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Wednesday1,000!38 comments · 265 views
So, yesterday I rendered my thousandth story verdict for Equestria Daily. When I joined up over two years ago, I never thought I'd see that high a number. We had a lot more people on staff back then, and I didn't need to be more than a minor contributor to help out. I usually did three reviews a week. Later, we went to reduced feedback and this year to straight yes/no (any additional feedback at the reviewer's discretion). Now I do about two or three a day. And the queue length, which drove us to the yes/no system in the first place, has come way down from the 170 we had then. These days, it hovers around forty.
I don't have anything too deep and philosophical to say about it. I do have one point to make though: the fandom seems to care less and less about quality writing. Whenever a story is rejected, we provide links to recommended reviewing help. But fewer writers are taking advantage of that. A smaller percentage of rejected stories come back than ever before. The two former mainstays of author help see little traffic anymore. The Training Grounds on ponychan barely sees a review request once every week or two. I'm a member of WRITE but not a mod, so I don't keep tabs on the overall traffic, but it is down. I used to get an assignment regularly every three weeks with the occasional request to take on an additional one in between. My last review for them was nearly seven weeks ago, the one prior to that another twelve weeks earlier. That's depressing.
Why does it happen? I suppose I could poll the authors and see, but not many would even see my question. Plenty of the stories we receive give credit to editing or proofreading help on their front pages, so maybe they're just seeking it from private sources now, but the quality's always going to be hit or miss with those unless you can link up with someone who has a well-established reputation. These groups exist for a reason. They're good at what they do. I wish more writers would take advantage of them.
Another has to do with where the writers congregate. Long ago, almost all fanfiction went through Equestria Daily. If you wanted publicity, your story had to be good. I'm not ready to call Equestria Daily dead quite yet—in my own experience, a feature there usually generates 1-2k views, while a story I post to FiMFiction only will get maybe 500. But with FiMFiction becoming fairly self-sustaining, more authors seem to submit stories to Equestria Daily as a "why not?" thing, because they've learned that fame and popularity no longer require quality, so why spend time on that? And it's true. I can't necessarily fault writers for doing that, though I'd rather have a small group of readers whom I know to have higher standards than a large anonymous crowd chanting, "Moar!" To paraphrase something one of the other pre-readers said (Alexstrazsa, I think): most fanfiction readers don't care if it's good. Even other groups set up to feature good writing don't get much attention. A feature on The Royal Guard only brings me about fifty readers, for instance.
But if I can convince just a few writers to care, then it's worth it. There was a push a month or so ago where some pretty prominent reviewers made public offers to help authors. Kind of an open invitation—authors have to realize we're very busy people and can't necessarily take on any project at any time. I was hoping my other reviewing work wouldn't continue drying up, so I didn't join those folks at the time, but now I should.
Yes, I'm busy too. I give private reviews to 4 or 5 people whenever they ask, though I only get regular requests from one or two of those. I also do a ton of reviewing work for Equestria Daily, and in the middle of all that, I try to work on my own stories. But if you need help, it never hurts to ask. I'll tell you if and when I'm available and whether I think I can give your story the attention it needs.
I prefer comedy, slice of life, and sad. I'm neutral toward romance and dark. I tend not to like crossovers, human, sci-fi, grimdark, and adventure. I don't review mature-rated stories. And I tend not to like taking on stories more than 10k words or so. I'll take most any story under consideration, but if you stick with what I like or can tolerate, you'll get a more effective review, since I can focus on it more than just trying to endure it.
With that, I'll go back to the titled topic and end on some statistics.
I've heard estimates of EqD's acceptance rate anywhere from 7-17%, but it goes back well before the spreadsheet, and I really don't know what the correct number is. It's probably in there somewhere.
My own record:
Stories rejected permanently (to the sun): 27. These are almost always for content against our policy that would substantially alter the story to remove or for things that aren't actually stories.
Stories given a standard rejection (to the moon): 887.
Stories rejected for minor revisions (to Mars): 43. These are given encouragement that they're not far from being accepted, and it's particularly frustrating when these stories don't get resubmitted.
Stories accepted for posting: 50.
0 comments · 65 views
My compadre Present Perfect has been involved in a reading of one of my favorites of my own stories and kept it secret for months. And it's a Scribbler performance, so you know it'll be good. Really, she's the top for dramatic readings, and she's doing dark fics all month, so head on over, enjoy her talents over all the recordings she's made, and give her some love in the comments!
3w, 5dDuet in the Folk Style4 comments · 79 views
I don't normally blog when I release a story, but Duet in the Folk Style had a big effect on me. It started out as a completely different type of project a long time ago, one which I had to abandon for lack of direction. Then it got a thorough overhaul of the original four chapters with an actual ending in mind. After writing the last two chapters, it made it very difficult to do my final editing sweep. It's just one of those stories that has a very different feel to it after the first read-through.
It's also my first chaptered story I've published since my first fanfic three years ago. I haven't been in this position in so long that I don't really know what to expect anymore. I won't ramble—I'll save the reflective thoughts for the author's notes at the end of the last installment, and even then, I'll keep them relatively short. I just wanted to say here that I've developed an extreme emotional investment in this story, I loved developing and writing the characters of the three listed as main characters, and it's been a rough last couple of weeks while I put the finishing touches on it. I think it does some things not often found in the romance stories in this fandom.
