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(0) Today’s story is horrible.  (1)  You shouldn’t read it.  (2)  … er … what do you mean, a number above my head is counting up?  That’s silly!  You’re clearly hallucinating. (3)

numbers-dont-lieThe Numbers Don’t Lie
[Slice of Life] • 20,101 words

When the Cutie Mark Crusaders dig up an ancient magical artifact, they unleash a spell on the town that allows everypony to see a “lie meter” floating above each other’s heads. While attempting to solve the mystery, Twilight Sparkle has to analyze the tenuous balance between friendship and honesty. She doesn’t like what she finds.

FROM THE CURATORS: One of the things that makes this story an exemplar of MLP fanfiction is its marriage of an imaginative premise with a profound understanding of the show’s core theme.  “We always say MLP is a show about friendship,” Benman said, “but what’s remarkable is how rare and special that is.  The best episodes teach lessons about friendship, and it turns out friendship is really complicated. … This is a story with an actual friendship lesson that actual adults need to learn in the actual world.  It’s about what trust means, and why trust matters, and the difference between being nice and being a friend.”

The essential ponyness of “The Numbers Don’t Lie” stood out to all of us.  “The fic does a good job balancing comedy and sincerity,” Chris said.  “It reads like a well-adapted show script, and it’s just plain enjoyable.”  shortskirtsandexplosions, who did the writing, gets credit for that, but we found the core idea (which was created by theworstwriter) remarkable as well. “The story’s got one of the most compelling premises on the site,” Horizon said.

Read on for our author interviews — two this week! — in which theworstwriter and shortskirtsandexplosions discuss collaboration, cartoon morality, and postapocalyptic evidence of creativity.  Also, if you click through to the interviews, Hasbro will deposit $100 in your PayPal account. (4)


Give us the standard biography.

I’m 25 and live in the Pacific Northwest.  I type funny looking words like “UINT64” in an office all day so that people’s computers will behave properly, and somebody pays me to do it.  Sometimes I type regular looking words about ponies instead.  I spend an awful lot of time and money on video games.  I’ve never given much thought to my own biography, and it shows.

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

I’d think that one is self explanatory, but alright, let’s go.  I’m bad at this.  I am.  Maybe you think I’m not.  Maybe you see something I did and you like it.  That’s cool, but it doesn’t change the state of the world, and it just so happens that by any ordinary measure I’m awful at this authorship thing for a number of different reasons we don’t need to go into or argue about here.  I’m probably not literally the worst, but it’s the internet and we’re allowed to exaggerate here.

Who’s your favorite pony?

Dash is best pone.  That’s been an unwavering stance since episode one (though not for other ponies’ lack of trying).  I smile more often during her scenes, I find more to like in her visual design, and something about that voice and those moments when it cracks just a little… yeah.  She’s the winner by a mile.  She was at the finish line before the smoke cleared from the starting gun.

What’s your favorite episode?

A much tougher call than the last question, but I think I’ll have to go with “It’s About Time” because I am a huge sucker for time travel.

What do you get from the show?

Same thing I get from just about any cartoon I watch.  I remember getting made fun of a little bit for still watching as many cartoons as I did at age sixteen, but it never stopped me.  Cartoons are great.  They’re fun, they’re funny, and they’re a colorful joy to watch in motion.  I especially like when they happen to have a bit of a moral somewhere in there.  Not because I think it’s necessary to teach morality through entertainment, but because I think it’s good to have reminders hiding everywhere that being a good person is rewarding and makes the world a better place.  Sometimes it’s easy to forget the simplest little things.

What do you want from life?

I actually think everything I want falls into one of two camps: I already have it, or I can’t expect to get it.  I want enough money to live comfortably, and I have it.  I want everybody to be a nicer person, and I can’t expect it (though I can work toward it).  I want good friends, and I have them.  I want lots of free time, but I can’t expect more than I already get.  I’m not 100% maximum happy, but I’m pretty pleased with where I am and it’s not worth getting upset over unrealistic goals not being met.

Why do you write?

Y’know, I’m not sure.  Because I have ideas that want out?  Because I want more things like the things I like to exist?  Because I want to get better at it, and doing it is the only way?  It’s fun and it makes people happy, so I’m not sure it matters.

How did this collaboration come about?

Skirts had some ideas about dipping his toes into the filthy water of commission-like work.  He thought it would be cool?/fun?/good?/enriching?/profitable? to try outputting work specified by other people.  For reasons I can only guess, he came to me for a practice run and asked that I direct him through a work.  So I did.

What advice do you have for authors trying to work together?

From completely separate endeavors, I can say it’s wise to have one person actually put down the words in a master document and any other people communicate (but not make!) changes.  This avoids chaos and/or death.  From this endeavor, I can say it’s wise to establish a vague outline and themes via group chat before getting into any more detail.

Why make Twilight the protagonist?

Easy answer: because magic doohickey needs magic pony.

