Loyal RCL readers will find a treat waiting for them in today’s story.
[Drama] [Slice of Life] • 4,721 words
Fluttershy has been called away on an adventure. An adventure without Rainbow Dash.
FROM THE CURATORS: This story came to our attention via the Flutterdash group’s third writing contest, where it felt somewhat misplaced — “there isn’t even a [Romance] tag,” as Present Perfect pointed out. But Left Behind turned our heads with the power of its writing. “When writing gurus talk about ‘show, don’t tell,’ this is the sort of thing they mean,” AugieDog said. “We’re presented with a series of scenes, some in the present and some in the past, that add up to create a picture of Dash’s feelings toward Fluttershy.”
Multiple curators remarked on the story’s slow yet compelling build. “There’s a lot here that’s enjoyable in its very low-key-ness,” Chris said, and AugieDog agreed: “It’s almost aggressively low-key. … The author paints with an admirably light touch, implying things more often than stating them, and we’re pretty much left to decide for ourselves how deep Dash’s feelings run. And that to me is a real plus in this sort of story.” Even slice-of-life hater Horizon was won over: “This felt like the literary equivalent of a well-painted landscape,” he said. “Its biggest strength is in the way it chooses tones and contrasts to create depth. But all of the characters are also individually great, especially Spike, and their concerns are so real and wide-ranging that this piece is bursting with life.”
While the protagonist was the biggest of those highlights — “this is one of the most solid pieces of Rainbow Dash-centric character writing I’ve ever read; it exemplifies all her best qualities while explaining away the worst,” Present Perfect said — some of the side characters were scene-stealers. “This story introduced me to Zephda shipping, and now I am on that ship really hard,” Present Perfect added. And ultimately, all of those characters contributed to the emotional power of the piece. “I especially appreciate the unspoken sense of sacrifice that permeates the mane cast, watching their younger sisters develop into normal lives while their own emotional bonds seem stuck in Harmony’s amber,” Horizon said. “That lends this whole thing an air of powerful melancholy.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Shrink Laureate discusses cuddly villains, conversational props, and adorably horrible cosmic-ray ships.
Give us the standard biography.
I’m 37, British and work in IT. I’ve been a fan of many things over the years, but I’m still pretty new to ponies.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
“Laureate” means somebody exemplary in their field, like Nobel-Prize-winning impressive, but traditionally in Britain it’s also had the extra meaning of “by appointment to the Queen” (or King). So for example, the Poet Laureate is a poet employed by the royal family.
“Shrink” is a slang term for a psychiatrist. Once, long ago, I found the juxtaposition of these two amusing. This was long before I started writing about pony princesses, making the name vaguely accurate.
Who’s your favorite pony?
They’re all adorable. That’s the point. Even the villains are cuddly.
I never really identified with Rainbow Dash, oddly enough. I may share her cluelessness in social situations, but never her brash confidence or lack of learning.
The pony I was most surprised by was Rarity. I assumed, from other media and western cartoons in particular, that the fashion pony would be shallow and obnoxious. It was refreshing to discover somepony who loves to create, who toils for hours on things she hopes others will enjoy. That’s relevant to a lot of us who write and create.
What’s your favorite episode?
I don’t think I have just one episode that speaks to me personally, so I’m just going to pick the most fun: the time-travelling season finale “Cutie Re-Mark”. It’s packed full of awesome ideas, and Starlight is at her most gloriously villainous.
What do you get from the show?
I’m relatively new to the fandom — less than a year and half now — and found it at a depressing time in my life. I expected it to be something bright and colourful to cheer me up for a few minutes, and I got that — but I got a lot more as well. The world, setting and characters are all surprisingly deep, even when the actual stories are wrapped up in 20 minutes. It’s a good example of the fact that writing for children does not mean writing for idiots.
And it got me thinking, and reading some awesome fanfiction, and eventually writing. That’s something I wouldn’t have otherwise.
What do you want from life?
Immortality would be sweet. And superpowers, definitely.
From the age of about 8, when I first touched what passed for a computer back then, I knew that’s what I’d be working with for the rest of my life. Beyond that, I’ve never really had a plan for my life. I just stumble from one mistake to the next, and hope it all works out.
Why do you write?
Because it’s not something I ever thought I could do before.
Like a lot of people, I’ve always had a desire to create. I’ve made anime music videos in the past, contributed to open-source software projects, even helped proofread other people’s writing, but I never thought of writing as something I could ever do for myself.
