Today’s story never says never.
[Sad] [Slice of Life] • 1,478 words
Lightning Dust will never be a Wonderbolt. When she left the Academy, she swore she’d never look back. When the Washouts disbanded, she swore she’d forget about them.
Yet after all these years, against all odds, she finds herself here. At a Wonderbolts show. Just on the wrong side of the glass.
FROM THE CURATORS: To those of us who obsess over our editing process, ‘speedwriting’ can be a dirty word — but as this Quills & Sofas first-place winner shows, sometimes that helps authors trim a story down to exactly what needs to be on the page. AugieDog’s nomination summed it up: “Essentially, Lightning Dust is sitting with her wife Fiddlesticks in a private box at a Wonderbolts show, and in the space of 1,478 words, the author gives us a pretty darn complete look at Dust’s post-‘Washouts’ life, both the good and the bad.” The floodgates of praise quickly opened up. “This was subtly fantastic,” Present Perfect said, and Soge agreed: “A great find indeed. At its heart it is a very simple story, but looks can be deceiving.”
What impressed us most was an exemplary economy of words. “The author’s focus is so tightly held,” AugieDog said. “There are half-sentences here that could be the short descriptions of much longer stories, but while I may have blinked at one or two of them, I never felt cheated that I wasn’t reading that story.” Soge enjoyed reading between the lines: “It is one of those fics which manages to say much more than its word count would imply – the state of Lightning Dust’s situation, the bitterness that she managed to conquer, the happiness she eventually found.” And Present Perfect appreciated how it managed to play with expectations despite its length: “There are some signs ahead of the twist where you can see it coming, but the one-two punch in the middle that recontextualizes both the ‘Lightning Dust could never be a Wonderbolt’ mantra and why she’s at a Wonderbolts show in the first place was brilliant.”
Along the way, the attention to detail also drew praise. “It’s always a great sign when little elements like the chocolates serve double or even triple duty, showing us character while they set the scene and do solid worldbuilding by implication,” Horizon said. Ultimately, that helped the story cohere into more than the sum of its parts. “This is such a short story, but everything it does, it accomplishes in precisely the way it needed to to succeed,” Present Perfect said. And, Soge added, “the ending is very effective, and elevates the whole thing.”
Read on for our author interview, in which The Red Parade discusses doubt, lower-case titles and background ponies.
Give us the standard biography.
Male, lives in Southern California. That’s all I’m willing to say about myself. And in my opinion, that’s really all you need to know about me.
(I don’t mean this to be arrogant, I’m just a private person and kind of shy!)
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Red Parade is, I believe, the second name I’ve gone by on this site, although I doubt there’s anyone here who knew me by the first name. This name also had the beginning of ‘The Red,’ but I wasn’t a big fan of the second half. I decided to drop it and replace it with ‘Parade’ for a few reasons: first, that I thought the words played well off of each other, and second as a reference to My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade, an all time favorite album of mine. But beyond that, this account was really just a throwaway account that I forgot to throw away. And I guess in that sense it’s failed spectacularly!
Who’s your favorite pony?
It’s a toss up I suppose between Braeburn, Lightning Dust, Daring Do, and Fiddlesticks. Braeburn’s always been a top favorite of mine. No idea why. Fiddlesticks came later but she’s still a very fun character for me to write, and I often end up defaulting to using her for speedwrites when I can’t think of anything. Lightning Dust and Daring Do are both challenging in their own way but pay off well when I can make them work. Background ponies for the win.
What’s your favorite episode?
Probably Slice of Life, because if you couldn’t tell already, I really like background ponies. Because it feels like there’s a lot of stories about the main characters. But I’m interested in the background, the ones who are moving about their daily lives, because that’s who I associate myself with.
What do you get from the show?
The power of the show continues to impress me. Ironically, when I started writing on this site I was determined to go it alone, without needing the help or support of anybody else. Kind of funny that I forgot about the whole ‘Friendship is Magic’ portion, huh?
Eventually I realized how backwards this approach was and fixed it, and I’ve become a much better writer and probably person since then.
Beyond that I guess it’s just the world that the show’s created. It gives so many people a base, or a platform to stand on. To make their own interpretations and voice their own views.
What do you want from life?
I don’t really have the view that life owes me anything. I’m more of the belief that I’ve got to work for whatever it is that I want. As for what I want… I haven’t really figured that out yet. But I’ll get there someday.
I guess one thing I do want is to just be there. Because I know how frustrating it is feeling like there’s nobody there to help you when you need someone. I don’t know if I can help you, and I don’t know if I’m the best option. But hey, if you need someone to listen, I’ll be glad to lend an ear and hear you out.
