Sink your teeth into today’s spooky story.
Morsel of Truth
[Slice of Life] • 4,349 words
There is a bit of truth to every legend, though the ravages of time can bury it deeply. Myths and lore become twisted, melded, and torn the longer they are around. One of Equestria’s oldest legends is that of Nightmare Moon. It is the core of Nightmare Night and the excuse for children to go out asking for candy with a single, common rhyme.
Nightmare Night, what a fright. Give me something sweet to bite.
FROM THE CURATORS: While the RCL has featured its share of darker, creepier fanfics, you always go back to the classics — like this story which treats its spooky themes with a gentle Equestrian touch. “This is a short, standalone fic that I think is representative of Pen Stroke’s style,” Chris said in his nomination: “To take a premise that would probably be pretty dark or even gruesome in another author’s hands, and turn it into something with a more slice-of-life feel to it.” And it was that gentler approach which caught the attention of curators like AugieDog: “In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Unicorns are Magical, but I thought that story took things too far out of a Pony context, and this story plays it just right for me,” he said. “Yes, it’s horrific (they’re gonna be eaten!) but it’s also very Pony (they’ve been turned into candy!).”
While it was that lighter touch which drew most of our commentary — “I thought the best part of this was the final scene, which has a ‘fae folk’ feeling to it, and resolves in the best fairy-tale traditions,” Horizon said — the story still earned praise for its horror elements. “The tension ramps slowly,” Present Perfect said. “The ending of the first scene is a little confusing, but once the same thing happens in scene two, you quickly realize this story ain’t fooling around. The tensions only get higher by the final scene, with the poem leaving us on a perfectly terrifying note. It’s a bit of a slow burn, but absolutely chilling and totally worth it.”
It also earned curator approval for tight writing that kept the focus strongly on its theme. “I liked that it never felt the need to delve too deeply into the reasons or mechanics or anything of the sort behind its Nightmare Night legend,” Chris said. “Rather than bog down in explanations, it simply shows us what happens to the girls on a Nightmare Night when things get Traditional.” It played with those traditions in the best sorts of ways, AugieDog added: “Having Pinkie unknowingly save the others because she understands and respects the unwritten rules of Nightmare Night is the frosting on the cake, as it were.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Pen Stroke discusses sugar hangovers, lightning rods, and attempted butt reality.
Give us the standard biography.
I’ve been with the MLP community since about midway through Season 1, I believe. I followed the standard descent into pastel pony happiness. Some friends in one of my university classes were talking about it, and I decided to watch the first few episodes. It wasn’t long after that I found myself eagerly awaiting each new episode.
I published my first story in the community the same year I joined it: Better Living Through Science and Ponies. Since then I’ve written over a dozen stories for the community, a few of them more well known than others. So far, I’ve been able to write and post a story or two every year and over a fairly wide range of genres. That and I’ve enjoyed being Fimfiction’s most followed author for quite a few years now. If I can find the right ideas to keep writing new stories, I hope to someday be the first author on the site to reach 10k followers.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I can’t say there’s that big of a story behind this one. It was just … a name I thought of, liked, and decided to go with. I think it’s served me pretty well.
Who’s your favorite pony?
When it comes to the Mane 6, my favorite is Applejack. Her hard-working nature is something I can really relate to — that and I grew up in a small farming community before moving to the LA area for college and my career. So I can understand some of those small-town values.
When it comes to secondary characters, my favorite is Zecora. When she was first introduced to the show, she was one of our first hints of a much larger and wider world. I still wait eagerly for a day the show, or even the comics, dive more into her history and give us a glimpse of her homeland, her family, or really anything. That and I can really appreciate the effort it can take to write a rhyming character.
What’s your favorite episode?
Oh boy, this is a tough one. There are, of course, so many great episodes. That and Season 6 has really introduced some strong episodes that are likely usurping older episodes as peoples’ favorites. Still, I can at least give my favorite episode from each season.
Season 1: “Bridle Gossip” — It introduced my favorite secondary character, so it gets a lot of points for that.
Season 2: “It’s About Time” — Gotta love a well-executed time-travel storyline
Season 3: “Sleepless In Ponyville” — We get our first real look at Luna’s dream powers, and it was a great bonding episode for Scoots and Rainbow.
