Watch some delicate emotions fold together in today’s story.
[Sad] [Slice of Life] • 3,756 words
Discord hasn’t been feeling himself lately. Rarity thinks that it might be a good idea to get his mind off of things by having him assist her with upcoming work for the Summer Sun Celebration. Being the good sport that he is, Big Mac helps Discord out.
As it turns out, the project is surprisingly fun. It’s also more than a little painful.
FROM THE CURATORS: By definition, it can be difficult to tell when a story does subtle things well — which is why it’s such a delight to find a deeper payoff in an already rewarding tale. “This is a quiet, sublime, almost surreal story about Discord folding paper butterflies with Big Macintosh,” Present Perfect said in his nomination. “The sense of wonder as he and Big Mac race to capture various ponies in origami form is palpable. Then the story puts the brakes on … it all comes down to the juxtaposition with the final scene.” Paper Butterflies’ speedy path to approval saw plenty of similar praise: “The big thing right is the way it sneakily layers the tragedy onto a strong and gentle slice-of-life-ey story and then brings it all tumbling down at the end,” Horizon said.
Along the way, we found the story guided by a sure yet subtle hand. “This story is a marvelous example of one of the things I mean when I say ‘show, don’t tell,'” AugieDog said. “From the beginning right through to the ending, we’re shown everything we need to know about the situation, but we’re never told what that situation is.” Horizon agreed: “I love how this wrings a ton of emotion out of implication, like Discord’s comment to Big Mac about objectively wrong statements. Also, Rarity’s and Mac’s characterization were on point, and the dialogue here is fantastic.” For his part, Soge appreciated the way the main character filled the piece: “It oozes Discord’s characterization on every word, from how it ignores the things it really wants to talk about, to the pacing, to how it flits from theme to theme obeying a logic that is all is own,” he said. “And the pacing acts like a living thing, reacting to the mental state of the characters.”
Our range of different reading experiences showed that, both with and without the piece’s core subtlety, it paid off. “I twigged to what was going on pretty early, but that didn’t spoil the emotional impact for me in the slightest,” AugieDog said, while Soge got hit with a one-two punch: “It took me until I went back to read the description and tags to actually get it, and the way that re-contextualized everything was just magnificent,” he said. “Even without this added detail it would be something I’d love to feature, but that turns the whole thing into something truly special.” And for Present Perfect, not even a warning blunted the impact: “I reached the end and remembered the author predicted it was going to make me cry. Damned if he wasn’t right.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Petrichord discusses mud sticks, distaff bits, and corgi staring.
Give us the standard biography.
At the ripe old age of 25, I devote most of my functional life to listening to Katy Perry and her ilk, staring at pictures of corgis, and occasionally vomiting words onto Google Docs and wiping up the mess until it looks presentable.
I don’t have memories that go back any earlier than when I was three years old, and I regret every single year I’ve lived since then, up to and including now. Except 2011-2012; those were a good couple of years.
Get me sugared up enough, though, and I’ll be happy to tell you all sorts of anecdotes, like the first time I went with some friends to Hot Topic and didn’t understand that I was supposed to treat the experience ironically. I don’t regret the $80 I spent on shirts and other paraphernalia, though — lord only knows I got a lot of use out of them, and I’m pretty sure my friends got more of a laugh out of my excitement than they would have otherwise.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Fact #1: I’m a huge fan of “big words,” to phrase a newspaper editorialist and friend of the family. The more erudite, the better.
Fact #2: I enjoy portmanteaus, and particularly enjoy mashing two dissimilar words together, regardless of (or maybe especially when?) they sound completely silly together.
Fact #3: I’m absolutely enthralled by symbolism or symbolic elements, up to and including concepts commonly associated with symbolism (such as rainstorms or leitmotifs, to give a couple examples).
Needless to say, when I heard the word “petrichor” used during a NPR quiz show, I was instantly and utterly enamored with it — particularly given how much I love the smell of petrichor itself. Developing the portmanteau out of a couple of elements that lent themselves well to symbolism — rain and music — felt like a matter of course.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Am I allowed to say Discord on this one?
Far and away, I consider him the most interesting character in the show. Even when he’s not playing the role of the villain, or even the antagonist, he’s still got some pretty significant flaws that permeate virtually everything he does in every single episode he’s in, and I consider it a remarkable achievement that (given how many different writers the show has) a quasi-minor character has such a consistently complex characterization.
