The crowning achievement of today’s story is a look at some royal growing pains.
[Drama] [Slice of Life] [Alternate Universe] • 56,413 words
Being seventeen is hard — especially if you happen to be a Princess.
I’m Princess Celestia, but everyone calls me Cece. My life has been crazier than normal lately — my big brother Blueblood is a selfish jerk, my best friend Twilight just moved away to Ponyville, and, oh yeah — Nightmare Moon turned out to be my long-lost somethingth-Great Aunt, Princess Luna. No biggie.
But, no matter how my life is going, I’m still Princess. I’ve gotta keep it together. Somehow. I can make it at least until the Grand Galloping Gala in a month-and-a-half … right?
FROM THE CURATORS: “It’s no secret that I love a good alternate universe, and this is a truly fascinating one,” FanOfMostEverything said in his nomination. “It all stems from a simple question: ‘What if alicorns were mortal?’ The resulting dynastic Equestria is at once familiar and strange, especially when seen through the eyes of a seventeen-year-old version of the Celestia we know, forced to take the throne and the wings far too early.” And that core concept got accolades from every curator. “Wow, just wow,” Soge quipped, while Horizon said: “This is proof that, seven years in, the fandom is still capable of coming up with unique ideas.”
Not only that, but we found the writing polished enough to show that idea off. “It is one of those fics that shines in the small details,” Soge said, “like the small changes in Twilight’s and Blueblood’s characterization, the way it subtly restructures character interactions, and how it twists oh-so-subtly the scenes the fic cribs from the show.” Horizon commented on that too: “I appreciate the author trusting their audience to know canon rather than to recapitulate each beat of the episodes it’s re-envisioning.” That allowed them to keep their focus tight, Soge said: “More than anything, the execution here was spot-on … it is slow and methodical, plumbing the depths of characterization built through the course of the novel.”
In some ways, the story sold its vision of the setting almost too well. “Is it weird if I say that this fic is one of the few pony stories I’ve ever read which could work better humanized?” Horizon said. But, AugieDog noted, that just reinforced how perfectly it captured the true core of show canon. “For all the ‘bipeds or quadrupeds’ moments, it’s a very Pony story,” he said, “with multiple characters learning multiple lessons and coming to realize how much they need each other. And the AU is simply marvelous — these are simultaneously the characters we know and characters we’re meeting for the first time.”
Read on for our author interview, in which brokenimage321 discusses skill theft, sisterly subtext, and purring cars.
Give us the standard biography.
Hi everyone! I’m a thirty-something dude, originally from the West Coast of the US, now living somewhere on the Eastern seaboard. I’m currently working on my Ph.D. in a humanities field, with an emphasis in digital/fan studies — meaning, being a brony and writing fanfiction is, in some ways, helping drive my future career :)
I initially started watching ponies right after the Season 2 premiere, and have been watching ponies on-and-off (mostly on) since then. I’ve dabbled in pony RPGs and card games, but fanfiction writing has been my most consistent method of engaging with the fandom.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
… sigh …
When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a programmer, and, accordingly, hung out with the tech geeks. While talking with them, I discovered that the technical term for when a webpage doesn’t load an image correctly is “broken image.” I thought that phrase sounded really cool, so, when it came time to register for my first real email address, that’s what I picked.
The name “BrokenImage” has treated me well, all things considered, but, a decade later, I wish I’d chosen something else — after all, it’s a little awkward to say, is more than a little cringey, and sounds a little depressing. But I’ve now tied my identity to the name in several different places, so, for better or for worse, I’m “BrokenImage” for the foreseeable future.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Princess Celestia, of course! (After all, about half the stories I’ve written star her in some capacity.) I can’t really say why, though I think a lot of it has to do with the various headcanons I developed for For The Good Of Equestria, in which she is a very imperfect Princess doing her damndest to keep Equestria together. In any case, she’s just always struck me as awesome.
Out of the Mane 6, Fluttershy is my favorite. She’s just adorable.
What’s your favorite episode?