Season 4: “Power Ponies” — This was the season where we got some real over-the-top action. The final battle with Tirek was a jaw-dropper for sure, but my personal favorite is still Power Ponies. Seeing MLP just dive into and revel in a classic superhero storyline with all the trappings was just a joy. That and I feel it’s one of Spike’s better episodes.
Season 5: “Rarity Investigates” & “Amending Fences” — Can’t help but pick two from this season. Rarity Investigates for the same reason as Power Ponies. The show dove into the noir genre and just had fun with it. Then we have Amending Fences, having one of the show’s best morals and best plotlines surrounding said moral. It was a real and honest situation that was drawn back from the series’ very first episode.
Season 6: “Gauntlet of Fire” — Again, loved an episode where the borders of the world were pushed out and we got to see so much more. If nothing else, I think my enjoyment for seeing the wider world that surrounds Equestria is going to at least let me enjoy some aspects of the coming movie.
Season 7: “Perfect Pear” & “A Royal Problem” — These are in a stiff tie for me because of how much I love about both episodes. One gives us backstory into Applejack’s family. Yes, the plotline was very Romeo and Juliet, but at the same time, it was executed masterfully. That and I’m a sucker for magical and wondrous set pieces, and the two trees twisted around one another at the end was just a perfect end scene.
Then there is Royal Problem, which gave focus to Celestia and Luna. It gave them some depth beyond being rulers, especially Celestia who has not had as many solo episodes as Luna. That and the surprise twist of Daybreaker just gave that episode so much win.
So yeah, in the end, it’s hard for me to pick a favorite because there are just so many good episodes. And in the end, that means we all win because we’re all getting to enjoy an amazing show that is held up by more than just one or two episodes.
What do you get from the show?
Hmmm, I suppose what I get most from the show is the same thing I got from it back when I first started watching. We get a world with some clean rules, but also a great deal of mystery and unknown. We get characters with aspirations, and over the years, we’ve seen them achieve their dreams. I mean, if this was any other little girls show, Rainbow would never have become a Wonderbolt and Rarity would only have her one shop. But because MLP lets the characters grow and advance, Rainbow achieved her dream and Rarity’s business continues to expand.
In the end, it’s also a small break from reality. Our world is chaotic and filled with perhaps a little too much hate and conflict. Looking to Equestria, and just enjoying the show for what it is, gives me a nice mental break. I know reality will be impatiently waiting for me when I get back — maybe I can bring a little bit of Equestria back with me. That way, when reality tries to be a butt, I can just Smile, Smile, Smile.
What do you want from life?
I suppose just to be able to enjoy my writing, enjoy my career in game development, and make some awesome things that a bunch of other people can enjoy.
Why do you write?
I’m a game programmer by trade, which means I spend most of the time working through logical problems. My writing provides me a creative outlet where I’m not trying to please a program compiler.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
I’d say an important thing is to have a smaller group of people to look at your work before you publish it. Having a few more eyes on your work can help catch typos and help smooth out rough patches in pacing, dialogue, and character depiction. There are plenty of groups on Fimfiction that an author can turn to to get this kind of help. Getting those extra pairs of eyes on a story can really help polish it to be the best it can be.
But at the same time, don’t spend so much time polishing a story that you never post it. No story is ever going to be perfect, and eventually, it’s important to move onto another story/project where you can take what you’ve learned and apply it on a fresh plotline.
To your mind, what makes this a slice-of-life story rather than a horror story? More broadly, where do you think the line between the two lies when it comes to non-horror stories with classic horror premises?
I’ll admit, Morsel of Truth has many the trappings of a horror story. But I feel the key difference is in the amount of tension. True horror stories, I feel, thrive on their tension. Paragraphs, even pages, of text are dedicated to the characters being stalked by eldritch abominations, murderous malcontents, or maiming monsters. The reader isn’t sure what characters, if any, will survive the next encounter as the air grows still, the night silent, and all the characters can hear is the panicked beating of their own hearts.
