“Variable, n.: an element, feature, or factor that is not consistent … liable to change.” How can you account for all of them when you’re dealing with primal chaos? Today’s story follows a young dragon struggling with just that question.
[Slice of Life] • 7,722 words
After his defeat at the hooves of the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony the stony figure of Discord was dragged far, far, far out of Ponyville where the good ponies could eventually forget the name of their tormentor… again.
But, it seems, as the months have passed some creature in Ponyville has not been able to put aside what had happened. Now, that creature approaches, and it seems as though he’d like a word with the immortal spirit of chaos…
FROM THE CURATORS: At first glance, this fic seems sparse. “This is a 8k-word story about Spike monologuing to an inanimate object,” Chris said. “But make no mistake, Variables … is the rare monologue fic which not only justifies its monologuing, but which manages to inspire dread, empathy, and genuine thought.” Present Perfect agreed: “Variables is a really razor-sharp examination of Spike’s character. If you want a clear view of The Descendant’s treatment of Spike, there’s no better way than to have him on his own, tackling tough issues.”
While several of us noted how slow the fic starts off, we were all impressed by how powerfully it closed. “The way this story concludes is one of the most thought-provoking finishes I’ve seen in a ponyfic,” Chris said. And even though it’s one of the earliest stories of the fandom, it has held its power over time. “All I can think about is how rare it is for me to read a story twice, and how rarer it is for me to appreciate a story even more the second time around,” Present said. “I had real emotion after reading this ahead of writing the interview.”
Read on for that author interview, in which The Descendant discusses Spike’s character, drawing out head-canon, and the value of a good Reuben sandwich.
Give us the standard biography.
I am an educator who lives in the Northeastern part of the United States of America.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
“So, ummm… The Descendant. Huh. Neat name.”
“Who exactly are you descended from?”
“Oh, why The Ancestors of course!”
“Heh, cute. I guess that I’m descended from The Ancestors, too.”
“Cousin! We’re a family again! Hey, look, I need to borrow some money…”
Who’s your favorite pony?
That’s a loaded question! My favorite pony is Twilight Sparkle, followed closely by Celestia. My favorite character, however, is Spike.
What’s your favorite episode?
I would say that it is most likely Cutie Mark Chronicles, as it was the first episode we saw that provided us with a look at the character’s pasts and backstories in any real degree. It provided a lot of great “head canon” fuel.
What do you get from the show?
I’m a lifelong lover of animation. If you had met me twenty years ago you would have been told that I wanted to write for Disney someday. In reality, watching animation helps me with my present career because it provides me with ways to relate to the kids that I work with. The show is important to me in that regard.
What do you want from life?
I want to see the Pacific Ocean. I want to visit Japan. I want to walk inside the Hagia Sophia. I want to own an ocean liner. I want to own a railroad. I want a camp in the mountains. I want to be remembered as “one of the good guys.” I want to cure more pain than I cause. I want to make people happy. I want to take part in a Civil War reenactment where I spend three nights sleeping in my uniform by the side of a dirt road or in the middle of a cornfield, walking for miles in the midst of the musket smoke of a rolling gunfight where I don’t see a car or jet contrail or anything that wasn’t part of nineteenth century life for a week. I want a really decent Reuben sandwich.
Why do you write?
I write because I have story ideas running around in my head that constantly nag at me, or stand there screaming for recognition like the neediest three-year-old in the world. They demand attention, to be made real by my sweat as I slave away over a hot word processor. This I must do or risk having their cacophony overwhelm me and leave me seeking my salvation by digging them out of my head with an ice pick.
That, and I enjoy getting comments and having people tell me how much they love my work. One or the other.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Know everything about what is going to happen in your story before you sit down to write it. Plan, plan, plan. Have the progression prepared. You are the last person who should be surprised by the core narrative of your work.
When it comes time to edit, go back and reread the story aloud to yourself. If something doesn’t sound right, then it doesn’t read well, either.
You’ve become well known for your depictions of Spike. Would you care to share a little of your approach to writing him, and his relationship with Twilight?
Many people have contacted me and told me that they think that I’m “the best Spike writer.” I don’t know about how true that is, but I do appreciate how people react to my interpretation of his character.
