• Member Since 12th Jan, 2015
  • offline last seen Apr 26th, 2023

Onyx Archer

A lazy turd of a writer that likes making stories where Sunset likes to listen to Punk Rock. Current Projects: Minerva's Den (working title), Retrograde

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An Overdue Post-Mortem on Retrograde From the Other Writer · 8:33pm Sep 9th, 2021

Hey all, it's been a while.

I apologize for my extremely long absence, but as luck would have it, things have been pretty wonky for me over the past year and change. I've been meaning to write this for a long time, but never had the time between working on other things, and just trying to not explode from the stress due to the (still ongoing) global health crisis, among other things. Oh, and recovering from an assault. That's also a thing that I won't elaborate too much on. Still kind of a fresh wound that I want to selectively poke at.

Anyway, as I'm sure many people have noticed, Retrograde is finished, and has been since April. I want to again apologize for how long the story ended up taking to finish. However, it's done now, so I wanted to at least go over some of the behind the scenes stuff that happened during it's production. There's a lot of things to go over in theory, but I wanted to boil it down to a few things to keep this concise. Knowing my luck, I'll fail at that, but oh well, might as well make the effort. From this point forward, this post will contain some mentions of story spoilers for Retrograde, so proceed with caution.

There are some details RQK went over in his blog post (which you can read here), over the early days of the story, and our friendship. It started out pretty simple: I reached out to him while he was working on Substitute, and that was due to the fact that there were some elements of that story that overlapped with my attempt at the Cracks in Our Reflections reboot that I was chipping away at during that point in time. Obviously, that reboot never came to be, though aspects of it have been brought into the original novel project I believe I've mentioned a few times. Regardless of that, he and I continued to discuss potential mechanics for that story concept while he was working on Reflections.

During his time working on Reflections is when the seed of a collaborative effort started to be sown. Ironically enough, RQK beat me to the punch with another concept I wanted to use for Cracks within the digital pages of Reflections, though this wasn't as awkward as it had been the first time around, because our executions were very different in principle. That concept was the use of other realities. Had Cracks materialized properly, the story would have featured a grand reveal of a concept I called "The Council of Starswirls," which would have been an organization that dealt with anomalies in the multiverse. The council was to be helmed, ironically enough, not by a Starswirl, but by an aged Twilight that, much like RQK's Crystal Faire, would have been born with the talent of jumping between timelines instead of being the Element of Magic. She likely would have had a different name too, again, like Crystal.

Initially, the extent of working together would have been relaying details about stuff, and coming to a consensus about how Crystal would react to the Head of the Council from my story, and how their models of time-sliding would differ in application. Of course, as you all know, this didn't come to pass, and instead, we opted to work together on, what at the time, was meant to be a pseudo-sequel/side-story set within the Reflections timeline. This was mostly due to the fact that RQK wanted to use Crystal, and I had no objections. I enjoyed the idea that she was a minor character this time around, and that she could potentially offer some insight, but otherwise fade into the background. That was the intention.

Forgotten Friendship being announced is what got the gears spinning on the collaboration machine, and that was only amplified by the discovery that it was based on an EqG novel released earlier by the name of A Friendship to Remember. I went out and procured a digital copy of the book. We didn't read the whole thing, but I did check to see how it ended, to see if it lined up with the idea that we had. That idea, of course, being "what if Sunset never got her memories back?" At the time, it was a fresh idea, so I'm glad we were one of the first ones to take a crack at it.

We opted to release the start the day after the special came out, and the plan was to release chapters on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Obviously, the latter didn't really happen in the long run, but initially, it seemed doable. Another thing we had to discuss was the cover art. As RQK has detailed himself, the cover was initially different, but because I wanted to make it more distinct, I ended up reaching out to OverlordNeon, and getting a cover commissioned. We split the cost of the cover, and it was only possible because I had recently commissioned something else from Neon around that time. In the end, the cover that you see now is the result of that collaboration.

In the beginning, we were motivated to follow through with a consistent schedule, and the response to the prologue and first few chapters was strong. RQK was a bit bummed by the fact that it was pulling in better numbers than his non-collab stuff, but to be fair, the circumstances for the story's success seem pretty obvious to me. Between capitalizing on the Forgotten Friendship hype, and the fact that the story was smaller scale (and as such, easier to digest than RQK's previous works), I think it's apparent as to why the story was received so well at the time. I understand how he feels about wanting his primary work to be the best received of his stuff, as I too would like that to be the case, but collabs also just come with a innate sense of curiosity, since they aren't super common on the site (from what I've seen anyway).

