Today’s story is here for a very good reason.
Why Are You Here, Your Majesty?
[Drama] • 8,405 words
Immortals are few and far between in Equestria, and they are all known to each other. Two of them are about to get to know each other a little better. Because one has just turned up uninvited in another’s private chambers. Maybe it’s time they had a chat?
FROM THE CURATORS: One of pony authors’ favorite pastimes is explaining the world behind the show, so it should be no surprise that we sometimes feature stories centering around headcanon exploration. When we do, though, we look for something that makes it stand out from the pack. “This fic is a changeling lore dump at its heart … but the selling point that vaults this above ‘another changeling fic’ is the way the story gets into Celestia’s head as she speaks with Chrysalis,” Chris said in his nomination, and that was one of the factors other curators also cited. “‘If you forget the crime but remember the sentence, then you come to see yourself as the villain for passing it,'” Present Perfect quoted. “That line’s from Chapter 1. It’s fantastic, and a perfect example of what Chris is talking about.” Which is not to downplay the also-strong headcanon: “There are some really interesting ideas on display here, particularly its explanation for why changelings act the way they do, and Celestia’s offer for Chrysalis,” Soge said.
But the entire package was tied together by the character at its center. “What really caught my attention was the portrayal of Chrysalis,” Present Perfect said. “This goes through a number of motions similar to other changeling headcanon fics, but the look into her character here is wholly unique. Equal parts ‘misunderstood mother’ and ‘true tyrant’, but without any of her usual villainous bluster, Chrysalis is strangely vulnerable despite being able to keep her dignity.” AugieDog agreed: “Chrysalis is presented as being at heart just as uncertain as Celestia, as playing a part just as thoroughly as Celestia. It’s an interesting take on both characters, and I quite enjoyed it.”
And although some of us disliked the prose, even that had its defenders. “I found the prose to be quite effective for conveying the author’s take on Celestia,” AugieDog said. “She’s constantly second-guessing herself, constantly trying to convince herself that she’s doing the right thing, and we’re immersed so deeply in her viewpoint that the repetition in the writing just reinforced her uncertainty in my mind.” That structure also strengthened the piece’s themes, Chris said: “The weighty yet natural-sounding dialogue would be effective on its own, but seeing the princess’ thought processes play out, and how the little conversational gambits unfold, gives this a little more oomph.”
Read on for our author interview, in which forbloodysummer discusses rainbow vocabulary, bedroom teleportations, and secret metal obsessions.
(NOTE: The interview contains significant spoilers for the plot and ending of the featured story; the author suggests reading the story first.)
Give us the standard biography.
By profession I’m a musician; I got into Iron Maiden when I was fifteen and that changed everything for me. I soon formed a band with my friends, and where others were practising their instruments, I was practising writing songs. And I just kept going with it, and the more time I sank into it, the better I got. It quickly became the thing I was best at and most enjoyed doing, and the central part of who I am. I’ve just finished recording my first album.
I’d watched the first season of FIM sporadically in 2014/2015 when working on music production bits that required the body but not the mind, and so left me free to watch things while working. But I properly came to the fandom in June 2016, when a certain political event left me unwilling to do anything for a week that wasn’t working or watching cartoon ponies on Netflix. Based on that, you can probably deduce where I hail from.
Within a few days I’d watched everything there, which covered up to the end of season 4 and Equestria Girls 1 & 2. Then I sought out fan fiction, looking for stories about the sirens. After reading all those that took my interest, I started writing my own, intending for it to be my definitive headcanon version of what happened to those characters afterwards. That story is still ongoing, as over time I’ve been distracted by other ideas too.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Ah. This question. How long have you got?
The very short answer is that they’re the last words of the first story I ever wrote, and a quote from a character I liked in a TV show. The reason they’re so significant to me, though, is much longer.
In fairness, I don’t think anyone’s ever had the patience to hear the full answer before, so:
There was this show called Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and it was amazing. There was a character who I (and the rest of the fandom) was rather obsessed with named Spike. His story was a familiar one of a show — deliberately designed with the best of intentions to be about empowering female characters — suddenly being hijacked by a one-off male villain showing up and being too loved to be allowed to leave. And so he started showing up more and more. As his very presence and its reception rather undermined the whole point of the show, he was gradually redeemed and depowered, until he became a shadow of his former self, a rather pathetic character that most others found annoying, and only put up with as they couldn’t get rid of him. In essence he was Discord, but wearing the coolest coat in history. Seriously, you think Sunset Shimmer’s original jacket is cool — and it really is, I can’t believe they swapped it out from Friendship Games onwards — but it’s got nothing on Spike’s.
MLP handles the gender thing much better, incidentally. The two male vampires in Buffy are called Spike and Angel, and given how those names both crop up as prominent male characters in FIM, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Lauren Faust was a Buffy fan too, and may have learned some lessons from it. By giving FIM such a female-weighted gender ratio amongst its mane cast, the show can focus on them without the burden of several male cast members standing around taking up screentime but doing little to advance the plot. And Discord adapted far better to his new role as comic relief than Spike did to becoming emotional support vampire.
Anyway, after watching through Buffy quite a few times on DVD, and then its spinoff which Spike then transferred to, I wanted more. So I started reading fanfiction, noticed the trend towards shipping and liked it, and soon ended up reading all the stories shipping my two favourite characters from the show. Individually both characters were great, but putting them together was a crackship, so the internet wasn’t exactly overflowing with tales of them coupling up. As a result, I soon started work on my own.
I wanted to tell a story of them having a relationship that fit with the canon of the show, which was quite tough for a small ensemble cast in a show that often focused on romantic relationships (as opposed to MLP, where you can argue, for example, that RariJack exists in canon as subtext, as that’s not an area the show explicitly goes into), especially when it was a het ship and one of the characters was firmly established as gay. Happily though — spoiler from 2003 — both characters die by the end of the show, so it was easy enough to write them getting together in secret and being killed off soon after, explaining why the ramifications were never discussed on-screen.
I wanted a way to show, though, that Spike was thinking about the girl in question at the time of his death, though we see him die on-screen and there’s no reference made to any crackship. I thought about rewriting his final scene to be from his point of view, showing his thoughts dwelling on her, but quickly decided that would be a terrible idea. So then I considered if any of his final lines could, in the context of my story, be shown to have an alternate meaning revealing his thoughts. His final line, “I wanna see how this ends,” is so boring it’s not worth bothering with. The exchange before that, “I love you.” “No you don’t, but thanks for saying it,” was symptomatic of the way he’d spent the previous season reduced to little more than a sycophant listening to the lead character’s motivational speeches. Not to mention that it was the culmination of his love story with someone else. But the line before that was much more Spike, and the more I thought about it, the more I liked it.
For some brief (ha!) background, the premise behind Buffy The Vampire Slayer is that high school is Hell. The trials the students go through are given literal form in the story. So a girl who feels she’s not noticed becomes actually invisible, and an older woman teacher seducing young male students is revealed to be a man-eating praying mantis demon in disguise. The plot explanation for it is that the high school at the centre of events sits on a hellmouth, where the walls between our world and demon realms are particularly thin. And the final episode of the final season has an army of superheroes fighting an army of ubervampires in enormous chasms right beneath the school, above the gates of the hellmouth itself. In the end, most heroes are overrun and have to retreat, and Spike sacrifices himself to detonate a superweapon, sealing the hellmouth, destroying the school (and town surrounding it) and saving the world.
