Friday, May 3, 2013

Arcainum's Five Should Be Enough

So here's the thing. I've discovered that I apparently really enjoy time loop stories. This is the third one to join the Vault. What up with that? Maybe it's because it's a fascinating plot device, a interesting way to explore characters and situations.

You've got Capn Chryssalid's Best Night Ever, in which Prince Blueblood what's really important in life.

You've got Eakin's Hard Reset, in which Twilight Sparkle kicks some serious flank and we all enjoy the ride.

And then you've got this story. This story, in which Applejack learns to make a sacrifice those of us with family have surely considered before. It's not heartwarming like Best Night Ever. It's not fun like Hard Reset. It's like Applejack - it makes its point and gets the job done.

[Tragedy] • 8,100 words
When a tragic event befalls Applejack, she takes drastic measures in an effort to prevent it. But can a simple farm pony make a difference in the face of an inevitable end?

A story about the sacrifices we aren't willing to make, and those that we are.

Hit the break for a chat with Arcainum and links to Five Should Be Enough out on the ponynet. Don't forget to grab an ebook copy over at the Downloads page.

Where do you live?

I hail from the UK and currently reside on the Wirral peninsula, a little strip of land just above Wales that no one's ever heard of.

What kind of work do you do? (i.e. are you a student, do you have a career/day job, etc)

I work in the fruit-and-veg aisle of my local Tesco. Sometimes I help my mum with her childminding job. Stop me if this is getting too glamorous for you.

How did you discover My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic? When did you realize you were a fan of the show?

Warning: Story you've heard a million times before, incoming! Just after the first season ended, random chance led me to watch the "Physics In MLP:FiM" video (one day, I will get around to writing a story about butterflies made of dark matter), thought "Hmm, this fellow seems to enjoy this show." Research, discovery, devoured the show, bam.

As for realising I was a fan... I still don't really consider myself one. Or perhaps I should say I don't consider myself one especially? I realised I liked the show when I noticed I was up to Episode 9 of a My Little Pony series and was still watching, but I tend to devote myself rather wholeheartedly to everything that I like, so... Call it then.

Do you have a favorite episode?

Seasons 1 and 2. Failing that, the two minutes and five seconds of show during which Steven Magnet is featured.

I find it very hard to pin down an actual favourite episode. I tend to rate my experiences with any given serial media as a whole, so in my head I only have "Man, FiM is pretty sweet." Probably "Sisterhooves Social", actually, because that has some pretty fantastic acting and animation on the part of Rarity and Sweetie Belle and was just a good episode all-round that I could easily relate to, having two younger sisters of my own. Also it was the best Friendship is Witchcraft episode, so it's a double whammy of hohoho.

Who is your favorite character based purely on the canon of the show itself? Would your answer change if you considered the fandom in its entirety (i.e. art, fanfiction, memes, etc)?

Canon-wise, the flamboyant water serpent in the second half of the pilot. Fanon-wise, Steven Magnet.

I really like Rarity. I think it used to be Fluttershy because, if I'm honest, moe~, but as time went on Rarity really came into her own. She's got a great character, great episodes, and I know I'm imagining it but it feels like her animations are always top-notch. She has way more "haha oh god that is the BEST POSSIBLE FACE" moments than any other character for me.

Also, she comes packaged with Sweetie Belle, who comes in at Fanon Best because of the aforementioned FiW showing. Damn, was that a fine piece of work.

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

IwascreatingacharacterforaKingdomHeartsRP and couldn't think of a name, so my friend said "iunno, Caine or something." I started using it for all my online nicks because I'm lazy, and when I couldn't get it I would add certain affixes until I did. Arcainum was the one that I had used most recently when I submitted Harpflank and Sweets to EqD so I used that. And now you know. Just be glad I'm not called Arcaeniume, writing stories about brooding teenage ponies shooting keyblades from their eyes and making out with Mickey Mouse, Mulan, and Sephiroth, who is now also a pony.


Have you written in other capacities (other fandoms, professionally, etc)? When did you first start writing?