As I said in the synopsis, the story is complete. I decided long ago to finish a story before posting any of it, if I ever wrote another chaptered story, because so many things can pop up to sap my motivation to work on it. But if I complete it first, there's that drive to the finish line without anything negative holding me back. So here it is. And as a little bonus for those who read the blog, here's the full schedule:
Sept. 28> Chapter 1: Overture
Oct. 5> Chapter 2: Crescendo
Oct. 12> Chapter 3: Divertimento
Oct. 19> Chapter 4: Elegy
Oct. 26> Chapter 5: alla Rustica
Nov. 2> Chapter 6: Toccata
6w, 1dMy Domestic Equestria2 comments · 107 views
So I posted this story earlier today, and it's an odd bird. More a peek at my home life with a budding MLP fan. As such, it's nonfiction, which surprised me a little that it passed moderation. I figured it'd be called too meta or something, and that I'd have to do it as a blog post instead. So here's a blog post to signal-boost what might have been a blog post.
By the way, my wife just baked some cookies for real tonight. My son always helps with that, and this time he asked if Pinkie could help, too. Everypony got to share a cookie with him! I hope everyone finds this a cute window into a child's perspective on the show, along with a few of my own thoughts sprinkled throughout.
8 comments · 274 views
Some weeks ago, Avox posed a question on my user page:
How do you usually go about writing your stories? Do you outline them beforehand, or do you just dive in headfirst? Do you finish them in one sitting, or do you write bits and pieces of them here and there? I'd love the chance to dissect your brain learn more about how you write, since you clearly know what you're doing.
Given that he was the one who asked, and that I didn't think a large number of people would be too interested in the answer (not that I'll get many here anyway, as my blog posts only tend to get 30-50 views), I responded via PM. Avox thought I should post the reply somewhere more people would see it, so... eh, why not?
So here's what my response was. If you have a rat's ass to give, leave it in the donations box.
I’m definitely not someone who follows a standard process each time. I don’t have a period set aside to write each day, I don’t go through any preparation exercises, and I don’t use the same method every time. Really, the main issue for any writer is to find what works for you. Just because a system works for one writer you may like doesn’t mean it will do the least bit of good for you.
There are a few things that I think help, though. For instance, look at how many of my stories came from write-offs (I always note in the synopsis when that’s the case) or are lengthened versions of minifics from write-offs. For me, that’s what it takes to be motivated to write. These contests are a fun way to push yourself to get an idea written quickly and get some nice feedback (usually) as part of the deal. Then when the contest is over, you can use that feedback to revise the story at your leisure. If you can get yourself to write anyway, that’s great, but this is what it took for me to have a consistent prod to come up with ideas and make them into something.
The minifics in particular are a great exercise. I’d encourage anyone to participate in the write-offs in general and the mini ones specifically. They have an upper word limit (usually 750, but it’s been as low as 400), which really forces you into an economy of words. You have to make every one count. And yet they’re short enough that all you need is to pick a character you’d like to write about and maybe a one-sentence concept of what happens in the story, and you’re off.
So, how to get started? Even for longer stories, it’s sometimes as simple as the minifics: a very brief description of the scenario or a character I wanted to write about. Seeing as how many of my one-shots are extended from minifics, even that small a seed can become something substantial. I’m one who doesn’t start a story until it’s all planned out in my head. I’ll get the initial idea, then roll it around in my mind for days, weeks, even months, until I know how I want the entire story arc to go. That doesn’t include the full detail, of course, because that’d be too much to keep track of, and you have to account for the little delightful things that occur to you during the actual writing anyway. You also have to be open to changing your mind about that initial plan to accommodate new ideas, massage things to get them to fit together better, or even make drastic changes when you realize your plan isn’t working. Because I plan first, I already have an outline in my head, and at times, I’ve formalized it by writing it out in a document. My outlines tend to run nearly half as long as the finished story, because while I do just keep to bare-bones action and description in this phase, I go ahead and write out most of the dialogue. Then when I’m ready to write, I add a few blank lines to the top of the outline and start expanding on what’s there. Other times, I just work from my head.
For me, there are two critical things to consider in a story. First is to keep asking yourself why. Why do these events happen, why do the characters act the way they do about them, why does the story matter? Even in descriptions, you can set a mood with how the room looks, but if it occurs to you to put some detail in there, like a particular knickknack on the shelf, why should it be there? Did you make some subconscious link to something about one of the characters that it’s supposed to represent? If not, can you invent a way for that object to be significant? You get some leeway for scene setting, but for the most part, if you can’t answer the why, it’s probably not worth including. I do want to call attention to one of those questions, though: why does the story matter? Too many stories skip this part, particularly comedies or random stories, but all types violate it from time to time. I call this the “before and after” test. Look at a snapshot of the world as a whole or of the specific characters at the beginning of the story and again at the end. Has anything changed because of the story’s events? It should. There should be some conflict that’s come up and gotten resolved, and at the end, we should see that life is different now, or that we’ve gained some new insight into one of the characters. To pick on comedies, too many authors are satisfied with telling the joke and leaving it at that. While it may be funny, it’s not a story.