So he’s there in that vast cavern, moments before the end; the earth’s shaking, the ceiling’s collapsing as the school above comes down around them, and there’s dust and vampires everywhere. And he says, “I think it’s safe to say school’s out for bloody summer.” The first reason everyone liked Spike in the first place was that, in a show full of aristocratic medieval vampires of the classical kind you’d see in Dracula or Nosferatu, Spike was based on Sid Vicious, and his opening line was talking about a bad trip from when he ate a flower person at Woodstock. So him choosing an understated Alice Cooper reference amended with a mild British profanity as the world falls apart around him was the perfect ending.
How to use that in the story, though? What if a love for Alice Cooper was the thing that he and his secret lover had in common, and so his quote suggested he was remembering her, seconds before his death?
And so that’s what I did. Their second date, of sorts, was listening to old Alice Cooper albums together, they quoted lyrical fragments back and forth from time to time when it suited the situation, and they even had the foreshadowing that everyone knows School’s Out, but quoting that particular song would need quite the special occasion. The final few lines of the story were one-line snippets of dialogue from the show, progressively growing further apart in time (and in space on the page, to show time passing), and ending with that one.
I knew that was how the story would end when I started writing it, and since I created my first publishing account just for that story, it seemed a good choice of name. The idea behind choosing it and having it appear as my name was that the story ending would have been staring readers in the face the whole time, and that their hopes of a happily-ever-after romance had been in vain all along (although I kind of managed that too, in a weird way, as I opened the story with an epilogue set a year later).
It was originally supposed to be Out For Bloody Summer, but the registration process had a character limit, and couldn’t handle spaces or capitals, so it became forbloodysummer. Nowadays I prefer the ambiguity of that, and though the Punctuation Nazi in me hates it, I do think it looks best all lower case and run together as a single word. Putting the capitals in emphasises the ‘bloody’ too much, which makes it seem a bit more horror-focused. I never thought I’d be identified with summer (it’s not very me), but if it is to be shortened then I think Summer works much better than Bloody. I still get a bit funny when people do that, though; it feels rather over-familiar, so my name is forbloodysummer to all but my close friends on here.
Who’s your favorite pony?
This raises the old question of whether Equestria Girls-only characters can be considered ponies for the purposes of Best Pony debates.
It’s Adagio Dazzle, by an enormous margin. So intelligent, so charismatic, so wonderfully unrepentant. She isn’t afraid to dream big, because she has the intellect to piece together plans to get there, wringing every advantage she can out of the meagre scraps she has to work with. And she adapts to changing situations unfolding around her quicker and more deviously than anyone.
She’s probably the most competent character the show’s ever had. Really, who else would that title go to? All the mane cast have their flaws and let the side down on multiple occasions, the princesses and the Wonderbolts are powerless in most crises, Daring Do needs Rainbow’s help from time to time, Chryssi’s been twice defeated and even Tirek didn’t escape after the tables were turned on him. Adagio has the best voice, the best songs, the best lines, the best backstory, and she’s so much fun every second she’s on the screen.
And then there’s her hair.
But I don’t think she really counts as a pony. Box art and comics, I know, but I’d hardly say that’s canon, and I struggle to see an explanation of how she’d return to Equestria as anything but a siren.
So best actual pony I would have once said was Fluttershy. She’s still my favourite of the mane six, followed by Rarity and Twilight. Maybe I’ve just got used to Fluttershy and am taking her for granted, or maybe it’s that I don’t read fanfiction about her as much, but these days I’d say she’s fallen to second place amongst proper ponies, behind Spitfire.
I wrote a blog post a couple of months ago on my favourite moment from each pony, and for Spitfire it said:
Top Bolt. “Angel Wings! You call that cloud busting?! That cloud barely knew you were there!” <Happy sigh> “I love my job.”
Most of the previous glimpses we’ve had of Spitfire show her either being happy, supportive and good-humoured, like at the gala or at the party in Rarity Investigates, or the shouting pony who knows she’s right, but is never too big to admit when she isn’t. And then we get this little moment of her doing both, and it joins the dots and connects it all together. It’s not that her stern side is an act, but she’s removed enough from it that she can laugh at it. And after so long, Rainbow is finally seeing her from inside the Wonderbolts, rather than the angry shouty captain the newbies have to face, or the mythical force of nature in the flight suit that the rest of Equestria sees, and she stands up as greater than either of those mantles. She’s Spitfire, and the new recruits have never seemed so small.
Derpy, Maud Pie and Chrysalis are rounding out the rest of the favourite slots. And Celestia and Luna are both fierce competitors for the title of Best Princess, but I think Celestia ultimately wins out. She’s just so magical.
I’m working on a story at the moment that’s got five of those six favourites in big roles, which is a joy to write.
Passing mentions for Aria and Sonata, the other Wonderbolts, Minuette and Fleur de Lis.
What’s your favorite episode?
The boring and predictable but nonetheless true answer is Crusaders Of The Lost Mark. So let’s just take that as written and say it doesn’t count, and move onto what it might be if not for that episode.
Amending Fences is probably the best bet, with Larson going out on the highest of highs. It harkens right back to the first episode and shows the opening conversation from the other side, something we’d always known was there but hadn’t really thought about the impact of before. It gave us Minuette, who was nothing short of wonderful. How she was loveable rather than annoying I’ll never know, but her chattiness and good cheer were infectious in the nicest of ways. More than anything, though, the episode refused to give Twilight an easy way out. One of the criticisms levelled at the first Equestria Girls is how quickly Sunset was forgiven, and MLP has a history of wiping the slate clean as soon as anypony expresses remorse. Amending Fences doesn’t do that. It doesn’t pretend that damage done in the past doesn’t matter if you apologise now, because Twilight tries apologising and Moondancer rightly points out how little difference that makes. Which I thought was a very brave move for a kids’ show in 20-minute episodic format.
Amending Fences is the centrepiece to a superb run of episodes in season 5, from Make New Friends But Keep Discord through to Canterlot Boutique, with only Princess Spike weighing in at anything less than jaw-dropping (and even that one I thought much better than most other Spike episodes pre-Gauntlet). Especially Slice Of Life and Do Princesses Dream Of Magic Sheep? There was a similar run in season 7, from Honest Apple through to Fame and Misfortune, the particular highlight of which was A Royal Problem. Outside of those, A Canterlot Wedding isn’t far off perfect, Twilight’s Kingdom has to be seen to be believed, A Hearth’s Warming Tail is far too good, and Bridle Gossip is one of the most consistently funny. Personally I’m very keen on the Wonderbolts episodes Rainbow Falls and Newbie Dash (though DWK’s recap of the latter is even better than the episode itself; I’ve watched that a ridiculous number of times). And while it works better as a 3-minute song than a 22-minute episode, nothing can top the magic of Winter Wrap Up.
I left this next bit for the end of this question, though, as I just went off on one about Adagio. Again there’s the question of whether or not it counts as an episode, but to me, Rainbow Rocks is about a hundred times better than anything else in MLP. Perfection from start to finish. From the moment we open with the villains, you know bets on what to expect from the movie are off. And then they notice the established events from the first movie, and they react to it, so the plot feels like a natural continuation, rather than a strung-together premise for a sequel that’s mostly a bigger repeat of the original but with a new villain. By the title sequence I was completely sold. We used to fight with each other, that was before we discovered that when your friendship is real, you just say what you feel. Never before has the theme of the show been phrased quite so succinctly and directly, and it would be far too cheesy in any other context. But in that pop-vocal-meets-big-catchy-drum-beat style, accompanied by the stylised images summarising the first film, it’s pitched exactly right. And then the huge mixolydian guitar riff crashes in…
Have you ever had the misfortune of seeing Disney’s Camp Rock, with the Jonas Brothers? Don’t. The Disney voiceover said — without a trace of irony — “The first rule of rock is that it’s not about fitting in, it’s about standing out! So we’ll teach you how to dress rock …” Camp Rock is exactly what it says on the tin, but with more camp and less rock. Even as a drinking game, it was miserable. And that’s the movie Rainbow Rocks should have been, going just on its title. That’s what I was dreading it would be, and that’s what a lesser production team might have made it. That guitar riff in the title song laid all my fears to rest. The first time I saw the film, I wound it back to watch the title sequence a second time.
