Today’s story doesn’t play around when it comes to adorable-yet-poignant pony portrayals.
[Slice of Life] • 3,045 words
When trying to focus on her studies, Sunset Shimmer is stuck watching an annoying little filly who just won’t let her study.
FROM THE CURATORS: “This is a short, sweet, and magnificently characterized glimpse of Twilight’s formative years, back when Sunset Shimmer was still in Celestia’s good graces and accidentally influencing her successor,” FanOfMostEverything said in his nomination. And while you might look at the “Everyone” age rating and hnnng-inducing cover art and assume that “short and sweet” is the entirety of the story, there’s far more to it than that. “The layers are what really impress here,” Present Perfect said. “You have the very clear comparison being made between Sunset and Twilight, without it ever being stated outright. Then there are the machinations going on in the background, that are a bit more subtle but nevertheless present. And Sunset being mean to foals is its own reward.”
What sent the fic over the top in our voting was the care with which it walked that tightrope and brought its show backstory to life. “It’s always lovely when an author knows how to take a bit of headcanon and turn it into an actual story,” AugieDog said. “Too often, writers will just have the characters state the idea without going through the process necessary to truly shape it into a narrative.” But those characters came in for their share of praise, too. “Twilight feels like herself, not just some generic cute filly doing generic cute filly things,” FanOfMostEverything said. “All of Sunset’s layers are in full force, from the noble person she’ll become to the massive jerk that’s years away from getting knocked down a peg. And the ways Sunset unwittingly molds Twilight’s young mind are brilliant and somewhat tragic by turns.”
And yet, for all its drama, we still found the story melting our hearts. “The whole thing wraps up into a perfect little slice of life-from-the-past,” Present Perfect said, and AugieDog was equally effusive: “This story is just sharp all the way around.” All in all, not only was it a story exemplary on multiple levels, it was also an economical one. “It is one of those stories that manage to do a lot with very little,” Soge said, “interlocking some powerful pre-canon character interactions, a bit of worldbuilding, as well as highlighting very well the differences — and similarities — between Sunset then, and Twilight later. That it manages so much in just 3k words is nothing short of impressive.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Summer Dancer discusses teen definition, ponk bias, and post-bandage sarcasm.
Give us the standard biography.
I was born in Kentucky in November 1996, Thanksgiving Day (sorry, Mom).
I’ve moved across several different states over the years, but my permanent home is here in California. Growing up, I was insanely shy and insecure, so I spent a lot of time watching movies and reading books.
I graduated high school in 2015, and now I’m currently completing my college classes. As a film major, I have written and directed a handful of student films over the last few years. Besides school, I work at retail and usually spend my free time with family and friends. Writing usually comes last, but I always find time for it.
Right now, I’m just focusing on my studies.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Well, I wanted something easy to remember, and I wanted it to be something I liked. Summer is my favorite season, and I enjoy going to the beach. Whenever I’m standing close to the waves, I think of the song “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack. I decided to put two of them together: Summer Dancer. The pen-name reminds me of the beach, my favorite place in the world. It’s beyond cheesy, but that’s the feeling!
Who’s your favorite pony?
Pinkie Pie! She’s both a riot and wonderful hidden genius. She reminds me of the wacky cartoon characters I grew up loving, except she’s so deep. Despite being widely known as cheerful and upbeat, you never know what she’s going to do next, or how she’s going to make you feel. I think of Pinkie like an onion — she’s got lots of layers, that kooky gal. That’s what I love about her.
What’s your favorite episode?
This might be my Ponk bias talking, but it would definitely have to be Pinkie Pride. Cheese Sandwich was a great new character, Pinkie went on an emotional existential journey, and of course, the songs were amazing. All the gags were great too! It’s just a good time all around.
What do you get from the show?
Where do I start? I have to admit, my eyes rolled to the back of my head when I first heard of the show when I watched the YouTube video Teens React to: Bronies (In my defense, they only showed the theme song, but what can you do).
And then again when my friend showed me one of their newest songs. I remember it so well … it was “A True True Friend”. I remember telling him, “Maaaan, what are you watching, and why are you making me watch it?” But when I went home and started watching random episodes, I slowly began to fall in love.
I used to collect My Little Pony dolls when I was little, and I saw a few movies, but that was pretty much it (I was more of a Barbie girl, anyway). The show itself turned out to be far more than it seemed to be on the surface.
I quickly fell in love with both the characters and their world. The simple but sweet stories, the compassion, the lightheartedness … it just drew me in. I also liked the fact that, yeah, it’s a show targeted at little girls, but it can grab just about everyone. And good ol’ slapstick will always be there.
It’s simple, it’s humble, it’s just ponies doing their pony thing. The songs surprised me too, especially “This Day Aria” and “The Smile Song”.
The amount of respect and care that they put into this seemingly small children’s show is amazing and inspiring. Even before the exposure and fame, you can tell that they made sure to put their best foot forward.
And finally, all the wonderful people I’ve come to know and love in the brony fandom. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows, but there are friends aplenty around here. So many people are eager to help you out or lend an ear whenever you need it, and it’s lovely. There are so many talented people, it’s almost dizzying! The art, the music, the animations, the fanfics …
Wow, I just realized that ponies helped define my teenhood.
What do you want from life?
Everything life itself has to offer!
I just want to get creative. See the world, inspire others. Create strong, long-lasting relationships. I’d like to marry and have children, but not before enjoying more time to myself. I’ve got the rest of my 20s to live out!
I’d also like to find a fulfilling career. It’s important to do what you love for a living, and I hope I can achieve that.
Why do you write?
