Today’s story is quite a bit longer than the last few we’ve featured, but don’t let its size scare you away. Behind those fifteen chapters (plus an epilogue) lies a classic tale of revenge, betrayal, and growth, couched in immersive worldbuilding.
The Colour You Bleed
[Dark] [Adventure] • 137,610 words
Caught in the middle of a struggle between Equestria and a neighboring country, Blueblood finds himself alone in unfriendly territory. Through trials and hardships he finds himself under the wing of a veteran soldier, and the arrogant, spoiled stallion begins a slow metamorphosis into the prince his country needs.
FROM THE CURATORS: One thing all of us were impressed by when we read the story was how unrelentingly interesting it was; “I was hooked on this from the moment I read the first chapter,” said Vimbert. Kegisak wastes no time introducing high-stakes drama to his work, weaving a grim but still distinctly Equestrian tone into his tale
Despite the [dark] tag, The Colour You Bleed managed to appeal to even those of us who tend to be wary of that label; as Chris put it: “the characters and settings are so wonderfully developed that this feels like a natural outgrowth of the people and places to which the tale takes you.”
Read on for our interview, in which the author reflects on the fandom’s need to develop Blueblood, the challenges of writing redemptive stories, and the blatant favoritism he shows towards white unicorns, in his writing and his “best pony”ing.
Give us the standard biography.
Not entirely certain what constitutes standard, but…
I began writing fairly early on in my life. In fact, one of the earliest memories I have is hunching over an utterly abysmal short story at daycare when I was… give or take six, and proudly declaring I’d be an author when I grew up. I wrote on and off when I was growing up, but I never really had the motivation or follow-through to write more than a couple of pages into anything until I went to college, where follow-through was beaten into me like the will of god. About halfway through my college career I stumbled across the show and began mulling around on some forums. I saw a request for a shipfic, and decided that might be a fun way to kill some time. It was a ten page little thing, and pretty much awful, but I enjoyed it enough that I started working on some other ideas, eventually working my way up to my current fare.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
It was something of an odd joke, honestly. When I was about fourteen, I heard a joke that went, “People with abs may have a six pack, but I have the whole keg”. I, being a large child, happily appropriated this.
When I stumbled onto the internet however the name ‘Keg’ was usually taken, so I altered it. The last half, Isak, is an acronym – the first two letters are my initials, and the last two stand for ‘alias keg’… redundancy is something I struggle with even today.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Today, you mean?
Well, maybe it doesn’t change that often. Most frequently, Sweetie Belle. I am a fan of the adorably devious thing she’s got going on.
What’s your favorite episode?
Kind of a toss-up between Sleepless in Ponyville, Baby Cakes, and Green Isn’t Your Colour. I like the aesthetics of SiP, the tone of GiyC, and I adore Pinkie as a character when she’s given focus. That, and for some reason I really do love the Cake Family.
What do you get from the show?
The show came into my life at kind of a weird time for me, so the answer is… complex. Short answer, Entertainment, comfort and drive. These days it’s more the former than either of the latter, but MLP in conjunction with a few other things made me realize I wanted more out of my relationships than I had, and that I wanted to be a better person. It also allowed me to be more open with myself, or rather, to feel more comfortable in lowering a bit of a crusty atmosphere I’d cultivated. It also helped me to understand what it was I wanted to do with my life.
What do you want from life?
I don’t, simply put. There are things I want some day, sure, like a family and a comfortable home, but ultimately my approach to life is less about taking out, and more about putting in. The world I see is, quite frankly, fantastic, but it seems as though other people have so much trouble seeing it for one reason or another. What I want in life is to show people other ways of thinking, expand their horizons by giving them situation they wouldn’t normally consider. I want to help people to grow into the best people they can be, so that as a group people can do what one person alone can’t, and move toward a better future instead of just sitting around moping about how the world isn’t perfect.
A tad corny, I realize, but there you are.
Why do you write?
See above, heh. But for a more core reason, I grew up with books. My home growing up had a full-on wall made of bookshelves, the shelves double-stacked and with a volume tucked here and there wherever one would fit. I was raised on the likes of Pratchett, Heinlein and Adams. My parents read to me every night from basically as soon as I was old enough to understand what words were. I loved books, and I was bursting at the seams with words and ideas. It seemed like a natural step. then I settled on the idea of wanting to introduce people to new perspectives and ideas, and I started weaving those in when I wrote… and bam. Stuck. It’s a solid medium I love to work with and I think I can do a lot of good with it. Though, I think it still takes a backseat in that regard to my actual profession, game design. Though that’s interesting to write for in itself because, despite what some companies seem to think, traditional story structures don’t work well… but I digress.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Get a support group. Writing is a terrifying, maddening, soul-wrenching and mind-melting hobby. I have a group of friends who are also writers working on their own things, fanfiction or otherwise, and I talk back and forth with them a lot. It’s good for bouncing ideas off of each other, or even just having someone to sit still and listen while you talk out a problem. They’re also there to help you refine your ideas, or get through the shock of writing something pretty hard. And it CAN be pretty hard. I was straight up writing through tears for more than a few chapters of The Colour You Bleed. My College Writing professor also had a writing group she was a part of, and industry writers will talk to anyone they can rope in.