And that’s not even one of the top three songs from the movie. A Canterlot Wedding knocked The Lion King one place down from the top spot in the chart of best-ever villain songs; Rainbow Rocks knocked them both down three. Not many days have gone by since I first watched it when I haven’t had Under Our Spell in my head at one point or another.
Three brilliant villains, a plot without holes that felt appropriate for a high school setting, all sides making reasonable deductions about the opposition, one of the most detailed animated portrayals of accurate musicianship I’ve ever seen (something that just wouldn’t work in Equestria, with hooves), great jokes, great background pony/side character cameos, and of course Sunset’s redemption arc.
More than that, though, that was me in high school. I was Rainbow Dash, doing lead vocals/lead guitar/songwriting duties and expecting everyone else to be happy with it. I was Adagio, trying to keep the backing band doing it my way with little more than my wits. I had that bickering-core-member frontman/bassist dynamic Rainbow and Applejack have, and a drummer who was just there to have fun with friends. And these are girls, forming a rock band, and not one character bats an eyelid at that. They are the teenage girl role models we’ve needed for a long time. Rainbow Dash talks about shredding like it’s a completely commonplace thing, and they don’t hold back when it comes to her guitar solo, or suggest that there’s anything less ideal about liking that kind of music than the softer songs like Better Than Ever. In that vein, Rainbow Rocks is the most important movie for teaching kids about rock music since School Of Rock.
What do you get from the show?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. Previously I’d described to people outside the fandom the appeal of MLP as being about well-developed characters who were far more than their archetypes, with an emphasis on great writing, therefore outdoing most of the usual trappings of a childrens’ show. But that doesn’t answer why watch MLP instead of any number of well-written adult shows. And you can talk about the more grown-up-aimed meta references within the show, like casting John DeLancie as Discord, or the end scene of The Return Of Harmony, or Twilight quoting Eddard Stark, but watching the show mainly for it referencing others is kind of missing the point of it.
(After writing that I noticed that all three of those examples were written by the same person – I miss you, Larson. Pennyroyal Academy is great, but I miss you in Equestria, and Fame and Misfortune only hammered it home more.)
To my best friend I compared FIM to Boston Legal, if that show only consisted of its balcony scenes. But, while it is a celebration of platonic friendship in that way, why not just watch Friends? So I think the actual answer goes way deeper than that.
I’m usually the first person to become irritated with contrived happy endings in media, or anything that feels like the heroes celebrating, especially when the implication is that the audience should be, too. So often I find myself on the villain’s side, as they’re not just following the same tired hero script about always doing the right thing and angsting if they can’t save everyone. Maybe it’s a stick-it-to-the-man rebellion thing, that I find characters following the rules to be boring in fiction, and that tends to affect villains far less.
As well as that extending across films, TV, games and books, I also react badly to happy music. It can be a reasonable middle-ground: I would say many of the things I listen to could be considered positive and uplifting. Definitely empowering. But straight major keys are usually a turn-off for me. They just seem twee and superficial, and they grate on my sensibilities. Listen to Love Me Do and you might see what I mean.
So I generally avoid what I’d consider to be artificial happiness, as I find it cloying. As might be expected, I’d guess that some part of me began to crave it after a while. And then I found ponies.
And I find that MLP is so removed from everything else I’m into, and also so far from reality, that I don’t respond badly to how happy it is. It’s like joy has to be pushed into that extreme form of cartoon unicorns with rainbow manes aimed at small girls for it to not interfere with my general preferences, and then it’s acceptable, and I very much enjoy it. Perhaps because that type of show is exactly where such happiness belongs, and wouldn’t work nearly as well without it, whereas in less intentionally-sensationalised things it feels intrusive.
As a result, I find myself on a silly middle-ground in the fandom, liking such an intrinsically good show, but being drawn towards the villains. Rarely even the dark and edgy side of things; naturalbornderpy has written some fantastic dark Chrysalis stories, but there aren’t many I’ve read in that vein. I just like MLP stories where villains manage to find some measure of happiness, while remaining as true to themselves as they can.
What do you want from life?
To not die? Like, ever? I think I’d make good use of immortality.
The same thing most artists do, I’d guess — to make a living from that alone, without having to sell out. Whether that’s from playing music or from writing fiction, it’s happy either way.
Why do you write?
There are stories in my head that need telling, and no one else has already written them. I don’t quite know why I feel the need to tell the story if I already know what’s going to happen in it; in a way I’m the one who benefits least from it as there’s no suspense or gradual revelation of plot. My target audience is an imagined version of myself who shares all the same preferences, but hasn’t actually written the story. So it’s a question of asking myself what I’d like to see. Happily, there seems to be some overlap in tastes between that target audience and some other, real people on the site.
Maybe that’s over-thinking it, though. Sometimes I just have an idea and I dwell on it, and writing it down gets it out of my head. Or maybe I just dwell on it because I’m excited to write it.
Why I write compared to other creative outlets, though, that’s a handy answer. Writing is something that you can pretty much take from start to finish entirely on your own. You can work on your own timetable, you can make whatever artistic decisions you want to, and you don’t need to rely on anyone for anything. Yes, editors and proofreaders help, but you don’t have to use them if you don’t want to. Though they really do help. But even then, you don’t usually pass it to them until you’re all done with that bit of it. Writing doesn’t cost much, either, and I think (although it may just be my own bias speaking) that it’s more a skill anyone can pick up if they put the time in than visual art like drawing or painting.
And then there’s why I write fanfiction rather than anything else. I think most of us are here for the characters. That’s why shipping is so popular — it’s a way to explore familiar characters and to spend time with them narratively without needing much of an exciting or original plot. Though now I’m in the fandom and writing the stories I do, I also find I very much enjoy the headcanon side of it, exploring why things are the way they are and trying to connect together all the little bits we see. Just yesterday, for example, I came up with a pretty reasonable explanation as to how and why there was a prophecy of Nightmare Moon’s return, in a story that otherwise hasn’t mentioned the princesses once.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
The best advice I could offer comes from the band Wheatus, who once said: “Listen to Iron Maiden.” I suppose that goes for non-authors, too.
That aside, I’m not the most experienced, talented or popular writer on the site, but wisdom can in theory come from anywhere, and something that’s helpful to me might end up being helpful to some others, so I don’t feel too high and mighty dispensing advice, even when many reading this are far better at writing than I am. Maybe consider taking on board anything that sounds like it might be useful, I guess?
The main message behind FIM is that everyone is different, but that that doesn’t have to be a problem. The same applies for reader tastes. Accept right from the outset that you won’t please everyone, and that dislikes are just as inevitable as likes. Ultimately they matter about as much, too. They’re just someone else agreeing with your taste, or not agreeing because their own taste is different. If we all liked the same things, that would be boring.
The upvote/downvote system is not necessarily a mark of the story’s quality, just a gauge of how others have reacted to it. You can like a story despite it being terribly written, and you can loathe a story despite it being a masterpiece. If you bear that in mind, dislikes shouldn’t hurt so much.