Probably “The Sisterhooves Social” from Season 2. Season 2, IMO, is “classic” MLP, i.e., it had the clearest focus on the things that I like best about the show (some of which I’ll talk about in the next question). “Sisterhooves Social,” in particular, shares an important, powerful message, but doesn’t beat you over the head with it. The coolest part of the message is in the subtext: Rarity and Sweetie Belle’s awful relationship is subtly contrasted with Applejack and Apple Bloom’s, with the Apples showing how sisters should act. The episode asks the reader to put in a little bit of work to figure out its message, which is what I like to see.
What do you get from the show?
For me, the biggest appeal of the show is, and always has been, the “Friendship Lessons.” My Little Pony is far from the only show that tries to teach its audience (cf. G.I. Joe, Captain Planet, VeggieTales), but My Little Pony struck a special sort of chord with me: it taught lessons about how to be social, without being hamfisted or condescending. In short, the show struck me as compassionate towards its audience, as if it genuinely wanted to make better people out of its viewership. Plus, when I first discovered ponies, I really needed those lessons, which earned the show a special place in my heart.
Though more recent seasons have let the explicit lessons of seasons 1 and 2 fall by the wayside somewhat, I still love looking for that subtext. This is one reason I’m excited for season 8: though I’m several episodes behind (boo, hiss), the “School of Friendship” format gives a natural and interesting way for the Mane 6 to continue communicating those lessons, even as the M6 themselves don’t need to learn them so badly anymore.
What do you want from life?
I think I want what everyone does: I want to finish school, I want to get a steady job in my field, and I want to settle down. The “American Dream,” I think.
I’d also like to publish an “Actual,” non-fanfic novel. Though fanfic is fun, it’d be nice to get paid for my work at some point.
(… but ponies are just so fun to work with …!)
Why do you write?
To be honest, it’s a form of therapy. I’ve been through some rough patches in my life — not as rough as some, I’m sure — but still. Most of my writing focuses on ponies working through personal issues of one kind or another: writing about people, in situations like me, managing to figure themselves out gives me hope.
Though I don’t write explicitly to hash out my problems — the act of storytelling itself is enough for me — I will admit that more than a little of me went into Celestia XVII. For example, a difficult move, feeling useless, just waiting around for The Next Big Thing to happen — these are all things that both Cece and I struggled with. Celestia XVII is far from a personal pity-party, IMO, but I think these experiences helped lend a little more weight to the events of the story than I would be able to rustle up otherwise.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
The biggest piece of advice I have is: “Read, and steal.”
Read stuff from writers you like — both fanfiction and not. And, as you read, figure out what it is about the stories that you enjoy. Is it their chapter structure? Word choice? Descriptions? Character dialogue? Whatever it is, steal it, and incorporate it into your own writing. Don’t copy-paste, of course, but try to imitate them, and see if you can pick up some of their skills.
Plagiarism is bad — but learning from the best and trying to write like they do is the best way to get better IMO.
What inspired “Celestia XVII”?
The same thing as all my most successful fics: a random thought that popped into my head.
In this case, the thought was a question: “What would happen if the Princesses weren’t actually immortal?” The very first lines of the show describe how Celestia has ruled for a thousand years, after all. So how would things change if we overturned that single most fundamental assumption of the setting?
One of my favorite genres to read and write is the Alternate Universe — i.e., I like making a small-but-important change to the canon setting, and seeing how those changes ripple outwards. Hence, random questions like that tend to start my gears turning.
Many of the other important differences between the canon setting and this AU happened the same way. I let this idea “cook” for a long time before actually sitting down to write it, which meant I had lots of time for more “Aha!” moments like that. Changes like giving Cece an older brother, Twilight’s relationship to Princess Luna, and Cece’s love for her trumpet all came from similar, spur-of-the-moment questions.
Unfortunately, I have no idea how to spark those same sort of “Aha!” moments — they just come when they please. However, I have a policy of following them when they do happen, because they often make for the best stories.
I also have to give a shout-out to Eruantalon, my long-time internet friend and beta-reader/editor. When I first came up with this idea, I asked him to collab with me on it. Though the collab didn’t end up panning out, because reasons, he helped shape the world of Celestia XVII in important ways, and it wouldn’t be the same product without him. (Check out his stories, they’re fun!)
Why skip the story’s timeline around rather than take events linearly?
To give me a little more freedom in how to tell the story, actually.
