Today’s story, unlike its protagonist, doesn’t have to cheat to win your heart.
Who We Are in the Dark
[Equestria Girls] [Romance] [Tragedy] • 11,505 words
[Note: This story contains sexual themes.]
Adagio, who everyone knows is an immortal sex goddess, is determined to give her girlfriend a perfect eighteenth birthday. If only she weren’t secretly a virgin, it would be easy.
FROM THE CURATORS: Our inaugural Siren fic is “a doozy,” as Soge put it in his nomination — and the rest of us quickly saw why. “What follows the simple-yet-intricate setup is a beautiful disaster, like a train crash in slow motion, and yet manages to keep this undercurrent of optimism through the whole thing,” Soge said. “The conclusion is striking, unexpected, and effective, elevating the whole thing far beyond what I would expect of a typical shipfic. It’s a perfect Romantic Tragedy.” An equally impressed Horizon added: “The prose just pops off the page, and Adagio’s characterization walks a heck of a tightrope between redemption and villainy that serves the character well.”
That wasn’t the only praise the characterization got. “Who We Are in the Dark shows Adagio in an innovative light, trying to deal with the aftermath of losing her Siren powers, which has the aftereffect of making her unable to actually read people, since she always relied on her magic for that,” Soge explained — and all of us found that unique and striking. “Adagio’s portrayal is what takes this above and beyond just being another beautifully written fic,” Present Perfect said. “I connected on a deeply personal level with her struggle to read faces and body language. I suspect more readers will connect with her inability to know what to do in stressful situations, to say nothing of sitting, helpless, while watching your world fall apart.”
That combined with fluid writing and solid structure to make this coast to an easy feature. “There’s so much care put into setting up the characters’ desires and letting those play out naturally,” Horizon said. “And that care is seen throughout; the confrontation scene is properly crushing, and it manages to take the situation into full meltdown without ever taking the lazy way out of making someone the villain.” All in all, as Present Perfect said, it was the sort of story that turns heads and changes minds about a character: “I came into this story with no particular love for Adagio Dazzle. By the end of it, watching her world crumble was absolutely heartbreaking.”
Read on for our author interview, in which NaiadSagaIotaOar discusses fanfiction optimization, hilarious ineptitude, and squip removal.
Give us the standard biography.
I’m a college student studying mathematics in California. A few years ago, I was stuck in a car for a few hours with a few friends squabbling over which music to play, and someone kept mentioning My Little Pony. A few weeks later, I was desperately bored and had a bit of a craving for something cute and fluffy and wholesome. So I looked up some of the songs on Youtube, and some combination of “At The Gala” and “A True, True, Friend” and “This Day Aria” made me think the show might be worth a shot. I’d been interested in fanfiction sporadically before, but FiM revitalized my interest, led me here, and, quite frankly, ponies and horsegirls just make fanfiction better, so here I remain.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I am told that at least one person has been hoping other people would ask me about this.
Most people seem to call me Naiad. Which makes sense, really. I wouldn’t want to type out the whole thing often either. But that just kinda happened, really, it came about because that’s what other people called me.
As for the whole thing… here’s the thing: when I made this account, I was fairly determined to basically lurk invisibly, not really interact with people at all, just read a lot of stories and keep track of them and stuff. As far as I was concerned, I wasn’t going to write and I wasn’t going to leave comments, even, or really do just about any of the things that keep me coming back to the site now. I have no idea why I thought any of that made sense, but I did.
And, with that in mind, I didn’t think that I really needed a name that, you know, made sense, looked pretty or sounded at all like anything a sensible person would actually want to say. I spent a whole five minutes trying to think of one, don’t get me wrong, but I came up blank.
So I tried out a few anagrams of some of my favorite words, picked this one because it made me giggle, and called it a day.
Who’s your favorite pony?
So, I know she’s not technically a pony, but I could comfortably sit here all day long explaining why I adore Adagio. Don’t worry, I’ll get to the actual ponies in a bit.
Adagio is a joy to write because she can be contemplative and melancholic in one scene, flowery and eloquent in another, and vicious and scathing in yet another. Her canon appearance gave just enough to make her fun, intriguing, and ruthlessly memorable, but revealed so little about her as a person that it’s almost like you’re building her up from scratch with only a shallow idea of who she really is. She’s got lofty ambitions with more than enough cunning and determination to make them all happen with or without her magic. In her one canon appearance, the only major setback she faced came in the form of a transforming car that literally nobody in the entire world would have seen coming. She snarks and squabbles with the other two, and yet when the time comes for them to be devious and villainous, they seem to forget about how much they all dislike each other and function seamlessly.
