(Note: We’re looking to re-feature three of our spotlighted authors, in order to offer them spotlights on stories more representative of their writing! Our “Correct the Record” contest runs through Sunday, April 23. Weigh in with your votes and nominations on our FIMFiction thread. For a “ballot” with a compiled list of nominations and voting links, check this spreadsheet.)
The quality of today’s story is exemplary because today’s story is of exemplary quality because the quality of today’s story …
[Alternate Universe] [Dark] [Sad] • 15,000 words
My name is Starlight Glimmer, and I hate bad endings. It isn’t fair when some ponies win and others lose, purely by chance. If I had my way, every pony would be equal. Every pony would win. After all, the only other fair thing would be for us all to have a bad ending, and who would want that? This colorless world is bad enough already as it is.
So far, my record is flawless. Never once have I prematurely ended someone’s story, never once have I hurt someone more than they can bear. And every time I spare a life, make a new friend? I get stronger for it. Eventually, I’ll be so strong I can fix the entire world.
No matter what the world throws my way, I’m never going to give up.
FROM THE CURATORS: This unusual time-loop story was a medalist in FanOfMostEverything’s recent “Imposing Sovereigns” contest, so it was initially puzzling that the contest results post was so vague about its strengths … at least until we read it. “I can see why they had to hew and haw so much about what to say without spoilers,” Horizon said in his nomination. “The joy of this story is sitting back as you’re reading it, or after you’re done, and blinking as piece after piece falls together in your mind. The moment when this graduated from interesting read to nomination was when I looked at the impossibly bleak and somewhat overwrought Alternate Universe that the story had warned me about in its tags — and then realized exactly how seamlessly it linked to canon, on multiple levels, including some lovely and subtle statements about changelings.” And while those links became a subject of hot debate, we found there was plenty to enjoy regardless: “I didn’t catch the changeling angle at all, so I’m going to upvote in a fit of bewilderment,” Present Perfect said.
Among the (non-spoilery) exemplary qualities on display was the way it built up its central theme. “A little something like Starlight wondering for a moment where Twilight and the rest have gone would’ve been nice, but the still, gray air of self-contained isolation that permeates the piece is another thing that really grabbed me,” AugieDog said. And that went along with multiple levels of careful construction. “I could wish for tighter writing — but it weaves a story that’s entirely and perfectly and elegantly self-contained, and when you step out of the story you realize there’s also a greater elegance at play,” Horizon said.
It was that careful alignment of the story’s elements that let us glimpse the story’s true strengths. “The two Starlights we see are mirror images of each other, and the whole story is set up like two mirrors facing each other, infinitely reflecting themselves off into a fathomless distance,” AugieDog said. “I kept thinking of the line from near the end of Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead where, with the nooses around their necks, one turns to the other and says something like, ‘Next time, we’ll remember.'” And that was made even more impressive by the dark-horse quality of the contest placing. “This is a little gem of a story from an author with three stories and a dozen followers,” Horizon said. “I love the fact that contests can bring this sort of overlooked talent to our attention.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Czar_Yoshi discusses flag-raising, Undertale perfectionism, and the wearing of multiple ties.
Give us the standard biography.
I’m in the Seattle area, was sold on ponydom in the summer of 2014, and began writing stuff at the start of fall 2016. I love the night, road trips and ice cream, and have far more knowledge than could ever be useful on Fire Emblem. Huge mustaches, old computers and wearing two ties are classy. My favorite meme is Shrek, favorite Smash Bros is Project M, favorite browser is Firefox, and Erlenmeyer is the best scientific beaker/flask. Llamas are scary. Fire alarms at 2am in the rain are the worst. Writing in cursive on the SAT is just mean.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
So there’s a boss in Super Mario RPG called the Czar Dragon, but it basically looks like a giant yoshi head with a crown strapped to a flaming tank. Somewhere a joke was made, and somehow the moniker stuck — I don’t quite remember how, but probably because Yoshi was the best everything back in those days and I always played them. Best driver in Mario Kart, best partner in Thousand-Year Door, etc. … You get the picture. Interestingly, I’ve only ever had one person notice and remark on the origin, and it was just after I started using it online, too.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Sunset Shimmer is #1, no contest. Of course, since she’s a human most of the time …
Rainbow Dash is #2. I do also like Starlight quite a bit, which is somewhat counter-intuitive given how much of a beating she takes in my stories. Someday, I’ll write something that goes happily for her. Maybe. In terms of background ponies, I’m very fond of Lyra Heartstrings and Coco Pommel.
What’s your favorite episode?
That’s a tough one. In the context of the show as a whole, I really, really liked Crusaders of the Lost Mark when it came out and rewatch it all the time, since the songs are fantastic and it’s a great conclusion to an arc that spanned five seasons while still leaving things open for the future. Now we just need another Diamond Tiara episode…!
But in a vacuum, I’d have to say The Mane Attraction (Coloratura’s episode). That episode nails a whole bunch of stuff the show often has trouble with, such as making Pinkie funny without being random or annoying, and putting Applejack in a role where she’s imperfect, but able to shine. It’s wonderfully self-contained and needs nothing else from the show to stand on, has a ridiculously heartwarming end, and yet more awesome songs.
What do you get from the show?
This might be apparent from the way I answered the last question, but my favorite part of the show is the songs. So much so that only one of my top five episodes doesn’t have any singing (For Whom the Sweetie Belle Toils), and the presence of songs will instantly bump an episode up several points on my rating scale.
