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Give today’s story a chance to conquer your heart.

Winning, and the pitfalls therein.
[Comedy] [Random] [Alternate Universe] • 42,517 words

What if the villains were allowed to win without a fight? Would all of their plans bear them the fruits they so desired?

Probably not, especially when their royal adviser is Twilight Sparkle.

A collection of (continuous) one-shots in which our heroes don’t have any epic fights with villains, and simply allow the power of logic to crush all of the hopes and wishes of the would-be rulers of Equestria.

FROM THE CURATORS: “It’s a question every would-be tyrant has to face eventually,” FanOfMostEverything quipped in our discussion.  “You’ve conquered the kingdom/world/galaxy/universe. Congratulations. Now what?”

As this week’s feature shows, that’s a question with a surprising amount of depth — a depth matched by the story itself.  “It’s hard to categorize this genre-wise, except that it’s relentlessly clever and methodical about finding ways to end-run around the show’s plot holes,” Horizon said in his nomination, and our debate was marked by repeated comments about that cleverness.  “The writing itself is somewhat flat, but the world presented therein is anything but,” RBDash47 said, while FanOfMostEverything half-disagreed: “I honestly didn’t notice the flat writing; the brilliant ideas shine through it.”

Those ideas sparked comparisons of the best kind.  “This feels an awful lot like the gleeful deconstruction of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, mashed up with the themes of redemption and friendship which make MLP stories feel ‘pony’, and I’m in love with the result,” Horizon said.  RBDash47 was equally a fan — but for very different reasons.  “I just finished a re-watch of The West Wing,” he said, “and I’m reminded of that series here, in that it’s both optimistic and features competent characters coming up with clever solutions to seemingly-intractable problems that make everyone happy. I very much enjoyed following along with Twilight as she mercilessly attacked her antagonists with nothing but pure reason, and gradually found herself as the power behind the throne in the balance.”

But what sealed the deal for us was strong character work.  “Where it really shines is how Twilight isn’t always right,” FanOfMostEverything said.  “Logical and internally consistent, yes, but not always right. The avenues she goes down add to both the humor and the depth of the story at every turn, and the increasingly absurd team of advisors she builds as time goes on only adds to that.”  AugieDog praised that as well: “When Twilight almost immediately jumps to the wrong conclusion at the beginning of the Chrysalis section, it did a lot to make this version of the character work.”  (“The entire Chrysalis arc is just gorgeous on toast,” Horizon added.)  Ultimately, we found that made this story stand out amid a sea of others tinkering with the show’s results: “‘Fixfic’ can be a dirty word,” RBDash47 said, “but I have to admire this one.”

Read on for our author interview, in which RandomNPC discusses SCIENCE, sibling relations, and a few different kinds of character redemption.


 

Give us the standard biography.

So, for a bit about myself:  I’m 29, I enjoy SCIENCE, though particularly biological engineering, which I studied for my Bachelor’s.  I made the questionable decision to try to get a job and enough money to pay off my student loans before going back for my Masters or working on a Ph.D., and I’ve been stuck in the soul-crushing business of tech support for the last four years.  

I started really getting into creative writing back around 10 years ago, though I didn’t wind up publishing anything until getting on this site, mostly due to an inability to finish one story before wanting to start a new one, and not wanting to subject the world to my writing before I thought it was actually halfway decent.  I also haven’t published much else — just one uncompleted thing on fanfiction.net that I haven’t updated in entirely too long (I wound up losing momentum after back-to-back issues of an eye injury, being horribly sick, and then family issues, and then couldn’t get back into the story). I’d kind of like to, but I don’t want to publish anything else unless I think I’ll be able to finish it, since I know the pain of a story I really like suddenly dying.  

Life has been very, very busy and stressful the last few years, so … I’ve mostly kept up with my writing through various roleplaying games such as D&D — both written online and played in person — and with small groups or pairs of writing partners to work out short stories. Also, my hard drive probably has more started stories that are only on the first chapter or two than I care to admit, that are all waiting for me to get around to continuing and picking one to actually post and finish somewhere.