The second is another kind of why: characterization. After all, that’s the establishment of why the characters act the way they do. We know enough about canon characters already, so you only need to worry about any personality traits that you want to add to their canon forms. For an original character, you need to plan them out so that you know more about them than you’ll use in the story. That level of familiarity will become apparent in your writing. But how to achieve that familiarity? Again, different things work for different people. Some imagine a list of very esoteric questions and think of what the character’s answers might be—things like their favorite sandwich, if they’ve ever been ice skating, etc. If that works, fine, but to me, that’s overkill. Often, a lot of those types of things can be knocked out with more broad ideas so that you only have to think of the exceptions. If it’s a shy character, chances are he hasn’t done stand-up comedy or gone skydiving. If he has, that’s the exception to remember, but a lot of the rest happens by default. Still, these things can be overkill as well. In my mind, it’s not really necessary to plan the character beyond things that are tangentially related to the story’s events, but even tangential things can be pretty far removed. For example, his reaction to causing a fender bender could be influenced by how his grandmother treated his mother when she was young. Relevance is the key.
If you know your character that well, it will be easier to figure out how he behaves in any given scenario, and you really do have to consider that. Take on that character’s persona and adjust for differences in personality. Or perhaps consider an acquaintance who reminds you of the character. Then really ask yourself what you or that acquaintance would do or say in the situation. When you constantly make yourself tie that character’s behavior to what a real person would do, he comes across as so much more authentic in your writing. And character is the strongest thing in a story. That’s why the reader is there. Events are far more interesting because of who is there experiencing them. Great characters can survive with little plot, but the opposite is rarely true. I have a test for this as well: the “but” test (go ahead and snicker). If you want to describe your character in a short paragraph, how many times do you have to use the word “but”? This is why Rarity is my favorite character: she’s full of internal contradictions. She demands the finest in fashion, but she doesn’t ridicule her friends when they come up lacking. She has expensive tastes, but she doesn’t mind sharing those things. She’s obsessed with social status, but she takes great pleasure in being with friends who would certainly not fit in those circles. Real people are like this, full of unexpected quirks and competing interests, so it’s no wonder that written characters become more interesting when they show such traits.
Stories that rely on situational emotions need to develop that situation with as much care as a character. If a reader is to feel invested in a romance or a sad situation, he has to feel like he knows that situation as well as he’d know a character. So it’s not enough just to say that two characters are in love, or that one is sad that another has died. You have to give the reader enough context to know exactly what’s at stake. For a sad story, you need the context to establish why it’s sad. Don’t just show me John Doe on his deathbed. Show me what led up to it so that I know everything he means to Jane. Then I miss him too, and I feel bad for Jane. Otherwise, it’s no more sad than reading a stranger’s obituary. For a romance, prove that the couple works well together, that they have chemistry. This can happen either by showing the gradual start of the romance, so I see the little dance of getting to know each other and melding of two individuals into a unit. Or well after they’re a couple, show me the little banter and interactions that couples have. In some way, give that relationship the same depth you’d give a character. Starting with “John and Jane are in love” is no better than starting with “John is a financial analyst who drinks a lot and suffers from depression, so go ahead and care about him already.” It all comes down to demonstrating those things to the reader and convincing him. If you leave it to him to invent the reasons he should care, many will decline to do so and just wade through the story with a minimal attachment, if they don’t give up altogether and move on to another story.
For a write-off entry, this all necessarily takes whatever the allotted time period is, three days for most of the one-shots, and one day for the minifics. But when I revise them later on or write a story not connected to a writing event, I work on it in bits and pieces. I only get a few hours a day to split between reviewing stories and writing, so it’s just whatever time I can scrape together. Sometimes it takes a day or two, but it may well stretch more than a week.
There, all that long-winded stuff is the writing part. It’s not really worth getting into the physical part. Whether you work well in front of the TV or need a quiet place is fine. There’s really no good advice there. I just wanted to describe the types of pitfalls that I’m conscious to avoid as I type.
Afterward, then. I put the story down for at least a week. Go find other things to do, don’t go back and look at it, try not to think about it. You want it out of your head as much as possible. It’s surprising what you’ll see when it’s not fresh in your mind. I’ll find phrasings that are unclear, and I can’t remember what I meant them to say. I’ll find a word I used in three consecutive sentences. I’ll find something a character said that I’d intended to be a recurring thing but forgot to include in the rest of the story. And lastly, get an outside opinion, someone who you trust to be honest. Even if it’s someone who can’t help you with the grammar, he can still tell you that he didn’t understand what a sentence is trying to say, or that he doesn’t believe a character would reasonably act in a particular way. A lot of these kinds of problems are things readers can sense intuitively, regardless of whether they’re good writers.
I hope this answers what you wanted to know, Any more questions, please ask.
Scootaloo puttered about town on her scooter, as usual, snaking through market stalls, wagons, and pedestrians. All of the townsponies had learned to listen for her characteristic buzz and clear a path, so her journey was less obstructed than she would have hoped. That was a shame, since the obstacles were the fun part. The orange guided missile zipped around in search of its operator’s idol, the cyan pegasus Rainbow Dash.
She screeched to a halt upon catching sight of a big red bow moving back and forth behind Applejack’s market wagon. “Apple Bloom, have you seen Dash today? I’ve been lookin’ everywhere.”
“Back at the farm,” answered the young filly. “She was practicin’ tricks when we left this mornin’. Ah suspect she’s havin’ her after-lunch nap by now.”
“Thanks, Bloom, I owe you one,” called Scootaloo over her shoulder, back up to full speed already, but the words were lost in her wings’ din.