Writing for Spike is something that most writers avoid, and I think that the reason is because many still have reservations about writing children. There’s an old trope that goes “Children are useless to writers.” Well, I’ve never believed that in any fandom that I’ve written for, and it makes even less sense when we deal with Spike, who has shown himself to be very capable in many disciplines.
Spike is a character for whom everything is just slightly out of reach. He tries, often valiantly, to ascend beyond his limitations. He’s never allowed to gain them, or “keep” any of his small victories. When writing for Spike, keep in mind that while he has displayed remarkable maturity for his age, he’s still fighting against physical limitations and emotional ones. Spike is a character who defines himself by how useful he is to others, and Twilight especially.
I have a mantra that I like to truck out every time the topic of Twilight’s relationship with Spike is examined. I find that people attempt to apply “easy” terms like “parent,” “sibling,” or “best friend” to the relationship. All of these come short and don’t fully explain the mechanics of their world. Spike goes from being her personal workforce to being the boy who sleeps by her bedside. He is often forgotten about or even the at the receiving end of Twilight’s thoughtlessness. Yet he’s still the character she’s hugged the most in the series and in the movie (until this season, at least. It appears that the one change brought on by Twilight’s apotheosis to alicornhood is a newfound absence of hugs for her little guy). Spike is both snide and sarcastic with her, a response within his limited means, and at the same time has been the sole creature by her side at some of her worst moments, has begged her to believe in herself, whose worst fear is being separated from her, and has sought physical closeness and assurance from her. This is my mantra, then: “Whatever they are to one another, she’s his big one, and he’s her little one.”
In summation, when you write for Spike, remember that he defines himself by trying to be useful for others, but that he has a limited physical and emotional suite of options to choose from when dealing with the vagaries that make up his world.
Is Discord really an uncontrolled variable in the experiment?
When we read Variables, we have to remember that Spike is approaching the situation from his own understanding. That understanding may or may not be accurate. I enjoy Discord’s character immensely, and I would like to see him put under real duress in the series to see how he handles it. I think that there’s more to him than we’ve already seen, and that he is many things.
I think that another character is the one who better fits the bill as the “uncontrolled variable” in this work, though.
There are a lot of little bits in this story hinting at a world larger than even what we see in the show. Do you have other stories exploring ideas like the Well of Souls or the Witches, or will they be subjects of upcoming stories?
The point of fan fiction is to put characters through situations and events that have not been or could not be portrayed in the canon. Nothing takes place in a vacuum, though, and we are subject to mechanizations and extrapolations that are beyond our abilities to change or even understand. We all exist in the strands of a web of history and fate. If we want to explore how these characters interact with their world, then a little world-building is good for a “personal fanon.”
My “head canon” is my own, and I don’t expect anyone else to believe it or endorse it, but I do hope that I have presented it in such a way that others enjoy it and like examining it.
Most of my other stories bounce around ideas that are part of the world I’ve built in my mind for the ponies to roam around in, but I don’t really want to “explain” any of the concepts. That takes a lot of “magic” out of them. Better to be shown then told, of course, and I don’t want to steal out any ideas that people may have about the concepts that I advance.
That isn’t to say that they won’t play a large part in my stories. My ongoing and long-suffering Gilgamesh-like epic Zenith relies very heavily on these concepts, and most of my stories involve them or at least mention them.
Does Spike really have it in him to do it?
We all have it in us to do it. It’s all just a matter of wondering how trapped in a situation you feel that you are. Zenith will take this to its logical extreme with Spike, but Variables made a case that will balance that. Spike is both a loving, concerned boy and a dragon. The series loses such great opportunities with Spike, such as exploring how these two aspects could be in conflict with each other. Fortunately for Spike, he has “the better angels of his nature,” to be with him at these moments.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I just want to thank everyone who has enjoyed my works, and who has stood by “old Crow-face” during these last six months where I have written little and released nothing. I’ve lost my muse, but I still love hearing from the folks who are reading my stories.
I know that Variables won’t be and isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (the artist who one of my fans commissioned to make art based on Discord’s statue called it boring and said he only read “enough” to make the art. No wonder he got the background wrong). It is written in my older style, and I hope that anyone who isn’t familiar with either my work or my older style will approach it with the understanding that I am trying to get better and, even after fifteen years of writing fan fiction, I still have no idea what I’m doing…
You can read Variables at FIMFiction.net.