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CoffeeMinion


"Burninating the countryside... burninating the peasants... burninating all the peoples... and their thatched-roof COTTAGES! THATCHED-ROOF COTTAGES!! And the Trogdor comes in the NIIIIGHT!!!"

More Blog Posts189

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  • 29 weeks
    Echoes in the Well, pt.3

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  • 29 weeks
    Echoes in the Well, pt.2

    As I mentioned last time: there's a mountain of cut content from To Serve In Hell, including some nuggets that I very much regretted having to take out. I've already shared a couple of those stronger moments with you, and discussed the thought process that lead to both adding and ultimately removing them.

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Feb
27th
2020

Echoes in the Well, pt.1 · 5:19am February 27th

To Serve In Hell generated over 20,000 words of cut content, representing more than a fifth of its final length. Not all of it is fit for presentation. However, a few bits still strike me as memorable or interesting, and I'd like to take a moment to share a couple of them.

There are spoilers ahead... but at this point I figure most people who are going to read Hell have already done so. For anyone else, maybe this'll spark some interest?


If nothing else, I'm finally launching some old stuff out of the archives


The first scene I'll share was the biggest casualty of trying to sequence Hell's various plot threads together. Hell is by far the most intricate thing I've ever written, and this scene in particular was cut not due to deficiencies in the content, nor in its irrelevance to the plot--but rather, because of some key information that I needed to deliver via the framing-device chapter where it would've appeared.

Having the four "book" opener chapters make up a short side-story about Celestia's downfall happened pretty late in development. It's the sort of thing that makes tons of sense in hindsight, and I wish I could say I planned it that way all along. I did have an inkling about putting flashbacks at the beginning of the "books," but they didn't start out quite as tied-together as they ended up being.

Which brings us to the original opener to Book 4, featuring the initial meeting of Bon Bon and Cheese.

I still consider this scene to be 100% canon, even though I made the last-minute decision to replace it. I originally planned to give Bon Bon a bigger role in the story, and perhaps to have her be the one who confronts Cheese near the end; therefore it made sense to me that we'd spend more time establishing their past connections. However, it was only very late in the game that I realized I had a bigger problem on my hands: readers weren't picking up on what Nightmare Moon had done to Discord. And I needed them to make this connection because otherwise my ending would seem much more arbitrary than it was meant to be. In contrast, readers didn't seem to have a problem understanding the connection between Cheese and Bon Bon, even though it only got mentioned in passing.

So I made the decision to tie the four openers back to Celestia, and to open Book 4 with her final defeat, Discord's "death," and Nightmare Moon's triumphant display of power. But this is what could've happened, and indeed where my head still goes when I think about Book 4:

Special Agent Sweetie Drops glanced out from her hiding place among the still-smoldering wreckage of Ponyville. There, on the other side of the ruined town square, lay the crater where its City Hall had recently resided. Sweetie Drops could see little in the oppressively dark, moonlit space, other than the crater’s firelit silhouette.

But hearing was a different matter. Sweetie Drops’ trained ears perked at the snarls, roars, and other sounds of struggle issuing from the crater itself. Some surely originated from the pack of timberwolves she’d seen entering the ruins, but the most savage and strident struck her as being more equine in nature.

“No, get back! You stay away from—” shouted a stallion, before descending into a full-throated war cry.

Her curiosity piqued, Sweetie Drops stole across the twisted rubble on the edges of the crater and looked down at the massacre playing out in its center. A massacre, she was surprised to note, of the timberwolves, and not the lone stallion holding them at bay. The pony howled with rage as he twirled, kicked, and dodged with preternatural grace. It was as if he could simply be in as many places as he wanted all at once.

“He moves like a party pony,” she said under her breath, watching him decapitate one timberwolf with a single mighty kick, before launching into a pirouette that brought his forehooves through the chests of two others. “But that much grief isn't something party ponies are meant to bear…”

A pony with such remarkable raw prowess could be a useful ally in the long war ahead.

Below, the stallion shattered the final timberwolf… then collapsed on his knees, clutching his head, alternately crying and laughing, and neither with restraint.

“Provided he isn’t too far gone already,” she whispered.


It's hard to give an exhaustive list of things that got pinched, squeezed, or altered during Hell's development, but another big one was the identity of the Pie Sister who defected from Starlight's faction to the Canterlot Resistance. That defection, of course, was instrumental in setting up the conflict between the two factions. And the pony herself served as the co-creator of the Underground Sun.

I'll be honest: from day 1 of conceiving the novel, the Pie Sister in question was originally going to be Maud. Maud is a physical and intellectual marvel who I figured would be an easy sell as somepony who could single-hoofedly dig a massive underground complex intended to house a synthetic sun.

