Today’s story is quite a cool tale.
The World Fades to White
[Adventure] [Sad] • 3,388 words
Princess Flurry Heart and the descendant of Prince Rutherford brave the harsh conditions of the Frozen North, in search of an artifact they hope will save their home from a similar fate.
FROM THE CURATORS: One of the subtler skills in writing is how to wring meaning from the things you don’t say — a skill on prominent display in this short and focused fic. “I love how sparse the writing feels, hinting at larger things without ever having to define them, managing to make its diffuse world feel rich and solid,” Soge said, and Present Perfect agreed: “This feels like such a tiny slice of a greater epic work. So much is packed into it, and yet so much is left unsaid.”
However, that was just one of a wider range of strengths we appreciated here. “Here’s a short piece that really shows how to use setting to reinforce tone,” Chris said in his nomination. “The endless ice fields are a bleak and austere place to be. And likewise, though there’s a tragedy at the heart of this story, it’s not a big goobery ‘be sad’ one; it’s a cold tragedy of inevitability tempered by the distance of time.” Despite that detachment, the story itself never felt distant. “This story starts in medias res, and drives on as relentlessly as the blizzard surrounding the characters,” AugieDog said, “and yet, by the time we get to the end, there’s no question what happened and how things got to the state we find them in at the beginning. It’s a very nice piece of storytelling for that alone.”
AugieDog also praised the character work, and — when we weren’t derailing our discussion to talk like yaks at each other — the rest of us quickly agreed. “The characters also deserve praise, feeling like unique creations, and yet rooted in a greater tradition that goes back to canon proper,” Soge said, and that was part of Present Perfect’s broader appreciation: “It succeeds in imagery — the sense of a vast, cold expanse of nothing, relentlessly driving our protagonists back from their goal. It succeeds in focus — zooming the ‘camera’ in and out and teasing us with what lies beyond the viewframe. And it succeeds in characterization — a simple glimpse at a future that doesn’t matter so much, because at its heart this is a story about family, friendship and loyalty, and it comes through perfectly.”
Read on for our author interview, in which RB_ discusses little monsters, melting pots, and winter shorts.
Give us the standard biography.
Born in Wales, lived on the East Coast of the US for most of my life, and just recently moved out to the Midwest. First watched the show with my little sister when it premiered (I remember thinking to myself that it was a lot better than the mindless drivel that was most children’s shows at the time). Made first contact with the fandom about half a year later, after seeing a bunch of fanart and deciding to figure out where it was coming from. Stuck with the fandom for a good few years, then dropped out of it for a few more. Came crawling back to it last year and have no intention of leaving any time soon.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I prefer to keep my various online identities separate, coming up with different usernames for different things. When I hopped onto the pony train back in 2011, I settled on the name Reluctant Brohoof because I felt it reflected the almost accidental way that I had fallen into this fandom, and because I thought it sounded neat. As it was a bit of a mouthful, I would often shorten it to RB.
As time went on, I started using Reluctant less and RB more, and eventually I decided to just go ahead and make it my default moniker — only to discover a dead account had taken it while I wasn’t looking. So, I added an underscore and changed it when Fimfic 4.0 dropped.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Currently it’s a toss-up between Luna and Pinkie Pie. I love Luna as a character and as a concept, and have since the early days of season 1. She’s always been a character with a lot of potential, to me, and even as the seasons have gone by and her characterization and role in the MLP universe have solidified, that affection hasn’t waned. I’m also a massive insomniac and borderline nocturnal, too, so there’s that.
Pinkie Pie, on the other hand, is the massive bundle of extroverted energy that I’ve always wished I could be, and I love her antics more than almost anything else on the show. Moreover, she’s all that and still an interesting character, with just as much depth (or more) as the rest of the main cast. And beyond that, she’s just a ton of fun to write!
I should probably also mention Lyra, who is my favourite background pony, adorable minty unicorn that she is.
What’s your favorite episode?
If you’d asked me this last season, I probably wouldn’t have had an answer. Then The Perfect Pear aired. I now have an answer. It’s The Perfect Pear.
What do you get from the show?
Positivity. In an era where much of our entertainment is laced with doubt and cynicism, MLP is like a shining beacon of sincerity. It’s a series where friendship continually triumphs, good deeds are met with good in return, and the characters are uplifted instead of beaten down. And all of that without feeling shallow or hollow! It’s something that I think is incredibly valuable.
I also get a fantastic fandom full of wonderfully creative people from it. I think that’s incredibly valuable, too.
What do you want from life?
A roof over my head, the ability to pay for that roof doing something I enjoy, and to be able to fully answer this question.
Why do you write?
I find the act of creation inherently fulfilling. Before I was writing, I was making linoleum and plexiglass prints. Before that, I was mucking around with coding and game design, before that I was sculpting, and before that, I was drawing. I think I’ve settled on writing as my groove, though. It’s also just really nice to have something I can do and actually feel like I’m improving at. I’d like to get a book published at some point, too, so I’m working towards that as well.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
I think the most important piece of advice I can give (other than write a lot, write often/read a lot, read often, which I think just about everyone has heard at this point but is worth repeating just because it’s so fundamental) is this:
Writing is a very personal process, and there are a lot of different types of people in the world, and there are just as many ways to put words onto paper. What works really well for one writer may not work as well for you. Things some authors consider hard rules may be worth trying to break.