That said, though, they still do, at least a bit, when it’s a story you’re proud of. And since many do take community reaction into account when deciding to read a story, it’s usually in your interest to minimise the downvotes if there are any simple, not-artistically-compromising steps you can take to do so.
I wrote a story, for example, where reader feedback quickly highlighted how suddenly the subject and tone changed halfway through. I thought it was ok, but then I’d always known that swerve was coming when I wrote it, so it never struck me as being as shocking. But it seemed to put some readers off, so now I warn them about it going in, and that appears to improve their experience.
As a writer it’s in your interest to be as quick as possible in trying to attract those who are likely to like your story, and advise those who aren’t that it’s probably not their thing. The sooner a reader realises they won’t like a story and decides to give it a miss, the less time they’ve wasted and the less likely they are to downvote it. If someone leaves you a comment asking how badly the story treats their favourite character, then be honest with them, and consider how you’d react if your favourite character were receiving that kind of treatment.
Just to linger a moment longer on that thought: It’s OK to hate certain characters. The main drive to write fanfiction comes from how much we love the characters, and it stands to reason that if we’re so keen on some that we want to write about them, then we may well feel pretty strongly the other way about some others. And that’s OK. But I’d recommend against including those characters in your stories, because you’re unlikely to give them a fair chance. And you probably won’t enjoy writing about them, and that’s likely to come across.
Anyway, back to the main topic: there is nothing wrong with someone saying that your story isn’t their cup of tea — and the best you can hope for in that context is that you both go your separate ways with mutual respect. Don’t try to convert them, because imagine how you’d react if someone tried to persuade you that you might enjoy their unusual fetish story despite you saying it’s not something you’re into. It’s all just subjective taste and that’s fine.
If you write the stories you want to write, the way you want to write them, then you can be very happy with them even if they’re terribly received. Make art for yourself, with you being happy with it as the end goal. Anyone else liking it too is just a bonus. That’s the key to it all, in my book.
Another branch of advice would be to divide the craft of writing up into different strands: the writer, the storyteller, the creator and the author. People can be naturally better at some of those areas than others, and can work to improve any or all of them. I’ve listed an example author for each of those areas — that’s not to say they are lacking in others, or even that I’ve read much of their work, just that they were who sprang to mind as having mastery of certain domains.
To be a good writer is, to my mind, largely a technical skill. It can be learned, with study and practice. This is the bit where editors, proofreaders, co-authors and reviewers are probably at their most crucial. It’s not just spelling, punctuation and grammar, it’s sentence structure, paragraph structure, detail and variety of prose, knowing when to show and when to tell, and a huge number of other elements. More than anything, it’s character.
Theigi wrote a blog post in February 2016 which I find terrifying, because of just how out of my league the skill of writing displayed is. We should be inspired by those better than us, not intimidated by them. But also, wow, I’m never going to be that good.
To be a good storyteller I suspect is far harder to learn. It may naturally involve a certain flair for the dramatic, which can probably be trained with some work. Have you ever read a story that’s technically sound, but nonetheless boring? Yet with characters and genres you usually enjoy? That’s where I think the storytelling might be failing. It’s to do with the art of the reveal, I think: how can you have the reader experience the plot unfolding before them in the way that best serves your goal, whether comedy or drama?
Aragon is really good at this. That’s why even his blog posts are so compelling.
To be a good creator sounds like something that can’t be taught, but I’m not convinced that’s true. I doubt many people just naturally have an internal well of great ideas, overflowing with minimal effort and eager to be captured in art. I think ideas arise from looking at something in significant depth. A plot element in the show, for example; then ruminating on why it’s that way, how it got that way, and what knock-on effects that would have. This can be a solo thought process (which is why people often suggest long walks for helping with ideas, because they remove distractions so a single idea can be investigated from enough angles without the brain moving onto others too soon) or a discussion with others. Making friends on the site who are on the same wavelength as you can be so beneficial for this, on top of all the usual friendship magic, as the back and forth of two different perspectives encourages examining things from new angles.
Majin Syeekoh is probably the person to watch for this, as each of his hundred stories is a unique little world spun off from a different idea. Especially stories like Ave Sonata, Time Out Tuesday or Sonata’s Best Night Ever.
All three of these can apply at scene, chapter and story levels. A creative idea can be an exotic description instead of a cliché just as much as it can be a novel story premise, and storytelling can range from a character’s reaction to a line of dialogue up to the narrative structure of the whole work.
But then there’s being a good author, and this is the most important bit of all. Being a good author is all about attitude. To get better in all the above areas, you have to want to improve. And you have to work to get there. And I think, in a way, you have to want to work to get there.
It’s an oversimplification to say we learn from our mistakes (implying that that’s the only time we learn), but not one without merit. And one can make mistakes in something as individual and artistically expressive as writing, if one treats as such anything that gets in the way of the author conveying exactly what they wish to the reader. That could be simple spelling making reading hard, it could be whether or not a character ‘feels’ like how they do in the show, it could be the extent to which a scene’s desired mood or a character’s emotion translates off the page. If we realised we were doing any of these things wrongly, then most of the time we wouldn’t do them. Therefore, chances are that when such mistakes have been made, we’re blind to them. Only someone else can point them out, or teach us to see them for ourselves.
That’s why I spent so long above discussing how to deal with downvotes, because if you can leave their negativity as far behind as possible, you’ll be a lot less defensive about feedback. The more you throw up walls to protect yourself from what others are saying, the less you’ll take on board to learn from. And just about any criticism longer than a few words of insults can be learned from, if that’s your intention. In a way it’s especially important with the insulting comments, because turning something aimed at you as a negative into a positive lesson on how you can become a better writer is the ultimate riposte. They tried to tear you down, and you used their strike to raise yourself higher and become better.
If we are so reliant on others to point out how we could improve, then it’s very much in our interest to make that as easy for them as possible, and to encourage them to be as open and forthright as they can. That means fostering an environment in which people feel welcome to offer honest feedback, whether in your story comments, on your profile, and when interacting with reviewers. That means not responding rudely, dismissively, passive-aggressively, or just deleting things. It’s not that someone giving feedback necessarily knows better than you, it’s that they might have spotted something you didn’t. And even if they didn’t, and their feedback gave no enlightenment whatsoever: the next reader’s potential comment might do, if you haven’t put them off leaving it with your demeanour towards the previous person.
Giving criticism often isn’t that difficult, unless it’s pinning down a very hard-to-define problem or suggesting a solution to a story problem where few seem to be available. But pointing out how authors can improve without hurting their feelings — that can be much tougher. The more Fluttershy-esque someone has to make their feedback, the more watered-down its suggested improvements will probably be, and the less likely authors are to realise how serious the problems are and take the advice on board. The longer it will take to write, too, which makes it less likely people will bother to say anything in the first place.
So if you can avoid making people feel like they can only give you critical feedback if it’s wrapped in cotton wool, you’ll be quicker to get to the bits that matter, and learn the lessons to help you improve as a writer.
None of that, however, should be used as an excuse for those on the other side to be unkind.
All my most valued feedback — both good and bad — has come from those closest to me, and they’re the authors I’ve learned the most from and improved the most as a result of. We’re more likely to believe when friends point out flaws that they have our best interests in mind, and so we give them more leeway in that respect than we would strangers. So the feedback I’ve received from them has been the most valuable because it’s been freest to point out my shortcomings, in order that I may work on them. Yet another score for the magic of friendship. The flipside is that friends are more likely to worry about hurting your feelings, so you have to convince them that it’s OK for them to criticise.