Of course now we know it ended up being Limestone instead of Maud, but there was a brief but intense moment where it nearly ended up being Marble.


Happy Little Cupcakes

Oh yes. Consider what happened to Pinkie, and how much ferocity it inspired in Limestone during her conflict with Cheese. That same ferocity didn't translate as well when I was trying to write Maud into her role. The Maud we know from canon as quirky, awkward, but ultimately warm, just wasn't coming across as any of that. And since the plot called for Twilight and Pie Sister to not just be members of the Resistance, but leaders, I needed someone who could do a better job of connecting with others, rather than being a bitter lone-wolf type.

...Or at least, that's where I got in the end once I decided to switch it to Limestone. Again: there was a brief moment just a couple weeks before release when I went through and doubled-down on the bitter, standoffish, two-pounds-of-violence-in-a-one-pound-can aspect of the pony I'd been writing, by ripping out every instance of Maud and replacing her with Marble. I banged out a painfully detailed backstory about how she survived and what she'd been up to since. I leaned into Marble and Pinkie being twins, tapped into as much "Pinkamena" stuff as I dared, and cast Marble as a dark reflection of the Pinkie we know and love, driven to madness by the death and desecration of her family.

This, of course, was horribly cliche. When I came to my senses, the only reasonable course of action was to pivot to Limestone. But that switch only happened after I'd written another Book 4 opener, which was meant to establish Marble's bona fides as a fighting machine who'd been trained by Bon Bon after joining the Resistance.

Funny that I never felt the need to establish those bona fides with either Maud or Limestone in the role...

Sweetie Drops collapsed onto her haunches, panting and holding up a hoof to signal her need for a break. Agony lit up her sides from a hail of surprisingly strong blows that she’d not quite managed to deflect. She let her head hang low and heaved heavily as sweat dripped in a deluge off her mane into the dirt.

Could she be stronger than him? Only physically; she needs to learn control.

“Our hour’s not up,” came the quiet but intense voice of her student.

She glanced up into the stony expression in Marble’s one visible eye. A glimmer of moonlight shone in the tears that Marble never quite seemed to suppress when Sweetie Drops trained her. It might almost look cute if it didn’t belie the incendiary cocktail of conflicting emotions that stirred within the mare, which Sweetie Drops had seen range between crippling self-doubt and uncontrollable anger in mere heartbeats…

“You could've killed me if you'd landed that last set of hits correctly,” Sweetie Drops said. “You need to either hold back so you don't, or get your form right so you do.”

“Please don’t judge me,” Marble said, looking away. “I’m doing my best.”

“I’d never judge you,” Sweetie Drops lied, though she was genuinely taken aback by Marble’s words. “I just want you to be ready in case he comes back.”

“Then why won’t you teach me how to use knives?!

Sweetie Drops couldn’t deny that Marble did look cute with her downturned gaze and long, flat mane that swept over half her face. She looked more like somepony who Sweetie Drops wanted to cuddle than throw punches at. Every day was a temptation to stray from the old, familiar guidance not to get involved with crazy.

“You don’t need ’em, though; you can break rocks with your bare hooves!”

You taught him!

The outburst made Sweetie Drops flinch. Marble’s eyes were suddenly alight with a desperation that Sweetie Drops had only seen once before, despite her years of training and covert operations in Celestia’s service. And Marble wouldn’t like being compared to the pony it brought to mind.

Sweetie Drops slowly rose to her hooves and dusted herself off. "I know it's not much consolation, but I had no idea how far gone he was.”

Marble grimaced, then stamped a hoof hard enough to shatter the cobblestones beneath it in an explosion of stone shards and dust. “It doesn’t matter how far gone he is now.” Her nostrils flared, and her body quivered like a kettle at a roiling boil. “I’m going to take him the rest of the way!”


And there we have it for today. While Hell's beginning and end were clear to me from the outset, I had to trial-and-error my way through a lot of its middle. It's fun to revisit the small army of characters and concepts that were introduced, cut, re-worked, and finagled into the tight-ish form you see now.

There are plenty more bits that got left on the cutting room floor.

Some might still deserve a day in the sun.

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Comments ( 5 )

Thanks for.sharing! Always interesting to see the process!

I remember these scenes. I remember trying my hardest to get you to keep them. But the way things turned out was well.

5210429
It’s a pleasure to finally bring some of this out of the archives. Thank you for reading! :twilightsmile:

5210576
Your encouragement and support is part of why I’ve held onto this stuff. I still feel that I made the right decision for the story as a whole by keeping what I kept and cutting what I cut. But this stuff is definitely “gone but not forgotten,” as it were.

Fascinating. I do love looking at the unseen and the could-have-beens, though Limestone was definitely the right choice for that role.

5210742
I often find that the secret is to just write Limestone. :derpytongue2:

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