As chronicled at the time, Chapter 3 is where the creative machine started to sputter. The response to Crystal Faire was very shaky, and it was deeply concerning at the time. We hadn't accounted for the sheer amount of newbies that didn't read Reflections, and as such, we hadn't even considered that having some random OC in a story that otherwise has official characters could come off as pretty suspicious. We had hoped that more returning readers from Reflections would pick up on the inclusion, and be like "oh, okay," and that new readers wouldn't really read too much into the OC's inclusion. We had not wanted to overtly say the connection to Reflections to not scare off new readers, especially due to the difference in tone and genre. Alas, that's not how things played out, and it was a total mess.

Initially, she was set up to be a cameo, but she warped into being more and more relevant due to the fact that she had less and less reason to stand idly by and let the official characters resolve the issue. She still maintains a relatively small role in the story, all things considered, but she had to grow beyond "cameo" out of necessity. The problem that comes with that is that people who didn't already know who she was would be incredibly confused, especially given how chummy she had been with the central cast in her minimal appearances prior to Chapter 3. People who didn't know her from RQK's previous work had no reason to trust her inclusion, and as such, some had even suspected in the comments that she was some sinister mastermind that sabotaged the ending of Forgotten Friendship, which served as the inciting incident for the story itself. Obviously, this wasn't accounted for, and for the proceeding days, we struggled to figure out how to fix it.

Initially, RQK thought it was better to just remove her, but I was not for it. I ultimately said that we might as well embrace the situation and just make it more clear it's a standalone sequel, intentions be damned. In my mind, removing her was more of a headache than it was worth. In the end, we handled the situation, but we didn't do it in the cleanest of ways. This was the first big blow to the momentum we had built up. While we were able to keep up the pace for a little while longer, various factors came into play that rendered things nearly inert for some time.

The big thing that the experience with Crystal had done was it had caused us to both diverge in opinion on where the story should go. It started as small disagreements, but it ended up nearly being the thing that could have killed the project in it's entirety. This had lead to more fractured exchanges of ideas, and even writing segments more or less independent of one another's opinions brought up until the editing process. It's a miracle that we were able to stitch some of it together in the end through editing.

Issues began to pile up outside of the diverging thoughts about where the story would go, and it became apparent that things would slow down considerably, at least from my perspective. The problem was that the lack of a unified direction began to chip away at my ability to focus, and it was something that followed the series like a specter until it's conclusion. The amount of stuff that had ended up on the cutting room floor deeply saddens me, but it was done out of necessity. Much like many video games have to cut planned features to meet a deadline, we cut a lot of planned elements just to have the story end in a somewhat satisfying way. To be completely honest, the last few chapters, at best, only feature some light editing from me, and were otherwise all RQK. This was mostly because RQK wanted to, at the very least, make good on finishing it, and I was still recovering from a creative block, so my motivation was next to non-existent.

I've detailed in the past a lot of real life issues that got in the way of my work. Between several members of the family dying of cancer, the stress it caused everyone in my life, and the fact that I was dealing with some personal demons, I was barely able to have a creative thought that lasted longer than a few minutes at a time. Personal relationships suffered, and I was anxious all the time. It really freaking sucked. Combine this with my ever-increasing disinterest with the series at the time (which I tried to combat once I had gotten to see Sunset's Backstage Pass, but it was a semi-futile effort), and I just found no energy to work on Retrograde.

I think the final nail in the coffin for me was more or less my burnout on SunLight as a ship. Given that Retrograde is, at it's core, a SunLight story, it wasn't the most appealing thing to work on. I wanted to work on other things, but the pressure I felt to get stuff done on several fronts, both creative and not, left me mentally exhausted. Minerva's Den (which is just a placeholder name) is a concept that I began working on in an attempt stave off the creative burnout, and I was initially pretty optimistic about it. I got stuck early on, and as such, never did anything with it beyond some drafting of ideas. I had plans for a Sunset's Backstage Pass related fic that was SunDagio in focus, and if I ever find the motivation, I'd like to make that a reality. I don't want to make promises I know I probably can't keep though, so I'm not going to talk too much about Pony fic concepts at this point. My heart isn't really in it at the moment, but thanks to my ever shifting interests, it might be one day.

Around the time the show ended, both RQK and I had expressed a desire to move on from MLP content, because there was an ever-shrinking reason to continue. Without the show, interest wanes, and then begins the gradual decline of the audience for it. While there is still a sizeable audience for content for MLP fics, it's still something that we both considered. Still, he made an effort to reach out to me and get the story finished. I'll admit that some of those attempts (and particularly some of the phrasing in said attempts) came off a little forceful, and it wasn't long before it became obvious that I didn't really care if the story ever got finished. Well, I did want to finish it, but I felt trapped in a manner of speaking, which lead to a sense of apathy. I still had some scenes I wanted to write for it, but with the ever growing chasm of creative differences, it was hard to get excited to write them. This would bite me in the ass.

