Are you starting to feel restless? Do you need more from your ponies than the typical tales you see repeated in the show? As the protagonist of today’s story will tell you, you’re not alone.
[Slice-of-Life] • 13,391 words
Twilight asks Discord for a game of chess. Discord agrees – in order to make a point.
And in order to ask Twilight to complete one simple task.
FROM THE CURATORS: This story starts with an idea that’s oddly rare in the fandom — Discord is an embarrassingly intelligent being who has no inherent stake in chaos, he’s merely driven to extremes by boredom — and then it ups the stakes by taking that idea to a logical extreme, deconstructing his defeats and posing Twilight the challenge that drives the remainder of the story. “This is a marvelous take on Discord, up there with Diary of a Pliant Tyrant. I would go so far as to call him sympathetic,” Present Perfect said.
But it earned its feature for more than its excellent Discord character study. “The series of encounters with the Mane Six feels remarkably authentic,” Horizon said. Chris added, “There was a logical reason for him to visit each of them in turn, and none of their appearances felt gratuitous. Also, I liked how short those chapters were — I didn’t need more than a taste of each.”
And the story sealed the deal by closing strong. “My biggest worry in the opening chapters was that the author was going to hit me with something expectedly unexpected and I wasn’t going to be able to buy that a real, workable solution had been found,” Bradel said. “But the ending was a solid payoff for the setup … and the author nicely foreshadowed it.” Horizon agreed: “The ample foreshadowing all points in one direction, but the delightful epilogue turns it from obvious to clever.”
Read on for our author interview, in which CCC discusses subtle surprises, earned endings, and Earth’s Equestria.
Give us the standard biography.
Though human myself, I grew up within a fairly short distance of Equestria (not that Equestria — the other one, the one that shows up on Google Maps). I’m barely bilingual (my English is good, but my Afrikaans is rather poor), fairly good at most things mathematical, and earn my living writing software.
In my free time, I enjoy both reading and writing. There is little as good as a well-crafted story.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
My handle is, quite simply, my initials.
Who’s your favorite pony?
A difficult question.
I think that the pony I have the most in common with is Twilight Sparkle — we share a strong appreciation for books and knowledge, though she’s a lot more organised (and neater) than I am. Pinkie is just a lot of fun, while Rainbow Dash has a lot of action hero in her. Trixie’s great and powerful ego also makes her really memorable and great to see in an episode.
It’s very hard to decide, but I think my favourite is probably one of those four; because I like them all for such different reasons, it’s hard to rank them.
What’s your favorite episode?
Another difficult question. I like the episodes that involve the ponies dealing with a major villain (Sombra, Chrysalis, Tirek, Discord’s first appearance, Nightmare Moon), but I also like a lot of the episodes that don’t — “Pinkie Apple Pie” was one that I really enjoyed, for example.
What I don’t like is episodes which contain a lot of contrived coincidences.
What do you get from the show?
It’s fun to watch. And the setting is broad enough, and well-formed enough, that I can send my imagination wandering out into it on occasion.
It’s also very well-written.
What do you want from life?
A continual supply of good stories to read, and more time to write.
Why do you write?
Because it’s fun, mainly.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
That the best way to get past writer’s block is to write — just write anything. And that it’s perfectly allowable to end a story by having the hero pull a spear off the wall and stab the villain through the heart, but only if the spear has been there since act one.
And finally, if you want to learn how to write well, learn from those who already know how — find a large number of well-written stories (your local library should be able to help) and read them.
“Games” gives an interesting spin on Discord’s psychology, painting him as near-omniscient and sociopathically bored as a result. How did you come to this characterization?
It started from a consideration of his first appearance. (I think the consideration was triggered by a comment someone made on some story somewhere — unfortunately, I don’t remember who or where). Discord didn’t need to hide the Elements in Twilight’s book; he could have just dumped them in the ocean. Or into an active volcano. He didn’t need to leave the Bearers alive, or even on the same continent (or, depending on exactly how powerful he is, even on the same planet). His entire plan was ridiculously convoluted, and involved attacking the Elements in what seems to have been the most difficult way imaginable.
The first question was, if he could have won so easily and so simply, then why didn’t he?
The follow-up question to that was, what if winning was never what he was after?
That second question led to the first chapter of “Games,” which was originally planned as a one-shot – but shortly after writing it, I realised that there was a longer story to be told there, and expanded it to its present form.