Then the funeral of a friend reminded me that life is short and there’s no sense spending it wishing you were doing something else. That day also gave me the specific idea, which is why my first story was on the subject of death. It’s not the greatest story out there, but it got me creating and working to bring something positive to others, of which I believe he’d approve.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
The obvious: write. A lot. Don’t just theorise about writing, or plan, or brag about how good you could be. Put your money where your mouth is and put quill to scroll. You’ll learn more by practice than any amount of theory.
Get an editor. In fact, get several. Every author has a natural blindness to some aspects of their own work, things they need to stop doing, and mistakes they just keep making. None of us is beyond learning, and editors help you by bringing a different perspective. “Left Behind” wouldn’t be half as good without the help of my editor.
And the best way to get a favour is to give one, so go to the group and offer to help other people. You can also learn a lot about what not to do as a writer by correcting other people’s mistakes, and you’ll make friends, or at least useful contacts.
What inspired “Left Behind”?
It was 100% written for the Flutterdash competition. When Titanium Dragon blogged about it, I decided I was ready for a challenge and started brainstorming ideas.
What I quickly found, though, is that I don’t ship them. I adore the long-running friendship between the two, and some aspects of my headcanon — such as that RD moved to Ponyville because Fluttershy did — made it into this story. But I just don’t see them romantically. This was a downside in a shipping contest.
So the story ideas I came up with all fell into two camps: alternate timelines (from the season 5 finale), or non-romantic friendshipping. I picked the latter, combining two of my ideas, because properly fleshing out characters from an alternate world was more than I could manage in a few weeks.
“Show, don’t tell” is the standard writing bromide. How did you approach that particular tightrope walk in this story?
Rainbow Dash isn’t good at talking about her feelings. She’s a pony of action, and exposition doesn’t suit her. So it felt natural, when writing each scene, to show her feelings with actions, moods, foley and her interaction with other characters.
At the same time, much of this story is conversation. It’s a slice-of-life story, where very little actually happens, so making each of those conversations show rather than tell was a large part of the challenge. In each case, I focused on bringing the set and props into the scene, using the Cutie Map table or the layout of Fluttershy’s cottage to shape the action.
I’m very glad to have got the playful brawl with Applejack into her scene. I think it says more about them than any amount of conversation could.
For all that it lacks a “Romance” tag, the story includes two unmistakable shipping pairs, one of which was completely new to our curators. Are they meant to contrast with the more nuanced relationship between Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy ?
Yes, but not quite that way. They’re both there to be seen and reacted to by third parties, as counterpoint to Rainbow watching Fluttershy change.
The first is there to show Rainbow discovering two peers she thought she knew changing and doing something she never expected — at the same time as finding out that Fluttershy is doing something unexpected as well. Also, it’s an adorably horrible ship, utterly broken beyond repair, and I love it to bits. I blame a random cosmic ray for giving me the idea. I’d love to do more with it, but I’d need to get into both of their minds a little more first, as well as flesh out the Cloudsdale they lived in.
The second is there to show Rarity’s reaction to her little sister growing up. The show’s been going for six seasons — or about three years (give or take) in-story — so Sweetie Belle is undoubtedly a teenager now, and a little experimentation is to be expected at some point, but the show — and her sister — still see her as a little foal. This parallels Rainbow having to accept that Fluttershy isn’t the same foal she grew up with, nor the same filly that moved to Ponyville, nor the same mare who was devastated after adventures before.
Is there anything you wrote differently about this story because of the contest it was submitted to?
I wrote a non-romantic story for a shipping contest. A Flutterdash story with nearly no Fluttershy. A slice-of-life for the prompt “Change”. It’s clear I didn’t let the contest conditions drag me too far off course.
Something slightly odd happened during writing. I assumed that Rainbow Dash’s opinion would have to change during the course of the story, since conflict and change are the source of drama and even the contest prompt was “change”. But I realised in writing it that she doesn’t need to change: she’s already reached her position long ago. This was where I discovered the mature side of Rainbow Dash.
The biggest effect the contest had is probably the time limit. I had almost twice as many scenes sketched out than appeared in the final story. In practice, I’m not sure they would have added anything, and the story is better off without them.
Where do you see Dash and Fluttershy’s relationship going after the events of this story?
The shippers will want to ship, of course, but I still don’t think I do.
As the story pretty much states at the end, Rainbow will continue to be a supportive friend, watching over Fluttershy while allowing her to grow up. I don’t believe the version of Rainbow Dash I wrote in this story would ever even think to try anything romantic — unless Fluttershy initiated it.
How Fluttershy feels about that is another question.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
To badly translate and mis-quote a villain from an anime: It’s better to have done and regretted than to always regret having not done. So if you’re thinking of writing something, or trying for a contest like this, give it a go. Even doing really, really badly is still better than wishing you’d tried.