Co-writing projects can be a fantastic way to learn from another author. Because both of your names will be on the finished product, the person you’re working with is less likely to let a mistake or decision they don’t agree with slide, and has more motivation to show you how they’d suggest doing it instead. That’s not to say they’ll be correct, necessarily, but you can both get your reason processes out there, and together decide on which holds the most weight for the situation.
Also, co-writing is tremendous fun! The most enjoyable time I’ve had working on a pony story was the one I co-wrote, with us both coming up with the ideas together, then writing it together and throwing more ideas around, and then editing it together. And the meshing of two different perspectives meant we did things neither of us would have come up with on our own, and let the story unfold in unexpected directions as we went. It meant one person could throw out an idea, and that translation from one imagination to another put fresh twists on it, so the other could run with it, and in turn throw it back to be run with further from another angle.
Because we were talking about the story while writing it, its creation was a very ‘happening’ thing, always exciting and thundering along much faster than a solo story usually would. And because it didn’t really ‘belong’ to either of us, it could be guided very spontaneously, and we could take risks that we might not have dared to with something we’d been keeping to ourselves and growing quietly in our thoughts for months.
Anyway, perhaps one could summarise the importance of criticism with regard to highlighting what we’re doing wrong and where we could improve by pointing out the appropriate dual meaning of the word critical. We talk about critical reviews, but also about critical hits. In that sense, it’s not just redundancy to say critical feedback is critical.
Something I’ve learned recently is that if you’re going to get feedback, it can be better to do so sooner rather than later. If there’s a big problem with your story, the earlier you know about it the less trouble you’ll have fixing it. As nice as it is surprising friends with stories without them knowing any spoilers, the story will probably turn out better if you discuss it with them at various stages throughout its creation. And if you’re cunning about it, you can still hold back a few things to surprise them with when they read it in full.
What inspired “Why Are You Here, Your Majesty?”
Rainbow Dash, in two words. I had these two story ideas: one was a silly comedy about Rainbow and Adagio, the other was a sit-down-and-discuss-headcanon scene about the Shadowbolts. The first had a beginning and an end but no middle, the second was only middle. It took much longer than you might expect for me to think of putting them together.
At that point I was still writing in single-story mindset. I’d come to this site for The Song That Makes You Lose It, my version of what happened to the sirens after Rainbow Rocks, and I while I’d had the odd other idea for a story, I didn’t think I should work on anything else until that first story was done. I had published an 1800-word one-shot as well, but that had been conceived of and written all in one night, so it had hardly been a distraction.
So when I thought of combining the Rainbow and Shadowbolts stories, scenes started playing themselves out in my head, but I put them to one side for another time, after my main story was finished. I couldn’t sleep that night, though, because of all the ideas, so after lying in bed for half an hour I dragged myself up again and hit the sofa with pen and paper, and just started writing. I barely paused until five or six pages were filled. Then I went to bed. It wouldn’t be that much of a distraction from my main story, I thought, because the one-shot had shown that I could get stuff like that done quickly and easily, after which I could return to focus on my big work. And this new story was going to be a similar thing to that one-shot: another 1800-word story I’d finish in a day or two and that would be that.
That didn’t happen. When the next day I typed up what I’d written by hand the night before, I realised it was already two-thirds of my expected word count, and I hadn’t even reached any dialogue yet. But I’d get to that soon, then they’d have their central conversation, and that would be the end of it. Another thousand words ought to cover it. I could have that written in no time.
So I worked on it all day, as I knew I could get it wrapped up quickly. Everything else was fairly quiet at the time, so I was able to focus on it without distractions. And I wrote the next thousand words, and I still wasn’t at the dialogue bit. But one more solid day ought to do it. The next day I tried again, and poured a similar number of new words into it. Better: starting dialogue, making progress. One more day.
That went on for two solid weeks. All day, every day. 1800 words became 18,000. And that was OK — it took a lot more time than I expected, but the results were worth it. To this day I think it’s the best story I’ve finished.
What made it frustrating, though, was spending such a long, intense period writing from the perspective of Equestria Girls Rainbow Dash. For every description, pinpoint terms would spring to mind that perfectly captured the nuance of what I was trying to say. And then had to be rejected out of hand as something I could never imagine Rainbow thinking. I’d need to find a new way of explaining something that sounded like Rainbow, precise enough to convey the desired meaning, without overusing the limited vocabulary available.
In the end I think I did a reasonable job with her, showing her as understandable and likeable despite her flaws, and the story doesn’t feel nearly as locked into its narrow band of expression as it did when I was writing it.
But the experience of writing it did give me this weird tunnel vision sort of effect, of spending every waking moment living in Rainbow’s head and struggling against what I could and couldn’t say as her. Even after it was finished that stayed with me, and I have no desire to write from Rainbow’s POV again. I’d never written for that many hours a day before, and after doing it for two weeks straight the experience had sort of become normalised. It felt weird not sitting down to write all day, and fight against the confines of expression through Rainbow Dash. I’d finished the story, but the habits I’d developed hadn’t yet caught up with that, and it put me in a strange headspace for a while.
So, to try to escape from that, three days after publishing I opened up a new document and started writing about Chrysalis and Celestia.
Talk a little about turning “headcanon” into a workable story.
It starts with why you want to write the story. In this case, it was ‘I want to get as far from EqG Rainbow Dash as possible, but still write something I’d be interested in reading.’ I thought through the types of story I’d been reading recently; I didn’t feel like writing a Derpy or Spitfire romance at that time, but a ChryLestia story might be fun. Princess Celestia sounded nothing like Rainbow, Chrysalis might be similarly fun to write to the sirens, and I could escape the Equestria Girls world entirely for a while by venturing to Equestria itself.
The reason I mention this is to show that turning headcanon into a story was never my intention with this piece. It was with two or three others I’ve written, but not that one. I just wanted the two characters to have a conversation. I loved the image and idea of Chrysalis coming to visit Celestia in her chambers, because, well, why not? It’s not like she had anywhere else to go. No hive, no family, no stable food source, and a whole land full of enemies.
So if they were going to talk, they’d need something to talk about. The first thing was just that exchange:
“Why are you here?”
“Where else would I go?”
Which I then expanded into a snippet of a few lines of dialogue, followed by two more, and then arranged the three segments to fit together, forming almost all the dialogue for the first chapter.
That was fairly quick and straightforward. I then did the same thing for three snippets of dialogue around my pre-existing changeling headcanon, not thinking of it any differently to the previous three snippets. I can’t remember now how many segments like that I came up with before I started assembling them in order, filling in any gaps so the chapter flowed as a smooth conversation, looking like a film script.
I do think this is a big part of the reason the headcanon integrates successfully in the story, and why it’s been as well-received as it has. If I’d set out to write a story about my changeling headcanon, it probably would have been very different in nature. Especially when reversing the outcome of an episode as seen on-screen, there’s a serious risk of your story coming across as a fixfic, even if it’s not intended to be.
The story here is never treated as a framing device for exploring headcanon, and was never considered such when writing it. It was just a topic of conversation that happened to come up, much the same as the events of Cadence’s wedding or Starlight’s rescue of the ponies in the changeling hive.
Having said that, at the same time you have to be aware that it is headcanon, and as such is new to the audience, compared to how actual canon is already familiar. No one wants to read an infodump of exposition, so, going back to what I said in writing advice about storytelling and the art of the reveal, you have to transmit these ideas to the readers in a way that makes them want to know more.
That means offering hooks to draw them in. Stating that things are a certain way, and then explaining why. Hinting some things, and letting them figure out the consequences for themselves. Switching between gradually unfolding realisations and sudden swerves. Even the most dramatic of storytelling devices will quickly become dull if overused, so you have to keep the variety up with how each detail is revealed.
