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MondaySick Day Post5 comments · 53 views
Well, I'm still sick. Which is kind of ... wow. Whatever this is, I've had it for just over a week now, which is ridiculously long. It kind of reminds me of Bronchitis, except not as nasty. Then again, the last time I had Bronchitis I happened to have Strep Throat at the same time, which led me to coughing so hard I blacked out.
Yeah, that wasn't fun. Regardless, whatever I've got now is pretty stubborn, but it's not that bad. And thanks to some Nyquil I was finally able to get some good, solid sleep last night. But, I'm still sick. I'm not entirely better yet. And so today I'm putting off the weekly writing guide post. Sorry guys.
But all is not lost! See, I actually need some new topics anyway. Right now I'm down to four:
What was done right with Guardians of the Galaxy Hint, it's a lot.
That last one will have spoiler issues, obviously. So if you somehow haven't seen Guardians yet (for shame!) then either skip that one when it arrives or be prepared to have one of the better movies out there this year spoiled.
But that's only four current topics. Which means I need to expand my list once more. So if you've got something about writing you'd like to me to discuss at some point, post it in the comments! I'm now open for suggestions!
And lastly, last week I mentioned to some of you that the newest chapter of Arad's "Mente Materia," a bonus chapter detailing the post-crossover story's aftereffects in-universe, probably seemed a bit familiar to most of you. And some of you immediately called it. I wrote it. It was a guest chapter. Arad and I worked out a few details it could and couldn't cover and then I put the chapter together. As for why it wasn't credited, well, Arad and I decided not to credit for a week or so, to see what kind of reaction was had—and to see what a few specific fans would say. Because there's been a few readers of Arad's stuff that wouldn't stop slamming my stuff every time it came up, complete with commentary about how terrible a writer I was compared to Arad and how he shouldn't be bothering promoting my stuff. So I suggested we pull a switcheroo and see if those few readers could put their money where their large mouths were. Plus, it'd be fun to write some fanfic not so tightly steeped in Dusk Guard lore (it was very relaxing to be able to not have to worry about my spiderweb for once).
Anyway, end result? Those few readers couldn't tell the difference. Don't mess with authors, people. We've got tools at our disposal for striking back.
Anyway, onto the week! It's time to bundle up and kick this cough OUT!
FridaySick Week8 comments · 46 views
So, what's new?
Don't get sick, that's what. I managed to pick up a sore throat that messed up my voice and then turned into a cough that was not only keeping me up till the wee hours of the morning, it was giving me a nice headache and bit of grogginess that made work all but impossible for a day or two. So I'm about 12,000 words behind on my quota. I basically almost lost a week. Boo.
On the plus side, a new Smash Brothers came out, and I did manage to use the sick time not only to do some worldbuilding for Shadow of an Empire, but to get the last bit of editing done for both for "Remembrance" and ... well, I'm still working on a title for Dawn's side story. Anyway, point is they're BOTH going up soon. All I need now are the covers. As soon as I get those, we'll have a release date. Which will be pretty cool, because I'll be releasing BOTH stories simultaneously, and then uploading the chapters according to a timetable. I'm trying something a little new since both of them take place at the same time. Maybe I can grab two feature box spots at once!
Anyway, just a quick update. Trying not to cough up my lungs. Sound like I'm going through puberty again. Enjoying the new Smash brothers.
Oh, and in case you missed it, the newest bonus chapter of Arad's "Mente Materia" is out, and it might seem a little ... familiar to you guys.
12 comments · 170 views
Late update today. I'm battling a sore throat, so I'm trying give myself the sleep I need to drive it back. My voice sounds weird right now.
Anyway, today's topic inspired was by a bit of a firestorm I saw with regards to a story that someone had written. And while the firestorm in question will definitely not be the subject of today's post, nor do I wish to get into that as it is an entirely separate topic, today's topic will brush up against it for a brief moment.
Today, I'm going to talk about character descriptions.
Character descriptions are something that every new writer struggles with, and often many somewhat experienced writers as well. Because when we get right down to it, character descriptions fall into one of those writing areas where no one teaches you how to do it, and everyone assumes that it's fairly straightforward and to the point. "You shouldn't need to be taught about this," the public mindset seems to say. "How hard can it be? You just describe your character!"
Well, as it turns out, and as most new writers discover when they put their pencil to paper for the first time, describing your characters is much more difficult than it appears. It's hard. Many writers, in a fit of panic (or without realizing it), will simply throw out a narrated description of basic looks—eye color, hair, figure, etc—and then just jump right into the story, without realizing how jarring and unappealing to the reader such a description is. Only upon going back do most of them realize how truly unappealing it is for a story to start off with "Bob was asian, five-foot-three-inches, with brown hair and brown eyes ... etc, etc." Only when they do realize how unappealing it is does the real panic set in, when they realize that they have no idea how to do any differently.