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

“RandomNPC” is, of course, a blatant reference to video games in general and to how so very many people in the worlds exist, but you can’t really interact with them in a meaningful enough way to know anything about them beyond that.  They’re faces in a crowd, people you pass and forget — maybe someone who tells you a joke, or who gives you some helpful advice before you forget who they were.

I’m a fan of stories that develop some of the throwaway characters, the NPCs, and make them more than just the cardboard cutout in the original game or show; but it’s also a bit of a commentary on how I think the Internet often causes the same sort of experience in real life for a lot of people.  There are so many people who you might read something from, you might hear them say something, but there’s no way for anyone to keep everyone they ever see online straight — with the lack of faces to put to names, it’s often even worse than meeting a similar number of people in real life to try to interact with. At most, people can get to know a small group here and there, recognize the names of some of their favorite authors or friends, and then everyone else winds up as some random NPCs who had a line here and there that you might remember but not recall who said it.  Or they’ll blend into the background noise.

Who’s your favorite pony?

If I’m being perfectly honest, Rainbow Dash.  She brings a lot of energy to the show, she sees some excellent growth as a character at times, and she’s just fun to see interacting with others.  She’s not as immersion-breaking as Pinkie’s antics can be, either, and she shows nicely how people can be very different while still having common interests and strong bonds with others if they’re willing to try new things.  Not to mention both her anxiety issues mirroring Twilight’s own, along with the drive they both have in their own fields to show that it’s not just interests that very different-seeming people can share, but fears and strengths as well.

What’s your favorite episode?

There are a lot of good episodes to choose from, and it’s hard to pick just one.  They’re often good in different ways, so one might have my favorite character interactions, while another might pluck at the heartstrings with sympathy, or hit on a topic that’s relevant to my life.  

If I had to pick, though, I think I’d go with the ‘Art of the Dress’ episode; Rarity started as my least favorite character, and didn’t really do much to change that prior to it. She was over-dramatic, shamelessly manipulative at times, and seemed concerned more with material things, skin-deep beauty, popularity and wealth — both in herself and in who she wants to romance.  She had redeeming traits still, and she wasn’t completely awful, but she had only barely managed to avoid being completely unlikable to me. Taking that initial impression and turning it around almost completely to having me sympathize with her and actually start seeing a lot more depth to her character was impressive, and a bit inspiring.

What do you get from the show?

Life is stressful.  It’s full of unfair endings, things that go bad for good people, and senseless arguments and fights that could have been avoided.  The show doesn’t ignore that there are problems with life, but it casts them as things to be solved and overcome, that can always be solved and overcome.  It’s always optimistic, it always gives more ups than downs, and ultimately, it just makes me smile.  When I’m not complaining about writers ignoring a character’s previous development or characterization, and not cringing at something particularly dumb and shoehorned in to get to the requisite moral of the week, at least.  

Jokes about quality drops over time aside, I still come back to the ponies when I need a dose of color and cheerfulness to cheer me up.

What do you want from life?

Magic.  Just give me that and have physics stop being such a stick in the mud, and I’ll be happy.  

Failing that, of course … I enjoy solving problems.  Fixing things.  Figuring out a puzzle.  And I always feel at my best when I’ve been able to make someone happy, or inspire someone. So I want to find a way in life to do something that will make things better, or at least more enjoyable, for a lot of people.  Maybe by eventually publishing some books or something that wind up inspiring as much joy as the ‘Harry Potter’ series or MLP:FIM have.  Maybe by doing something in biological engineering, since I find that fascinating and it’s what I studied for my degree (if I can get out of my current job and back into my own field, or maybe get a higher-level degree to help with that, anyway).

Why do you write?

This is a surprisingly hard question to answer.  Part of it is stress relief, from being able to get lost in the fantasy of a world similar to reading.  Part of it is the enjoyment of creating things — puzzling out how they should work, and having things fit together or progress.  Part of it is the enjoyment of other people when I share the work, and making someone smile. Part of it is in the challenge, in improving myself noticeably in something.  And part of it is just being able to order my thoughts and get ideas out of my head to paper.

What advice do you have for the authors out there?