Better answer: because she’s earnest and naive enough to be.  Which of the other mane six could approach truth and lies the same way?  Fluttershy, just maybe when considering internal reaction, but it’d be harder to get her to act.

What’s it like watching someone bring your story to life?

Neato.  Possibly also keen.  And maybe it’s just because I’m also an author, but really?  Not all that different from doing it myself.  Like I just blacked out a bit during some of the time when scenes were being cranked out, but still went back to mark what needed change.  Convenient, and in the case of my/Skirts’ relative skill, resulting in a better product.

The final chapter has a scene where Twilight and Applejack reconcile, and later a scene where the ponies lift the curse. Which of these (if either) do you consider the climax?

Oh, definitely the reconciliation.  This story is about relating to one another.  Truth, lies, trust, communication, all that jazz.  Lifting the curse is just decoration and denouement.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Contrary to semi-popular belief, I am none of the following: dead, out of the fandom, done writing.  Nobody has seen anything from me in months.  Almost nobody has seen anything substantial from me in at least a year.  I’m out there somewhere, and though I don’t find quite so much time for it these days, I’m working on some things.  It’s long past useless trying to keep a schedule, but don’t forget about me.  Stuff is brewing.  One of these days (maybe this year?  I hope?) you’ll see it.


Give us the standard biography.

One day, long ago, before graduating from high school, the continental United States had unprotected sexual intercourse with the Caribbean Sea.  As a result, a terrible rash spread all over its phallus, resulting in terrible boils and rampant Karst Topography.  Out from one of these sinkhole pustules, I violently emerged, covered in phlegm and groaning for Disney memorabilia.  This happened roughly thirty-one years ago, and America still crosses its legs whenever someone flagrantly mentions the name of Desi Arnaz.

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

Long before I was a pretentious manchild writing about pastel colored horses, I was a pretentious manchild attempting to blend in with other college students.  Years ago, I took up a few creative writing courses.  As is the way of all entropy, we’d be forced to judge one another’s works for the sake of creative criticism.  Y’know, the same old same old: peer review at twenty paces.  On top of slathering all sorts of tongue and cheek drivel in red ink across my classmates’ works, I’d have a code phrase for when I felt someone else’s story sucked.  Instead of just coming out and saying it, I’d write in horribly bastardized handwriting: “This needs more short skirts and explosions.”

I don’t make friends very easily.

Who’s your favorite pony?

Rainbow Dash is best pony, Applejack is best waifu, Scootaloo is best filly, Lyra is best asset, Octavia is beautifulest pony, Maud is best Maud, and Pinkie Pie is best vegetable tethered to a tree branch over a cemetery.

What’s your favorite episode?

Most likely The Cutie Mark Chronicles, as its warm fuzzicles are besticles.  When I first marathoned season one, I grew attached to Rainbow Dash, and then I grew attached to Scootaloo because she was so dayum attached to Rainbow Dash.  And in this episode, both poni poni poni came together in a flowery explosion of sisterly lurve and warm fuzzies.  I was a convert, through and through.  Television could use more sap, especially without molesting trees.

What do you get from the show?

Also, abstract exploration of the broad creative psyche.  Or, in other words, nerdgasms a’plenty.  In every fandom I’ve been a part of, I see the actual canon show as a bible upon which we—the neckbeard alumni—are endowed with the power and authority to establish any and all manner of cultist extensions.  Even back when I slobbered over the Teen Titans fandom, I’d see each broadcasted episode not so much as a singular installment but a firm pillar upon which to stack newer and crazier fanfic ideas.

MLP is no exception.  As a matter of fact, it’s a tumorous example of the thing.  I’ve never seen a fandom more thoroughly populated by insanely talented, insanely obsessed, and insanely insane zealots.  Between the music and the artistry and the literature, the whole experience is positively mind boggling.  I’d venture to argue that if the bombs dropped overnight and human civilization was to be entombed in radioactive snow for a million years, visiting aliens would find ten times as much evidence of bronies’ creative expression than they would of bronies’ erotic cloppage.  Take that, internet history.

What do you want from life?

Dr. Pepper, Appledash, and petticoats.

Or, y’know, to hang out with Ponky once or twice and then eventually die without a lifetime’s stack of remorse and ennui.  I suspect I’ll at least tackle fifty percent of that successfully before I kerplunkitron.

Why do you write?

Because it’s slightly less depressing than a bullet to the brain.  Plus, it matches my five o’clock shadow.

I’m not good at the art and I’m not good at the song.  So, putting words to textsex is my one and only means of meatily thrusting ideas into marsupials’ skulls and getting away with it.

How did this collaboration come about?

Back in early 2013, I was supremely full of myself, instead of the way I am now: residually full of myself.  Due to excessive hubris (and hormones [and hairy shoulders{ew}?]), I thought that I had what it took to write for commissions.  Y’know, earning money through the poni poni poni writ.  However, I at least had the decency to attempt to practicing before diving scrotum-first into the whole avaricious endeavor.