Which is why I'm talking about this today. Because to many readers, how you describe a character can be a make-or-break point for the entire book. Young writers don't quite realize how important something as simple as a character description can be to the readers acceptance of a work. Plenty a time has been the moment when a reader has picked up a book, read only a few paragraphs, run across a poor character description, and put the book back on the shelf. Why? Because even if they don't consciously realize it, a poor character description is often an indicator of other problems with the book, be they weakness of story, poor attention to detail, or just in general a low quality read.
Yikes. Suddenly the amount and care for detail you put into your character description takes on a whole new level of importance, doesn't it? It might not just be something that's a nice part of your work, it's something that the very reading of your work may hinge upon.
Kind of makes it important to get right.
So, where do you start? How do you go about making sure that your character description is going to be something that keeps your reader flipping through your pages? Well, to start, you're going to need to know a few things about your work.
Perspective and Voice
First of all, what perspective is your book going to be using? You need to decide this and acknowledge it in your introduction of the character. Because trust me, very few things will make your reader put a book away like a narrative that jumps to an entirely different style or out of character to introduce someone. If you're going to write in first-person limited, you cannot jump to third person omniscient to introduce your character and then back (especially if you stay in character, with one very specific case exemption). It's horridly jarring.
In other words, keep your introduction in perspective. This might seem obvious, but then again, I've seen numerous novice stories where the writers have made just this mistake without even realizing it. So first person stories stay first person with their character descriptions, and third-person stories stay in third person. Omniscient stays omniscient, limited stays limited. More on this in a bit when we get to the how.
But before that, we also need to discuss voice. Voice is make-or-break with character description, though it matters more if your perspective is first person, as it's much more apparent. What is voice? Voice is how the character talks, speaks, and acts, and combined with perspective, breaking voice can be incredibly jarring to the reader. Let me show you want I mean through an example. Here we're going with a first-person, omniscient, direct perspective (ie, the character is telling you a story) and I'm going to give him a voice. Now let's watch what happens when I break that voice.
It was a cold morning that morning, like most mornings were back then. Cold. Dark. Wet as a piss-poor boot on a rainy day. I still don't know why I bothered to get out of bed that morning. Maybe I was tired of rolling my face into that mildewed pillow over and over again. Maybe I though it'd be worth thinking about going to work. Or maybe I just wanted a nice, stiff, hot cup of coffee. Although in all likelihood, I'd only get one of those things. The local coffee shop was a right pisser when it came down to it: always busy, always getting your order wrong, and never happy to see you unless you were some well dressed posh boot-licker with a stick shoved up his backside. And that wasn't me.
I'm nothing ordinary. I look very normal. I'm five-foot-two inches; so short. I have dark hair, usually unkempt, and I'm not particularly fit. I have blue eyes, a larger nose, and a bit of stubble around my strong jawline. I'm a bit on the thin side, and I'm usually listening to a pair of headphones.
Ow, that actually took some work to force myself to write. But did you catch how jarring that was? We start off with this very well-defined voice, things are going great and then POW! The voice is gone. Instead we have bland, everyman description. We could have cut those details straight out of a character file and simply changed the perspective and tense to match the prior paragraph.
And all I really did was change the voice. With the voice gone, the character's unique attitudes and perspectives either vanished or became flat. Would the one telling the story in the first paragraph have used the phrase "pair of headphones" or "a larger nose?" Not at all! He would have said something like "My nose has always been a bit on a ugly side, sort of like a squashed Mr. Potato Head has taken up residence on my face." Or something like that.
While this may seem obvious, you'd probably be surprised how many new writers make this mistake, or worse, published writers. I've cringed at many a book (some of which were otherwise fine) where every time a new character came onto the scene the author would break perspective, character/narrator voice, or both when describing them. Crud, I've read one book (and this is a published, bestseller, more's the tragedy) where every new character completely broke perspective and voice, going from third-person limited to what was almost a direct, to-the-reader paragraph written by the author. It was bad. really bad. Then again, so was the rest of the book.
So, keep perspective and voice in mind when it comes time to describe a character. Reread your descriptions later—out loud, if needed—to see if they flow with the rest of the story around it. If necessary, make changes. But of course, before you get started, here's something else to think about when it comes to character descriptions.
Reason, Scene, and View
Originally, view was going to be a different perspective form, but I figured that'd be too confusing. So we're going to go with Scene, View, and Reason. Because as important as perspective and voice is, there are other things to consider when introducing a character.
Reason is the first thing you should consider. It's AMAZING how many authors mess this up, but let's think about this for a moment. Say your character is in a firefight. Things are exploding, the situation looks bleak—and suddenly a new character bursts onto the scene to save the day, midst gunfire and explosions. Now, how much reason at all does the main character have to give a detailed description of the character in question, considering they're trying not to die? Very little. And in such a scene, certain details are going to be much more important to the character than others.
