After reality breaks, today’s story picks up the pieces.
[Adventure] • 9,853 words
Dinky Doo and Silver Spoon travel through a shattered world. When all the world is ash around you, can you stand to build again?
FROM THE CURATORS: “Oh, my. That’s how you open a story,” Horizon said of Broken Roads’ eye-catchingly apocalyptic opening, and from that punchy first line to the story’s final word we found plenty to appreciate. “It’s a wildly creative apocalypse described in painstaking chaotic detail,” Present Perfect said. “It’s a story about friendship and adventure. It has a really great conflict and some very shocking surprises in store. It’s definitely not the story you’ll think it is at first.”
While this was another entry in Equestria Daily’s recent The More Most Dangerous Game contest — which challenged authors to reinterpret fandom classics — one of the things that made this stand out to us was the sheer amount of originality that it brought to the Fallout: Equestria postapocalyptic theme. “I was disappointed that that didn’t make the top ten, ’cause I love the worldbuilding here,” JohnPerry said. All of us agreed that — in Chris’ words — “the worldbuilding on this story is exquisite,” and Horizon went further: “This is an apocalypse where the setting is every bit as much a character as its inhabitants.”
In the end, what made the story exemplary was not only the skill of that construction but in telling a solid story within its vivid setting. “This is high-octane adventure, with menace lurking around every turn, and novel and coherent thought from both the author and the characters about what’s required for survival,” Horizon said. JohnPerry summed it up: “There’s something really compelling about this one, and it ends on a fantastic note.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Not_A_Hat discusses little princes, observant carpenters, and bright apocalypses in night lands.
Give us the standard biography.
I’m a twenty-five year old white guy renting a basement in Kentucky. I work night shift in a warehouse, because I ran out of money and motivation halfway through an engineering degree.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
It’s from my current avatar, which is from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novella “The Little Prince”, in which an alien harrasses a plane-crash survivor to draw him pictures to criticise. Unless it’s a whimsical, charming fable about relationships, philosophy, and love. It sort of depends on how you look at it.
The narrator talks about wanting to be an artist as a child. However, when he drew an elephant being digested by a boa-constrictor, none of the adults understood his work. Children knew what he was getting at, but the grown-ups could only see a hat. Hence, Not_A_Hat.
I chose it to evoke ideas important to writing, and art in general. Willing suspension of disbelief, the treachery of art, death of the author and the perceptions of the audience… but I also like uplifting, lighthearted themes and in-jokes in my stories, and it’s all of that as well.
Who’s your favorite pony?
I don’t really do favorites, honestly. They all have their moments.
What’s your favorite episode?
Again, favorites … but I could maybe pick “It’s About Time”, since I’m a sucker for time-travel.
What do you get from the show?
Ideas. To paraphrase a better author, “I look at stories like a carpenter looks at trees.” Also a pleasant way to blow some time, and a door into a fandom full of interesting people and better writers than me, which is always worthwhile.
What do you want from life?
Joy, hope, and love. In the end, what else has value?
Why do you write?
Because I am fundamentally a creator, and my current job is mind-numbingly dull. It helps that I love reading, and the tools are readily available.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Immerse yourself in the craft. And I don’t just mean write a lot, although that’s necessary too. Learning to write is about building a set of tools to build stories. In order to improve, it’s necessary to find good tools, throw out the ones that don’t work, sharpen the ones that do. Learn how to learn, find teachers and resources, use introspection to understand yourself and analysis to understand your work and the work of others. Practice, practice, practice, but never stop thinking critically and pushing your boundaries.
What was the inspiration for Broken Roads?
I wanted a post-apocalypse that wasn’t drab grays and browns. Everything else, from the world to the characters, came out of that. I’m not a fan of gritty realism. I’d much rather have the bright fantastic, and felt like doing something a little unexpected for the prompt.
What’s the backstory behind the chaotic Equestria we see in your story?
Honestly, I didn’t hash it all out. I simply chose enough to be convincing, and suggested the rest.
That’s not a very satisfying answer, though, so here’s most of what I decided on…
Celestia has somehow fallen to madness. However, being who she is, she hit at the ponies which would certainly threaten her most: her sister and the former Element bearers. She betrayed Twilight and Luna, locking them away. The remaining five attempted to use the Rainbow, possibly with a substitute, but were unable to stop her. At that point, Discord intervened to save what he could. The world may have been shattered by the clash of opposing magics. Perhaps Celestia has become some hypostasis of stasis, causing death through order, and Discord couldn’t counter that without a touch too much chaos… but I never actually thought that through.
The settings in this story are quite vivid. What influences did you draw from to construct this world?
It was sparked by a tribute I read, to William Hope Hodgson’s 1912 novel “The Night Land”. I haven’t read the original, but the setting is extremely compelling. My first concept was much more ‘creeping horror’, but I abandoned that quickly, realizing I didn’t have the skill to pull it off. The Curtain and Redoubt are strongly drawn from there, however.
Subconsciously, I’d guess the game “Bastion.” It contained the idea of a broken world re-forming as you move, which intrigued me.
Perhaps a little of Roger Zelazny’s “The Chronicles of Amber” snuck in, with the juxtaposed order and chaos, multiple worlds, and influence spreading from centers… but it’s weak enough I couldn’t really say.
Why did you choose Dinky Doo and Silver Spoon as the protagonists?
I needed to adjust the magic and obscure the backstory, and I wanted characters who could accept the world as it is, so I went with children. However, I didn’t want them too developed in the show, so the CMC were out. After that, I chose Dinky because she could inherit perseverance and determination from her mother, while Silver Spoon could start bitter and scared but become less so without being too ham-fisted. Basically, I copped out and picked characters blank enough they might have been original, without actually being original.
Did you run into any challenges while writing this story?
Um. Somewhat? Looking back, there’s lots of things I could have done better, but… in the actual writing, it was fairly straight-forward. Hammer out a plot, invent some setting and backstory, and throw it all down. Get it pre-read and edited, and get it in. Once I’ve assembled my ideas for a short story, I just start writing and go with whatever forms, since most of the roadblocks are removed in the planning phase.
However, I’d say I stumbled with some of the basic construction. The plot here is weaker than the setting, which definitely harms the story. Re-writing has always been hard for me. I’d rather finish something and move on than improve what I’ve got, and that’s where I really fell. I just don’t have the drive for a thorough second polish, even after hindsight reveals deeper flaws.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Some trite platitudes, witty comments, a koan or two … but mostly, thanks for reading.
Have a pleasant day!