I could go on, but, like I said, I could talk all day about Adagio. The other two aren’t too far behind, in my eyes. Aria’s always been far, far, harder for me to write than Adagio, but the stories that get her right are unforgettable because of it. Sonata’s not nearly as interesting to me as the other two are, but her airy, bubbly personality’s a great excuse to just turn off my filters and write down silly things and she works wonderfully with her companions or sisters or reluctant allies or whatever you want to call them.
They’re totally sisters, though.
Of the actual ponies, I think I have to say Sunset and Rarity are my favorites.
That might seem a bit odd in this context considering the ending of this story, but, really, I love them both. They’re both flawed, but they’ve handled their flaws in very different ways. Sunset is someone who’s moved on from her flaws, while Rarity’s someone who’s accepted and made peace with most of them. Sunset used to be selfish and bitter and petty, but she’s put all that aside to become kind and loving and empathetic, and that’s wonderful to see. Rarity is someone who’s devious, vain and a bit selfish, but she’s okay with that and that’s also wonderful. They’re both very versatile characters who work well with a lot of others, and they’re usually a joy to read.
Beyond that, I’m quite partial to Princess Celestia for being a wonderful example of a benevolent, likable authority figure, as well as Maud for being exquisitely Maud-ish, and Starlight Glimmer for being so hilariously inept at friendship that she has to be told brainwashing isn’t the way to solve an argument but managed to buckle down and figure it out eventually.
What’s your favorite episode?
It’s quite difficult for me to say for certain, but I think “Magical Mystery Cure” is high up there. That scene where Twilight meets with Celestia before getting her wings was beautiful then and still makes me reliably tear up to this day. There are quite a few other episodes I think I could mention, but that one moment has stuck with me so long that I wouldn’t feel right saying anything else.
These days, though, I think “A Canterlot Wedding” is a close second for me.
I’m again going to deviate a bit, and mention “Rainbow Rocks” because I don’t think anything else in the whole franchise impacted me like that did. I went into it expecting to loathe it, and I ended up watching it daily for almost a week straight. It single-handedly turned my least favorite big villain into one of my favorite protagonists, transformed the human world from a silly gimmick to a legitimate, interesting setting distinct from Equestria, and made the musical segments that I thought were usually so cringey and saccharine in the first movie the most stunning highlights.
What do you get from the show?
A big part of it, for me, is the vibrant setting. One of the things that I think FiM has consistently done beautifully is present just enough of the world to be exciting and generally cohesive, but not so much that you can’t fill most of it in yourself if you want to. I’ve at times considered the possibility of writing fanfiction for other works of fiction, but FiM seems almost optimized for it, a delicious swirl of guidelines that are rarely stifling.
Beyond that, it’s the characters. They typically manage to be sweet and cute and positive but without being cloying, with villains that cherry-pick all the fun parts of being evil while being vile compared to the world they’re in but never so horrible that they’re downright loathsome.
A combination of the setting and the characters adds up to an excuse to write and a plentiful banquet of ideas, which I’m very grateful for.
Nowadays, though, it’s the wonderful fandom that really keeps me around. I still like the show, but I’d forget to watch it if I didn’t have the site posts reminding me that new episodes come out on Saturdays sometimes.
What do you want from life?
A great deal of things. I’d say that a functional, stable living situation that lets me keep up the writing and other fun stuff like that would be pretty nice, though.
Why do you write?
A part of it is the joy of bringing fantasies to life. There are so few rules to be followed, in stories of your own making, so it’s a wonderful way for me to let my mind wander and meander a bit while also kinda sorta doing something productive, at least for creative definitions of “productivity.” But sometimes there’re ideas that sound so evocative when they form in my head that it seems like it’d be a shame for them to stay there forever.
Another part of it is because I’m addicted to feedback, both good and bad. Writing is awfully hard for me, most days, and sometimes the stories of mine I like the most can be the most frustrating things in the world. But if I’ve put in hours of work that didn’t always seem they were going to pay off at all, where it wasn’t always clear whether I was actually getting anywhere, all it takes is someone saying that the end result is “blissfully painful” or the like, or even exposing a flaw I’d never have picked out myself, and suddenly the entire process retroactively becomes something I’m deeply satisfied with.