Even outside of limited perspective writing, don't make the mistake of thinking you can just drop all the details on the reader. Pacing (something I should do a post on later) is incredibly valuable. Dropping a full description of a character into the middle of a climactic scene? That pulls the reader out of the scene and ruins the pacing. So every time you think to describe a new character, don't hesitate to ask what reason you have for doing so in the first place, and what reason you have for writing the details that you do. Please, do not be the author who pulls us out of a story talking about the new female characters cup size and tight, slap-worthy behind. You'd better have a darn good reason for that aside from personal appeal.
Even with your viewpoint character, you need reason. A lot of newbie writers just make the assumption that a character who's starring in the story should be described immediately, but that's not really true. How many of you wake up and then do a mental catalog of all your features? Maybe if you're a narcissist, or if you've got a reason to care about one particular aspect or feature for some reason, then yes, you'd think about it. But how many of you do a daily rundown?
You don't. Reason. Sure, you can hand-wave it, but that pulls the reader out. Give your character a reason (such as the "looking in a mirror" character description trope. Or better yet, just let the description come naturally with the elements of the story.
Now scene. I touched on that above, but I'll go a bit further here. Remember your scene and the context therein, not just with regards to emotion and events, but things in the room. It's a bit jarring for characters to react in random ways ith character descriptions that aren't contextually related to the scene around them. Use the scene to let your character's looks be known. For example, when Steel dunks his head in the water barrel at the beginning of Rise, the resulting splash and description of him cooling off also describes much of his body type and coloration, easing the reader into a natural picture of what he looked like (this was also something that a certain well-known fic site's pre-reader disliked to an incredible degree—they actually demanded I dump it and just start with a generic, straight description, one more reason I view them as about as competent as a bunch of kindergartners when it comes to fic work).
Lastly, view. This is a subtext of voice, really. Basically, what it asks is that when you describe a character, make sure that you're doing it not just from the proper perspective, but with their view. What's important to the describer? What details would they notice that are both important to them and also useful to the reader? This can really flavor your book, your characters, and most often seems to become a stumbling point when a writer writes a gender aside from their own. I think we can all see where that goes.
Point is, your character's viewpoints matter when describing someone. They might see things through a lens that isn't fully correct, or view motivations falsely. This is entirely fair, and we shouldn't be afraid to pull punches when this happens. Even if the reader disagrees with an observation a character makes, it tells them something about both characters.
The Details Themselves
All right, we've talked about everything else up to this point to set the stage. Now let's talk about the nitty-gritty specifics with all that other stuff in context.
First of all, you don't need to describe everything. Remember the lessons above, but also take in this bit of wisdom: A perfectly visualized character often is not a perfectly described one. This is because like characters, we often remember and fixate on specific details rather than the whole. A mark of clever, experienced writing often is that when describing characters, the author will give you just enough specific details to get your attention, but let you fill in the rest of the details. Let us take Harry Potter, for instance. What specific details were we given about Snape? If you're like me and most readers, you remember that he was thin, gaunt perhaps, and that he had greasy hair and a greasy nose. JK Rowling didn't dump many other details (at least, not that I recall right away). She gave you just enough to envision him, and envision him you did.
Stephen King is a master of this. Go ahead, reread one of his works and pay attention to the details he offers. They often aren't many, no more than three or four details that interestingly enough can paint a very broad picture. And yet when reading his books, readers praise the descriptive characters and how well they can envision them. Despite the fact that he's only giving you a few direct details.
Tricky, tricky, Mr. King. You knew exactly what you were doing too. Giving the reader the details that were important to know or to visualize, and then letting all the other blanks just sort of fill themselves in.
Perspective matters again here, as different characters will observe different things, and here's where we get to the elephant in the room: race.
Unfortunately, race (in America) has become a sort of screwed up version of "The game." Basically, if you mention it, everyone loses.
Uh-oh. It's sad, but true. There is literally no good way to tackle this that will please everyone. In a country where you can be publicly blasted for "not being (insert race here) enough" and race and culture have become so hopelessly intertwined as to be indistinguishable to most people, character race is basically an open invitation for an absolute crap-storm of rage to descend on your work.
And nobody wants that. So how do you dodge it?
First, never—and I mean never—unless you have a very character-specific point to raise, begin a character description with "they were -insert race here-." Seriously, do not. That is the path of the crap-storm, because the moment you use any sort of racial identifier, anyone who at all has any baggage attached to whatever identifying word you used will unzip it and set up shop. And every word thereafter will be, unfortunately, picked through by that entire baggage set's personal handlers, who will interrogate everything you write to look for "problems."
Yeah, seeing the issue here? Don't use racial terms.
Do you even need to? Well, actually ... No. No you don't. First of all, culture and "race" are two distinct things but slammed together in the modern world climate. And you don't need to directly address either in order to describe a character.
Think back to what I said about Stephen King's writing, or Rowling. Drop the details people need. You don't have to say "I'm Hawaiian." You can have a character mention that they grew up in Laie, Hawaii. Or you can observe that they have tanned, tough skin.
Truth is, you can dodge a lot of the controversy just by giving the important details. Maybe hair color. Or the tint of their skin. And none of these are declarative statements of race. It's tricky, but in the modern climate, it's something you just have to deal with.