There’s a lot of things I can advise, really, so I’m gonna stick it to three more and not go into too much depth. Firstly, let your characters guide you. Don’t try to force anything, because it’ll come out feeling weird, both to read and to write. It’s okay to have a rough outline ideas, but I honestly recommend letting the story come to you. Secondly, look back on your work on occasion. You’ll spot things that you hadn’t really seen while you were working on it, and understand what errors you made better in the future. Each story is practice for the next.
Which brings me to the final piece of advice: Write. Like, as a catch all, just… write. If you’ve got writer’s block, write until it goes away. If you’re not feeling your story, write until an idea hits you. Understand that anxiety hits every writer, but you can’t let it beat you. You have to write anyways, show it who’s boss, and even if the story didn’t turn out all that great, you’ll know to be better next time. It’s important not to give up. They’re just words. they work for YOU.
After The Best Night Ever, the fandom’s reaction to Blueblood seemed to be generally on the side of distaste for the character. Why, do you think, is it that we have such a drive to make him a more likeable character?
This is actually something fairly common in terms of reactions to media, and indeed in media itself – my favourite example of this phenomenon is Lucifer (as in, Satan) as he appears in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series: his second appearance has him quitting hell. His third appearance, sitting on a beach in Australia amiably chatting up a local and complimenting God on the sunset. Fourth, a lounge musician who helps the titular character in finding his brother. He’s Satan, but in almost every appearance he’s a fairly amicable soul.
Closer to home there’s basically no villain who hasn’t been subject to this to a greater or lesser extent in MLP. Discord, Sombra, Chrysalis, Gilda, Trixie… even Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon have received some lightening treatment in fan work, despite the rather personal nature of them for a lot of viewers.
It’s difficult to say why it is, really. Cynically, I suppose it’s that he entertained us, and we don’t want to admit to being entertained by someone terrible unless they really crank it up to like, Jimmy Carr levels of terrible person. Or that he’s far too middle ground for our tastes, that something about his time on screen didn’t feel right, and so we decided he’d have to be either good or bad.
But I’ve never been a fan of cynicism, especially since we don’t make him out to be already good, but we redeem him. A central theme of The Colour You Bleed was the nature of redemption, of who is deserving and what it means to be a good or bad person. I think, in the end, the reason we want to see Blueblood redeemed and made likeable is simply because we want him – and everyone else – to be redeemable and likeable. I think with a few very unusual exceptions nobody truly wants to hate anyone else – it’s just such a useless and tiring endeavour. So we want Blueblood to be good and likeable… because then he’d be good and we could like him.
Blueblood goes through an awful gauntlet of tortures in this story. What was the method to your madness, as far as the type of hurts and their position along his path to redemption?
Redemption wasn’t actually my original intention with the story. In truth I didn’t think Blueblood needed any kind of redeeming. I thought he was kind of a tool, but I never got any sense of malice, just ignorance, which I think comes through in the first few chapters. He’s never malicious in his jerkishness, just thoughtless and selfish, as anyone in his position would be.
So I started writing the story as a sort of… challenge, I suppose. I wanted to see just how much I’d have to put Blueblood through, if his character was totally on-level with what we saw in the show, until people started to feel bad and want me to stop. For the first half of the story every chapter was about stepping it up, adding onto the stack that was already there. It wouldn’t be enough to have him beat up and hit with a pie and lose all his money. That would be too random, too scattered. It needed to be a downfall. Every chapter something new was taken away. First his horn, something cosmetic but a point of pride. Then his magic, something core to his being. Then his security and status, as not only does noone believe him, he always displays a case of PTSD so bad it’d make the 1920s give the idea a second thought. Then I had to step it up again, so I took his freedom, and ultimately I graduated to his self-worth. That was actually the thing that did it, for a lot of people. It wasn’t the beatings or the mutilation or crippling, or even the slavery. It was the giving up.
After that point, it was kind of the reverse. The chapters no longer had tortures, but trials, and for each trial he overcame he’d get something out of it. I gave him a new sense of self, a new purpose, a new morality, eventually moving up to giving him back his self confidence, and finally giving back his magic and his throne.
Of course I didn’t know all of this at the time. I was writing very much by the seat of my pants, which is tricky when you’re writing on a weekly schedule. By the time I hit chapter six or seven I had the basics of the story planned out, as well as the themes, but before that it was largely a matter of, “What can I do that’s worse than last chapter”. The only events I had planned before I started was losing his horn, and being enslaved.
What advice would you give to anyone seeking to redeem a character from this show, or any other for that matter?
