]

You told me that a young designer from out of town would be coming to stay with us for a few days while she discussed business plans with you. I told you that would be fine, that I wouldn’t mind.

I lied.

FROM THE CURATORS: Relationships are rarely easy. Feelings wax and wane, ebb and flow, and even at their easiest and most effortless, relationships take effort. But maybe you don’t want to put that effort in any more. Maybe it takes less effort to start something new than to maintain something you’ve had for years. Maybe your partner won’t catch on. Maybe they will.

“This story stood out by virtue of sticking with me after reading,” said Horizon in his nomination, “the way the pain from a punch lingers. It’s a blunt, immediate look at the pain of adultery that works almost in a sort of chiaroscuro, contrasting the beauty of their day-to-day life (and Fleur’s denial) with the rawness of the situation.” Others agreed; RBDash47 said it “was skillfully crafted, and yet—and therefore—I did not enjoy reading it at all” and FanOfMostEverything had to admit, “This sort of story isn’t my usual cup of tea. It’s not even in the same cupboard. But I can’t deny that it hits every emotional note dead center.”

Everyone agreed that the author did a fantastic job of bringing a heartwrenching story about a significant other discovering their lover is cheating on them to life. Soge praised its “realistic depictions of cheating, and of a relationship which has progressed beyond the ‘crumbling completely’ stage”; RBDash47 said, “fourths did a great job capturing the floaty, surreal experience of reluctantly confirming your spouse is cheating on you”; Present Perfect said, “while this could have been just another well written story about a dark subject that’s hard to write about, it’s the amount of nuance placed on Fleur’s character that makes it stand out.”

From start to finish, the story’s structure sold the protagonist’s inner turmoil. “The unbalanced nature of the plot itself — the threads left unresolved, the paths left unexplored — function perfectly here to reinforce Fleur’s dazed experience and sense of uncertainty in these moments,” said RBDash47. “We have no idea where she goes from here, because neither does she.” Horizon felt that “the complication and lack of resolution certainly work to sell the messy nature of the situation.”

Read on for our author interview, in which fourths discusses jealous flowers, mid-life crises, and having strong opinions. Continue reading

anonpencil’s “Broken Bindings”

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Today’s story is a real page-turner.

Broken Bindings
[Dark] [Horror] [Mystery] • 23,036 words

Twilight has given you a new book to read. Well, she didn’t exactly give it to you, you actually just found it in the back of the library. Behind a shelf. On the ground. It looks very old, downright ancient, and it smells like moss and rot. The binding is a little cracked, and there’s no title on it. You can’t help but wonder what might be inside, and the only way to find out is to keep reading.

Just turn the page.

You can do that much, can’t you?

Please?

FROM THE CURATORS: Notable fanfiction can bring to life ideas that are too big for the show — but even among exemplary stories, it’s not every day you see ideas that are also too big for traditional prose.  “anonpencil’s most recent work — I hesitate to call it just a ‘fic’ — is impressive,” RBDash47 said in his nomination.  “Beyond the pure fic/storytelling aspect, pencil spent months building a multimedia experience that takes full advantage of the publishing format: this is not a story that could ever exist in book form, or even really as an ebook.”  And while that novelty caught our collective eye, what earned this a feature was its solid quality.  “There are plenty of other fics which toy with formatting,” Soge said. “What sets Broken Bindings apart is that it does these things well.”

He wasn’t the only one impressed.  “There’s substance in all of this stylish packaging, and it is some beautifully haunting work,” FanOfMostEverything said.  “anonpencil used literary devices as thoroughly and as well as she did hyperlinks and multimedia integration.”  RBDash47 praised the craft in the character work: “From a pure fic standpoint, it tells a compelling story about a mare imprisoned within a book, and is creepy while simultaneously earning the reader’s sympathies for a villain (maybe even a ‘monster’). The turn/reveal/prestige at the end also makes it an interesting commentary on ‘death of the author’ for me.”  And Present Perfect was most impressed by the consistent eye for detail: “I had so much fun finding the little inconsistencies, the seeming mistakes, and the really, really hidden stuff.  It was every bit as much fun watching the story unravel, too.  Muse’s unstable emotional state comes through in chilling ways.”

