Today’s story lines up some quality entertainment.
[Horror] • 2,353 words
There’s an old book that’s falling apart. Twilight wants to copy it down to preserve it. But it needs to be as accurate and precise as possible, to preserve the state of the original. That shouldn’t be too hard. After all, it’s not like the text will change whenever she looks away.
FROM THE CURATORS: For a story solo-tagged [Horror], we found Cant to be unusually — and pleasantly — light reading. “This was a fun little fic,” Chris said, and AugieDog had a similar reaction: “This is a horror story the way ‘Lesson Zero’ is a horror story … I usually find horror stories to be, well, too horrific, but this is just exactly how horror stories should go in the Pony universe.”
But make no mistake, this uses its tag effectively and subtly. “The way it progresses to horror is as insidious as it is natural,” Present Perfect said. “And this particular brand of quiet, obsessive horror is the sort of thing I’ve previously only seen at the SCP Foundation.” For Soge, that quiet horror built up over time. “My gut reaction was that it felt a bit too low key,” Soge said, “but after a few days I can safely say that it is one of those stories that is memorable in all the right ways. … I wound up reading it again, in search of all those bits of wrongness in the text.”
What makes it so rewarding is that there’s just so much the story does right. “The way it sets up Twilight with a perfectly unexceptional book of would-be occultitude feels right at home in Equestria,” Chris said, and Horizon similarly praised the story’s approach to its protagonist: “It’s marvelous how naturally Cant meshes its horror conceit with Twilight’s character, to the point that it’s able to hide crucial pieces of unreliable narration in plain sight.” Ultimately, as Present Perfect said, that clean execution elevated it: “This is a tidy piece, sets itself up well, doesn’t overstay its welcome, and has a great bit of foreshadowing at the start that you’ll never even realize is there.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Rambling Writer discusses high-strung wordiness, moral deconstruction, and intrinsic gray.
Give us the standard biography.
Nothing too noteworthy. Pretty normal life. Good family. Three brothers; one older, two younger. (Funnily enough, all my cousins are boys, too, on both sides of the family.) I’m pretty introverted, I mostly read in my spare time (I like plucking long stories from my Read It Later list and sticking them on my Kindle; yay, technology!), I did well in school, and I’m currently working on a master’s in computer science. Yeah. Not much.
I got into the show between seasons 1 and 2, and I heard about bronies before I heard about the show itself. I figured, “What the heck, I’ll try it.” I liked it and never looked back. I got into this site right after the season 5 finale, when I thought, “Why didn’t Starlight and Sunburst try to write to each other?”, and my first fic dealt partly with that. It all just mushroomed from there.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I write. I sometimes ramble a bit when I write. It’s vaguely pony-sounding. That’s it, really.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Big Mac, I think. I have no idea why.
What’s your favorite episode?
“Hearts and Hooves Day”, if only because hearing Big Mac say things like “Schmoopy Doo!” is one of the funniest things ever.
What do you get from the show?
Engaging writing coupled with a general sense of self-awareness. There are plenty of moral-based kids’ shows out there. There aren’t many where somebody complains that the moral is too sappy, or where somebody points out that she gave the moral earlier and no one listened, or where somebody freaks out about not having a moral for this week, or where somebody gloats that she didn’t learn anything because she already knew this week’s moral. And that’s just the first two seasons.
What do you want from life?
Stability and security. I want to be able to live my day-to-day life without constantly worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow.
Why do you write?
Sometimes, I have ideas I want to share. I keep getting things popping into my head that I want to show other people. Other times, I just have ideas I want to develop for me and don’t really intend to share. But here, I have an outlet to share easily and think to myself, “Why not?”, so I usually post them anyway. This story is actually one of the latter; I had an idea, wrote it out, decided to post it just because.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Work on character voice. This is something I’m still struggling with, but a good character voice is one of the most important things for making sure a character is memorable. One thing that helped me develop a character was realizing that if she was nervous she’d start talking in run-on sentences that just kept going and going and going on and on and on and she connected her thoughts with “and” and “so” and “but” and stuff like that and it worked best if the narration used barely any punctuation to show she kept talking fast and it was because she kept talking to take her mind off of what was going on so she kept running her mouth off on whatever tangent came to mind to metaphorically run from her problems and she’d only stop when other characters cut her off. The moment you see something like that, you realize she’s a bit high-strung.
If you’re doing a longer story, make sure your pacing is good, the story keeps moving, and things keep happening. Too often, I’ve given up or almost given up on stories that I enjoyed immensely simply because it was taking way too long to get to the enjoyable, important parts and long chapters (as in, possibly more than ten thousand words long) would have virtually nothing of consequence happening. If it’s not important, consider getting rid of it. A story can still have fluff — it expands the world and characters in a way plot alone can’t — but don’t let the fluff overwhelm the point.
What makes for good, effective horror writing?
I don’t have the slightest idea. This is the first horror-related thing I’ve ever written, period, and I half-expected it to bomb horribly. If I were to guess, though, it’d be helplessness. In my opinion, all fear comes from a lack of control in some way. Fear of the dark is a common phobia, for example, because we don’t know what’s in the dark and can’t prepare for it, short of turning a light on. I’m afraid of choking because I’ve choked on food in the past and simply can’t get over the feeling of trying to breathe but not getting any air. Survival horror games thrive on giving the player limited ability to fight back against their enemies, if any. We’re used to having control over our lives, so you take that away, and we get scared. Emphasize your protagonist’s vulnerability somehow; maybe all their efforts to stop whatever threat they’re facing fail, or they’re simply unable to do anything to combat it at all. Make the threat draw out their insecurities. And if you’re going to finish the story with them relatively alive and well, don’t let them out without an intense struggle.
What made you decide on a subtle end result of the madness?
That was just the way the story ended. I knew it wouldn’t end with Twilight using her own blood to write the contents of the book on the walls, but I also knew it wouldn’t end with, “And then absolutely nothing bizarre happened again during the copying.” I had to have something, but I couldn’t go big without disrupting the tone. In the end, I took a page from (or ripped off, if you prefer) one of my inspirations, Stephen King’s 1408, and left it as an implication of something more.
Many readers have commented on how funny this story is, at least at first. Why did you include humor in a story tagged only with Horror?
Juxtaposition. Having everything seem silly makes the horror stand out more when it comes out thanks to contrast. If your story begins dark and dreary and ends darker and drearier, there isn’t much impact. If it begins light and bouncy and ends dark and dreary, it has more punch. I left out the Comedy tag because the humor is there, but it isn’t really the point, as it is in horror-comedies like Shaun of the Dead or The Cabin in the Woods; a few jokes do not a comedy make.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Fun fact: Contrast is so important to human vision that absolute darkness isn’t black. It’s gray. Specifically, a form of dark gray called “eigengrau” or “intrinsic gray”.
Personal taste: Pineapple on pizza tastes way better than it has any right to.
Non-writing advice: If you’re fretting about something important, leave it alone for a while and do something else. It’ll help you clear your mind and let you see the problem in new ways. Maybe it’s not as bad as you think.