This story was written during the break between Season 3 and Season 4. Has Discord’s portrayal in Season 4 had any effect on how you view his character now?
In the season premiere? No; it’s clear by the end of the episode that Discord was aware of exactly what was going on all along, and that he was more of an interested spectator than an active participant in the attempt to find a solution. He only nudged Twilight when not doing so would have led to the protagonists clearly losing.
In “Three’s A Crowd”? Again, no; a Discord who’s bored enough to try to pull that trick on Twilight fits in quite nicely, I think, with my story; even if he was surprised by the Tatzlwurm.
But “Twilight’s Kingdom” is a different story. Discord seems to have genuinely failed to consider the possibility of Tirek turning on him; which is, I think, a blind spot big enough to make the official Discord substantially less near-omniscient than my portrayal in “Games.” (Aside from that one point, though, the rest of the episode matches up pretty well; he was the first character to figure out the keys, after all).
Mind you, the “Games” Discord would still have teamed up with Tirek, but for different reasons; throwing him back into Tartarus personally would simply have been far too predictable an ending.
For a story about unpredictability, the structure of “Games” is very predictable — each of the Mane Six and Spike get a turn at trying to surprise Discord. Why did you decide to give each character a crack at the problem?
I have a certain idea of what makes a good story; and part of what makes a good story is that the protagonists shouldn’t stroll too easily into their happy ending. There needs to be a point in the story where the protagonists look into the future, and see the possibility of failure; a point when the characters can say something along the lines of ‘Nothing can save us now!’ and the reader can, in all honesty, agree with that sentiment.
And then, having reached the nadir of despair, they need to be saved … by something that’s been present in the story from the very start.
(You’ll see this same basic structure in a lot of very good stories; classics like Lord of the Rings, which hits its nadir when Frodo puts on the Ring at Mount Doom; Star Wars, when the Emperor reveals that not only is the second Death Star fully operational, but the shield station on the moon is far too well guarded for the small expedition sent down there; even some of the MLP episodes share this structure, such as “Return of Harmony,” at the moment when Twilight turns grey. Every film, every story where the hero, beaten, battered, but unbowed, stands against something that he must fight but thinks he cannot defeat, and then somehow defeats it anyway, all follow this basic structure. It’s a good structure.)
In this case, in order to reach the point of failure, each main character needed to have a turn to solve the problem – or else any character who failed could avoid despair by putting their faith in those who had not yet failed.
And, by having the characters take explicit turns, I could bring the reader step by step to the edge of that precipice, making it clear at every stage exactly how many steps remained, until he stood at the very brink and could get a good look at the depths below.
Mind you, looking over it afterwards, I do think that it might have gone on through repeated failures a little too often. If I were writing a similar story in an original universe, I think I’d probably want to have fewer protagonists.
Because it emphasizes that surprising Discord is nigh-impossible, “Games” had to walk a fine line to avoid leaving readers dissatisfied with the surprise that eventually results. What made you choose to end the story as you did, and were there any strategies you used to manage reader expectations leading up to that point?
I do prefer a happy ending; had “Games” ended with an unsurprised Discord, it would quite simply not have satisfied me. Therefore, there had to be a surprise; and for the reasons mentioned above, it had to be at the end of the week, after all of the main characters had tried and failed at the same task.
On the other hand, while the viewpoint was following Discord around, I did have to include hints as to what the final solution would be; I could avoid explicitly going to the trouble of introducing the characters responsible, as they are an established part of the universe, but I did have to provide some obscure hints as to what they were up to.
After Pinkie’s chapter, which was most certainly not my best work, I followed a strategy of providing exactly one hint as to the immediate solution per chapter; and the ultimate solution was, I felt, a fairly straightforward conclusion to draw from the immediate surprise. I had a note, written down, describing what each pony’s hint would be, and more or less worked from that.
Some of the hints were more obscure than others; I tried to leave the less obscure hints for the later chapters, while the more obscure hints (like Fluttershy’s missing birdseed) came in the earlier chapters.
What’s the one thing you’d like readers to take away from reading “Games”?
A feeling of satisfaction — that they are glad to have read it.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Not really. I think your questions have been quite comprehensive.
You can read Games at FIMFiction.net.
Haven’t read this story yet, but I love the way you think, CCC. I’ve got a feeling I’m going to enjoy this one quite a bit