A rooster-tail dust cloud sprouted from behind the small figure racing down the country lane from town, over bridges, through some light forest, and finally out into open farmland. Big Macintosh glanced up from his work to see Scootaloo skid to a halt in front of the barn. Sure enough, she could see the telltale multicolored mane streaming over the rim of a small cloud. She jumped up and down, and waved her hooves madly, shouting for her friend. “Dash, Dash! Down here! C’mon Dash, wake up!”
Abruptly breaking from a blissful state of unconsciousness, Rainbow Dash sat up from her typical recumbent pose and peeked over the cloud’s edge. She waved to the orange filly. “Hiya, squirt!” she called cheerfully, and flew down to meet her. “What brings you here?”
“Dash,” began the young filly excitedly, “I was hoping we could hang out today. The sky’s clear. I didn’t figure you’d have any weather to wrangle.”
“Let me think, Scoot,” Rainbow answered. “Hmm… another Pinkie Party later… practicing tricks this afternoon… I’m not sure.” The blue mare could read the disappointment on her little friend’s face.
“But, Dash!” Scootaloo complained. “You’ve been making lotsa excuses lately. I thought we were getting to be good friends!”
Rainbow felt a pang of guilt. Her friend was right. She had been making excuses. She valued the filly’s friendship, but their closeness was beginning to remind her of a painful time in her past, and she’d been trying to distance herself from the memory. But it wasn’t fair for Scootaloo to suffer for Rainbow's melancholy. She owed her friend an explanation.
“We are good friends, Scoot, it’s just… well, it’s a long story, and I don’t know if I have it in me to tell it.”
“Ooh, I love your stories!”
Rainbow stared at Scootaloo for a moment, sizing her up. As much as the young pegasus idolized her, she probably could be trusted with a secret.
“Come with me, squirt,” she offered. “Hop on.” She flew the orange filly up to the cloud that until recently had been her hammock, and Scootaloo clambered off. Rainbow Dash sat at one end and patted its fluffy surface next to her. “Have a seat, Scoot. You have a right to hear this." She took a deep breath and commenced her story. "I remember a time when I was just a little younger than you, the year before I first went to flight school…”
“Mama, mama!” cried the sky-blue filly happily, as she bounded through the kitchen door. “There’s a new family just two houses down, and they’ve got a filly! She’s just a year older, so she’s gonna be in my school!”
“That’s wonderful, Rainbow! It’ll be nice to have a little playmate for you! And finally another filly in the neighborhood.”
“Yeah, mom, I’ve already talked to her, and she’s really nice. She’s got the same Wonderbolts poster as I do! She’s really funny, and she’s got pretty eyes that get this dancing light in ’em when she’s about to tell a joke.”
“Well, good. And I’m glad you’ll have a friend other than those two older colts. They sure aren’t very nice to you.”
Rainbow nodded vigorously. “Can I go play with her, Mom?”
“For a little while, yes. Dinner will be ready soon. Are you going to walk her to school tomorrow?”
"Yes, mama. She'll be right across the hall from me."
"Good, you'll be able to find each other after school easily and walk home together. Okay, go and have fun, dear."
“That’s your classroom right there,” said Rainbow. “I’m in here, across the hall. I have the seat just inside the door if you need to find me.”
“Okay, Rainbow. Thanks! I’ll see you after school!”
Rainbow Dash took her seat as the bell rang, and quickly slipped into daydream mode rather than pay attention to the math lesson. She became aware of a voice floating through the open doorway.
“…and please make sure you make our new student feel welcome, class. Now, why don’t you take the empty seat there near the door?” Rainbow glanced toward her friend’s room, and happily discovered a direct view of her.
Rainbow brimmed with excitement, and hissed to get her friend’s attention. “I can’t believe we get to sit where we can see each other! This is going to be so cool!” she attempted to whisper stealthily.
“Rainbow Dash!” reprimanded the teacher. “No talking in class!”
Rainbow hastily scrawled a note, embedded it in a small wisp of cloud, and sent it gliding across the corridor.
“Now, as I was saying, when you add these two digits, if the total is ten or more, you carry the… Rainbow Dash! See me after class!”
Later that day, at recess, one of the bullies from the older class slunk off, frustrated. Rainbow had just won her third straight game of basketball against Hoops. “Read ‘em and weep, chump!” she bragged.
“We’ll see who’s laughin’ when we’re the first in the class to fly!” he countered. “We’re takin’ private lessons!”
Rainbow ran over to her friend as the colt walked off. “No way! We gotta be first! If we’re gonna be Wonderbolts, we better start trainin’, an’ get noticed!”
“What can we do? Neither of us can afford lessons. I was just gonna learn at flight camp next year, like everypony else.”
“No, no!” Rainbow protested. “We hafta stand out! No Wonderbolt ever got famous for bein’ average.”
“That actually makes sense. You're scaring me.”
“Oh, ha ha! It can’t be that hard. It’s gotta be… instinctive, or somethin’.”
“I've got an idea. My house, after school.”
The sunny day had given way to the lengthening shadows of late afternoon, and the first flecks of dusky purple began to show on the horizon. And two industrious fillies were about to put their plans into action.
Rainbow teetered on the edge of the windowsill in her friend’s bedroom. “You sure about this?”