Why do you write?
I guess I’ve always been a storyteller at heart. I write because quite frankly it’s one of the few things I can do well. I guess I’ve always been the type of guy who needs a creative vent, starting as playing with Legos and morphing into writing at some point in my childhood.
I’ve always been the type of guy to have a bunch of random ideas bouncing around in my head. Writing is how I get them all out. And it just works for me: it barely costs anything and there’s not really a downside to doing it. Eventually, I guess I’ll run out of things to say, but hopefully I won’t get there for a long time.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Well, there’s already a lot of good advice out there from a lot of different people. So I guess what I’ll say is that you just have to find what works for you. Speedwriting works wonders for me because it addresses some of my biggest problems with writing. It might not work for you and that’s fine.
Because writing isn’t something where there’s a strict formula. There are plenty of great writers and stories that break the very rules they were written under. And there’s a million others that succeed within their confines.
So yeah. You just have to find your niche, or what you like writing and find yourself good at. And on that point, I’ll add that you don’t have to stick to it. Experimenting is scary, but who knows what it could yield.
Go at your own pace, feel it out and learn what works and what doesn’t. Above all though, don’t put your story above yourself. If you want to stop, stop. There’s no shame in abandoning an idea if you’ve lost passion for it. If it’s hurting you, stop. You’re so much more important than your story.
And I guess the last point I can think of is that ideas are never really ‘thrown away.’ I mentioned earlier that I gave up on some of my projects like The River because I lost interest in them, but those concepts never really went away. In fact, through all of the speedwrites that I’ve done, I think I’ve basically told the story of The River without actually writing it.
So I guess my point is don’t give up. Some things will work and some things won’t. That’s just the way it goes.
What — other than the contest prompt — inspired “never forever”?
The title itself stems from a few things. First off, there’s a great, sad song by a guy called EDEN named forever//over, and it’s such a beautifully crafted song that it plays heavy on my mind sometimes. Beyond that there were a few lines from MCR’s Vampires Will Never Hurt You and The World Is Ugly, particularly the lines of “one day like this, we’ll never be the same. Never, forever, like ghosts in the snow, like ghosts in the sun.”
I was listening to The World is Ugly shortly before the contest started, and I decided to couple that with the mood of forever//over, resulting in the title never forever. My writing style is a bit sporadic, but most times I start with the title and work my way from there.
Before the contest I was doing some readings on Lightning Dust and came to the realization that there weren’t very many redemption stories about her, especially after her second appearance in Washouts. I decided to challenge myself to outline a possible future for her after what we see in the show and explore what could have happened to her. That was where the whole plotline came from.
These were the things I took with me when I started writing. I had a few bits and concepts floating around my head that I never used, and I decided to dust them off and finally put them to use. The end result was this story!
This isn’t the first story where you’ve paired Lightning Dust and Fiddlesticks. Why is that?
It’s a long, interesting history of me writing with these two characters. When I was writing a project called time changes everything I began researching background characters to write stories about. Fiddlesticks and Lightning Dust were a part of this cast, though I don’t think I paired them together at any point during that project.
When time changes everything faded away, I kept these two characters in my mind, as something about them just drew me to them. Fiddlesticks was a blank slate: we have virtually no information about her and she doesn’t even have a FimFic tag (yet!). Lightning Dust on the other hand has a very clear story to her, to the point where she’s often seen as irredeemable.
So I brought them with me when I drafted out another now defunct project called The River. This story saw Lightning Dust move to Appleloosa and befriend Fiddlesticks after getting kicked out of the Washouts. Here, I compared them to Rainbow Dash and Applejack and used this as a basis to justify a friendship between them. At some point I decided to escalate their relationship to a romantic one.
And again, The River fell apart as I lost interest in it, but this new idea stuck with me. I liked what I planned out in terms of their friendship and kept it for further exploration. And finally, I was able to put it to use in Mapping Manehattan.
To me, their dynamic is one of two opposite poles, so to speak: Lightning needs someone who can keep her grounded and keep her head straight, someone who’s able to reign her in. Fiddlesticks, in my interpretations of her, is a character who’s been through a lot and needs companionship and someone to stick with her.
Due to the challenges of Mapping Manehattan I was never really able to explicate this, but I got the chance with never forever. I don’t consider Lightning Dust to be completely irredeemable, per say, but I’ve always thought that in order for her to change, something fairly extreme would have to happen to her, because she’s not the type to pick up on subtleties.