In conclusion, when describing characters, think about perspective and voice. Then bring that into play with the reasons, the scene, and the view of the character. Then, lastly, consider which details are important. Do this, paint the scene, and walk away with a character description so natural it'll seem like your reader really knows them.
Good luck! See you all next week!
13 comments · 192 views
I know, I've been quiet lately. I've been trying to finish up the first draft of Colony (which is in the final act now, finally), and that's kept me pretty busy. Hunter's story is getting its editing pass this weekend (so ... tomorrow, actually, dang) and will start going up not long after I work out the cover details.
Anyway, before I get back to work, I just wanted to share a link. This link, specifically. It's from Larry Correia's blog, and it's sort of a summation, a "why I do this," of sorts. And it tackles, of all things, the SJW insanity and how it's been hurting writing.
Thing is, I feel he makes some incredibly good point. Correia's been fighting this fight for a while, and he's never been shy to point how foolish an opponent's arguments are. With this post, he summed up just about everything distubing that's been permeating the writing culture, and in a very blunt, to the point sort of way.
Warning: It IS blunt. But sometimes bluntness is needed, and in this case, I happen to think Correia is entirely correct.
I'd prefer not to kick off a firestorm of controversy in the comments, and with this one, that's a possibility. So in the event you want to weigh in on this, remember the rules of my comment threads, please: No cursing. Be considerate and well-spoken. Don't resort to nastiness, bile, or any of the other typical, less-astute methods of conversation seen around the internet.
Anyway, I need to get back to work! This book needs to get done!
12 comments · 198 views
Character Versus Plot: What's Driving Your Story?
Today we're going to talk about a lesser-considered aspect of storytelling and writing. I've bandied about with a few different introductions to the concept and summarily discarded all of them, so instead I'm just going to jump right in and tackle things.
Effectively—and understand that I am for the purposes of today's concept, grossly simplifying—every story out there, written, told, or seen, rides a sliding scale into one of two categories: They're either a character-driven piece or a plot-driven piece. That's it. These are your options, and understanding which your story is going to be, as well as more importantly, how to achieve this, will play a part in determining the success of your work.
Okay, some of you are nodding, some of you are confused, a few are wondering where I'm going with this. So let's look into this one a little more deeply.
We'll start with the underlying concept behind these two options: All stories are driven by something. Now, when I say that a story is driven by something, I don't mean the antagonist, or the inciting incident, or even the growth of the character. What I'm referring to by driven is the events or actions by which the story is pulled forward.
Bilbo leaving Frodo the ring, for example, is something that pulls the story forward. Harry receiving a letter from Hogwarts. Vin being noticed by Kelsier. A story is, in it's purest, simplified form, a collection of events. But something inside the story must happen in order for these events to occur. Cause and effect.
What I'm discussing today is the method by which the story moves forward. Is it character-derived, or plot-derived?
I see a few of you are still scratching your heads. The simplest, easiest way to describe this idea is to ask what causes the story to continue forward. Is it the characters? Or is it some force outside of the characters? Is the story moving forward because of my characters actions and choices, or is it moving forward because it needed to move forward so something happened?
Both types of story exist (and, as one would expect, most stories are a blend of both, weighted in one direction or the other). Thriller novels, for example, tend to be driven more often by their plots than by their characters. Events that move the story forward are "Acts of God" or other higher powers which exist for the sole purpose of dragging the characters along from scene to scene. The writer wants a car chase to happen? So he funnels the story towards that end, placing the characters in a situation where there is only one possible answer—car chase.
Stories that focus more on character, however, take a different route. Rather than plot-based forces pulling the story forward, these are stories in which the characters choices are what move things along. Rather than outside occurrences forcing a character to engage in a car chase, this will be a story where the character is given valid options and then chooses to engage in the car chase.
Now, I'm certain a lot of you are simply nodding and thinking to yourselves "Well of course, that makes sense." And yes, it does. But now we need to consider this question: Which one are you writing?
Because to tell the truth, while your works will undoubtedly have both aspects included in them, each story you write is going to gravitate towards one type or the other, and understanding and acknowledging this in advance will make your work much easier.
For example, take my work on Colony. Colony is a much less character driven work than my last few stories, and it took me a while to realize it (downside of pantsing the story). Much of the major events that control the story are driven not by the characters choices (with a few exceptions), but rather by outside, plot-driven forces. None of the character's ever wanted to go to the colony world of Pisces, for example. Instead, they're press ganged into it by a powerful megacorportation who, while offering them a substantial monetary reward for carrying out their task, really doesn't give them much in the way of a choice. The other options are so unappealing that it's very clear to the characters and the reader that the only recourse is to accept the job and head for Pisces.
There are other events like this in Colony. But for Colony as a story, that's all right, because the focus isn't the character driven elements, it's how the characters react to being thrown into these situation, and the situations themselves.