Even curators turned off by the story’s structure found themselves admiring it.  “I’m here to read a story, not play a game … the concept behind Broken Bindings, though, struck me as a really nice answer to a lot of my objections,” AugieDog said.  “If I’d just stumbled across this story on my own, I would’ve stopped about page 6, but since I was reading it for the RCL, I kept going — and found myself immensely impressed with the character’s voice, the little animations and nutty typography stuff, and the rising tension.”  And in the end, our biggest regrets were not getting to the tale sooner.  “I meant to nominate this one myself. This is what I get for procrastinating,” FanOfMostEverything said.  “In any case, this is a glorious exercise in using the medium to its absolute fullest.”

Read on for our author interview, in which anonpencil discusses brie bathing, editor cheating, and dream infiltration.
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wYvern’s “Of Flies and Spiders”

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Today’s story will ensnare you.

Of Flies and Spiders
[Romance] [Dark] [Tragedy] • 8,065 words

Glitter was banished from her hive because she’s different: instead of feeding on love, she feeds on anger, fear, and sadness. Ponies are easily fooled and more easily manipulated. Staying undetected and sustaining her dietary needs, she goes through life bringing misery to those around her. All changes, though, when he turns up, tearing down walls built throughout a lifetime.

FROM THE CURATORS: Spiders are a common creepy-crawlie, both in the real world—sorry, Australia—and in fiction. Greek mythology gives us the source for arachnid in Arachne, a master weaver who is transformed into a spider; ancient Sumeria’s goddess of weaving was a spider. In some African and Native American folklore, spiders play the trickster role. In modern American mythology, a certain spider teaches that with great power comes… well, you know. Given all this, it’s appropriate that today’s story features a changeling who sees herself as a spider, weaving complicated scenarios to catch her unwitting prey before realizing she’s been responsible for a great deal of pain and suffering.

In his nomination, Soge called it “a very well executed tragedy” and felt that “the main character is despicable in all the right ways, which only makes the conclusion that much more striking.” AugieDog concurred, finding it a “nicely done tragedy where the character chooses the path that she knows will destroy her.” He also appreciated the author’s decision to show rather than tell: “We follow Glitter’s thought process without the author ever having to make the character articulate it for us. The author trusts us enough to let us deduce what’s going on in Glitter’s head, to let us hope along with her that maybe this will somehow work out, and then to smack us in the head with the reality of the situation at the end.”

Everyone enjoyed wYvern’s “unique take on Changelings,” as Soge put it. FOME appreciated both the quality of the story and its culinary flair: “The central conceit is fascinating and explored well; I especially love how Glitter’s taste for suffering translates to favoring material foods with similarly… distinctive flavors.”

Horizon summed things up as only one who is not a changeling can: “The core canon dilemma of changelings — as we see in Thorax et.al. — is being nourished by devouring emotions, and simultaneously having normal sapient emotional needs for those same emotions (and the relationships and friendships that follow). If this were just about that it would have a pretty solid core, but it takes that and turns it up to 11 by also focusing on a changeling allergic to love. That this makes her an outcast from two worlds sets up a powerful tragedy when she finally finds herself in a position to appreciate it, and doesn’t shrink from the resulting tragedy.”

Read on for our author interview, in which wYvern discusses biochemistry, internal conflict, and analyzing what you love.
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Convention break 2018!

We’re continuing our longstanding tradition of taking this week off, to make certain that every story we feature gets its time in the sun.  With many members of the fandom at Bronycon for the weekend, and others at Galacon, we felt that posting a feature might result in an excellent story getting overlooked.

Rest assured, we’ll be back next week with a brand new feature. Have a fun, safe convention weekend, everyone!

Epic Yarn’s “A Slice of (Cake) Life”

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Today’s story bakes up some — PUMPKIN, PUT THAT DOWN.

A Slice of (Cake) Life
[Comedy] [Slice of Life] • 1,178 words

Mrs. Cake’s life isn’t always a piece of cake. The bakery needs running, Pound and Pumpkin are always up to something, and babysitters aren’t always easy to come by.

FROM THE CURATORS: While on the surface this might seem like a modest character piece — “slice of life doesn’t get any slicier than this,” AugieDog quipped — we found that cutting this morsel open revealed a rich, sweet experience.  And we weren’t the only ones.  “Not only is it a brilliant use of dramatic monologue,” Horizon said in his nomination, “but it’s also an Honorable Mention in Everfree Northwest’s 2018 Iron Author competition, from an author new to FIMFiction.”  Along the way to a rare unanimous approval, the story also accumulated comments such as Soge’s: “This was a great read, a perfect picture of the lovely chaos brought by children, but also so much more.”