“Yeah, just see how far you can glide for now. And don’t forget your safety gear,” her friend added, shoving her mother’s old flight training helmet over Rainbow’s head. Rainbow stepped timidly out onto the roof, immediately beginning to slide down the slope. “Make sure you jump when you hit the edge!”
Rainbow leaped over the gutter, and felt wonderful as she soared over the street, her wings held rigidly in place. “I’m doin’ it! I’m doin’ it!” She glided over twenty yards before trying to look back and smile at her friend.
“Watch where you’re going! Keep your balance!”
Wobbling badly, Rainbow lost her momentum and dropped almost ten hooves to the ground, crumpling in a heap. Her friend rushed down the stairs and out of the house to try and help Dash, but found her laughing.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, that was the greatest! Go ahead, it’s your turn, you’ll love it! I’m gonna try flappin’ next time!”
Little more than a week later, two proud fillies each became the first in her class to enter the room and find her seat without ever touching the floor. Most of the students clapped and cheered, but two sullen colts in the older class merely grumbled.
Midway through the school year, the campus hosted a talent show and an athletics day, on Fridays one week apart. With many students coming of age, the events were always anticipated as a potential source of cutie marks. This Saturday morning, Rainbow’s friend had a surprise.
“Dashie, I’ve got somethin’ for ya!” Rainbow came to her window to see her friend standing in the yard, swaying excitedly, her tail swishing. Rainbow noticed an unfamiliar splash of color.
“No way! You got your cutie mark?” Her friend grinned demurely as Rainbow hopped up and down exultantly.
“Lemme see, lemme see!” shouted Rainbow as she streaked in midair after her friend. Now with several months' flying experience, both fillies had become unusually strong aviators. The locals crowding the roadway below exchanged knowing glances at the standard aerial mayhem.
“Gotta catch me first, Dash!” The fillies raced through alleyways, looped around chimneys and weathervanes, and swooped through fountains. They finally came to a landing in the street just outside their homes, out of breath. “Okay, check this out!” Dash’s friend proudly turned sideways to present her flank for inspection. “It was there this morning, after the comedy bit I did last night!”
Rainbow grinned from ear to ear. “It reminds me of your laugh!” she said, giggling. “It’s perfect!”
“I could always make you smile, Dash!” She wiggled her rump. “I like it. And I’m the first one in my class!”
Rainbow hugged her friend’s neck. “You can make me smile, just when I need it. Every time. I can’t imagine a better talent for you!” Her eyes began to tear up with happiness and pride. “I’m gonna be the first in my class, too! Sisters?”
“Sisters!” agreed her friend.
One week later, after the school athletics day, a newly-minted stallion was feeling more confident than usual. “Hey there, Rainbow Crash!” Rainbow turned toward the voice, with a bored look on her face.
“Hoops, do you need me to beat you at another game of basketball?”
“Look what I got!” Hoops' performance the previous night had earned him basketballs in triplicate on his flank. “Where’s yours?” he taunted.
Rainbow’s friend came to her defense. “Shut up, Airball! You’re just jealous because you and Squat there still can’t fly.”
“Oh, yeah?” Reps, the weightlifting ringleader, stepped forward. “If you’re so tough, why don’t you fly into this week’s thunderstorm? I dare ya!”
Rainbow Dash stood hoof-to-hoof with Reps. “Oh, you’re really brave, aren’t ya? Darin’ me to fly when you can’t even do it!”
Rainbow’s friend had never seen her so angry, and had to hold her back to keep a fight from developing. “Why don’t you two go stare at the sun or somethin’?” She herded Rainbow away from the colts. “What’s gotten into you? I’ve never seen you like this.” Rainbow continued fuming without giving a response.
That evening, two fillies reclined on a rooftop, looking up at the night sky. It was well past their bedtime, and they were getting quite tired.
“I think I’m gonna do it.”
“Dash, no! It’s too dangerous. Don’t let those stupid colts get to you.”
“It’s not them. I have to prove it to myself. I’ve never let anypony tell me what I couldn’t do.”
“It’s not worth it! Besides, we could get in big trouble with the weather service.”
“C’mon! It’s a big storm. I couldn’t do anything to mess it up, and nopony would even see me in there.”
“I’m not going to change your mind, am I?”
“Nope.” Dash wore a self-satisfied grin.
“Then I’m going with you.”
Rainbow looked excited. “Cool! Sisters?”
“Sisters! Now, give me that laugh, Dashie!”
“No, this is serious!”
“It’s alright, it won’t hurt. I know it’s in there.”
“Hee, hee! Stop it! How come you can always do that to me?”
Four days later, the next scheduled storm loomed on the horizon. The fillies flew up to one of the highest tower tops to get a head start into the tempest. The storm washed over the city, engulfing the tower on which they stood.
“Go!” called Rainbow, and they launched from the tower, disappearing and reappearing through breaks in the clouds.
Rainbow reveled in the feelings that she’d never experienced before: the cold rush of wind ahead of the storm cell, the downdraft mushrooming from the top, the fat raindrops slicking her mane back, the flashes of static discharge all around her. She broke through to the central rising column of the storm, riding the thermals up to dizzying heights. The rapid updraft flung her up and out of the tumult, where she could see faint lightning sprites leaping from the cloud tops to impossible altitudes overhead. She had never felt this kind of exhilaration before.
“This is great!” she yelled, turning to see if her friend was enjoying it as much. But her friend wasn’t there.