Particularly in the later seasons, I can’t help but think of him when I think of the kind of protagonists I’d like to see more in other media: ones whose intentions aren’t always aided by their personalities, but who don’t let their flaws prevent them from trying to do the right thing. Admittedly, Discord isn’t exactly that, but he still pops into my thoughts whenever I think about the sort of characters I’d like to see more of.
What’s your favorite episode?
I’m gonna regret giving this answer as soon as the interview gets posted, as there are several episodes I consider truly great, but as of right now I’m gonna say that “A Royal Problem” is the show’s masterstroke. Beyond giving two characters without much screen time a day in the limelight, it also expanded on their jobs and personalities, gave them strengths and flaws, and created a truly memorable villain. None of the three main characters felt trivialized or out of place in the episode, and all of them felt more substantial and compelling after it — either justifying or cementing their relevance in the show, depending on your point of view. Twilight’s smothering also gave me a chuckle or three — I’ve certainly met people like that in my life, and it came across here as more endearing than anything else.
What do you get from the show?
I’m not a religious person, but there’s a Bible quote I’m still rather fond of: Matthew 11:28.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
That’s the main “vibe” I get from the show: no matter how bad things have become or how awful you feel, there will always be someone there who cares for you and wants you to be happy, even (especially?) if you feel like you don’t deserve it. The show’s constant emphasis on forgiveness and redemption has struck a pretty strong chord with someone who feels fundamentally beneath contempt and beyond saving more than half the time, and I can’t help but feel like I’d be in a much more miserable place without it.
What do you want from life?
Despite my previous comment about self-worth, I’d honestly prefer to remain alive than face oblivion, so “not die” is a pretty core directive: “cross your fingers and hope for the singularity” is a mantra I’ve jokingly mentioned to a few other people, but it’s more than a little true. Other than that, I thrive on the admiration of others, and I’d like to leave the sort of legacy that makes people happy after I’m gone, and writing stories worth reading seems like a somewhat tangible way of accomplishing both of those things.
Why do you write?
Besides the aforementioned legacy, catharsis is a pretty driving factor. Good or bad, I spend most days on a pretty heady emotional cocktail, and I need an outlet for processing that. Not “ignoring it” or “mitigating it,” mind; just channeling the positive or negative impulses into something that can be felt (and hopefully appreciated) by other people.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Jot down the exact moments in a work that spoke to you: the one or two lines in a story, the best five seconds of a movie, the chorus in a song or what have you — but in any case, the moment when your emotions got kicked in the nuts. Break down what specific way it made you feel, why it made you feel that way and what elements contributed to that feeling — then try to replicate those emotions in a different story, your own story, one that lets you hone in on that feeling or use it as a thematic core. “Speaking from the heart” isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone, but most people have read, seen or done things that have made them feel very strong emotions, and if “speaking from the heart” proves difficult, than “speaking from the impulse” might be a bit easier.
Also, find an editor. A good one, not just someone who’ll glance it over for spelling and grammar mistakes. Get someone who’ll point out the mistakes you’ve made in the story’s structure and delivery, and listen to the mistakes, and fix them. If you can get multiple people to help point out the story’s issues, that’s even better. And try to internalize that when most people say they don’t like something about your story, it’s because they are invested in the story and want it to be even better, not because they dislike you. It can be hard to do that last bit, but it really helps.
What inspired “Paper Butterflies”?
I’ve been around people who have lost others close to them or who have worried strongly about losing people close to them. I worry a lot about losing people who are close to me, and I’ve had to deal with the untimely deaths of plenty of my friends, including one person whose absence I’ve been trying to come to terms with for years. Suffice to say that the story was pretty painful to write, but it also felt “necessary” to write it — or at least, it felt necessary to mention that it’s not easy for some people to talk frankly about loss, much less come to terms with it. Despite well-intentioned attempts to catalogue it, there really isn’t a strict Kübler-Ross-esque model for dealing with grief; and while time and companionship can help, they aren’t magical “fix everything” buttons — just like everything else out there.
How did you approach the challenge of writing a story without ever directly stating what the story is about?
Oh, this one’s easy: directly stating it was never an option.
