Today’s story turns out right.
Three Left Turns
[Dark] • 2,478 words
Equestria’s last night is nigh. Next evening it will be ash. Twilight slips off with but the past to bargain with. Can she buy a future?
FROM THE CURATORS: Our search for literary merit in fanfiction sometimes leads us to stories with unique styles — and this certainly delivers on that score. “Here’s something I’d describe as literary impressionism,” Chris said in his nomination. “It’s a story that focuses more on communicating mood and emotional sense than on offering up a concrete picture of ‘what actually happened,’ told in an unusual format which highlights the narrative’s ambiguities.” Virtually our entire discussion was about unpacking that unique style. “Nothing is ever stated plainly, but there are plenty of hints as to what’s going on,” Present Perfect noted, while AugieDog summed up our overall impression: “In the end, it’s the gorgeous imagery that carries the day.”
Just as impressionism can lead to beautiful paintings, we found that Three Left Turns used the strengths of its format to its benefit. “The ambiguities let SirTruffles paint a picture for the reader without getting bogged down in details which might detract from the moods and moments he’s trying to highlight,” Chris said. Present Perfect found the story accomplishing a rare goal: “It’s hard to wring true fantasy out of a setting that’s already fantastic, but this does it well by avoiding standard Equestrian staples in favor of the purely abstract.” And Horizon appreciated its thematic cohesion: “Everything works in concert with that theme of sacrifice. Even the absence of traditional dialogue just seems like it reinforces the idea of something once given up.”
It was those strengths which led Three Left Turns to a feature despite some curator dissent. “The style and atmosphere is really well executed, but I feel that I’m missing something,” Soge said, while AugieDog found it a fascinating read regardless: “To journey every once in a while into some dimly-lit and incense-laden atmosphere where question aren’t asked let alone answered, that can be fun, too,” he said. “Whatever doom there is here, it’s a very quiet and gentle doom. And really, isn’t that all we can ask for from our dooms?”
Read on for our author interview, in which SirTruffles discusses dangerous speeds, zig-zag lines, and willy-nilly portmanteaus.
Give us the standard biography.
I have been a denizen of Ponyland since the middle of Season 1 — so far back that we were still enjoying our horsewords on Google Docs links through EqD, and FimFic was still a ways off. My favorite thing about the fandom was coming off a new episode and catching the EqD drawfriend. I suppose it has gotten mundane anymore, but there was something about the vivid art and the wide-open crazy worldbuilding while everything was fresh and new that made everything come to life.
These days I find myself busy enough with life that I have settled for popping into the FimFic forums and blogosphere every so often to make sure the rocking chair on the porch is still in good repair. I would tell the kids to get off the lawn, but if I am being honest I would still have to step off with them. I am still not sure how to feel about that.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Growing up, my friends and I had a certain fascination with keeping a straight back and a stiff upper lip — not all the time, but for special occasions it was an extra bit of fun. There is a certain power to be found in shouldering and striving to hold up an air of respectability that I wanted to incorporate into my online persona, hence the Sir. The Truffles bit is a bit hazy, but if I remember correctly, it came from a character I was sketching out in a draft that never got published.
Who’s your favorite pony?
I much prefer Zecora.
What’s your favorite episode?
Crusaders of the Lost Mark. I still tear up when the CMC all get their marks, their sisters run over, everyone is all “You did it!” everywhere, and then I want plushies of everypony so I can hug everything. Good show.
What do you get from the show?
I found myself captivated by how much fun Studio B was having with the first few seasons of the show. I suppose I was watching as much to see what the writers and animators were doing with their material as I was enjoying the actual narrative content.
What do you want from life?
Imagine you are bustling straight down the sidewalk towards your next errand. You are suddenly struck by the realization that if you willed it, you could walk in a zig-zag line instead. You do so and are rewarded with the warm giddy powerful rush of getting away with something. Then you blink and your mind slowly turns towards everything else you might be able to get away with if only you can muster up enough nerve. I want as much of that as often as possible.
Why do you write?