Initial outlines for this story focused on two incidents: the fight with Nightmare Moon in “Friendship is Magic,” and the Grand Galloping Gala plotline, starting from “Suited For Success.” Initially, the story walked through the conflict with Nightmare Moon from start-to-finish, then jumped six months forward to the Gala plotline. This sort of structure felt stiff and boring, and would force me, I felt, to fill in all sorts of dull scenes I didn’t want to write (e.g., I’d have to come up with a Friendship Challenge for Cece in the Everfree Forest, but, given that she doesn’t have an Element like the rest of the Mane 6, I had no idea what that would look like).
Eventually, I decided to focus exclusively on the Gala plotline, which I thought was the more interesting of the two — however, I still wanted to include some moments with Nightmare Moon, which I had already started developing and thought were pretty neat. That’s what started the whole skipping-around thing: I realized that sort of structure (a “Present” chapter, followed by a “Memory”) would allow me to spread out all the exposition dumps I’d planned, and, more importantly, would let me paint a more complete picture of this AU and Cece’s place in it.
I must also confess: I love stories that make the reader put in a little work (see also: Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, which I adored). This was a chance to see if I could pull off a story like that — to see if I could raise questions in the “Present” chapters, then answer them like four “Memories” later, without actually confusing the reader. I think it worked pretty well, IMO :)
Why the musical chapter titles?
I like to give my characters an unconventional hobby that complements their personality (for example, I would love to write a fic about EQG Fluttershy and her talents for auto maintenance — she can make anything on wheels purr like a kitten!). In this case, Cece’s hobby is her trumpet: it’s a creative outlet for her, and something she genuinely enjoys doing (not to mention — performing in the band is one of the few times she can forget the pressures of being a Princess).
I don’t remember exactly when or why I decided to use the musical chapter titles, but I’m really glad I did. It was a lot of work, but the end product is memorable, helps to communicate themes in the chapters, and ties everything together thematically. Plus, I dearly love me some
Louis Armstrong Joust Hoofstrong :)
(In my head: the names of the pieces are all songs that Cece is learning at about the time the events of the chapter take place. Also, most of the chapters featuring Luna are more classical pieces, while those of just Cece and her friends tend to be jazz numbers. The difference is that Cece is learning the classical numbers in band, and the jazz is what she plays for fun.)
How far into this alternate future do you plan to venture?
Ah, asking for spoilers, are you? :)
I currently have plans for three sequels, focusing on seasons 2, 3, and 4 of the show, with a spin-off that will dip into season 5. These stories will follow Cece from her teenage years into her middle age.
The season 2 story — which I’m (slowly) working on as we speak — will focus on early-twenties Cece dealing with the Changeling Invasion, while she struggles to choose which of her suitors she would like to get more serious with.
The season 3 story will deal primarily with mid-twenties Cece trying to help the Crystal Empire defeat the ghost of King Sombra, while, at the same time, struggling to overcome her own fears regarding marriage and intimacy.
Season 4 will take place over a decade or so, as Cece tries to track down a serial killer that is stripping his victims of their cutie marks. During this time, Cece will have a daughter of her own, and will struggle to raise her rebellious little tyke.
Beyond season 4, the changes I’ve made to this AU get a little too top-heavy to continue much farther. However, I do plan on writing a side-story in which Celestia’s daughter visits the EQG world, perhaps even Starlight’s village. I also plan on writing a fic explaining what exactly went down between Cece and Discord (which I plan on glossing over in season 2. Sorry, Dislestia fans!!).
I’ve toyed with ideas for a few other spin-offs, but I think that’s more than enough for now :)
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Yes — another hint for aspiring writers, actually.
This can be hard, but try to disconnect your ego from your writing. For a while, writing fanfic was how I got the external validation I thought I needed. Though it helped me churn out solid products, tying my self-worth to how many likes I got on FimFic wasn’t exactly healthy.
When I finally decided that I was going to keep writing not because I could get fake internet points, but because I enjoyed it, that changed the entire experience for me. Getting those likes still stroked my ego, but no longer determined whether I had a good day or not.
Passion is great, don’t get me wrong. But if your only reason for writing is to get inducted into the RCL, you’re going to have a long, hard writing career. I know it’s hard, but do your best to learn to enjoy the journey, not so much the destination. Your road will be a lot easier if you do.