Another example of a plot driving: Everyone's favorite, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Harry never chooses to be a wizard and start receiving letters from Hogwarts. The letters simply start arriving one day. And then, characters with power outside of Harry's control determine the reaction (taking the letters away, nailing the letterbox shut, and fleeing to a cabin on an island). Much of the driving force of The Sorcerer's Stone for the first "act," in fact, is not character based at all. Harry is pretty much dragged along up until the setting has been introduced, at which point he starts making conscious choices of his own (befriending Ron, for instance, or helping take down a troll).
Come to think of it, The Sorcerer's Stone is probably a pretty good example of the two types and how to juggle them, as the first half of the story is mostly Harry being dragged from point to point, while only after he acclimates to the new setting does he really start making choices that move the story forward.
Knowing which particular style your story is going to serve as the primary driving force of your story before you start will do wonders for how your story turns out. For instance, if you want to write a deep, character focused drama with introspective characters coming to grips with their own lives ... and then create a story that is entirely driven by the plot and not by that character, the entire theme and objective of your work will be weakened. Likewise, if you want to write a rollicking action story that never stops, but choose to have much of the story driven by the characters, you're putting a lot of weight on those characters to make the choices that will continually keep the action-ball rolling. Sure, it can be done, but it's not easy, especially if those characters start trying to make decisions that would pull away the action-adventure focus.
What does this mean for you? Well, that you need to make a choice before you get too far into any work about exactly which driving force you want to be in control of your story, and then think ahead to how that's going to change your story. Can you count on your characters to make certain decisions to move the story in the right direction? Or will you need an exterior force, a plot moment, to take control and move things forward? How will it change your story to have such a force interacting with your characters? Will it put the reader's focus in the wrong area? Will it detract from the theme or moral of your work? A story in which the theme or moral is that we always have a choice, for example, would be rendered ironic by a story in which everything was driven entirely by the plot rather than the characters.
Conscious acknowledgment of what drives our story can be a powerful tool in forming a strong narrative and focus for the reader. For example, look at the storyline of Bioshock. One of Bioshock's greatest storytelling powers was it's insistence that the character was the one making the decisions, that the character was driving the story. Only when you reached the twist did you learn that everything the character had gone through was in fact, not a character decision, but the plot dragging the character along and convincing him that their choices were their own when they were not. Bioshock's creators built up a powerful narrative based on what observers perceived was a character-driven story, and then brutally tore that construct away at a critical moment while showing the player how willing they had been to believe that it was all character rather than something orchestrated by others. Bioshock ended up being recommended in Time magazine partially because of how well its story juggled these two concepts.
But that's pretty advanced use of such a tool, so don't expect to do something like that right away. In fact, don't expect to need to. What you should expect is to understand what drives the story of your own works. When you sit down at a keyboard or with a pen, ask yourself: What is going to drive this story? Are my characters subject to the whims of the plot? Do they choose their own path? How will this affect the story I have in mind? Will it make it less exciting? More exciting? Should I consider changing my focus between the two in order to strengthen an aspect or theme of my work?
As with many things, either of these alone will not make or break your work. However, a firm understanding of how they work and what they can do for you will, with time, be part of the polish that grants your work an extra shine of quality.
Good luck with your writing, and I'll see you all next week.
Hammer Hoof stood at attention. His back was straight as he could make it, his head up with ears erect, his eyes forward. Not a sound escaped his lips. His body was so still he was certain that his old academy sergeant would have been able to build one of those ridiculous block structures he'd enjoyed creating right across his back without a single piece falling out of place.
Behind him stood one of the most secure doors in the entire kingdom, at least at the moment. It didn’t look like much, but he knew from experience that a pony couldn't always take things at face value in Equestria. Like the statue of Discord that had turned out to actually be the infamous draconequus. Or worse, the creature that had been impersonating Captain Armor’s now-wife at the wedding just two weeks earlier. He suppressed a shudder at the memory, his body still locked. That day had been a dark one for the Guard, even if things had turned out all right in the end.
It had also been a bit of an embarrassment, at least in hindsight. Despite being on high alert in preparation for the nameless threat, the changeling army’s invasion had caught them all by surprise. The Royal Guard had been hamstrung in the frantic opening minutes of the invasion by a series of crippling precision strikes. Amid the chaos at the time Hammer had assumed—like many—that the swarm had been attacking at random, simply seeking out large concentrations of ponies and subduing them. It wasn’t until later that he’d learned the attacks hadn’t been random at all, but carefully executed strikes specifically targeting lead or elite members of the Guard.
Like his old partner. Hammer’s eyes slid over to the pony currently standing at his side and then snapped back forward. It was still a bit odd to be serving with Cloudburst. The white pegasus was a lot quieter than Show Stopper had been. Although it was commonplace—and expected—that Guard serve and work with a variety of partners, he and Show Stopper had been working together for so long that it seemed strange to work next to anyone else.