I made a big point of drawing a comparison between Blueblood and Iron in the story. I’ve always been a firm believer that the antagonist should be a foil of the protagonist, and that they should complement each other in some way. In this case, the idea was that Blueblood was able to grow and change, which Iron couldn’t. He was able to do this by admitting his faults, and working to correct them. Iron refused to believe he could be wrong, and it wound up driving him insane.
Redemption isn’t something that happens to a character, it’s a choice they make. Even if they don’t make it consciously. It’s a change in character, too, which is never easy. This is reflected in the story in the final conversation between Blueblood and Luna, where Blueblood admitted he’s afraid of changing even more, and wonders if in another six months he’ll be the same person. Redemption is all about personal growth, which is hard and long and scary. It’s like growing taller: a lot of the time you don’t notice until you measure yourself against something you did before. Blueblood never truly believed he was good until he was in the throneroom stopping a war, and it took him fourteen chapters of long, HARD character development to get there.
To put it more succinctly: give your character a lot of room and a lot of time to develop, otherwise it’s not going to be believable. I’ve seen a lot of stories where Trixie or Gilda or whoever is redeemed by the power of love, and it always left a bit of a taste in my mouth. Love can make you want to be better, and that’s good, but you won’t be better right off the bat. You’ll still need to stumble. So yeah, that’s my advice: Want it, and crawl towards it slowly but surely, and give the reader a measuring stick every now and again. Even if the character doesn’t understand how far they’ve come, it’s good to keep up on their progress.
Slavery plays a large role in this story, and is integral to Blueblood’s development. What do you feel is the place, if any, of slavery in the larger body of MLP fanfiction?
Slavery is something we see in the show proper, in the form of the Crystal Empire under Sombra. It’s not touched upon except to give a sort of context to why he’s bad. I think this is kind of good and bad, honestly, but it can be used as an example.
For a start, this is a cool piece of worldbuilding. It develops the Empire and Sombra at the same time, and we see the real, solid effects of it. It’s generally accepted, at least in my circles of the internet, that Sombra represents depression. Slavery was used in this case as a metaphor for how depression can keep you in a stranglehold and keep your from doing what you want to do. So that’s good. That’s a good way to use slavery.
On the other hand… it’s also kind of a weird presence. Slavery is pretty tightly knit into the history of the western world. Even in Canada, one of the few western countries that didn’t historically get down and dirty with slavery, is still tied to it through the Underground Railroad. So it’s weird to see something that’s not only horrendous and abysmal but also so close to us as a culture being kinda… glazed over. Granted it has an excuse in the form of being in a show for kids who probably aren’t ready to be learning about one of the greatest prolonged atrocities in human history, but at that point one begins to wonder why it’s there, in that case. So that’s bad. That’s not a good way to use slavery.
That’s the thing, ultimately. If you’re going to use something like this in your story, have a damn good reason for it. I consider the use of slavery in the show justified because of its worldbuilding potential and its metaphorical weight. Using it to make something ‘edgy’ and ‘dark’ however, is not a good enough reason. I used it in TCYB as a way of demonstrating the Aloan opinion on foreigners, and of breaking Blueblood down further… but on further reflection I’m not really sure if I would write slavery into the story again. Still, Aloa is a different world from Equestria, so it’s a bit more forgivable. Writing slavery into Equestria without extremely good reasons is… harder to justify, but I believe it can be done with a very, very good reason. This is not the kind of thing to take lightly, but it can be made to work if it’s an example of historical or cultural or religious context… it should be worldbuilding or a good plot element, basically. It shouldn’t be used for tone or for making something edgy or dark. Take it from someone who cut his teeth in the fantasy genre, ‘slavery as backstory’ gets pretty old, pretty fast.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Not especially – perhaps an apology for my rambling nature, aheh. I’m honoured that you wanted to interview me, and even more honoured that people consider The Colour You Bleed something worth giving so much thought to. Hearing that the story has moved someone’s heart or made them think, or even that they just really enjoyed it, always makes my day.
You can read The Colour You Bleed on FIMFiction.net.
An oldie, but a goodie.
Couldn’t agree more on that bit about traditional storytelling structures not working well in games. Personally, I’d love to just cut story out (or certain forms of it, anyways) and start focusing on solid gameplay again, but I’m probably in the minority there
I like a good story in my games. Where I think the problem lies is in the assumption that a game *has* to have story, leading to half-hearted and unskilled applications of plot left, right, and centre.
Do it well or don’t do it at all.
Well, a fair portion of the reason I got into games is because I like the potential they have for stories – because your success is tied to the protagonists success you inherently empathise with them more than you would have in a passive for of media, I think. The trouble is poor application.
That said, games certainly don’t NEED stories, and there’s something to be said for something which just allows itself to be a game with the most bare-bones excuse possible, if even that. If nothing else the lack of narrative complexity leads to more focus in the design, which is good for a game.