I mean, it was option in the technical sense, but it wasn’t an option that I could realistically take. The heavier the emotion written about, the more care that needs to be taken in order to keep the story from feeling ham-fisted or patronizing about it. I don’t trust myself enough to directly say things like “and then they fight, and then he kicks her into the sun, and then he realizes what he does, and then he’s real sad, and he’s on a bed, etc.” without having it come across as parodical comedy at best, and in any case it’d be a disservice to the subject matter and people who’ve dealt with it. Ultimately, the only thing I could do was try to be tactful about the subject matter and “write about it” rather than “discuss it,” per se. I’m not going to tell people how to feel, but if nothing else I can hopefully write something people can relate to.
Why did you select these four specific characters — Discord, Rarity, Big Macintosh, and Fluttershy — to address this topic?
The irreverent answer is that I’m a heavy Fluttercord shipper and I needed a couple of other warm bodies or something, idk.
The less snarky answer is that I felt like if any character wouldn’t have any idea how to deal with grief, it would be Discord. Most of the main cast are in touch with their emotions and can figure out how to process them, if not move on from them, within 20 minutes or less; the closest we got to internal turmoil was Fluttershy, who had to try over and over again to work up the self-confidence needed to stand up for herself in a confrontation, but “Fame and Misfortune” showed us that she’s got a steadier head on her shoulders and can recognize and manage her lack of nerve.
Discord doesn’t have that luxury. Discord spent over a thousand years inside a giant rock, and a fair chunk of change before that with all the power he wanted and nothing to care about. The show’s aptly demonstrated that learning to care about things is hard, but rewarding — and ergo, being a very powerful being who can’t keep the one thing he cares about more than anything else would likely be particularly devastating. And given that he doesn’t really have a safety net outside of that — given that most of his “friends” were largely just friends of Fluttershy’s friends — he wouldn’t really have anyone obvious to help him come to terms with what happened. I needed Discord to help tell a story about struggling to move on from tragedy, because I don’t think any other character would suffer as much as he would from that sort of loss, and thus would have as much of a struggle to overcome as he would.
By contrast, Fluttershy, Rarity and Big Mac are all very much in touch with their emotions during the show. Fluttershy’s anxious around others, but is aware of it and routinely works to overcome it. Rarity’s more than a little aware of her melodramatic tendencies, and also shows that she’s willing to do things like “close down the boutique I’ve worked tirelessly to obtain” if it means she gets control of her life again. The times when Big Mac hasn’t been rocksteady are the times when he’s been trying to make others happier, and he ultimately does things on his own terms.
Discord repeatedly picks on some of his friends to get others to like him, lets his pride get in the way of having a fun time, and is willing to change how he acts, looks and lives in order to impress someone he cares about. And, ultimately, it’s all an insecure pose; he mixes up laughter for affection, acts like a stick-in-the-mud about D&D to save face, and desperately tries to be the sort of guy that he thinks Fluttershy wants him to be.
I can’t help but be morbidly fascinated by the thought of someone so insecure having something priceless taken away from them. I think it’d be kind of relatable, actually.
Did you deliberately keep the story so “low key” in order to match the show’s own “kid friendly” tone?
I know my more recent work might suggest otherwise, but one of the things I’m trying to do in the stories I’m working more seriously on is getting rid of unnecessary explicit elements. As it turns out, a lot of my stories start with a fair amount of those — given that I get inspired by utterly distaff bits of pop culture and gaming communities before I start throwing down outlines and notes, it would probably surprise me more if there wasn’t a fair amount of gratuitous violent and/or sexual content in my rough drafts. Still, once I start editing out the obvious stuff, it becomes easier to spot the other extraneous bits in a story, and it usually doesn’t take me long until i discover the story I want to tell — even if it looks completely different from what the story originally was. Once I get to that core, it becomes easy for me to build it back out again — and it turns out that a lot of the stories I’m interested in telling don’t really need much (or any) sex or violence. They’d be irrelevant at best and at loggerheads at worst with the sort of things I want to write about: parental concern; unpracticed generosity towards others; critical self-examination; or, in this case, loss and grief.
In retrospect, I guess that means I’m trying to keep my stories lower-key in general. And I think trying to talk about grief with tons of f-bombs dropped and guts flying everywhere would be sort of like trying to make a nightcore remix of Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’ve constantly readjusted my goals since I joined FIMFic, setting the bar incrementally up from “have a story get accepted by the site” to “earn over 100 views on a story” and so on, all the way up to where it’s been for the longest time: “Get a story in the RCL.” Suffice to say that I wasn’t expecting this, and you’ll have to take my word for it that after I got the letter I spent a solid minute screaming ecstatically and the following two minutes doing a literal happy dance.
Of course, now I need to readjust the bar yet again. Whoops.