Much like getting used to the Night Guard, Hammer thought as his eyes slid to the other side of the doorway. Two large, bat-winged pegasi stood there, still as statues. He still was in the dark along with most of the Guard about whether or not the strange new additions to the Night Guard were simply complex enchantments or a permanent change altogether. Star Shot probably knew, as she was the Captain of the Night Guard. But nopony had been able to get a straight answer from her regarding Princess Luna’s personal sentinels yet. Maybe they never would.
There was movement from down the hall, and he snapped his eyes to it, his body tensing as a servant approached and not relaxing again until she had passed them by. He almost hated how suspicious he was of the castle's staff while on duty; but since the events of the wedding, seeing ponies that he’d thought were comrades revealing themselves as black-carapaced impostors right in front of him ... This time his shoulders did quiver slightly. It was hard not to be suspicious of anypony after an event like that. He still had nightmares some nights.
His eyes slid towards one of the nearby hourglasses Luna had installed when she’d taken over this wing of the castle, searching for a distraction from his thoughts. Unless he’d missed one of the servants coming by and flipping it, it would be time for moon-rise soon, which meant that his shift was nearly over. He turned his eyes back towards the front, a worrying tingle of pain flaring in his stomach. Maybe Green Glade was right: this job, especially with what had happened in the last few weeks, was finally starting to get to him. Maybe he could use some of that vacation time he had stored up. Go on a trip with her and the kids. Maybe talk out his stress with a therapist.
Then again, he did love his job, recent narcosis aside. It wasn’t anypony in Equestria who had the honor of protecting Princess Celestia herself. The tingle in his stomach began to fade as his mind began to wander. What was going on behind those doors, inside Princess Luna’s study? Whatever it was, it had to be important. He’d felt the telltale tingle in his horn from multiple spells being cast as the Princess had entered the room; several sealed scrolls at her side. Not a sound had escaped since the door had been shut, a surefire sign that one of the spells had been a privacy ward.
He shifted his hooves, blood rushing back into his legs with faint pins and needles. Whatever it was that the Princesses deemed so important, he was there to protect it. And come Tartarus breaking free across Equestria, it was his duty to do so. No matter what, that fact would always make him proud.
Although ... sometimes he couldn’t help but wonder exactly what it was the Princesses were discussing behind such heavily warded doors.
“So then,” Celestia said, her grin barely contained, “she comes rushing to me to show me that she’s done it.”
“And you were in—”
“Holding the Day Court, yes,” Celestia said, smiling. “So Twilight rushes in, joyfully yelling that she’d 'done it' over and over and over again and completely derailing the little speech about his own birthday that Blueblood was giving.” The grin broke free as her sister let out a small snort.
“Oh, Tia, he must have been most furious!” Luna said, holding a hoof to her mouth.
“Wait, dear sister,” Celestia said, leaning forward. “It gets better. Twilight, being Twilight, didn’t even notice that she’d cut him off, nor that he was calling for her to remove her 'un-noble flank' from the court.” Luna’s face contorted in a brief exaggerated scowl, and Celestia laughed. “No, sister, he has not changed much over the years. Despite my many attempts.”
“The vain braggart,” Luna said, shaking her head in disgust. “I trust that this story includes some sort of comeuppance for our self-centered nephew?”
“Well,” Celestia said, ignoring her sister's question for the moment, “Twilight decides it’s not just enough to let me know that she’d finally succeeded at teleporting an inanimate object. She needs to show me...” She couldn't conceal her own reaction as her sister's eyes grew wide.
“She didn’t...” Luna breathed, jaw slightly agape. “Did she?”
Celestia nodded. “She decided to try and teleport the first thing that she saw. Which was—of course—the horribly tacky blue-and-pink monstrosity of a cake that Blueblood had brought in honor of his birthday. And prodigy or not, the predictable happened.”
“It exploded?” Luna asked in hope, the corners of her mouth turning upward.
“Ker-splat!” Celestia said, throwing her front hooves up. “All over Blueblood and his entire noble entourage!” Her voice shook as she fought to speak through her giggles. “And the rest of the court! Even I had some pink icing on me.”
“What—what did you do?” Luna asked between titters.
“Well,” Celestia said,“it was quiet enough that you could almost hear Blueblood’s self-control breaking. Here it is, his fifteenth birthday and he’s absolutely plastered in pink-and-blue icing—” Luna began giggling again, “—along with most of his friends. So, very carefully, I get Twilight’s attention, because she’s still staring at the remains of the cake with her jaw open—partially I think because she was almost as covered in it as Blueblood was.” Luna was rolling on her back now, her front legs kicking at the air, her wings knocking over the unopened rolls of parchment they'd brought in with them.
“So I get Twilight’s attention,” Celestia said, trying to keep her sister’s fun from breaking her flow, “and she starts to follow me out of the court with this wide-eyed look of panic on her face.” Celestia stopped, letting out her own snicker before continuing. “I had almost made it out of the hall when one of the nobles broke.”
Luna stopped laughing, looking up at her with the expression of a foal who’d just been told she could eat all her Nightmare Night candy. “You didn’t?” Her eyes grew even wider as Celestia nodded, squeezing her eyes shut as her grin grew out of control. “You did?” It was apparently too much to take for Luna, as she threw herself back on her study floor, howling with laughter and beating one hoof against the thick blue carpet. “You did!”