But yeah. All in all, their relationship was one of the first times I thought “okay, I could set this up, but how would I make it believable?” and started writing around that idea.
Why are some of your story titles — like this one — in lower case?
It’s interesting. Something about lower case titles just has an almost aesthetic and poetic appeal to me. EDEN, the artist I mentioned earlier, does this in quite a few songs, for example forever//over, start//end, falling in reverse, woah, and crash. To me this just changes the meaning and adds a whole ‘nother layer to a story.
I like to consider it like this: when titles aren’t capitalized, it carries with it some sort of significance. When I read them, my mind doesn’t put as much emphasis on the words, making them almost seem like a whisper rather than exclamation.
And this is oftentimes the tone I want to convey when I write sadder stories. I’ve also used this in some other cases to convey the sense that something is wrong and unsettle the reader right off the bat: as seen in romance and phantoms forever.
I don’t know. To me it’s funny how I can change the very implication of a word just by adjusting the title. It makes a story feel a bit more sadder and a bit more softer, in the sense that the title isn’t big, brash, and jumping out at you. Instead it’s subdued and calmer, looking like just another word. Or as part of a sentence, one that you’re going to have to read more of to understand.
And, well, that’s what a title is for, isn’t it?
Or, we could just say that I’m overanalyzing this and I just do it because it looks cool. Take your pick!
What attracts you to the Quills & Sofas speedwriting contests?
A few months ago I was invited to PonyJosiah13 (author of the excellent Ponyville Noire series, by the way)’s Discord server. At the time, I didn’t have a Discord account, so I figured it was high time to make one. After getting it set up, I remembered that there were a lot of other groups out there that I never joined, because, well, I didn’t have an account. Quills and Sofas was one of them.
And it was probably the best decision I could have made. There’s so much about the server that appeals to me and makes it enjoyable. My writing style often tends to be sporadic, and I work best when I force myself to sit down and actually frickin’ write something. Speedwrites force you to do this, and not only that, but you just can’t doubt yourself.
Doubt is one of my biggest problems: thousands of stories have died just because I don’t think they’re good enough, or because I make excuses so I don’t have to write them. But in a speedwrite, there isn’t time to doubt yourself. You’ve just got to get up, get something, and go.
And on another point, I love to experiment with my writing. I just never really had the right outlet to do so. Speedwrites suit this perfectly, because everyone has a set amount of time with no prior planning, and you get pretty much instant feedback. I’ve been able to pull off a lot of different tricks with writing, and I’ve even forayed into some new genres that I never thought I’d write in.
But the biggest reason why I love it there is the feedback. I’ve met so, so many amazing authors who give absolutely amazing criticism and feedback, no matter what skill level you’re at.
Seriously. It just feels like a place where writers of all levels can come together and just have a great time. And as cliche as it sounds it’s not about the winning. It’s so much more than the contests and keeping track of who wins and who loses.
And the works I’ve seen produced from speedwrites are just absolutely fantastic. It’s really amazing to see what people can come up with when you take away that aspect of doubting yourself, and I think this really shines a light on your potential.
To anyone who reads this, I’d highly recommend you give it a go sometimes! Even if you don’t get a win, the feedback you walk away with is so amazing and it’s something you might not get anywhere else.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
My biggest fear in life is getting a God Complex. I never, never want to be ‘that guy’ who thinks he’s so high up there that everyone else is below him and that he’s untouchable. Because I know those people and I hate them. The downside to this is that I really don’t know how to take compliments. It’s always a debate between do I say thanks and risk seeming pretentious? and do I just brush it off and say ‘it could be better’ and risk sounding arrogant? So I want to take this time to say thank you.
Thank you to Seer, Zontan, SilentWhisper, Flash, Mousse, Wishes, Moonshot, Drider, Ruby, Koren, Syke, Krazy, Bill, Lofty, Regi, Nailah, and everyone else on the Q and S server for reading my stuff and giving me your feedback. You’ve all helped me become a much better writer, and your stuff is all amazing as well. Thank you to Bricklayer, PonyJosiah13, and Seriff Pilcrow for letting me throw ideas at you. Thanks to the folks in the My Little Pony Reviews and Feedback Group for reading, reviewing, and helping everyone become better writers. Thank you to my editor EverfreePony for taking the time to read my works and leaving your valuable feedback.
Above all, thank you to everyone who’s read my stuff and liked it. I’m truly touched that I’ve made it this far. Thank you to everyone who’s believed in me, because I’ve never believed in myself.
I’ve still got a very long road ahead of me, but it’s alright. I don’t mind the walk.