This would be just as true for creating a premise-twisting situation in any story. What makes it particularly interesting for headcanons, though, is that you also have to sell the idea. This means balancing between making your revelations engrossing, and making them convincing. If you seek to shock with a statement and then backtrack and explain it, for example, bear in mind that the initial shock may have put readers off the idea, making them all the harder to persuade of its believability.
There’s another part to all this as well, which seems almost too obvious to mention:
You’ve got to have good headcanon.
Just as you’ve got to have built a good world, if worldbuilding is going to be a sizeable element in your story, so you’ve got to have headcanon of that calibre in this context. That’s a subjective assessment, yes, but it can be measured with some more concrete standards.
Are those overlapping terms, worldbuilding and headcanon? Both can refer to the parts of a story where the author has filled in the blanks from the show, extrapolating from what’s seen with additions from their own imagination. Headcanon is a slightly broader term, I think, as it also covers character, although worldbuilding can also apply to an author’s work of original fiction in a way that headcanon doesn’t really. In my view, the difference between the two when used in fanfiction is that worldbuilding expands the canon, where headcanon explains it.
So the hive scene in Pen Stroke’s The Enemy Of My Enemy (highly recommended, if you haven’t read it) I would say is worldbuilding, especially coming out in 2015 and so only having A Canterlot Wedding to go on. Whereas the ideas on changeling biology in my story I think are headcanon, because they exist to explain certain inconsistencies within the canon.
And this is the first and most important concrete standard for good headcanon, in my opinion: it must be necessary. I think it’s important to bear in mind that worldbuilding and headcanon, as defined above, have different appeals. You read Pen Stroke’s hive section and react with wonder at the world he’s created (and devastation at the scene taking place there), which is different to the ‘aha, that explains it,’ reaction you might get from mine.
There were two big plot problems for me with the ending of To Where And Back Again: how could changelings sustain each other by sharing love amongst themselves in a closed energy loop, and, if that worked, how come none of them had thought of it before?
I have no recollection of when I came up with the headcanon solutions to those problems. It was certainly long before the story, and I don’t remember discussing it anywhere with anyone. I want to say it was only a few minutes after the episode aired, in an effort to make it make sense to me. I really don’t like just ignoring something the show has declared canon, or stating that it didn’t happen, so if I can find a way to plug up the holes in the facts presented, that’s something I would naturally do.
So, for example, that flashback scene in Parental Glideance causes some huge problems. Young Rainbow is winning against Spitfire, Soarin and Fleetfoot when she’s ‘the youngest pony in the senior competitive circuit.’ Yet by season one of the show, those three are all Wonderbolts — and in Spitfire’s case, the captain. Just how lazy must Rainbow have been if she wanted to be a Wonderbolt the whole time, flew better than the others, but didn’t actually make it to the squad until season six? I simply can’t square that away. The only explanation I’ve got is that Rainbow competed against different ponies, but gave them the faces of familiar archetypes as a shorthand narration method for Scootaloo, rather than bothering to introduce characters we’d never see again. This has the added benefit of sparing Derpy from her cruel fate of slipping down the flight rankings as her eyesight deteriorated.
And with the changelings, there was simply no way I could envisage them surviving the closed loop problem; that’s simple physics. Since they feed on love, that love is required as a form of energy. Energy used up cannot be passed on, and if a system is using energy without taking it in, that energy will be gone pretty soon. Even a human centipede requires an IV drip for the nourishment of all but the front segment. But I remembered the enormous Atlas moth (9.8” wingspan!), whose beautiful adult form has no mouth parts, and as a result only lives for a few days. The comparison between the black, bug-like original changeling design and the iridescent new ones brought butterflies immediately to mind, so I wondered if the idea of the adults having a much lower limit on their lifespans might fit too.
And that neatly also answered why Thorax appeared to be the first changeling in their history to try sharing love — others had tried it before, ascended to adult form, and died soon afterward (I decided ten years, on a whim, as that doomed them in Chryalis’ eyes, but was still long enough for Celestia’s offer to be worth a great deal). The only way the changeling race could still be around, therefore, was if Chrysalis then started afresh each time. It meant she knew what would happen if they tried sharing love, which I thought only right, as the changeling queen, but also gave her an altruistic reason for withholding the information from them.
I caught myself just before falling into the trap, though, of making Chrysalis too nice. I wanted her to have her species’ best interests at heart, a tyrant who deserves the loyalty she demands. And I gave her publicly punishing Thorax a reasonable, sort-of-justified explanation (his intentions were good but short-sighted, so it perhaps wasn’t deserved, but it was necessary — dirty hooves, again). But to suggest she was actually some noble, misunderstood logic machine felt rather contrary to her character, and the reason she’s enjoyable in the first place. Equestria is full of nice ponies. We don’t need any more.
This led to the question of why she might be so cruel, if she does care for her changelings, and that took me back to a discussion I had on why I was glad she escaped the episode without redemption, in which I pointed out that her villainous nature is part of who she is, and necessary for her survival as a predator.
Those are most of the major headcanon moments in the story, I think, and hopefully the above illustrates that none were made up just for the fun of it, or to add detail to the story’s worldbuilding. They existed for me already to explain some of the plot holes in canon, and that is why readers were so accepting of them, in my opinion.
OK, so, ideally for headcanon to work best in a story I think it should be necessary to explain something in the show, and true to the tone of the characters (or twisting it in a way that doesn’t detract from why we like them to begin with).
The best way I’ve found to develop such headcanon is simply to think about it. Discuss it with friends. Turn it over in your head from every angle until you find the most likely answers, which should feel like they were there all along, and you just needed to focus on the problem until you realised. After publishing this story, someone messaged me with their thoughts on related headcanons. I raised some objections, asking how such things would work, and it was suggested that I might be over-thinking it. Well, over-thinking things is what led to the ideas in this story. Whether or not that counts as taking something too seriously comes down to how enjoyable the end result is, I think.
Was it your intention from the beginning to make this story as much about Celestia as it is about Chrysalis?
Eenope. That was one of many happy decisions I almost didn’t make.
I wanted to write a Chrylestia story. Whether that meant shipping, friendshipping, a slight cooling of hostile relations, etc. I naturally lean towards the villains, and Chrysalis is definitely higher on my list of favourite characters than Celestia, so she was the most likely candidate to steal the show, but they were both still important. My immediate image was of Chrysalis turning up unannounced in Celestia’s chambers, so I ran with it.
But a lot of the intrigue of that story would come from not knowing why exactly Chrysalis was there — perhaps she’s after revenge, perhaps negotiating, perhaps trying to seduce Celestia, perhaps just lonely. And that wouldn’t work if the story was from Chrysalis’ perspective, as her thoughts would immediately give her intentions away (a pet hate of mine is POV characters having to think vague thoughts about things that they know but are being kept back from the reader before their revelation as a twist).
With Chrysalis in A Canterlot Wedding and especially with Adagio in Rainbow Rocks, some of the allure comes from the viewer not knowing exactly how many steps ahead the villain is. If we see from their thoughts that they’re way ahead, then they don’t face enough of a threat. But if we see that they’re not too far ahead, then they seem less competent. Whereas if we don’t know, they’re dangerous.
So the story couldn’t be Chrysalis POV. But I didn’t want to write from Celestia’s perspective, because she’s an ancient alicorn who controls the sun and has ruled for at least a millennium, and still maintains a demeanour balancing stateliness and fun despite a thousand years of mourning her sister. And I certainly couldn’t write that.