To that end, I asked my fellow lemurs of Spanish Announce Table Goes First if any of them would be willing to toss story ideas my way so that I could attempt writing them within a reasonable amount of time.

Up to the plate stepped theworstwriter.  He had an idea for a story where the CMC unearth some sort of ancient artifact that zaps Ponyville and causes everypony in town to have a magical “lie detector counter” floating above their heads.  As awesome as a story idea as this was, he didn’t exactly have a conclusion to it, and that’s the main reason why he never went about tackling it.  When he threw the idea into my lap, his two major requests were that the story center upon Twilight and that there’d also be a moment where Applejack evidently lies and it sends Twilight into an emotional breakdown.

I sat upon the story for the better part of a week.  Finally one evening, standing at a Burger King after work, waiting on my latest heart attack, I had an epiphany.  The ancient artifact doesn’t so much as cause a lie detector as it creates a meter that quantifiably measures the intent to deceive.  Using this as a revelation that Twilight could discover, I could play on the angle that lying isn’t necessarily an act of absolute evil, but rather an extension of the innate desire to pull the wool over other’s ponies eyes in order to protect them from the harsh reality of unmitigated truth.

With this in mind, I set out upon an ending. Somewhere later on, I had an idea of Princess Celestia showing up and having a lie meter over her head that was in the gazillions.  When I mentioned this to Worsty during the outlining process, he confessed on having thought up a similar plot twist.  Only I was revealing the Celestia bit after Twilight more or less learns the lesson that needs to be learned, so that Twilight is in the right place to not only forgive Celestia but accept her mentor in spite of the reality of her deceiving ways.  I figured it’d be a symbol of Twilight maturing in some fashion.  Unless the wool has been pulled over my own eyes, it would seem as though Worsty agreed with the idea.

What advice do you have for authors trying to work together?

I’m not sure I have any—seeing as I didn’t really work with Worsty so much as I hijacked his idea and flew it suicidally into the Feature Box.  The Numbers Don’t Lie did far more insanely well than I ever would have expected.  People praise it left and right, and honestly I feel terrible about it, ‘cuz it’s not my idea.  It’s Worsty’s.  I often wonder what would have happened in an alternate universe where he wrote and uploaded it as originally intended instead of mesa.

I guess if there’s any advice I could give, it’s to give credit where credit is due.  I’ve written ideas based on stuff that Props and Vimbert and Pilate have given to me, and I’ve endeavored to credit them as much as possible.

Although, when you’re collaborating, there’s only one thing of supreme importance, and that’s the story.  Allow that to dominate the spotlight, not one’s authorship or creative inspiration or whatnot.

Also panties.

This story veers between zany comedy and harsh melodrama. How do you make these elements work together?

Did they really work together?

Er… I mean…

Yeah.  They totally work together.  I suppose when I tackled this, I could see that Worsty had imagined something that really, really felt like an actual plot of the t.v. show.  And cartoon shows are always throwing in comedy bits to lighten up the heaviness of a message.

To that end, I incorporated several characters and had them fit different roles.  You had the serious roles in the background, like Cheerilee, Lyra, and Bon Bon.  But then you also had roles that were there strictly for comedy:  Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, and—of course—Rarity.  While going this route meant that certain characters never got fully explored (most commenters mourned the fate that Rarity suffered… especially since she was given no explicit fate), it’s a sacrifice that has to be made to keep the most important conflict and character development in the foreground, which in this case is Twilight and her journey to understand the role of bending the truth in friendship.

How is the process of writing someone else’s concept different from working by yourself?

In a way, I’m far less attached to it, which is a darn sexy thing.  I also find that I’m writing almost exclusively for that one person and the rest of the marsupial alumni second.  This means that my scope is narrower, more refined, and aimed like a friggin’ bullet.  Sometimes this makes for better material.  At other times, a train wreck that is only enjoyed in like-minded company.  In this case, luck was on our side, and The Numbers Don’t Lie did pretty darn well.

The final chapter has a scene where Twilight and Applejack reconcile, and later a scene where the ponies lift the curse. Which of these (if either) do you consider the climax?

By far, the moment of reconciliation between Twilight and Applejack is the climax.  I find that a lot of stories that I write—with or without others’ influence—usually involve a major plot device that inspires the plot but doesn’t necessarily dominate it.  Whether or not the curse of the lie detectors gets lifted isn’t important.  What is important is that which the ponies—namely Twilight—learn from this whole scenario.

Being freed from the curse would mean nothing if Twilight couldn’t be on good terms with Applejack or accept Celestia in open arms.  I wanted to imply that this experience began a new process of experience and learning that went on beyond the pages of the story.  Hence, the reason for including the bit at the end where Twilight creates her very own personal lie counter, so that she can practice responsibility and self-review on a daily basis from thereon out.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Ponies are the size of cats and they love to cuddle.

Live long and dash apples

You can read The Numbers Don’t Lie at FIMFiction.net.