Rainbow’s friend had kept up for a while, following her into the outer edges of the storm and circling it. However, she hadn’t expected Rainbow to peel off into the squall’s core so suddenly, and lost sight of her. She tried to follow, but only got halfway through the barrier when her progress stalled, leaving only one wing in the strong updraft. The imbalance flipped her onto her back and sent her sprawling. Righting herself, but becoming disoriented, she didn’t know which way to fly.
“Rainbow! Rainbow Dash!” she called out into the thundering darkness, but heard no reply. Above the clouds, she might be able to catch a glimpse of her friend, she thought. At the very least, from up there she could circle back under the storm and land to await Rainbow. She’d ridden the air currents long enough to shut those colts up, and it had been fun while it lasted, but her close call told her that she should probably not press her luck.
Just then, an outburst of hail pelted her. She tried to shield her head with her forelegs, but enough of the projectiles found their way through her defenses that her head smarted. Her wings were battered, her body bruised. A vicious downdraft threw her toward the city below. She was moving with the air column, and had no airspeed to pull out of the dive. Eventually she fell clear of it and began to pull up, but hadn’t dropped below the cloud deck, and couldn’t read her altitude. She almost had her plunge arrested when one of the city towers loomed ahead. Rolling to evade it, she clipped a leg on a lower tower’s pinnacle. She was briefly paralyzed with the shock of pain, but she had recognized the tower. Now she knew where she was.
Tucking her wings back in, she dove in the blackness toward where she knew a low, wide balcony to be. The floor rushed up at her out of the mist. Her knees absorbed the momentum of her landing, but the injured leg buckled under her. She skidded across the balcony, over the railing, and back into the maelstrom. Now tumbling, she tried to regain her stability and halt her spin. Her shoulder raked along the façade of a building, and her last hope of remaining airborne faded as her ruined wing trailed limply behind her. She hit the city street below and barreled uncontrollably ahead, smashing through the doorway of an unused storeroom, finally coming to rest as she plowed into a pillar headfirst, with a sickening crack.
“Can you hear me? Where’d you go?” Rainbow had been looking for her friend for some time, but hadn’t found any trace. She flew back under the thunderheads to see if her friend had landed and was waiting. Skimming over the boulevards, she saw a team of nurses rushing for the business district. Curious, she followed along to see if there was anything she could do. Rainbow hovered outside the broken door of a warehouse while the nurses tended to their charge. The medical squad unpacked their triage gear and began exchanging instructions and vital signs.
“Hey, you ponies need any help? Can I get somepony somethin’?” The medics paid her no attention. When one of the nurses shifted position enough to afford Rainbow a view of their patient, she went pale, dropped the last few hooves to the roadway, and ran as fast as she could to the broken pony.
“Oh, Celestia, please be okay! What have I done, what have I done? Please, please be okay!” Immediately, Rainbow could see the shredded wing, the dislocated shoulder, and the foreleg at an unnatural angle; undoubtedly, there was much more wrong that she couldn’t see. But the worst part was her friend’s face. Her friend was awake, and wore an expression of abject fear. She had a haunted look in her eyes, and tried to mouth something to Rainbow, but the words wouldn’t come, her broken jaw hanging agape.
“I’m sorry! Oh Celestia, I’m so sorry!” Rainbow said over and over again, but her friend was incapable of responding. Aside from a vague impression of a whirlwind of activity, Rainbow remembered nothing else from that night, after that image had been burned into her thoughts.
That was the day the laughter stopped.
It was a week later before Rainbow could bring herself to visit her friend in the hospital. She walked into the room timidly, and couldn’t hold back her tears as she exchanged hugs with her friend’s parents.
“I’m sorry, so sorry…” Rainbow Dash started to say.
“Rainbow, this isn’t your fault. It was an accident, a terrible accident. And it’s going to be okay. Her doctor said she would recover, but probably won’t remember what happened.” The stallion bent down to look Rainbow levelly in the eye. “Her mother and I aren’t angry about this. We’ll all get through it together.” Rainbow hugged him again tightly and buried her face in his mane, dampening it with her tears. “We’re going to go get something to eat, and leave you two to talk.”
Rainbow Dash sat for some time in silence after they had left, before she could muster the courage to speak quietly. “H-how are you… feeling?” The patient stirred slightly and turned her head a little toward the sound, but made no response. “Do… do you remember me? Or anything?” The bedridden pony remained silent, but Rainbow could detect a faint easing of her ragged breathing at the sound of a soft voice.
“We… we started learning to write cursive in school this week. Some of the letters are kind of hard, but I think I’m getting the hang of it. Those two fillies that sit behind you aren’t speaking to each other again. That blue colt that likes to sing got his cutie mark yesterday…”
Midway through the third week since the accident, Rainbow was surprised to see her friend sitting up in bed and looking out the window. The swelling had largely subsided on her face, and she looked mostly recognizable now. “Hi, are you feeling better today?” Her friend turned to face her, smiling, but didn’t speak. Rainbow waited expectantly for some further response, but her face fell as she saw the same smile flashed at any stranger who walked past the doorway.
“She still doesn’t remember anything from before her injury,” the doctor said. “She may never remember.” He patted Rainbow on the head and smiled. “But she’s got good friends and family. She’s going to be fine.”
"Why doesn't she talk?"