That was largely due to delicious writing, full of ideas without feeling dense.  “This one is weirdly elegant in its insanity,” FanOfMostEverything said.  “It manages to pack a lot of frantic mayhem in just over a thousand words, but does so in a way that organically flows from one crisis to another. I’m quite impressed by how Epic Yarn managed to fit a complete, satisfying plot arc in such a small space.”  That wasn’t the only thing it did well.  “The comedy shines easily through,” Horizon said, “not just in the brilliant running gags (such as the ‘chocolate’) but also in the natural child-and-parent back-and-forth illustrated by several verbal traps late in the story.”  Present Perfect added, “Like the author said, she didn’t have to dig deep to write about what having children is like, and it really shows.”

The writing style, which only reinforced that, was singled out for repeated praise.  “I especially like how the stream-of-consciousness style doesn’t try to designate what might be speech and what might be thoughts,” AugieDog said.  “It adds so much to the frenzied feel of the whole situation.”  Add that to a laudable look at romance, and you’ve got a recipe for success: “Kudos for the portrayal of the relationship between the Cakes,” Soge said.  “There is this undercurrent of mature love that shines through their interactions, which feels almost Descendant-esque, and it pays off immensely on that sweet, sweet ending.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Epic Yarn discusses minty-fresh children, interruption counting, and Rainbow Dash epiphanies.
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Cerulean Voice’s “Essenza di Amore”

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You’ll grow to love today’s story.

Essenza di Amore
[Adventure] [Drama] [Alternate Universe] • 53,665 words

Orphaned as a filly, a young pegasus named Kaviyayu is raised by an adoptive Earth pony family in a secluded, peaceful village. When a strange unicorn drops by the village, Kaviyayu and the other foals are captivated by her tales of the world, as well as her various spells and illusions for their amusement. But there’s something about the way she doesn’t speak of her own family … how she never removes her traveller’s cloak … how she seems to take a very strong interest in Kaviyayu …

Who is this mysterious mare, what does she seek, and just what is so special about that pendant she wears?

This is the tale of how a seemingly ordinary filly rose to become both a princess and a beacon of love to ponies all over Equestria.

FROM THE CURATORS: It’s common to find fanfic that expands on the show, but sometimes if you want to explore the lives of the ponies we know and love, you have to find stories willing to dig deeper.  “I knew G. M. Berrow had established Cadance’s ascension story in one of the chapter books, but I had no idea canon was so scant until I read Essenza di Amore’s author’s notes,” FanOfMostEverything said.  “This story does so much with so little, taking those few lines and turning them into a living, breathing little society.”  That was what first brought it to our attention, but hardly its only praiseworthy element.  “Cerulean Voice did a great work expanding Cadance’s origin story from the G. M. Berrow book here,” Soge said in his nomination, “weaving a touching coming-of-age story, with fascinating elements of worldbuilding, and a cast of likable and dynamic characters.”

In the characterization department, the entire cast was worthy of mention. “Cadance’s heroic feats feel both suitably epic and entirely appropriate for her, and Prismia’s arc feels plucked right from the show,” FanOfMostEverything said, and Soge agreed: “It also features a sympathethic villain whose arc feels distinctively pony.”  In an earlier review, Present Perfect extended that praise more broadly: “The author was able to create a world separate from Equestria at large that still jibes with ‘Crystal Heart Spell’, and that’s no small feat, given that you’ll find names like ‘Kaviyayu’ here. The writing is excellent, multiple characters get first-person scenes with distinct voices, and the plot is overall interesting and exciting.”

On top of that, as Soge said, “the thematic elements are also very well executed, giving the story enough heft to elevate the material.”  That exemplary solidity of theme was at the core of AugieDog’s feature-sealing vote: “What really struck me here was how the whole piece is grounded in the importance of storytelling,” he said. “The whole village gathers around the fire in the evening to exchange stories; Prismia first appears to them disguised as a storyteller; Cadance’s father stands before the village bonfire to tell the story of how Cadance came to them; Celestia tells them stories when she arrives after Cadance’s ascension; the final chapter begins with Cadance telling Twilight the story of how she became a princess. … Even as the characters are becoming enmeshed into this big epic story, they’re telling each other older stories, and the resolution is about turning the page on a story someone’s been telling herself for years. It’s a really nice structural element.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Cerulean Voice discusses pronking skunks, forgotten forests, and equine dietary changes.
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