Beyond that, though, I love the social aspect of it, which is something that, once upon a time, I never thought I’d be saying. I’ve made very interesting friends by writing, had some wonderful conversations, and the hobby’s just enriched my life tremendously. I can’t imagine stopping, at this point.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
This is the question I’ve been dreading a bit. I don’t consider myself very good at giving advice, not when there are so many people on this site so much more experienced and articulate than I am who’ve covered most of the things worth saying. I just kinda spew words onto a screen and somehow make some of them into pretty sentences.
But that’s really no excuse, so I’ll do what I can to contribute something worthwhile.
One of the beauties of fanfiction is that there are almost no rules. You’re free to experiment and play around and do weird things and really kind of do whatever you want. And you should do that. Try a lot of new things. Even if you’re like me and end up writing the same characters many times, try examining them from different angles, or putting them into different circumstances, or exploring new themes and settings.
On that note, know your own characters in as much detail as you possibly can. How they talk, how they look, how they gesture, how they feel, their darkest secrets, their sweetest dreams, everything you can possibly think of. The more details you can cement, especially when it comes to a character’s motives and emotions, the easier it is to keep them consistent and well-rounded and decide what they’re going to do next.
Ideally, you should also learn something new from every story you wrote. This one taught me something about the utility of strong character motivations, because more so than anything I’d written before this, essentially everything in this story happens because Adagio wants something. Feedback after publication taught me something about ambiguity, and basically how being just a little too open-ended can sabotage a story’s ending.
And, if you’re trying to improve, the very worst thing you can do is ignore criticism. I know, it’s not fun being criticized, and not all of it is worth listening to, but whether someone’s being polite, respectful and encouraging or vitriolic and unpleasant, at least consider that maybe they have a point. That’s all you have to do, just open yourself to the possibility of them being right. Not all your critics are going to be correct, and not all your prereaders and editors are either; at the end of the day, you should write your stories however you want to write them. But if you want to get better, you need to be able to acknowledge when you’ve made a mistake, and it shouldn’t matter where that feedback comes from or how it’s delivered.
This is where it becomes a good idea to make friends with other writers. Good friends, who want you to succeed and will help you do that even if it means telling you that your story sucks, have been some of the most valuable assets in my learning process.
Really, though, I think the most important thing is to write things that excite you. Decide for yourself what you want to get out of writing, and make sure you’re trying to make that goal happen.
What inspired Who We Are in the Dark?
Ooo, there’s a fair bit to say here.
First off, I’m gonna come clean: this entire story was basically an excuse to write a character who couldn’t understand facial expressions. Yeah, there were other ideas in it that I liked, but really, that was the thing that had me giggling and grinning while breaking all the characters’ hearts.
So let’s talk about where that came from.
When I was first thinking about entering the competition I wrote this story for, I spent pretty much a whole day brainstorming with a friend of mine. Somewhere down the line, he said something along the lines of, “Hey, what if Adagio’s gem was kinda like the SQUIP from Be More Chill?”
For those who aren’t aware, the SQUIP was basically this sentient computer that a high school loser implanted in himself. Essentially, it gave him real-time advice on how to be social and cool and stuff.
The idea here was that Adagio’s gem would do something similar. She fed on emotions, so we thought it was plausible that she could detect them, like she had this sixth sense that told her how people around her felt. Now, other stories have done things kinda like that with her, so that’s not really all that new.
But, basically, it was the thought of what life would be like for someone who’d had that extra sense for so long and then suddenly had to function without it that really got me excited. The prospect of writing a character who only had a tenuous grasp on the most basic non-verbal communication, who had to constantly second-guess and reassure herself and didn’t always get things right anyway, was so enticingly weird that I don’t think I could have not written this story once that thought had come to me. It was unlike anything I’d ever written or read, and that was why I wanted to do it. That one little flourish on the character was the thing that made me write this story, and it’s by far my favorite part of it.
Everything else about this story is kinda boring, I think, after that bit, but there’re a couple things to mention.
The chapter title, for one, came from what is probably my favorite song about cheating, “Unsuccessfully Coping With the Natural Beauty of Infidelity” by Type O Negative, which I cannot recommend enough if you’re the sort who’s not put off by pretty vulgar lyrics.
As for the other two characters in this story … there was a time when SunDagio was by far my favorite ship ever. I loved both the characters, I thought they had wonderful chemistry and they could bond over being villains and spill their guts and hug and kiss and cuddle and stuff and it was wonderful.
But then I spent … I think about a year and half, or maybe more? … trying to write it and ended up realizing a lot of things that I didn’t like about it.