So, experiment! Try different methods of outlining, and see what changes. Try writing without outlining, and see what comes of it. Try writing character-driven stories if you normally write plot-driven, and vice-versa. Try writing in new genres, and new styles, and new POVs. Challenge yourself to push the boundaries of your writing, because that’s the only way to find out what works and what doesn’t, and you’ll learn a lot along the way.
What drew you to the Flurry Heart: Survivor prompt of the Imposing Sovereigns contest when you were planning “The World Fades to White”?
Truth be told, the story idea as much informed the prompt choice as the prompt choice informed the story. I was either the second or the third person to commit, I believe, so my options were very open. I settled on Flurry Heart first, because I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the little monster, and I hadn’t seen her used in fics very often.
Thoughts of Flurry lead to thoughts of the Frozen North and the events of The Crystalling, and then that clicked with the idea of Survivors, and suddenly I had the image of an older Flurry Heart walking through an endless blizzard in my mind’s eye. The rest of the story grew from there.
Can you tell us more about the yaks in this story, and what you were trying to communicate with how they’ve changed and “civilized?”
You ask that as if it wasn’t just an excuse not to have to convey complex thoughts through yak-speak!
Unglamorous originations of ideas aside, I disagree with the idea that the Yaks have been ‘civilized’. I see it as more of a melting pot.
The culture we see expressed through Rutherford and Flurry is meant to be built out of the best parts of each of its constituents. The Crystal Ponies are cultured and value intelligence and emotion, but are very fragile, and could not have survived on their own after losing the protection of their empire. The Yaks, on the other hand, are very resilient, valuing strength, tradition, and perfection above all else, which allows them to survive in their native environment but prevents them from advancing as a society.
By being forced together and isolated from the outside world for so long, the two cultures have mixed and combined into something that is stronger than either was alone. I tried to express this through the main characters, Flurry and Rutherford. Flurry is a strong and brave leader, able and willing to endanger her own life for the sake of her subjects. And yet, she still retains her pony capacity for hope and compassion. Rutherford is a Yak, strong enough to survive the harsh conditions alongside Flurry, and yet he is a very well-spoken and compassionate intellectual (which is aided by his Yakkish perfectionism).
In the end, the Crystal Ponies of the story have gained just as much from the Yaks as the Yaks have from them, and I think there’s an important idea nestled in there. It’s something I’d like to explore further if I ever end up writing in this universe again.
It’s very open, at the end, whether or not there’s still actually hope for recovery. Why did you chose to leave that ambiguous, rather than revealing that healing the land was/wasn’t a possibility?
It was because I wanted to maintain the story’s focus. Ultimately, this was a story about history, endurance, and Flurry Heart. Whether the Heart could be fixed and whether it could save her new home were less relevant to the story I wanted to tell than her hope that they could.
Tell us about your approach to writing about the sensation of unrelenting cold. How did you go about communicating the feeling and experience of traversing a frigid plain?
A lot of it was finding ways to convey the cold through the characters, rather than directly through the prose. Things like having Rutherford clench his teeth against it or having Flurry shiver despite the furs she’s wearing are far more evocative than outright descriptions, I find. Writing in first person made this a lot easier.
Describing the wind and the snow separately from the temperature helped a lot, too. How the wind deafens Rutherford with each blast, how the snow swirls around them as if it’s trying to consume them, how the landscape itself is described simply as “white” … a snowstorm is much more than just the cold. It’s a full sensory experience.
The single moment of respite in the train station also plays a part, serving as a contrast to the extreme conditions of the storm.
But really, most of it was just finding creative ways to skirt around saying “It was friggin’ cold!” a couple dozen times.
And on a more personal note: what (if any!) experience do you, the author, have with extreme cold?
Well, until recently, I’d have said “a fair bit”. I had to walk to school as a kid, you see (yes uphill, no not both ways), which meant a lot of trudging through snowbanks during the winter. I prided myself on being the last person around to stop wearing shorts, and on never switching my jacket for a coat. Yes, I was That Guy.
Then I moved to the Midwest.
I’m writing this on the night before Halloween. It’s 2.6°C outside. My home has really bad heating. I’ve had to wear a hoodie indoors for the past week and a half. I keep making typos because my fingers are freezing. It usually wouldn’t get this bad until January/February back home. I’m scared for what’s coming once winter actually hits us.
Why anyone ever thought it was a good idea to settle here is beyond me.
(And as a side note, the first snowfall of the year in my old area occurred shortly after I finished this story. This isn’t the last time this sort of thing has happened. I worry I might be cursed.)
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you to FanOfMostEverything for coming up with and running an excellent contest, among other things. If anyone reading this hasn’t read the other Imposing Sovereigns entries yet, you really should. The fact that this is (at the time of writing) the fifth entry to be featured here should speak to their general quality.
Also, thanks to the other regulars of the #writing-help channel over on the Discord for letting me leech off their knowledge and motivation, even if I mostly just lurk. Y’all are great.
And finally, thanks to everyone at the RCL for taking the time to read my drivel. Why anyone would, I’ll never know.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go buy a space heater before my home ends up colder than Flurry’s.