I am art's bane, the hobbyist writer. I produced a metric buttload of fanfiction as a fresh-faced youth of 14ish, because if I liked a thing my first instinct was to write a story about it, but I went through a six-or-seven year dry spell of putting words to page before jumping into ponyfic and that cooled the coals somewhat. Nowadays I just write fanfic (for pretty much anything I like - I'm working on a Borderlands 2 fic at the moment titled "Napoleon Bonerfart") and the occasional excerpt from original stories that will never be made, because I enjoy it. I have made tentative pokes in the direction of videogaming journalism but frankly I haven't had the guts, stones, and/or moxie to make the leap into actually trying anything as of yet.

The very first thing I ever wrote that wasn't for school was a continuation of the story I wrote for my Year 5 (5th Grade) English SAT, a searing political thriller military action romance in which the fragile peace between the four factions of Total Annihilation: Kingdoms is broken and the king guy from the human side and the bat-winged lady from the monster side eventually join forces to destroy evil and, in the process, discover love, happiness, and how totally sweet kissing is.

It was my finest work.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?

I play a lot of video games, I read a lot of manga, I watch a lot of anime, I read a lot of books, I build some gunpla, I watch a lot of cartoons, and I do a little tabletop. Generally nerding it up.

Who is your favorite author (published or fanfiction)? Do you have a favorite story or novel?

Douglas Adams, for sure. My love of slow reveals, deadpan understatement, ludicrous things played straight, and very intelligent comedy is handily pandered to by his signature use of very intelligent deadpan understated ludicrous slow reveals played straight comically. Also, he writes the best Doctor Who stories. City of Death REPRESENT.

Honestly, I couldn't place a favourite single story. I think my answer for that has to be "the collected works of Terry Pratchett," who comes in at a very close second for favourite author.

Fanfiction-wise... It's funny, I want to say Cold in Gardez or Skywriter because everything they write is either hilarious, wonderfully dark, or both, but I think I'm actually going to say Blueshift, because I never know what's coming next. I like seeing "Blueshift has posted a new story!" and not knowing whether it's going to be a chilling horror or the dramatic reveal of Twilight's peaness, and it's always good. Also he is a cool guy and King Nerd. So he is my favourite. But not the best. He's not that good. Jeez, Blue.

Stephen King believes that every author has an "ideal reader" – the one person who they write for, the one person whose reactions they care about. Do you have one, and if so, who is it?

Me! I said before that I write for fun, and I really mean that. I put it online because I like to see what other people think of it, yes, but at the end of the day I'm only really in the fanfiction biz because it's nice to settle down, stick on some bubblegum J-pop and throw out some words. I have a sort of litmus test for ideas where I spend the day thinking about it at work, and if at no point in the day did I have to physically restrain myself from saying "oh man that's amazing" aloud, I just don't bother. And if I can't sit back, read through my own work and enjoy it, what was the point?

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers, or writers who are struggling with their own stories?

Um, if I'm brutally honest? No. I've seen a bajillion pieces of advice from a squanillion different sources, and many are contradictory. I don't really want to add to the pile of strong declarative statements on How To Be Good At Words. So I guess all I can really say is to find what works for you. Learning is like building a castle out of Lego, only you're writing the instructions as you go along. You get all the little pieces together, all different colours and shapes, and some colours aren't really working for you so you throw them out and grab some other ones, and eventually everything all clicks together and you have a lovely Lego castle. But then you realise the castle isn't big enough so you have to build it even bigger, so you grab some more pieces, but some of those new pieces are so good and unique that you have to throw out some old pieces. Don't be afraid to throw out the old pieces! They may have become obsolete, but you have learned from them. They fitted in the blueprint for a while, you know where they fit in relation to the other pieces, and you've maybe found a few clever tricks about how to use them with other pieces. Eventually you finish the castle again and you're kind of satisfied, but it's still not really big enough. And then you look at the instructions you're writing and you realise that the diagram of the finished product is INFINITY BIG, and you will never ever be finished. All you can do is build the best castle you can from moment to moment. Is this metaphor running away from me yet? Advice is Lego.