Sometimes a story sticks in my mind and bounces around until I finally get around to dragging myself to the computer and letting it spill out. Certain thoughts simply demand their proper shape and size.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
At the risk of being a pretentious kook, “it’s magic so I don’t have to explain it” rings rather hollow when one realizes that magic has been explored and explained in excruciating detail by real persons who have actually tried their hand at it and been rewarded with spiritual experiences. Dion Fortune and W. E. Butler can be had for $10 in the Amazon used book section, and every good occult book has a bibliography of equally inexpensive texts, many of which are worth exploring.
Of course, you will not actually learn how to cast fireball (magic is not for that — just use your lighter and aerosol can like a normal person), but I find examining their underlying philosophy — and puzzling out what the real practitioners are actually trying to accomplish and how their magic meets their needs — gives badly needed grounding to the “anything goes so long as I make up some rules” special effects of today’s flashier fantasy. If your physics textbook is required reading to ground your sci-fi, a good occult introductory text is likewise required homework before writing fantasy.
Granted, if you are actually going to do live experiments, do make sure to start with a carefully crafted introductory course such as Learning Ritual Magic by Earl King Jr et. al., or the Druid Magic Handbook by John Michael Greer et. al., amongst others. Even from the strict materialist view, occult practice uses heavy visualization to build up certain neural pathways with certain symbolism for certain goals.
Now nine times out of ten, the novice is not going to have the skill set to get into trouble, but in the worst case my reading suggests the wrong person jumping into the wrong portmanteau of experiments all willy-nilly can cross mental wires that were not meant to be crossed, resulting in anything from a few days of mental discomfort to totally unbalancing your endocrine system. Start gradually at the beginning. Build balanced habits of practice. Avoid the risk. (And as a bonus get all the fundamentals in one place in plain English.)
What inspired “Three Left Turns”?
I found myself wanting to write like Hayao Miyazaki animates. Something fantastical but comfortable enough to feel wondrously mundane and more real than reality. After I defined that intention, the rest of the imagery just spilled out.
What challenges did you face telling a story in this sort of impressionistic style?
Mostly the marketing. I hit the keyboard in a state of flow, so the story spilled out on its own. My process is write the first draft, skim it once for typos, and kick it out the door before I can get stage fright and sit on it forever, so there was not much space to hand-wring over the content.
My problem is that I find there are two types of stories: stories you chew and stories you smoke (or blaze if you prefer). This is definitely the latter: it is more something to be experienced, swum around in, and related to in the reader’s own way, so describing it as anything feels like a disservice. You can see this in my comment to Bad Horse where the only justice I could do to the story was describe the events.
Of course, readers need a little more than “I made horsewords. I think they are cool. See what you think,” so I ended up stuck trying to take this word-feeling-shape and cram it into some kind of box that people would understand. Not to say the story is something unfathomable, of course. Imagine you just had the best/worst/otherwise most potent day of your life and you are still trying to let it sort itself out in your head when a newscaster walks up, sticks a mic in your face, and demands to know what genre your life is. It is like that.
In the comments, you remark that a part of you in hindsight would’ve preferred Twilight to be searching for four spells rather than three. Why is that?
I am afraid I no longer remember. It has been a long time since I wrote the story.
Also in the comments, you mention changing the story’s tags from “Slice of Life” to “Dark.” How did your own vision of the story change after you’d written it?
It was not my vision of the story changing so much as my gradually coming around to the fact that “A story focusing on daily, normal experiences” is not something that applies to a story about a magical pony princess stepping into a magical between-worlds marketplace to trade chunks of her life and memories for a solution to the apocalypse.
In hindsight, I think I picked SoL at first because I had to pick something and just after writing it I still had the mellow neutral afterglow of wanting to blankly turn it over and take it all in rather than categorize it. After that feeling had time to process, I realized that however I felt about it, the tag was simply not correct. That was not to say I knew what the real tag was supposed to be, of course, so there was more hand-wringing and such. Eventually I seem to recall deciding that, despite the upbeat note at the end, there was a darker atmosphere hanging over everything, so in absence of a better alternative I went with that.
Then I got several instant downvotes for my trouble as I was reshuffling it in group folders. Moral of the story: get your tags right the first time or else.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Neutrons are neutral. You will find reversing the polarity of their flow to be an exercise in futility.
Also, YouTube is infinitely better at 1.25 speed, or 1.5 if you are feeling dangerous.