One of them was that, the way I was writing her, Sunset felt really boring. It wasn’t any fault of hers, I think, it was just like she was this wholesome, emotionally stable, generally nice person surrounded on all sides by histrionic, extravagantly selfish divas on the brink of nervous breakdowns. It felt like Sunset was the one character who generally followed the rules when everybody else was casually ignoring them when convenient.
Now, one of the friends who helped me with this story, Tethered-Angel, has a story called Neighbors where Adagio and Rarity is a bit of a thing, so we were talking about that pairing a bit. Mainly, though, the question of whether or not Adagio could plausibly be a virgin came up. It ended up not working out in that story, but it got me thinking.
Mostly, it seemed like it’d fix at least some of the problems I had been having with SunDagio if the roles were reversed a bit. Adagio was the inexperienced, nervous one, Sunset more roguish, reckless, confident and so on. The basic framework of the story, minus the face thing, came about when I summarized it something along the lines of, “A sexy Sunset steals Adagio from Rarity.” It evolved quite a bit from there, but part of the impetus was to make Sunset more fun for me.
So once I had that and the face thing, and also threw Rarity in because, you know, when you have one ship you like and another ship you like, the obvious thing to do is to kind of mash them both together. The rest kinda fell into place from the characters’ motivations and both of my prereaders urging me not to do stupid things.
What is the extent of Adagio’s current problems with face-reading? Do you think she will learn to adjust in time?
It’s something that, at the point at which the story starts, is more embarrassing and inconvenient than crippling, most of the time. Rarity’s awfully expressive and tends to wear makeup that exaggerates that further, and is also very patient and supportive, so I think her involvement has been a big help.
But, at the same time, everyone tends to express slightly differently, and Adagio was purposefully shying away from other people. She can hold a conversation with someone, typically, but her grasp of things is often tenuous. So if she’s surprised or flustered and misses something, it can be difficult for her to get back on track. And it also makes her very bad at adjusting to new situations.
But I would certainly like to think she would manage to recover, yes. That being said, I’m not certain there’s a right answer to that, or that it could possibly come from me. Her situation is abnormal, I think, in ways that I personally do not have any comparable experiences with.
However, the ending to this story is already awfully bleak, and while I don’t think there was any way around that that would’ve been as satisfying, I personally am not the biggest fan of characters I like not getting their happy endings, so I very much like the idea of Adagio eventually managing to recover, if she really wanted to do so.
One of the things that I appreciated about Adagio in “Rainbow Rocks” is that she and the other sirens were some of the most no-nonsense villains of the franchise. They bickered incessantly amongst themselves, but pretty much only when there was almost nothing immediately at stake. The minute it became time for them to be dastardly and fiendish, whether that was sauntering about in the cafeteria or cornering Sunset in the hallway, they seemed to forget how much they all disliked each other and got the job done without missing a beat.
That kind of pragmatism makes me think that if there is any one character who could be brought so low that she can barely function around other people and then somehow manage to claw her way back up, it’s Adagio. She’s gotten some help from Rarity, and I think that and the continued fortitude of her willpower are all she needs.
Will Rarity and Sunset be able to repair their friendship?
I’m, sadly, not quite as optimistic here. I’d really like to be, but, the way I see things, the odds aren’t in their favor. They’ve both had their hearts broken that night, and I think they can rightly blame each other for playing a part in it. Rarity can resent that Sunset ruined something wonderful by leaping to conclusions and not stopping to clarify, while Sunset can say almost exactly the same thing about Rarity. That they both had joy snatched away from them so abruptly is going to stick with them for a long time, I think.
Now, Sunset in particular has done some pretty awful things and seen for herself the enrichment that comes with overcoming that, so I think it’s possible that she could find it in herself to forgive. I’m not quite sure I see the same thing coming out of Rarity so easily, though. For her, it’s like she’s been badly burned by someone, given them a second chance, and then had something even worse happen. I can see her being mature enough to not be outright spiteful, given time, but I have a hard time seeing her truly being friends with Sunset again.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’m thankful to have gotten as much help with this story as I did, both from forbloodysummer and Tethered-Angel brainstorming and prereading, and from Phaoray leaving some encouraging but insightfully critical comments shortly after publishing regarding the ending. I don’t think this story would’ve been half as good without them, if it would’ve ever existed at all.
Lastly, I think it’s a wonderful thing that the Royal Canterlot Library’s doing, and I’m exceedingly flattered to have my work included in it. Fimfiction is far and away the best online community I’ve come across, both for getting a good audience for your stories and also for fostering improvement, and I’m thankful for all the people who’ve made it so extraordinary.