Ultimately, unless it’s writing for a friend as a present or something, try not to worry too much about what other people will think.  Focus on if you enjoy writing something first, and then worry about if you want to show it to others, who you want to show it to, and how much you want to edit or clean it for them. When something stops being about what you’re inspired to write, or what you’re enjoying writing, it’s incredibly easy to lose interest and momentum, and for it to become a chore you feel almost required to do.  

It’s fine to enjoy people’s reactions and talk to a bunch of people about your story and what you’re doing with it, collaborating some or having people help with edits and discussing how to make it better. But try not to ever let them push you into writing something in a direction that you don’t enjoy, and likewise, don’t tie yourself and your story’s value completely to other people’s opinions about it.

Which was your favorite villain to write, and why?

Discord, definitely.  All of them were enjoyable in their own ways, but Discord came with his own unique way of inspiring creativity in looking for wordplay, having me experiment with how the written word and the media could be used in less standard ways at times.  Not all of that wound up in the story, but even the parts I cut or changed were a fun sort of challenge and learning experience.

What drove your decisions for Twilight Sparkle’s characterization as she grew into a very different role from the show?

At the start of the first chapter, I was mostly trying to keep to the initial character as much as I could — what we were shown of her in the first season (especially the earlier episodes) but with a simple premise, that she jumped to a different, equally viable conclusion from her research when Celestia told her not to worry about it.  I based it partly on Twilight’s positive relation with her own older sibling, along with the legend that the show opened on, which she was reading before Twilight found the second book about Nightmare Moon’s return.  Then I ran from there while trying to hold a tone that I thought was still in keeping with the show overall.

Moving on, some of it flowed fairly naturally with developments I could see happening, or that just kind of inserted themselves in when I was writing and didn’t seem to want to let me delete them out … but some of the other bits were influenced in part with trying to react to the comments section on the story.  I hadn’t ever published anything before online, and I was at the time much less familiar with trusting my own ideas or realizing that I couldn’t please everyone at once.

The third episode I did with the changelings, I was trying to balance a mix of the new Twilight I had worked her toward, along with Lesson Zero from the show, while trying to keep both the comedy I wanted and other things that commenters had been complaining they wanted to see.  It didn’t come out horrible, I don’t think, but looking back on it, I’m nowhere near as satisfied with it as I think I would have been if I had ignored the comments section for the most part.

Or maybe that’s the fact that my writing style has changed over the years since, and me cringing a bit at some of my old writing.

Do you think MLP is more or less friendly to this sort of rational deconstruction than other fictional worlds of its type?

I’d say that MLP is surprisingly friendly towards deconstructions like this one, as well as other, possibly (probably) better ones out there.  

A lot of the villains are people in their own right, or were at least originally cast in a way that shows them as such, and most of them even get in-show redemptions eventually … even if that hadn’t been as big a thing when I started writing this story.  There’s also a lot of references to mythology, small details that can spawn very interesting ideas on how Equestria works, and multiple magic systems with hints as to how they might function that can be developed by authors with the mind and inclination. Yet, despite all the depth put into the show by the writers, it ultimately still tries to remain simple in the morals and resolutions that it gives, due to the original target audience.  As such, there are a lot of situations that might be able to be looked at differently and deconstructed in writing, which in the show are either glossed over and played for laughs, or are given a simple resolution that kids can understand and enjoy without being bored by, but adults might not always be satisfied by.

This is your only MLP fanfic — have you written original fiction, or in other fandoms, that readers here might also appreciate?

Most of my writing doesn’t wind up posted anywhere, partly due to simply not being sure that I’ll wind up finishing the idea in question.  A lot of my other writing winds up being related to D&D and similar games, either online or for a group I run in real life. Currently, I don’t have any other completed or ongoing works that I’m actively updating for public viewing, although I’ve been considering starting one again for a while.  Working full-time and having various issues in real life has so far had me unwilling to commit to trying to maintain any sort of update schedule for a story, though.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Nope.

You can read Winning, and the pitfalls therein. at FIMFiction.net. Read more interviews right here at the Royal Canterlot Library, or suggest stories for us to feature at our Fimfiction group.

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