"She's endured a lot of trauma, and it takes time to heal. It'll come back. Just give it time." He flashed a warm smile, then left to continue his rounds.
Rainbow turned her attention back to her friend. “My name’s Rainbow Dash. Do you remember me?” The blank, smiling stare remained fixed on her. Rainbow walked up close to her friend, their faces just inches apart, and looked deep into her eyes. But that dancing light that had been expressed as a picture on her friend’s flank was gone.
Rainbow especially looked forward to visiting her friend today. She had been talking lately, and could sometimes remember Rainbow’s name for the duration of the visit. Even better, Rainbow had exciting news.
“Omigosh omigosh omigosh! I got it! I finally got it!” Rainbow jabbered proudly, indicating the cutie mark on her side. “This is so cool! Reps and Hoops, d’ya remember them? They challenged me to a race, and…”
I remember that blue filly – no, mare now – from her last visit! I think she comes here a lot.
“…so there I was racing down the track, and I could hear them right behind me…”
Rainbow’s friend looked down along her own flank.
Do I have one of those…? Yes, but it’s different. What does it mean? I’ll ask the nice blue mare when her story’s over.
“…and there was this great big BOOM! A giant rainbow ring spread out across the sky, and I was trailing streaks of color. I thought the sonic rainboom was just a legend, but I pulled it off, and everypony was cheering. The best part is I’m the first in my class to get a cutie mark, just like I said!” By now, Rainbow Dash's friend had forgotten her question.
Three days later, it was Rainbow's turn to be surprised.
Rainbow’s jaw dropped. “You remember me?”
“I… remember… you told me your name… yesterday.”
Rainbow hugged her friend’s neck. “That’s wonderful! Do you remember anything else?”
“No,” her friend said, shaking her head slowly, as if it hurt to do so.
“I brought you something!” Rainbow proclaimed, holding out a treat in both hooves. “Remember, the IV feed comes out today. The doctor said you could have real food!”
Rainbow’s friend gratefully took the treat and savored every bite. It was the first thing in her memory that she had ever tasted, and she couldn’t imagine anything ever tasting so good.
“Rainbow, you’re such a good friend.”
“You really like it?”
“Yes, it’s delicious! Do you think I could learn to make these?”
“I guess so. It’s not really hard. I could teach you.”
“Oh, would you, please? That’d be fun!”
“Sure. Just as soon as you get outta here.”
Finally, the day had arrived that Rainbow's friend would be released from the hospital. She had been walking around the hallways lately to rebuild her strength, so she would be able to walk home under her own power.
“Welcome home, dear!”
“Hi mom, hi dad!” Rainbow's friend leaned on her for support as she limped up the steps and through the front door. “Wow, it looks just like everypony described it.”
“Can we get you something to eat or drink, dear?”
“No, mom, I’m just going up to my room to rest for a bit.”
“Okay, just call down if you need anything. And Rainbow, thank you for walking our daughter home. She was hoping you would be the one to do it.”
“You’re welcome, ma’am,” Rainbow Dash said. “I owe it to her,” she added sadly.
Rainbow Dash helped bear her friend’s weight as they made their way to the upstairs hallway and to the left, into the bedroom with a large Wonderbolts poster hanging above the bed. “Just a few more steps… there!” Rainbow's friend eased down into a seated position on the edge of the mattress. She flopped over onto her side, already giving in to fatigue. Before she got too sleepy, though, she wanted to ask the question she had been saving.
“Rainbow, what does the mark on my side mean?”
A jolt of terror shot through Rainbow Dash. The question was inevitable, and Rainbow had already put great thought into what her answer would be. Now that the time had finally arrived, it broke her heart to give her planned response.
“It’s for cooking,” Rainbow Dash lied. “You’ve always liked to fly – all pegasi do – but you also like to cook. That's why you were so interested to learn. Would you like to go down to the kitchen and make some treats together? I could teach you, like you asked.”
“Yeah, that would be fun! Let’s do that!”
“Okay. You just rest now. I’ll still be here when you wake up.”
“Thanks.” Her breathing became a little deeper. “Rainbow?” she added groggily.
“Why are you crying?”
“You see, Scoot,” said Rainbow Dash, her eyes red from reliving those days, “you remind me of her so much. The old her. You have the same determination, the same independence. I can tell from how much you're looking forward to it that you'll have the same simple joy in flight. Everything except that inner light, the ability to say just what I needed to hear, to make me laugh, like my sister. My funny sister.”
Scootaloo was crying too. “I’m sorry, Dash, I didn’t know you felt like that. I didn’t want to make you cry.”
“No, it’s okay, Scoot,” said Rainbow Dash. “I was afraid of bringing those memories back, but it’s time I did. It’s not your fault.”
“Did she ever remember anything?” Scootaloo asked.
“No,” replied Rainbow, “nothing from before the accident. I’m still her friend, and she knows that, but it’s different now. She may have lost her memory, but she’s not dumb, you know. She gets along just fine. Her wing’s never going to be up to stunt flying again, but it doesn’t cause her any problems. I’ve tried to look out for her ever since; I requested her personally to be on my Winter Wrap-Up flight team, and recommended her for her job. I even wrote her reference letter so she could adopt her daughter. She still loves to cook. I’ve always wondered if she really does, or if she just thinks she’s supposed to. But every time I see her, I still look into her eyes, and try to find that spark. Sometimes it looks like it might be there, buried deeply. I’d love to see that light again, and know that my sister was back. But I’m too afraid that if it did happen, and she did remember everything, I’d see a look of hate staring back at me, for what I'd done to her.”