Morsel of Truth, on the other hand, doesn’t build the tension. The elements of horror are there, but it becomes Slice of Life when we see the moments pass briefly. There is some building sense of tension between the scenes, but it is quickly diffused by how Pinkie Pie handles the situation in the final scene. The tension doesn’t lead to a moment of true horror when a character gets injured, kidnapped, or killed.
That, and using the Slice of Life tag — to me — is like making a small promise to the reader. The story may have horror elements, but the Slice of Life tag is a sign to the reader that unlike traditional horror stories, things will largely work out. The show itself plays some of its scarier themed plotlines in a similar fashion. The zombie-cookie episode or the episode focused around the old castle played out with a higher level of tension than some other episodes, but because of the context of the show, we knew things were going to work out in the end.
Why did you choose to present the main six in the particular order that you did? The reasons for Pinkie’s placement are obvious, but what considerations went into which pony appeared first, second, etc.?
I was going for an escalation of actions and behavior in regards to the mysterious filly. We start with the simplest expected answer. A filly comes to the door asking for candy. You don’t have candy. You tell her you don’t have candy and say good night. Very clean, very logical, and very Twilight. Then we get to the mares who try to give the filly something else. Fluttershy tries to do the kindest thing. Rainbow tries to be kind as well, in her own way. She even approves of the filly being a supposed rebel and sneaking out on Nightmare Night. Then Rarity was generous, but also got frustrated when her generosity was rejected. Then we get to Applejack, who was worried more about the fillies safety. It was a steady escalation, showing each pony provoking the filly a bit more and thus getting more violent and spooky results.
Can you tell us what happens to unfortunate ponies who don’t have a Pinkie Pie in their circle of friends?
Why would I tell you that? That’s part of the mystery, after all. :P
Though more seriously, that is a part of the story I left intentionally vague so that the readers could interpret it. Maybe they get eaten, or maybe they just spend the night as candy and wake up the next morning with a sugar hangover. Leaving that up to reader interpretation lets them fill in a part of the story with what they’d like to see and what’s tolerable for their tastes, which lets the story hopefully stick with them a bit longer.
As an author, you’re best-known for one of the most famous fanfics this fandom’s ever produced: Past Sins. How has writing such a well-known story changed or informed your approach to writing? Is it hard to escape your own shadow?
Past Sins was a learning experience, that much is certain. It is still one of my longest stories, and is certainly my most popular but also polarizing. Some people really, really like it. Some people really, really hate it. But in the end, Past Sins being what it is has given me the experience of dealing not only with a story that is greatly liked but also a story that is greatly hated. I learned to appreciate those who enjoyed what I wrote and grow a thick skin to those who vehemently despise what I wrote. Not to say the criticisms around Past Sins aren’t valid, but as many people will tell you, how a criticism is delivered determines if it’s meant to be helpful or hurtful. So yes, Past Sins has informed how I approach writing, the biggest being the importance of getting other eyes on a story before you put it to the public. They will almost certainly point out something you didn’t notice.
As to escaping my own shadow, it’s hard to think I’ll ever write something as popular as Past Sins. The community is a different beast now, so it’s hard to say if a hit like Past Sins is even possible anymore. But Past Sins’ shadow hasn’t stopped me from writing, and in a way, Past Sins is a lightning rod. People who really like that story will often look at the rest of my library, including the other stories in the Past Sins canon. That hopefully lets them find more things they enjoy amongst my writing.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
It’s been an honor to be included in the Royal Canterlot Library, especially for this little story that I did enjoy writing. Morsel of Truth is a prime example of how, sometimes, I feel my best writing comes when I get an idea that simply won’t be ignored. That’s where Past Sins came from. That’s where Wise Beyond Her Years came from. Still, at the same time, something important I’d say to any author reading this is that you should match the story length to the depth of the idea.
Maybe I could have stretched Morsel of Truth into a much longer, deeper story, where Pinkie would have to quest to save her friends from an eldritch horror. But at the same time, the little kernel of an idea fits just as well, if not better, into a similar small story. Something to be enjoyed in a single little bit, not unlike a piece of candy.
Finally, I would like to thank everyone who has enjoyed my stories over the years. I hope I can continue to get good ideas for stories so that I can continue to contribute to our wonderful community.