What is your typical writing process? (Do you work through multiple drafts, do you have any prereaders/editors, etc?)

Amble amiably at a word processor and hope.

Generally I'll have an idea, then spend all day at work thinking about it. That'll give me a bunch of scenes that I'm really looking forward to writing, and by the time I get home I'll be at MAX ENTHUSIASM. At that point I just sit down and start, well, making things up until all the parts I really want to put in fit together. As much as I'm bored by the term "discovery writer," that is probably the closest approximation. Planning is not a thing I really do, with rare exceptions (like Five Should Be Enough!).

If I do plan, that usually boils down to me thinking about it for a couple of hours at home as well, then writing up a sort of abridged version of the story, where I'll write out the scenes that I really want to write then fill in the gaps with "AND THEN THIS HAPPENS," then once I know what the story's doing I'll go back to the beginning and write everything up properly. Basically the only difference between planning and not planning for me is whether I start at the beginning.

What inspired you to write Five Should Be Enough?

Do you know, I honestly forget? I think I'd recently watched an anime with some fiendishly clever twist and thought "I want to write something with time loops."

Oh, oh, I remember! There was a prompt for a monthly contest run by SALT (an editing group headed by RavensDagger). I also can't remember what the prompt was. But it was about Applejack. And then I was all "I want to write something with time loops."

So, I guess I wanted to write something with time loops.

I don't know! What do you want from me, blood?!

Did you run into any tough spots or challenges when writing Five Should Be Enough?

Making it not suck, and fighting my own process. I busted it out in a week because, as mentioned, it was a contest fic, but as I was going I realised I actually quite liked it, so I put out a call for people to help me curb its excesses. The lovely Exuno (who, incidentally, is a super neat guy whose stuff you should read, it's short but sweet!) jumped in and immediately pointed out that something like 2,000 words of my 10,000 word story were basically unnecessary. Now, you have to understand that, to me, cutting words is like putting pineapple on a pizza. It's just not done. So after wrestling through that block, it became apparent that getting rid of that chunk required pretty significantly wangling the structure of the story, which took time and effort that I hadn't really put into a story up to that point.

The main problem, though, was one I didn't solve, which was making sure it didn't tumble headfirst into tawdry sentimentalism, which it did, with very little class or respect. In retrospect, it's actually probably my least favourite story. I sort of half-believe that you shouldn't write a tragedy just because, and that's exactly what I did. Iunno.

When you set out to write Five Should Be Enough, did you have any specific messages or themes in mind?

"I want to write something with time loops."

Where can readers drop you a line? or my profile. I'm a pretty awful person so it might (will) take me a couple of days (up to a month) to get back to you. I'm very easily distracted. I will definitely get back to you though!

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

No, seriously, where are all the Steven Magnet stories?

And goats! Why does no one write stories about goats?! That is some primo untapped potential right there. It's all changeling this and draconequus that, when we have perfectly serviceable ungulates lying around begging us to write them like one of our French girls! I want Capricorn Jones, Private Goattective! Come to think of it, Iron Will needs more action, too! Sure, you get the occasional crackship, but where's the heart? Where's the 150,000 word Fallout: Equestria spin-off where Iron Will wakes up from cryogenic stasis and becomes a cyborg and battles his cold machine directives with the drive and self-confidence that made him the minotaur he is today?! I just don't understand how we can live in a world where people are not writing stories in which goat detectives travel into the future to prevent Cyborg Iron Will from starting a war in the past. With Steven Magnet as a sassy gay sidekick.

Try harder, ponyfic. Sheesh.


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  2. Well this is uncomfortable... I put the wrong feedback here, so I figured I could at least go read the story and provide an appropriate bit of feedback. Sadly, it turned out to be much the same.

    There is a clearly a certain knack to writing an engaging time-loop story, and these last two simply couldn't cut the mustard for me. In this one, the repeats was skippable even the first time around, and the prose itself was fairly heavy on telling, both due to very odd PoV and character descriptions. It could be a fluke, but the plot seemed paper thin and formulaic and I guessed the ending before the second death.

    Sorry Arcanium.