You’re destined to like tonight’s story.
[Tragedy] • 3,322 words
Prophecy is a dangerous game; meanings which are obvious can become obscure in an instant, and fates are laid bare only in hindsight.
After the fall of Discord but before the rise of Nightmare Moon, a dragon breaks the peace between its race and ponykind, and Princess Luna flies to mete out justice.
FROM THE CURATORS: Longtime RCL curator Chris recently took a step back from pony fanfiction, but he’s built a long legacy — not just of story reviews, but also of quality tales of his own. While there were no shortage of feature candidates in his catalogue (“Going Up was a wonderful tale of Best Pony at her best,” FanOfMostEverything noted), the sheer ambition of Wyrmlysan gave it a narrow edge. “This is how you make ‘epic’ happen in a short wordcount,” Present Perfect said. “Every word is steeped in grandiosity, in portentousness.” FanOfMostEverything elaborated: “At its core, Wyrmlysan is wonderfully mythic in tone, with beings far beyond mortals parlaying over pacts made in the mists of time. Luna is awesome in the original sense of the word, and the way the story foreshadows Nightmare Moon provides a chilling counterpoint to Luna’s actions in service to her ponies.”
And while we found ourselves dancing around the specifics, the tale accumulated unanimous praise for the fine handling of its narrative. “This is a clever and deceptive story, and saying much about the plot would be doing it a disservice,” Soge said. “Suffice to say that it is very subtle in its presentation, smartly hiding or showing things in order to mislead the reader, but never outright obscuring relevant information.” AugieDog — whose 2014 Nocturnes contest prompted the story — found that a strength of the author in general: “Chris’ finesse in setting up my expectations and then flipping them sideways is just plain lovely. The flip in ‘Going Up’ when Derpy explains her invention to Carrot Top is as joyful a moment as I’ve had from a story in a long time, while the flip at the end of ‘Wyrmlysan’ is shattering.”
And the story pulled that off while juggling multiple pieces of a richly layered tale. “This deftly interweaves two solid stories — one about confronting one’s immutable destiny and one about the build-up to Nightmare Moon — in a way that enhances both,” Horizon said. “It’s telling that the interplay with Luna’s guards feels tenser and more fraught than her fight with the dragon, and the story uses that tension to great effect.” It all added up, as RBDash47 said, to a piece that not just stood the test of time but transcended it: “The lore created here is really something incredible, especially considering that it was published a full two years before ‘Gauntlet of Fire’ aired,” he said. “And far from the usual fanfiction fate of being Jossed by later canon, it’s actually enhanced by it.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Chris discusses brain bugs, hipster glasses, and Golden Harvests.
Give us the standard biography.
30s-ish man, living in the upper midwest, working in elementary Newcomers (pre-ESL, basically). Vocal musician by training, occasional dabbler in creative writing since high school, and part of the pony fandom since January ‘11. For over six and a half years, I wrote fanfiction reviews on my blog, One Man’s Pony Ramblings, though I had to step back from that not too long ago. For that matter, I was an RCL curator for its first four years and change, but ran out of time to keep contributing there (here) as well. Ah, how life catches up to us …
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
It’s my real name! Well, first name. In other fandoms I’d participated in, my habit had been to take some variation on a minor character’s name for my own nom de plume, but with ponies, that seemed a bridge too far. I might be writing fanfiction of a show for little girls, but that didn’t mean I had to start calling myself “Bonny B” or something, you know? So, I took the lazy route and just used “Chris” when I went to submit my first ponyfic to Equestria Daily. And to my considerable surprise, seven and a half years later, I’m still using it!
Who’s your favorite pony?
Carrot Horse is Best Horse.
Oddly enough, this was something that slowly grew on me, rather than an early-fandom decision. I wrote a couple of stories with her in them, and I tend to develop a lot of empathy for characters I write about (even (especially) on those occasions when I’m making their lives miserable). Then I started noticing her more in episodes, and then I started writing more about her, and then I started posting screenshots of her whenever she was in an episode and writing fanficlettes about what she was up to during said episode, and pretty soon my blog had its own tag just for Carrot Top and people started thinking of me as “the Carrot Top guy.”
Which isn’t the worst thing to be, as long as we’re clear that I’m the Carrot Top pony guy, and not the other “Carrot Top guy.”
What’s your favorite episode?
May the Best Pet Win. It has everything I love about MLP wrapped into a single episode: a solid moral whose delivery doesn’t overwhelm the story the episode’s trying to tell, a wonderful song, plenty of visual humor that doesn’t rely on ugly animation, and a sense of grandeur and of a larger world beyond Ponyville’s borders (Quarry Eels!).
What do you get from the show?
For me, the best episodes of FiM provide a wholesome, day-brightening sort of refreshment which helps reaffirm an essential optimism about the world. Plus, it’s just pleasant to look at, which I put a real premium on when it comes to watching animation. And (moreso in the show’s earlier days, when so much was still unexplored) it gave us a world ripe for filling in by fanfic writers. That may not be a point in favor of the show’s quality per se, but it’s something that made me and others engage with the show right off the bat, so it’s definitely something I “got” from it.
What do you want from life?
Winning Powerball numbers, please. Get a hundred-odd million bucks in my hands, and I think I’ll be able to figure out the rest on my own.
Why do you write?