As things stand, a lot of the ideas I wanted to write into the story were things that either got scrapped, or were written by RQK instead, since I wasn't working at a speed that warranted the wait for the conclusion being delayed even further. One such scene was the scene where Sunset stumbles across the lyrics she had attempted to write as a form of confession to Twilight. It was the one scene that I pitched near the end of my time actively writing for it that survived the ever growing need to cut things to end the story. The thing that sealed the deal as to me not wanting to work on the story anymore was finding that RQK had written the whole scene out before I had a chance to. I confronted him about it, and he apologized, but that still stung.

It was a scene I had planned from day one, and wanted to address when we were closer to the moment where it needed to be in the story. I didn't disclose early on because I wanted time to iron out the details a bit more. It was something that I wanted to do purely out of self-indulgence, but it was reinforced by my enjoyment of Sunset's Backstage Pass. Had the story's production not been derailed, I would have liked to gradually build to the reveal that Sunset has secret collection of "Song Diaries," and that she was using it to process the complicated feelings of what she would do once she graduated. It would be through one of these diaries that she'd learn about her past-self's feelings for Princess Twilight, and it would be this big emotional moment.

This concept didn't get very far because, as I recall, RQK shot down part of the idea when I pitched it. To be fair, that was pretty far along in the "we barely care about this" phase of things, but it was still something that I would have liked to do. It's a concept that I might use in a later fiction project, but I'm not sure. I am very into the idea of writing songs and stuff to process your feelings, or otherwise doing creative things to do so, and writing about it is fun (when I'm not being anal about lyrics I write). Where RQK found the motivations from scene concepts he had that he was passionate about, I felt like what little passion I had was snuffed out by him writing a scene I was invested in writing, and was just struggling to find the time to work on (among other factors). I don't blame him for wanting to get things done, but it was a huge blow to my morale.

My focal point in the story was emotional scenes, and for the ones I wrote, I feel like they resonated with the audience as intended. The ending of Chapter 6 was me basically going off and making a intense scene that played with the concept of emotional rage making magic based around positive feelings and ideas go haywire. I intended it to be a scene that showed how much power Princess Twilight had under emotional distress, despite the human world limitations. The scene had originally been written with Crystal being more freaked by the events because I had wanted it to be a case of "Crystal only recently started allowing herself to get emotionally attached again after so long, so she should react in a way that shows that." She would have let slip her true connection to Twilight out of a panicked desire to quell her magical rage. That's based on how I interpreted aspects of the ending of Reflections, but RQK, being Crystal's creator, vetoed the idea. Still, the rest of the scene played out as I wanted.

Other concepts I wanted to explore was my self-indulgent rarepair ship, Starlight x Moondancer. it was something that RQK allowed me to do from day one, but is still technically underdeveloped in the final product due to the fact that I was the sole creative force for that kind of stuff. A lot of the pre-Chapter 7 interactions between the two were written by me for the most part, or had heavy editing by me to suit the purpose of shipping setup. I didn't intend for the relationship to take too much focus, but it was to take enough that it would be one of the good things to come of the experience the characters went through.

A challenge with wanting to write this stuff into a collaborative piece is that the other person/people involved have to agree, or at the very least come to a mutually beneficial compromise. Part of the problem for me was that RQK, no ill will intended, was more driven to go a certain direction, and it clashed with aspects of my own way of approaching stories. I 100% admit that I could have fought harder for things I cared a lot about, but each rejection just gave me less drive to fight for those things, and it gave RQK more validation that his ideas were more worth exploring, since I didn't object to most of them.

I am still proud of the parts I did fight for, and/or ended up being able to write. I'm proud of the reaction the end of Chapter 6 got, and I'm proud of my ability to fight for small changes. One thing that I find RQK struggles with, at least from my perspective, is finding the character voices for some characters. Pinkie is a particularly hard character for him to nail. There was a dialogue bit early on that he wrote that I changed to be more "in character," and people certainly noticed my efforts, so that's something I am also proud of.

In the end, both myself and RQK can likely agree that the story is the best if could have been given the circumstances. I'm happy to have been a part of the story's creation, even if my role in it's life gradually diminished into dust.

We both want to pursue new creative avenues. We both want to, one day, professionally publish original written works. We both have different aspirations on that front, and perhaps even within the realm of exploring fanfiction. While I'm not entirely sure where he stands on the idea of writing any further fanworks, I tend to write them out of a desire to work out ideas and grow as a writer without having to financially risk things with published works. I may not write MLP stuff ever again (though I won't say I won't, there's always a possibility), but for the moment, I think I'd rather just read stuff for this fandom occasionally, and otherwise focus on other things and other fandoms. I have some stuff I might talk about here in the future for those that care. Perhaps RQK will share those things if I bug him enough.

Anyway, this is where I take my leave. This ride has been long one, and before I do anything else, I really want to stretch my legs.


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