“I couldn’t help it!” Celestia said, her cheeks red. “One giggle from the nobles and it all came out! I broke down laughing right then and there! The perfect picture of a Princess: laughing so hard at Blueblood’s cake encrusted mane I couldn’t stand! And—and then—As soon as I lost it the entire hall started laughing, and ... Poor Twilight, she didn’t know whether she should be laughing or crying so she’s—she’s—” Celestia did her best impression of her student's panicked expression, Luna laughing harder as her sister flailed her limbs around, her eyes wide in mock terror.
“And of course—of course Blueblood saw the entire thing as a joke at his expense,” Celestia said. “The look of horror on his face as all the nobles broke down laughing—he just couldn’t take it!” For a moment she felt a pang of sadness for her stubborn “nephew,” souring her mirth somewhat. “Even wearing his own birthday cake like one of those gaudy suits, he couldn't see the humor in the situation,” she said, her voice tone mellowing slightly.
“We cannot change everyone, Tia,” Luna said, sitting up, her mirth abated somewhat. “Maybe our wayward relation simply needs more time. Until then however,” she said with a mischievous grin, “I at the very least shall enjoy the mental image of our uptight and obstinate young relation covered head-to-hoof in pink-and-blue frosting.” The midnight blue alicorn began laughing once more, Celestia joining in at the thought of Prince Blueblood’s crushed expression.
The two sisters continued for a few minutes, occasionally slowing, looking at one another, and bursting into laughter. Finally, after what had been so long that Celestia could feel her sides aching, the two began to quiet down. At some point they had both fallen to the floor, and Celestia rolled herself onto her side, looking over at her sister.
“Anyway,” she said, a smirk on her face. “That is why Prince Blueblood is afraid of cake—” Luna snorted once more, “—and why that story about the Galloping Gala keeps going around.” Luna nodded in understanding, a knowing look on her face.
Celestia smiled as she took another look around her sister's study, a warm feeling sinking into her heart. After a thousand years, to have her sister back—there was nothing greater. It was a lesson she’d tried to teach all her little ponies, the importance of friend and family. Something that she wanted each and every last one of them to learn. Some took more encouragement than others. And some, she reflected sadly, never did.
“Tia?” Luna asked, her voice shaking Celestia from her reverie. “What is it?”
“Oh, nothing much, Luna,” Celestia said, still running her eyes across her sister’s study, taking in the art on the walls and the open balcony at one end. The stars were just peeking out of the darkening western sky, the sun having made its leisurely descent past the horizon under her guidance just a short time ago. “I’m just so glad to have you back.”
Luna smiled back at her, pushing herself across the carpet and moving to nuzzle her. There was a sharp snap as a small spark of static electricity shot between them and they both pulled back, Luna letting out a little yelp of surprise. Celestia looked at her for a moment, and they both burst out laughing anew.
“And here I thought I was supposed to be the trickster of the two of us,” Celestia said, winking.
“Perhaps most would think so," Luna said with a smirk. "But only because like the sun, your tricks are flashy and apparent for all. Mine are like unto the night, silent and swift!” She tossed her head back with an exaggerated grin, throwing her starry mane into a flurry of motion.
“Oh, Luna,” Celestia said, inching forward and embracing her younger sister in a hug, her forelegs and wings wrapping around her. “I’m so glad we can have these moments together. To just be sisters and not to have to worry as much, for a brief moment, about the ponies under our care.”
Luna nodded, pushing into her embrace. “I’m—” she said, her voice faltering. “I’m glad I’m able to—”
“Shhh,” Celestia said, holding her sister tighter. “What’s done is done, no need to remember old regrets.” They stayed pressed together for a few moments longer, their bodies rocking back and forth as they held one another. Finally, after a few minutes of silence, the two pulled apart.
“Thank you, Tia,” Luna said, blinking a few tears from her eyes. “And for the—” she let out a faint laugh, a smile coming back to her face as well. “And for the story as well.” She shook her head. “I shall have to send Blueblood a blue-and-pink cake the next time his birthday arises.”
Celestia smirked, wondering if she should comment on her sister's plan or ignore it. “Thank you, Luna. It’s nice to relax with you after a long and trying day.”
Luna looked over at her. “So I hear. Another dispute among the nobles?”
Celestia ruffled her wings in distaste. “If only it was just that. Not only are Raspberry and Upper Crust at it again, each trying to outdo the other and dragging the Day Court down, but the new trade negotiations with the Griffins have reached a standstill for the time being. The Griffins want a higher tariff on the goods, and Canterlot Cloudrunners insist that it cannot be done without cutting expenses in other areas. And then there’s that group from the ERS board, still wasting everypony's time arguing against the rail line to the north...” She let out an exhausted sigh. "And we both know that we cannot let that be delayed. It could be too late as it is."