Creative self-expression? That seems at once too vague and too pithy, but I think it sums things up pretty well. I have ideas I want to explore, brain bugs I want to get out, a more generalized itch to make something creative. Some of that I’m able to pursue through singing, but I’m a word guy at heart; writing scratches that itch better than anything else I’ve found.
Now, why do I share my writing? Well, partly because I love getting pats on the back (who doesn’t?), and partly because I want to improve (which is hard to do if you never share your work!), but if I’m honest, it’s mostly because it gives me an end goal. I’m not great at self-motivation; I need an endpoint, or a deadline, or something, or else I never get anything done. “Publication” gives me that endpoint, and without it, I don’t write as much as I’d like.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Before we go any further, I’m going to interrupt myself and tell you that there may be some spoilers in the back half of this interview. I’ve tried to find a happy middle ground between coy and explicit, but if you’re particularly allergic to hints of what direction a story takes, maybe go read it now, then come back when you’re done?
I’m going to repeat a piece of advice I’ve given a few times in the past, because I believe it’s the single most true and accurate piece of writing advice I have to give: If you’re having trouble with your story, do something different — it doesn’t matter what. If you’re struggling to write your story from start to finish, try skipping ahead to the scenes you’re excited to write, then fill in the rest afterward. Or, if you’ve tried that and it doesn’t work, go the other way around. Block out a solid two hours with no interruptions so you can get “in the zone.” Or, promise yourself you’ll take a short break every fifteen minutes so you don’t burn out. Just change something.
The point is that you’re struggling with your writing, you’ve got nothing to lose by trying something different. If you’re still stuck, you’re no worse off than you were before, and if you aren’t, then congratulations!
What inspired “Wyrmlysan”?
The idea that would become Wyrmlysan was a Spike origin story, oddly enough. In the original conception, the dragon egg was explicitly Spike’s, Celestia was the main pony instead of Luna, the prophecy was way more on-the-nose, and the ending was Celestia taking the egg back to Canterlot to hold onto for a thousand years.
I never actually wrote that story, because it wouldn’t have been terribly interesting. Yes, it told us where Celestia got Spike’s egg, but … so what? Don’t get me wrong, you can certainly write a great story in which that happens, but “Celestia took the egg from a dragon, and knew it was going to be Twilight’s someday” isn’t intrinsically interesting, and I didn’t have any great ideas for how to dress that up into a story, rather than just a bit of filling-in-the-blanks-that-didn’t-really-need-to-be-filled-in-the-first-place. So, I set it aside, and forgot all about it …
… For a couple of years, until AugieDog held a fanfic contest. I thought about entering, realized after a while that I didn’t have any great ideas for a fanfic about her that I wanted to write, and put it aside. But then, a few days before the deadline, something jogged my memory back to that Spike origin story fic, and I wondered if I couldn’t use Luna instead of Celestia to give the story a bit more interest. And then, while I was turning that over in my head, I realized that it shouldn’t be a story about Spike; it should be about the nature of prophecy.
At that point, it came together surprisingly quickly. And after a major editing assist from Pascoite, Wyrmlysan was born.
Considering that a prophecy about Luna is literally the inciting incident of the whole TV series, did you design the conclusion she reaches here to be somewhat ironic?
There’s a lot of dramatic irony (from my dictionary: the irony occurring when the implications of a situation, speech, etc, are understood by the audience but not by the characters) underlining the entire fic; practically everything that happens is framed by the reader’s knowledge of what will happen in the near future, and of what will come to pass in another thousand years. There’s also a meta-ironic level, which was neatly encapsulated in one reader’s response to this fic: “I got to the end, went WTF?, then reread the description. Well played, Chris.”
And that’s without touching on the more straightforward irony of, say, the dragon’s decision vs. its outcome. It’s about as ironic a story as I know how to write; the only thing missing is the hipster glasses.
The plot twists in your stories, whether the joyous revelation of Derpy’s gift in “Going Up” or the gut-punch last line of “Wyrmlysan”: do you start with them and work your way back, or do you play around with story ideas till you find a way to twist them?
I almost never set out to write plot twists; they just seem to happen. With Going Up, it hadn’t even occurred to me that it was a “twist” until I published it and readers reacted to it as such! So generally speaking, I just write the story I want to write, and the twist — if there is one — isn’t something I specifically plan out, at least, not any more than the rest of the fic.
Wyrmysan is, however, the exception to that rule. As you may have gathered from the question above about inspirations, the twist was a late addition to the story idea, but it was also what took the whole thing from idea to story; without it, what would the fic be trying to tell you? What would be the theme of the fic, the message that (hopefully) sticks with the reader? This is a case where the last line frames the entire story, and you can’t really separate the two.
Steven R. Donaldson has a quote that I quite like: “A twist should be unforeseeable in advance, and obvious in hindsight.” Hopefully, that’s how my story landed for you.
Does your role as reviewer affect your role as writer?
Not anymore ;_;
In all seriousness, I learned a ton about the art of writing from doing my ponyfic reviews. Seeing how different authors approach the same ideas, seeing what pitfalls happen again and again, seeing what fics manage to be engaging despite those pitfalls (and figuring out what deeper appeal the story in question had that made it so enjoyable to read) … there’s so much I’ve learned from going through a bunch of fanfics with a bit of attention.
Figuring out how to apply all of that learning, though … well, I’m still working on it.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Only that I hope to continue writing things that people enjoy, and that I’ll keep working to improve. See you next fic!