Advanced Lessons tells a Chrylestia story from Twilight’s point of view, where Twilight goes uninvited into Celestia’s chambers and finds Chrysalis asleep in there. My first idea was to do something similar: tell the story through Twilight’s eyes, with her hiding under the bed. It would open with her teleporting in there in a panic, frantically looking around for the scroll she just had Spike send to the princess, then diving under the bed upon hearing Celestia approaching. Twilight would then overhear Luna arriving a few minutes later, revealed soon afterwards to in fact be Chrysalis, and the conversation would continue from there.
The story would end with Chrysalis pointing out to Celestia that she can sense emotions, and has known about the purple pony under the bed the whole time. A red-faced Twilight reluctantly emerges, eventually admitting that she wanted to retrieve and destroy a scroll she sent before Celestia had a chance to read it. Why? She realised too late she’d used the wrong spelling of ‘your.’ Chrysalis has the final line, saying, “Wow, and you thought I was reprehensible?”
I am so glad I didn’t go through with this idea.
Partly I decided against it because Twilight would be able to hear them, but not see, so every description would be just on how their voices sounded, which would be much more tell than show, and get old quickly. Also because it would be involving a third character in something nothing to do with her, for the purposes just of observing. That felt like a distraction, and that her thoughts would be a pointless waste of story space.
After that idea was discarded, I decided to write the story from a third-person objective viewpoint, much as the show does. So dialogue would be shown, and actions and setting described neutrally, but no thoughts would be heard in direct internal monologue form or characterised prose.
This quickly proved very difficult, when by the second paragraph I couldn’t work out if I was describing something subjectively or not, and if so then who’s perspective it was from.
Everything else I’ve ever written has been third-person limited, and my thought was of how much simpler it would be to just write the story from Celestia’s POV, so that’s what I bit the bullet and did.
Again, I am so glad. Princess Celestia has presumably had a lot of diplomatic training and experience, and so ought to be good at restraining herself from giving away her reactions, if she wishes to. A lot of Celestia’s reactions, therefore, are her thinking about how she’d like to express her emotions through a particular behaviour, and then fighting down the urge to do so. This would have made describing her from the objective perspective a complete pain.
Also, for all my worries about not doing justice to her portrayal as an immortal with facets beyond our comprehension, it turned out that Celestia is a joy to write. She can’t use modern colloquialisms, so in that respect Adagio is even more fun (as she can say anything), but other than that you can use whatever flowery language you want, intricate descriptions, in-depth thoughts and analyses of subjects discussed, the whole lot.
And Princess Celestia is naturally very empathetic. That makes her great for reacting to stories other characters are telling. I realised as I wound my way towards the end of my first chapter that part of what makes her so special is that she doesn’t just pay lip service to the idea of putting herself in another’s (horse)shoes, imagining herself in their situation but with her usual mindset. Instead she goes out of her way to consider how Chrysalis must be feeling, and tries to remember how it felt when she went through the same emotions, rather than situations.
Perhaps another factor is that many people write the sirens as being immortal, with varying degrees of success, but as my take on them is that they’re about the same age as the Rainbooms and were thrown forwards in time by Star Swirl’s spell, I can’t really write my own response to that approach. So finally in Celestia I had a character to explore immortality with, hopefully without the usual angst, just seeing how that altered a character’s perspective and attitudes. One of the most important lines in the story for me is in the third chapter: ‘To an immortal, any day worth remembering would ultimately end up being thought of fondly.’ She’s already past that point with Cadence’s wedding, and Cadence herself is well on her way, too. One day, in several thousand years, Celestia may even think that way of the day she banished Luna.
So Celestia was always important to the story, but that it could be described as saying as much about her as it does about Chrysalis was unexpected. She could have been just an audience-surrogate, someone a character exposits to. I think she became a lot more than that, though, and that’s just a sign of how wonderful a pony she is to work with. And the story is significantly stronger for her having that much presence in it.
Do you suppose Celestia’s plan works?
I prefer leaving it up to the reader to decide, and don’t think the story really gains anything from me saying either way. The building blocks are there for all levels of happiness in an outcome, from Chrysalis and Celestia getting married and ruling the Pony-Changeling Conglomerate together for the rest of time, to Chrysalis betraying Celestia decades down the line after no solution is found, murdering her in her sleep and then fleeing to rebuild her hive but hating herself for the rest of her life, while Equestria crumbles as Luna tries to handle ruling on her own. It might be that Chrysalis, finally having something resembling an equal for company for the first time, decides she doesn’t need children to feel complete, and she and Celestia spend the rest of their lives together. Or maybe Chrysalis was lying about everything, manipulating Celestia the whole time, and using her newfound inside status to her tactical advantage, bringing down Equestria in a decisive changeling victory. There’s quite a range of options there, depending on the epilogue you’d like the story to have.
That said … I do have a solution, I think, of how it could work. At the last minute I thought of Celestia and Chrysalis hugging, and that seemed a good place to end the story. Until that point, I wasn’t sure how long it would go on for, and was just looking for something that would wrap it up. As such I did come up with an idea that might well hold water. I even considered adding it as an epilogue chapter, 70 years later, but decided it would be too disconnected from the rest of the story.
If Chrysalis and Celestia were to find an answer, this is the one I think would work best:
There is no natural solution to the problem. Ponies will never need anything that can only come from changelings as much as changelings need love that can only come from ponies (or other races, but for talking about coexistence between their societies, let’s focus on just ponies for now). But it would be possible to implement an artificial solution, manufactured at a legal and societal level.
If changelings are reliant on ponies for food, and that can’t be undone, then the alternative solution is to make ponies reliant on changelings for food, so they’re on equal footing. This means turning over all pony farms to changeling hands, so changelings control the whole supply chain. This could be done over decades, so nopony loses out through nationalisation or anything, with plenty of time to train the changelings as farmers.
That way, if ponies try withholding love, changelings can withhold food, and vice versa. Ponies could rebel and grow their own food, but that takes time, effort, skill and money, so authorities could swoop in to intervene before any crops have a chance to grow.
It all really comes down to whether ponies in MLP can eat grass. We never see them do so, so I’d guess not, in which case the plan ought to work. But if they can find food anywhere by eating grass, it won’t.
That’s not to say that Chrysalis and Celestia will stumble on that solution. But I’ve thought of one, and they might think of it too, if that’s the outcome you’d like.
Although, having said that the authorities could police ponies trying to farm their own food, this plan runs into trouble if the authorities themselves are opposed to changelings, and trying to bring about pony food independence. Unlikely while Celestia’s in charge, but anything could happen down the line, and my thought when writing the argument about changeling reluctance to become pony pets was that Sombra is the character we’ve seen most keen on slavery, and he was a pony.
It’s not a perfect solution, therefore, and would need more work, but it would be a good idea to further develop until watertight.
Quite a few people in the story’s comments section asked about creating a sequel, and this was the only content idea I really had for it, along with possibly bringing back the Twilight under the bed thing, this time hearing Celestia and Chrysalis making more than friendly overtures to each other. Mentioning that here makes a sequel even less likely, but I’m glad it inspired so many to wonder what happens next. I think those stories are something for your own imaginations to thrive on, and one of the reasons I’d be reluctant to write any more is that the ideas one person had might be expanded, but another’s might be overwritten when the new story’s canon rules them out. I really do prefer it when the readers can decide the outcome for themselves.