Reading fanfiction is awesome, but sometimes I can’t find things that I’d really like to read about. Searching for just the right fic got tiring, but the desire kept on burning. So instead of wishing, I finally decided to write stuff for myself. It was super daunting at first, because I hadn’t written a story of my own since the fourth grade. But over time, I started to find some type of groove.
It’s nice, putting my own spin on things. I love writing moments between characters that I wish they had shared onscreen. I remember being so riveted by fanfictions I read online when I was a preteen. The thought of possibly doing the same thing for someone else pleases my inner 12-year-old more than I can say.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
1) If you love the story idea, go for it! If it’s the kind of story you can’t stop thinking about, then it’s meant to be yours. Write it out, see how you feel. Don’t be afraid!
2) Try and be open to constructive criticism. It can be hard to hear sometimes, but these authors, they’re here to help. I had to be corrected a bunch of times when I was first starting out, but it helped me improve. I still have to be corrected — typos are my #1 enemy … (shudders). But, yeah. As writers, we’re always learning. We never stop!
3) If you get stuck at a certain part of the story, try not to sweat it too much. You could always take a break from the story and come back to it when you’ve cleared your mind. But if you find yourself really struggling, and you practically have to claw your way through a scene, it probably doesn’t belong in the story. You can take some elements you really want and save it for something else, but you can always try writing it in a different way. It might be a better scene than it was before!
4) Take your time when you need it, it’s your story, but if you, like me, enjoy a good kick in the pants to get writing again, go get ‘em.
5) Music + Writing = Bliss.
What inspired “Sandbox”?
The cover picture, drawn by an MLP artist named baekgup, inspired it all. The picture itself was inspired by the IDW comic The Fall of Sunset Shimmer. In one of the comic pages, filly Twilight could be seen in the background playing with a ball while Sunset turned down an invitation to hang out with potential friends. Sunset was still a full grown pony, but she’s still on the young side.
I remember looking at it a few years before I write the story, and I found it adorable. When I found the picture again, I just had to write something about it. At first, it was just about Sunset bumping into filly Twilight, and that would be it. The idea that (spoiler!) Sunset might have influenced Twilight’s way of thinking only surfaced while I was typing the first few paragraphs.
If Sunset was indeed a student in Canterlot, then the chances of crossing paths with Twilight could have been possible! I’ve always thought that Sunset was a few years older than Twilight … by how much, I’m not quite sure, but I can’t really rule it out either.
Twilight and Sunset used to have similar mindsets, though Twilight still turned out to be a lot nicer. It was hilarious to watch Twilight freak out over the littlest things in Lesson Zero and beyond, but you have to wonder where she gets these insane ideas from. The ponies in her life prior to Ponyville are all pretty chill.
Of course, we can safely say that Twilight is just naturally paranoid, which is most likely the case, but I thought that it would be interesting to have Sunset Shimmer plant little seeds into Twilight’s head, preparing her for the world.
Twilight could have easily forgotten Sunset at such a young age, but you can’t kill an idea. Once it makes a home … there. It sticks.
How important is it for you to keep the characters as close to canon as possible?
Oh, very. I try to keep the characters consistent in any situation I put them in, because I know it’s what I would want as a reader. When I write a different character, I imagine their voices in my head, as well as their actions. If it doesn’t sound or look right, I scrap it. I can pretty much do whatever I’d like with them, but I try to keep who they are at their core intact.
For example, people often say they have a hard time writing Pinkie. I do too, sometimes. She’s hard to get exactly right. When I cross that bridge, I try and keep in mind three things: 1) She cares deeply about her friends/family and always has their interests at heart, even if it’s perhaps misguided. 2) She’s smart. Her methods can be confusing and strange, and she can be naïve, but ultimately, she has a lot more going on upstairs than we give her credit for. 3) She doesn’t make wild things happen just because. When something occurs, she observes, analyzes, then reacts to it. She’s not random for the sake of being random … it’s just in her repertoire.
Or, say I wanted an outrageous, slapstick comedic story involving Twilight and Spike. I try to remember: Would Spike laugh? Probably, if I wanted him to, but only if he’s sure that Twilight’s not seriously, irreparably, practically-on-her-death-bed injured. He’d want to check to see if she was okay first, maybe help bandage her up. Then the sarcastic comments can fly. There would eventually have to be a point when he would have to put his foot down as well.
I try to keep that little tether throughout any type of story, whether it’s romance, adventure or even a thriller. Unless they’re somehow brainwashed or under mind control — then all bets are off, heh.
Do you tend to get an idea and then decide what characters will work best with it, or will you pick the characters before coming up with a story for them?
A little bit of both, but it’s mostly the idea. Watching the show usually sparks an idea or two. Sometimes, though, I just want to write something cute (or not so cute, if it’s a sad one). Some characters come to mind more than others when it comes to a certain story idea.
Do you prefer planning out your stories beforehand or letting them come together during the typing process?
Only some of it is beforehand. I think about the story for a little while, but when I’m typing, things almost always change. Most times I just write as I go along — I usually don’t know where the story is going, or how it’s going to end. New ideas usually pop into my head as I type, and then I reconstruct the whole thing. It’s a process that typically takes a few days, or a week.
When I actually do know what I want, it’s a lot simpler. Those types of stories only take a few hours to put together.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’d just like to thank everyone who enjoys reading my stories. It really does warm my heart to hear that people like to read my fics. I never thought such a thing would be possible. So, thanks a million, from the bottom of my heart. You are all amazing friends.
I also want to thank the folks behind the Royal Canterlot Library for considering Sandbox. It’s very honoring!