Today’s story is an addicting read.
What is Left
[Dark] [Sad] [Thriller] [Tragedy] • 24,301 words
Five years of cheap thrills in the big city have left Sweetie Belle in bad debt with dangerous ponies. Forced to pay up, she returns to Ponyville to seek money from an estranged sister she loathes with a passion.
FROM THE CURATORS: We’re all here because we appreciate the pastel friendship aesthetic of My Little Pony — but fanfic wanders considerably farther afield, and there’s also beauty sometimes in bleakness. “This is dark and depressing in all the right ways — the closest point of comparison would be the tone of Fallout: Equestria – Project Horizons‘ darkest chapters, honestly,” Soge said in his nomination. “Even when, halfway through the story, this fic leads you to believe things might be changing for the better, it shatters that illusion in three paragraphs in such an amazing way that I had to just step away from the story to process everything. It is a hard read, but very rewarding.” Although all of us commented on that darkness, this earned a feature on the sheer power of its story, as Present Perfect said: “It won’t be for every reader, as the profanity, violence, drug use and general malaise of depression run severely counter to the show which inspired the piece. But this is gritty, troubling and devastating in all the right ways.”
The core of that was how we saw prose quality in every direction we turned. “It helps that the writing is top-notch, atmospheric and evocative in a way that really drives home the despair of the situation, yet managing to contrast the reality of what is happening with well-placed touches of beauty,” Soge said, while Present Perfect was drawn deeply in: “it sure doesn’t hurt that the thriller aspect of the plot is gripping as anything; I accidentally read the whole story in one go because I couldn’t put it down.” Even the elements we found controversial were handled thoughtfully. “The profanity is actually well-used here, the drug-use stuff seems to me to be firmly on the fantasy side, and while I found the set-up to be a little slow, the gut-punch ending makes it worth it,” AugieDog said.
Characterization was another strong point. “While both Rarity and Sweetie Belle are obviously very different than their show counterparts, there is a core of their characterization that is still present, and it helps drive home that this is something that could happen,” Soge said. Present Perfect called them both “excellently flawed,” adding that “the villain is intimidating and memorable. The tragedy is palpable, and that atmospheric, evocative writing Soge refers to suffuses every last instant of the narrative.” What sealed our feature was that this won over even curators turned off by darker material. “I set a higher bar when it comes to dark Ponyfic,” AugieDog said. “If a story wants to have cute ponies not being cute, well, then that story’s got to prove itself to me, and this story proves itself quite handily at every turn.”
Read on for our author interview, in which OnionPie discusses tragic beauty, culmination preparation, and sister hugs.
Give us the standard biography.
Twenties, Male, Norwegian. A happy childhood followed by an isolated adolescence has made me a deeply nostalgic person, which certainly influences my writing.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Onions make people cry. I like Pinkie Pie. OnionPie.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Pinkie Pie. Her cheerfulness and desire to make others happy was an inspiration to me when I was in a dark place.
What’s your favorite episode?
“Party of One.” I loved the exploration of Pinkie’s insecure and crazy side. “A Friend in Deed” comes as a close second because of the Smile song.
What do you get from the show?
The show has a happy innocence that’s missing from the entertainment grownups usually consume. It’s like a gateway to a simpler, childlike view of the world that I’d forgotten somewhere along the road to adulthood.
What do you want from life?
Meaning. Writing gives me that. I think my sanity hinges on it.
Why do you write?
I want to make people cry. The first time a tragic story brought me to tears, that sadness was the realest thing my my emotionally numb life. I felt alive again, invigorated, inspired. It was the most beautiful thing I’d experienced, and I immediately felt a burning need to share that beauty with others through my own stories.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Don’t publish your story chapter by chapter as you write them. This is lazy and holds your story back. No matter how well you think you have yours planned out, no amount of outlining will replace the value of being able to go back and make changes, big and small.
A story is made in revision. Don’t succumb to the temptation of early gratification. Be patient. Do the hard work. Revise, revise, revise!
Also, your paragraph/scene/story is too long. Condense it!
What inspired “What is Left”?
Nostalgia. The good things in your life that you took for granted until they were lost forever. That overwhelming yearning for a light in your darkness that you tell yourself you’ll pursue, but you never do, until it’s all too late.
Family. There’s something otherworldly about the bond that close relatives share; whether you like them or hate them, whether you’re distant or close, that familiar bond is always there, holding you together in ways you can’t explain. Sisterhood especially is something I’ve enjoyed exploring in my writing, tearing and twisting a strong bond beyond the breaking point of any normal friendship, blurring the line between selfish love and selfless sacrifice.
Suicide. The story is not a moral statement — remember that. I have an unusual and somewhat romantic view of suicide; being in command of one’s own life and death appeals to me, and I wanted to explore the inevitable conflict with someone’s loved ones when they decided that they no longer wished to live. I’m also intrigued by the present-day controversy surrounding assisted suicide. While this isn’t the exact topic of What is Left, it follows a similar theme of love, pain, and sacrifice.
What effect are you after when you use Pony characters and settings to explore such non-Pony themes and issues?
Dark and adult themes and issues can’t be explored in the show’s innocent bubble, so it’s only natural to want to break free from it. I wanted to strain the relationship between Rarity and Sweetie Belle in ways that just aren’t possible otherwise. I don’t believe I’m not corrupting the characters and their universe; I’m simply moving them into another sphere of literature that, in my opinion, allows for deeper and more meaningful exploration of the characters we’ve come to love.
What elements would you call essential to creating a well-wrought tragedy?
It has to be satisfying. Loose ends should be tied up and the reader should be left feeling like the story is concluded. There has been a massive, irreversible change in the hero’s situation. All important questions are answered. The Story is over.
It has to be meaningful. Keep the ending in mind when you write every scene. The more preparation is made for the ending, the more meaningful it will be. There should be no question as to why it ends the way it does. Every thought, every breath, every choice the characters make in that culminating moment should be drenched in meaning.
It has to hurt. The most important element. A good story is woven such that you grow to care for the characters, their hopes and their pain; the reader wants them to succeed, they want to stand up and cheer when they triumph. Make them care and yearn for that good resolution, and when the time comes to stab their heart, twist the knife. Be ruthless. Don’t let them look away.
A well-wrought tragedy is conclusive, drenched in meaning, and heart-wrenchingly painful.
Do you plan your stories out in advance, or do you prefer letting them grow during the typing process?
I decide on the ending early, then plan how to get there. Any story grows and changes as you write it, but I’m always firm on how I want it to end, so no matter how the structure evolves, it’s always building up to the same point.
I tend to revise my stories to death. Every scene in What is Left has been completely rewritten at least once. The “Tea” chapter especially is one that I struggled with getting right, scrapping and rewriting it from scratch at least ten times. I’m not a perfectionist, I swear.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Go hug your sister. Now.