“You could refer some of them to the Night Court,” Luna suggested, giving her a thoughtful look. “I can shoulder some of your more bothersome burdens, as I should. Besides, I need to talk to the ERS board members about some strange theft reports.”
“I have suggested so, Luna,” Celestia said, smiling at her younger sister. “In fact, I’m considering making it a formal order, at least for those ponies from the ERS. The nobles I may just invite to settle things out of court.” She gave her head an exhausted shake, her multihued mane rolling around her.
She looked up at her sister, putting a soft smile on her face. “So thank you, Luna, for even this small amount of time together to not always be a Princess.” Then she frowned. “And what thefts?”
Luna shook her head. “Nothing important that you need to worry about, but ... Sister," she said, her voice brightening, "you could just take another day off. Go spend some time in Ponyville with your student, or better yet, relaxing somewhere. I can keep a close eye on things here.”
“I wish I could, Luna,” Celestia said, tilting her head to one side and giving it a small shake. “And I will, but not now. Right now there’s still too much to do in the wake of the changelings.” Luna nodded in understanding. Canterlot was still returning to normal, and they both knew it. It would be some time more before the city could erase the scars of the invasion.
“Even my own Guard have been jumpier than usual,” Celestia said, tipping her eyes towards the door. "Hammer in particular might need therapy."
“Mine have ... had some upsets,” Luna said, nodding. “Many of them are still ashamed that a simple soundproofing ward allowed so many of them to be caught asleep and unawares.” She paused for a moment, her eyes looking straight at Celestia’s, and she could see the coming question in her eyes. “Tia,” Luna began, “About that idea I had—”
Celestia smiled. “I looked over your proposal this morning, Luna, and I find it sound.”
Luna smiled. “You mean—”
“I think you should go forward with it,” Celestia said, rising to her hooves. It would be time for her sister to raise the moon soon. The last vestiges of dusk were giving away to night through the balcony doors, the sun now well past the horizon. “I’ve considered such a course of action before but never for more than a passing moment.” She gave her sister a warm smile. “You always were the one to see what I couldn’t.”
“And the member choices? What do you think?”
“Better and more thorough than anypony else, including myself, would have managed.” Celestia leaned forward, lowering her voice as if exchanging foalhood secrets. “And how did you ever manage to learn so much about Steel Song?”
Luna smiled. “One of my Night Guard is distantly related to him through his sister's marriage and speaks of him often, always highly. That, and I may have done a little sleuthing on my own,” she said with a mischievous grin.
“You—?” Celestia said, her eyes widening at her sisters expression. “You did! Is that why you were so tired last week?” Luna nodded, and Celestia narrowed her eyes, giving her sister a suspicious look. “Unicorn or pegasus?”
Luna snorted. “A pegasus of course, dear Tia. I could never give up my wings!” Celestia laughed as her sister snapped her deep blue wings out, looking at them with an enraptured gaze.
“Just as I could never go without my horn, dear Woona.” Celestia said, giggling as her sister rolled her eyes at the use of her old nickname. “Did you speak to him directly?” Celestia asked, jumping back on topic.
“Only a few times,” Luna said, shaking her head. “And not for long. Mostly I just spoke to his neighbors. They had nothing but respect for him and his deeds.”
Celestia smiled as she remembered the eager young Guard cadet from so many years ago. “And what of him?”
“He’s—” Luna paused for a moment, as if searching for the words, and then looked up at her. “He’s exactly who we need. And he needs it as well. Far more than he realizes, I think.”
“Very well then, Luna,” Celestia said. A knock rang through the room as one of the Guard reminded them of the soon-to-be-due moon-rise. “You’ve put a great deal of thought into this, and I agree with you. I approve of your idea, and give my own accordance to move forward.” It was an old law that required both of them to agree on something before certain actions could be taken, but it was one she had enjoyed applying to every ruling she had made since her sister had returned.
“Thank you, Tia,” Luna said, her muzzle pressing against Celestia’s in a warm nuzzle.
“No, Luna, thank you,” Celestia said, fighting back a yawn. “And may I say I'm most interested to see this all come together.” She smiled at her sister as they headed for door. “It’s been decades since I last saw Steel Song. It will be most interesting to see how he—” She paused for a moment, Luna at her side, one hoof on the study door. “What are you going to call this new division anyway?”
Luna shrugged. “I don’t really know, Tia,” she admitted as she opened the door, her Guard snapping to attention. “They’ll think of something, I’m sure.”
“If I might suggest,” Celestia said, pointing one hoof towards the twilight sky outside her sister's balcony. “What about the Dusk Guard?”
Luna stood for a minute, a thoughtful look on her face. “The Dusk Guard,” she said, smiling. “I like it. An excellent choice, dear sister. Dusk.” She turned back to the hall, walking away with a serene and yet powerful presence, her two Guard trailing behind her. “Good night, Tia!” she called.
“Good night, sister,” Celestia said, taking one last look out the balcony. “And good luck.” She could still hear her sister's hoofsteps, along with the unspoken word running through her sister’s mind.