That said, I also just love slice-of-life backed by interesting, well-rounded characters. Especially when said characters are all naturally 100% adorable without ever overdoing it or even toeing the line. Their cuteness is just so natural and never for its own sake. I love it.
And, of course, I can’t let a question like this go by without mentioning the fandom. Sure, it’s got plenty of loose screws, but at the end of the day pony is a way of connecting with people and bonding over your shared love of small, fluffy horses. That’s how I got into the show, and it sure is something I spend more time doing nowadays than rewatching episodes.
What do you want from life?
Surprise me. Most of the best things that have ever happened to me were completely, utterly unexpected, and I hope the future holds more of the same.
Why do you write?
I’ve had an urge to create for … well, honestly, since before I was old enough to hold a pencil, if my parents’ old tapes are anything to go by. It’s just an itch I perpetually need to scratch to stay comfortable, and the only way to do that is to get out and make stuff.
Of course, that need took a long time to work its way around to writing. I had some … unfortunate … circumstances rudely and messily abolish my love of books right around the time I could have actually done something with it, and it took a long, long time and a lot of prodding from a very good friend before I even started to read for fun again, let alone actually consider seriously writing stuff of my own.
Three particular works — instrumental in rekindling my love of the medium — which I’d be remiss without shouting out are Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings (published, original fiction), Digital Skitty’s Pedestal (a Pokemon fanfic) and Imploding Colon’s Austraeoh (a pony fanfic). Don’t stop loving books, folks, even if others seem to want it to be not so fun.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Read stuff. Lots of stuff. The amount you can learn by paying attention to what others do that makes their works good (and bad) is truly staggering and much more difficult — and painful — to learn anywhere else. And creating and sharing stuff is a two-way street, after all — make too much without ever taking, and sooner or later you’ll find yourself running dry. I know all of my ideas wind up coming from somewhere or other. Speaking of which …
What inspired “Stay Determined”?
Not long before the Imposing Sovereigns contest came out, I first played Undertale (yes, I know, I’m late to the party). Now, I’m going to be slightly vague here for the sake of spoilers for anyone who somehow hasn’t played it (like me), but upon rebooting the game and opening the main menu after getting the best ending, you get a short conversation regarding “resetting” the game, in which you’re asked to take your “good enough” ending and keep it.
Of course, with all the stuff the game makes you go though to get to that point, that’s slightly frustrating. What do you mean, it’s only 99% perfect? I earned a perfect ending!
… Smells like fix-fic material. Obviously, I turned around and did completely the opposite.
Stay Determined is about a perfectionist who finds themself in a very similar situation: accept their “good enough” and live happily ever after with their friends, or undo everything they’ve ever worked for and try again, believing something better may be possible but with no guarantee. They take the reset, and they face the psychological consequences of doing so (with a little magic thrown in to make the effects more pronounced, of course). And they’ll keep on taking it, forever and ever.
Talk a little about constructing time loop stories.
Ah, time loops. Time travel is fundamentally magic, so it needs to work the same way: either make it vague, mysterious, and not something to be messed with without consequences, or make it follow rules that are clearly defined enough that the audience can predict exactly what will happen when the magic’s used. The critical thing is to avoid instances where something outright illogical happens: fridge logic is always an enemy of authors, but it’s particularly deadly to stories involving time travel.
Since time loops require the audience to understand what’s going on to the degree they know this is infinite, being too vague to complain about is out, so set some rules. Make sure they’re as concise as possible, because the audience needs to understand them, and then explain them. It doesn’t matter where in the story — earlier if it’s a drama, later if it’s a mystery — just do it.
The rules of Stay Determined are very simple: time magic rewinds everything but Starlight. Do it on a smaller scale, go back a minute. Do it on a larger scale, go back … however long this story took place over. And that’s it.
From there, it’s usually just a matter of using the tools you’ve given yourself to tell a story in which there’s a reset point that everything comes back to, which functions no differently than setting up for any other type of scene.
How do you see Starlight getting herself so completely cut off from the rest of the show’s cast like this in the first place?
I deliberately left this as wide open as possible. Giving Starlight’s friends no description or direct speech whatsoever was partially atmospheric, keeping the focus purely on her, but it was also done to keep her situation and the circumstances leading up to it as open-ended as possible. For all anyone knows, her friends could even be the Mane Six.
In the story’s comments, you say that during the editing process, you got to wondering, “Is the fact that I don’t like this bit a good thing or a bad thing?” Can you expand on that thought?
So the main scene I was referring to with this was when Starlight returns to the camp with her princess self in the ending. It’s the farthest point she ever reaches in her fall, and I wanted it to be climactic, memorable … unpleasant.
Of course, since I do all my editing myself, I generally rely on the feeling that something’s wrong with a scene, or I’m unhappy with how it turned out or just plain don’t like it to raise flags that I need to come back and revisit it. This one kept raising flags — which it was supposed to do — which made editing it a big pain since I had to be much more thorough and be sure it did that for the right reasons.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I do have to say, I’m surprised and thrilled to be getting this much attention on a story that was essentially a speed-written entry conceived on a whim for a contest. I’m very much a new author just trying to genera-hop, have fun, get better and see how things work — and getting noticed this early on …
Well, let’s just say I already had every intention of sticking around, and this certainly doesn’t hurt. The ride is just beginning, and I’m determined to make it a fun one.