Rainbow sniffled again, and Scootaloo looked at her in silence. Rainbow added, “I don’t know what would be worse for her, to realize what she had lost, or never to know what she had.”
“Is she still around, Dash?” Scootaloo asked.
“Yeah, you’ve probably seen her,” Rainbow said. “Her name’s Ditzy Doo. She got a cascade of bubbles as her cutie mark for her bubbly laughter and wonderful sense of humor. I used to bake muffins for her while she was in the hospital.” Rainbow broke down crying again, and had to fight to get her next words out through her sobbing. It all came out in a rush. “I told her the bubbles were for cooking, like water boiling in a pot. She loved the muffins so much, and wanted to learn to bake them, so I thought it would make sense to her, but that’s a horrible thing to lie to her about!”
It took a long time for Rainbow Dash to calm back down. Scootaloo leaned over and gave her a hug. “Her parents decided to let me be the one to explain things,” Rainbow said, “because I stood to lose the most from what she was told. She never did ask about what happened. I thank Celestia for that every day. I don’t know what I’d say. She only ever wanted to know about her cutie mark.”
They both sat quietly a little longer, deep in thought. Scootaloo finally asked, “Dash, would you please introduce me to her? I don’t think I’ve ever met her.”
“Sure, Scoot.” Rainbow Dash grinned. “Let's go pay her a visit. I’d love for you to know my friend.”
Ditzy Doo was busy cleaning her house when she saw somepony coming to her door. It was her friend Rainbow Dash, with an orange filly, whom she remembered seeing in town, riding on her back.
“Hi, Rainbow! Who’s your friend?”
“This is Scootaloo. She’s kinda my little wingpony.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Scootaloo. I’m Ditzy Doo. Please come in and have a seat. I’ll just be a minute while I get some tea and muffins ready.”
Ditzy went into the kitchen, smiling about another visit from her friend Rainbow Dash. It made her feel warm inside, but seeing her always made two strange things happen, too. They would fade away quickly, and they confused her. Surely they would confuse Rainbow as well, so she had never bothered to ask about them. But maybe she would ask today. Somehow, it seemed more important today. Finished with her task, she carried her tray of refreshments out to her guests and sat down.
“Rainbow, I have something… odd to ask you.”
“Shoot, DD. You know you can ask me anything.”
“Well, whenever I see you, I… I hear faint laughter in my head. Not the kind I usually hear behind my back, and have to ignore. This is warm, and… joyful. It starts with one voice, then grows. It feels like… something I’ve earned.”
Rainbow had an unreadable expression on her face, and she began to stammer. “Ditzy, I… I…”
Ditzy held up a hoof to stop her. “Hold on, that’s not all. I get a phrase that pops into my head. Somehow, it’s old, older than I can remember. It feels like I’m surrounded by pain, but I have to get the words out, in case I never get another chance, but something’s stopping me. It hurts, but I’m trying to scream it with my last breath.” She paused, with a confused and slightly pained look on her face, glanced down at the floor, then continued in a smaller voice, imitative of a much younger mare, as she always heard it. “I don’t blame you… I don’t blame you…”
Ditzy sat silently for a moment. “It’s never made sense to me. Those two things don’t go together, and I don’t know what they’d have to do with you, so I never asked before. Do you have any idea what it could mean?”
She looked up to see a strange expression of both dread and relief on Rainbow Dash. The light azure pegasus was trembling, and had begun to cry. She ran over and embraced Ditzy tightly, eventually calming enough to speak.
Noting the look of concern on her friend’s face, Rainbow Dash said, “Don’t worry, you didn’t upset me.” She sat down next to Ditzy and held her hooves. “But there’s something I need to tell you.” Rainbow took a steadying breath, hoping desperately that Ditzy’s message from long ago would still hold true. “I remember a time when I was just a little younger than Scootaloo here, the year before I first went to flight school…”
When Rainbow’s tale was finished, all three ponies had tear-stained cheeks. “Scootaloo really reminds me of you when you were young, and it’d been bugging me lately. I was always afraid that if you knew, you’d hate me. But what makes me feel the worst is lying to you about your cutie mark. That should be sacred. It’s… it’s… unforgiveable.” Rainbow hung her head in shame.
Ditzy was deep in thought, her concentration bringing a rare moment of focus to her eyes. It was a lot for her to process. She would have to think about it for a while. She wasn’t sure she’d ever understand her past life, her personality, her talents. They were just words to her now. But there was one thing she knew for certain.
“Rainbow, you’ve never been anything but a friend to me. You never abandoned me. I still love the time we spend together. Nothing’s going to change that. I have my life here, and my daughter, and I’m happy. I really am. Don’t carry that weight for me.”
A huge burden lifted from Rainbow’s heart, one that had been haunting her ever since that fateful night. With her tears welling up anew, she hugged both of her friends. As Rainbow did so, Ditzy was looking forward to getting to know this young orange filly, who was supposed to be so much like her in her youth, and maybe getting to know herself in the process.
The laughter didn’t return that day. But for the first time, Rainbow Dash could bring back its memory without the crushing pain that had always accompanied it. Finally, she could cherish her friend, past and present, as she should. Her sister. Her funny sister.