There are a couple of other reasons, too. This story did way, way better than anything else I’ve written, and unless a sequel managed the same, I think it would feel to everyone like a step down. And since I think I went through all of my changeling headcanon in this story, I don’t have much else to fill a second, or to drive it to similar heights, so I think it being an inferior continuation of the first is all the more likely.
The main argument, though, comes from something I heard a few months ago which was attributed to Yahtzee. I don’t know if he actually said it; I used to love Zero Punctuation but haven’t watched it for a few years and can’t remember many specific phrases he used aside from those about God Of War. I understand he was talking about video game characters being given elaborate backstories, especially when compared to the mundane plot of the game the player found them in, and it was distilled into this:
Is this story the most interesting thing that’s ever happened to your character? And if not, why aren’t you telling that story instead?
This links back to the writing advice section, because that’s definitely something I think authors should bear in mind. I think for within stories themselves, it could be rephrased as asking what the most interesting moment or crucial decision is in the story. So, here, Chrysalis coming to see Celestia at all is the decision that sets everything in motion. But it’s her decision to give Celestia’s suggestion a chance that changes the world for decades to come. Everything that would follow would be as a result of that decision.
Having identified that, we can then structure the story so that that’s the climax. This probably applies more to drama stories than it does action ones, where a battle might be the climax, but if character decisions are driving the plot, then the most crucial one should be the peak of the story. It doesn’t need to cut off as sharply afterwards as mine does, but bear in mind that everything following that decision will be more predictable than the decision itself, so the things you show afterwards will be draining away the story’s dramatic tension.
I think not knowing when to finish generally, and drawing out a story (or franchise) for too long is a problem across multiple types of media, but I find it especially prevalent in fanfiction. It may be because feedback is so immediate, or perhaps because the format by definition is a spin-off from an existing story to begin with, or because the characters are more the focus (or at least the motivation to write) than the plot.
In any case, I have seen so many stories that start with a single, brilliant idea, and then have a story built around it, which does well, after which more connected stories are written. They add to the world, but ultimately drag it down; I think it would be stronger to have just the core piece, and leave the rest implied. This happens within stories, too, where a one-shot receives acclaim and so is turned into a larger story, with many more chapters added to show what happens next. Very often those extended stories aren’t as good overall as the original chapter was.
It can be done well — Sucker for a Cute Face is a good example, where a one-shot turned into a quarter-million-word epic romance and was better for it. I think it did this by having enough content being added as the story grew of the kind that made it enjoyable to begin with. The Platonic Pony Petting Cafe is another. And one reader in particular, LordBucket, left a comment on my story with a detailed synopsis for a 20-30 chapter sequel, for which just the summary alone made a fantastic story.
Still, though, I came back to the idea of knowing when a story had had its time, and when it had passed its most interesting moment. No decision Chrysalis makes for the rest of her life will be as important as the one to accept Celestia’s offer. No decision Celestia makes will be as important as the one to make that offer. The hardest part out of the way, dramatically it’s all downhill from there.
Anytime someone mentions writing sequels, spinoffs or continuations of their own works, I get a sinking feeling, even if they’re works I really like. Does their inclusion truly benefit the original story? Is the overall story still as good per-word, or are you diluting its quality by stretching it? The Wheel Of Time wraps up with only ten pages of epilogue, after 10,000 pages of story. A series with up to a hundred pages of prologue per book, and yet the epilogue is literally only one-thousandth of the total story. Because what comes next is less interesting than what came before. Harry Potter isn’t far behind — where Voldemort goes down nine pages from the end, after a total of 3,400. I think it’s much better to aim for that than The Lord Of The Rings (either book or film), which has endings that go on for days.
So a sequel to this story is highly unlikely, unless I’m struck by an idea for one that I just can’t get out of my head. I have had a couple of ideas for crossover stories that would feature Chrysalis and Celestia — I was thinking they’d both be in the stories anyway, so the option would be there to make them the same Chrysalis and Celestia as from this story, and have the new one be set in its future.
But that’s still not likely to happen. Firstly, because of the whole thing about readers choosing whatever ending appeals most to them personally, rather than me later confirming one to be correct, and secondly because I’m not sure about the crossover ideas in the first place. Would anyone actually be interested in a Friendship Is Magic/RuPaul’s Drag Race crossover? I’m guessing not, but let me know if so, because I doubt I’ll bother writing it unless there are way more people out there interested in reading it than I expect. I’m all for writing for just yourself, but when it’s something that literally no one else is going to want to read, it’s probably best to enjoy that one within the confines of my head and spend my time writing other stories instead.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Mine isn’t the only name on the story’s cover. I mentioned above the happy decisions I almost didn’t make, and it was NaiadSagaIotaOar’s editing that stopped this story from being a letdown. The first two chapters were mostly untouched, just the odd punctuation query or sentence amended for clarity. But the third chapter had a thousand words cut out of it (reducing its length by a quarter), and it was only Naiad’s stark warning of just how slow the pacing became at that point that made me realise how badly it needed trimming down. If the story had reached its third chapter at full steam and then been a slog to finish, I can’t imagine it doing nearly as well as it did.
So after Naiad had pointed out some bits of the third chapter that could be cut or condensed without damaging the story, I went through it in minute detail, determined to cut a thousand words. Some paragraphs, like Celestia musing on how immortals are affected by evolution, could go entirely. Others, like thinking how Cadence was fairly OK with the wedding now, could be rephrased to be a lot more concise. I don’t miss those bits now, though at the time I thought I would. I had forgotten them entirely until I tried to remember them for writing this interview.
After reaching that cut word count quota, we looked at half a dozen different ideas for story descriptions, and decided on one which was short and intriguing, but still said enough to let readers know what to expect. Naiad’s final suggestion was to split the story up from its single, large chapter. The chapter 1 and 2 split point was always there as a scene break, and seemed the obvious time for a chapter break, but it was only at the last minute I divided the second part into two, chopping the scene down the middle when the mood and direction changed. Doing so gave chapters of more equal length and served to further avert the ending dragging. Again, the story wouldn’t have been as good if not for that.
Thank you, Naiad.
And thank you to everyone who read, liked, commented, favourited, followed, recommended, reviewed, nominated and accepted. Even when abandoned by her own hive, Chryssi can rejoice in the love coming from you.
I’ve hung out and published stories on a few different sites while writing, and none of the others have been even 10% of the environment Fimfiction is. People leave encouraging comments elsewhere, but I don’t remember ever encountering comments, blogs or reviews to help get better as a writer before. In fact I don’t think I’d even thought about self-improvement in that respect; I remained at about the same level throughout my time elsewhere. I have got so much better as an author in the year I’ve been on this site than I did in all the rest of the time I’ve been writing. I’ve even recommended this site for people who’ve never watched the show, but are interested in learning to write. This is the best place for nurturing that talent, both encouraging it and teaching it how to grow. And for making people want to write, too — how many came here to read, and sooner or later tried their hand at writing?
I came here expecting to find some authors I’d grow to admire, the odd casual commenter on my story, maybe even someone who followed and commented on it chapter by chapter, as one person did on another site once before.
I didn’t expect my first-ever story comment to come from the author I admired most. I didn’t expect the feedback of how I could improve, or expect to be inspired to offer the same for others. Above all else, I didn’t expect to make friends. I never realised reading and writing could be so social. It’s like a shared vision of characters and events, rather than lone individuals throwing out stories and separate, disconnected readers reading them. Like Sunset, I didn’t know there was another way.
Knighty has created the most wonderful place here, and the community is nothing short of exceptional.
You can read Why Are You Here, Your Majesty? at FIMFiction.net. Read more interviews right here at the Royal Canterlot Library, or suggest stories for us to feature at our Fimfiction group.